SUNRISE, Fla. Jeff Schultz is not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure why hes in the lineup tonight against the Florida Panthers. Or why he has spent the last dozen games watching from the press box.
Schultz just wants to get in the lineup and stay there. If not with the Capitals, then somewhere.
It feels good, Schultz said Wednesday after being informed hell be replacing John Erskine in the lineup and playing his first game since New Years eve.
It's been a long time. It's just going out there and playing within myself and just doing what I do out there.
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds Schultz has always had the potential to be a physical, crease-clearing defenseman. Its one of the reasons general manager George McPhee gave him a four-year, 11 million contract extension following the 2009-10 season.
But since the hiring of Dale Hunter on Nov. 28, Schultz has played in just six of the Capitals 27 games. Last month he dropped to eighth on the clubs depth chart, below rookie callup Tomas Kundratek, who has since been returned to Hershey.
I was a little bit (surprised), Schultz said. With how the last couple months have gone, you don't really know too much of who's playing and who's not. So I was a little bit surprised this morning.
So is it possible tonight is simply a showcase game for Schultz? That its simply a way for the Capitals to show other NHL teams that Schultz is healthy enough to help them?
Coach Dale Hunter seemed to suggest Schultz return to the lineup was more to provide Erskine and his shoulder a day of rest after a game the night before.
He's a defensive defenseman, Hunter said. We want to see him play sound defensively. He's not an offensive D. He's not going to be a tough guy out there, so we need a defensive defenseman.
He's been practicing hard. By doing that, he should be ready to play.
Schultz said hell try to treat tonights game like any other, even though his play will be under the microscope.
Its a divisional game and a lot's at stake here, he said. It's a team game and I'll just go out there and try to do what I can to help the team.
I think it's just not doing anything too fancy. I think it's just playing within yourself and when you're on the ice do what you do and when you're not, cheering the guys on.