The Capitals playoff chances are hanging by a thread, their most experienced defenseman is out with an upper body injury, and the challenge that awaits tonight just happens to be the Western Conference leading St. Louis Blues [8 p.m.; CSN].
Washington enters play tonight in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card position with four games remaining.
With Mike Green expected to miss at least the next two games with an upper body injury he suffered Saturday in the Capitals’ 4-3 shootout win against the New York Islanders, rookie defenseman Connor Carrick will draw back into the Capitals lineup.
Carrick, 19, last played on March 16 and has been a healthy scratch in the nine games since. Adam Oates recently suggested that Carrick might be fatigued from a busy few months of hockey which included stints in the American Hockey League and at the World Junior Hockey Championships in addition to his rookie season with the Capitals.
“It’s definitely been a long year but to say that you’ve hit a wall, to admit that would be more hitting rock bottom than hitting a wall,” Carrick said before the Capitals left for St. Louis Monday.
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“I feel alright. Emotionally it’s been a long year; literally it’s been a long year, but hockey is a fun game and it’s not like I’m crunching it out 9-to-5 everyday. People who have regular jobs don’t get a break. So if I’m to get back in the lineup and play poorly, it wouldn’t be because I’m too tired. My dad who gets up and goes to work every day wouldn’t hear it. So if I get the opportunity I’ll be real excited and I’ll be ready.”
Carrick has one goal and six points in 30 games this season and is expected to partner with Dmitry Orlov to form the Capitals’ second defensive pairing against St. Louis. Karl Alzner and John Carlson will assume their usual post as the No.1 defensive unit, while the recently recalled duo of Julien Brouillette and Tyson Strachan will round out the top six.
Add it all up, and the projected bottom four defensemen in the Capitals lineup tonight will have a combined 285 games worth of NHL experience. To put that in perspective, the least experienced NHL defenseman in the Blues’ lineup tonight, Kevin Shattenkirk, has 278 games himself.
Below is a look at both team’s defensive units with NHL experience in parentheses.
Karl Alzner (341) – John Carlson (312)
Dmitry Orlov (115) – Connor Carrick (30)
Julien Brouillette (6) – Tyson Strachan (134)
Jay Bouwmeester (842) – Alex Pietrangelo (302)
Barrett Jackman (720) – Kevin Shattenkirk (278)
Carlo Colaiacovo (397) – Roman Polak (420)
Mike Green is the Capitals most experienced NHL defensemen with 503 career games under his belt, while veteran John Erskine (491 career NHL games) is a close second. Erskine has appeared in just two of Washington’s last 15 games.