Holtby gets the call against Panthers

Holtby gets the call against Panthers
February 27, 2014, 12:45 pm
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Green, Caps getting healthy

(Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

The Capitals will begin their post-Olympic stretch run with Braden Holtby between the pipes and, presumably, Marcus Johansson back in the lineup.

Following today’s morning skate at the BB&T Center, Capitals coach Adam Oates confirmed to reporters that Holtby would start tonight against the Florida Panthers [7 p.m., Caps Central, 7:30 puck drop, CSN].

Holtby entered the Olympic break with four wins in his last five starts, including a pair of shutouts over Montreal and New Jersey.

Johansson spent three days in Sweden following his country’s 3-0 loss to Canada in Sunday’s gold-medal game and skated for the first time on Thursday with the Capitals. He is expected to start tonight’s game on a fourth line, but could be elevated to the top line if he can handle the pace.   

With defenseman Jack Hillen still not 100 percent recovered from October surgery to repair a broken leg, veteran John Erskine is expected to return to the lineup on a third defense pairing alongside rookie Connor Carrick.

“I’m ready to go,” said Erskine, who sat out two games before the 19-day break.

Holtby said his teammates were so excited to get on the ice following their 10-day vacations “guys were on 15-20 minutes early, which is unheard of for our team.”

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The Caps will need a big effort against the Panthers [22-29-7], who are tied for the third-worst record in the NHL with 51 points.

The Caps [27-23-9, 63 points] are now three points out of a playoff spot with 23 games to play.

“The year hasn’t gone exactly the way we want it to, but this is a very tough league to make the playoffs,” Holtby said. “I wouldn’t say we’re disappointed in the first 59 games. We’re recharged. There has been a lot of stuff circling around our team and we just want to get back to focusing on winning games.”

From goalie controversies to disappointments in the Olympics, the Caps are hoping a jam-packed schedule that continues with weekend games against the Bruins and Flyers, will grab their attention.

“This is the time when everybody wants to play,” Holtby said. “You’re excited at the start of the year and at the end of the year. It’s the middle that’s always the hardest. Getting up for games is not as hard because you see how close you are to the finish and how much you need to win.”

Here are projected lineups for both teams:

Capitals

Forward Lines

Brooks Laich-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Marty Erat-Mikhail Grabovski-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward
Marcus Johansson-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Defense Pairings

Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Mike Green
John Erskine-Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby [starter]-Michal Neuvirth

Panthers

Forward Lines

Sean Bergenheim-Nick Bjugstad-Brad Boyes
Jonathan Huberdeau-Drew Shore-Scottie Upshall
Jesse Winchester-Marcel Goc-Tomas Fleischmann
Krys Barch/Shawn Matthias-Scott Gomez-Jimmy Hayes

Defense Pairings

Brian Campbell-Tom Gilbert
Mike Weaver-Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson-Ed Jovanovski

Goaltenders

Tim Thomas [starter]-Scott Clemmensen