Braden Holtby will get his second straight start in goal and right wing Joey Crabb will make his D.C. debut tonight when the Capitals open their home schedule against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center.
Rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek, recalled by the Caps on Tuesday, will also make his season debut and will play alongside fellow Czech Roman Hamrlik.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said Kundratek’s recall should give the Caps the right-left balance he’s seeking on the blue line. Kundratek, who shoots right, will play alongside the left-handed shooting Hamrlik, while the right-handed shooting Mike Green will play alongside lefty Tom Poti.
The top defense unit of left-handed Karl Alzner and right-handed John Carlson will remain intact.
“I don’t really like playing guys on the wrong side,” Oates said. “It can be really difficult for them. Also, [Kundratek] played a lot of power play down in Hershey and he knows our system and he can spell Ovi in that spot [on the second unit].”
Kundratek, 23, led the Bears’ defensemen with 13 goals and ranked third on the team with 26 points. Kundratek, who will wear No. 36, played five games for the Caps last season. He recorded no points with two penalty minutes was even on the plus-minus sheet while playing alongside Hamrlik.
“He really respects Hammer and Hammer can slow him down and teach him a little bit and hopefully guide him through situations,” Oates said.
Kundratek’s return to the NHL means a seat in the press box for left-handed shooting defensemen Jeff Schultz, who was even in 9:15 of playing time in Saturday night’s season-opening 6-3 loss. Defenseman John Erskine, another lefty, and right wing Eric Fehr are also expected to be healthy scratches. For Fehr that means he will not be playing against his former team.
With the lineup changes, the Caps’ forward lines and defense pairings should look like this:
- Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
- Wojtek Wolski – Mike Ribeiro – Troy Brouwer
- Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Joel Ward
- Matt Hendricks – Mathieu Perreault – Joey Crabb
- Karl Alzner – John Carlson
- Tom Poti – Mike Green
- Roman Hamrlik – Tomas Kundratek
- Braden Holtby – Michal Neuvirth
In injury news, Oates said center/winger Brooks Laich [apparent groin injury] is feeling a lot better and is hoping he can skate on Wednesday, but is making no guarantees.
“That’s the plan right now,” Oates said. “He’s exhausting all the options. He’s feeling a lot better. The one thing we don’t want to do is rush him and set him back. We can’t afford that.”
Asked if surgery is an option for Laich, Oates said, “Not that I know of, no.”