The Washington Capitals will miss Mike Green as he serves a three-game, NHL-imposed suspension beginning Saturday afternoon. But the immediate question, even before the league’s ruling came down, was which defenseman would step into the lineup.
“We haven’t decided yet,” coach Dale Hunter said Friday, before the ban was announced. “The cart before the horse.”
Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine are healthy and ready to step in, though both veterans seem to have fallen out of favor with Hunter. Hamrlik has been a healthy scratch eight straight games and Erskine 12 straight and 17 of the past 18.
Hamrlik was scratched beginning Feb. 22 in Ottawa when Hunter said the 37-year-old veteran was giving up too many chances and committed a bad penalty the previous game.
“You should ask him about the penalties because when he played I think he make lots of penalties then himself, so he should know better,” Hamrlik said the next day. Despite a two-year, $7 million contract, he hasn’t played since.
Hamrlik could draw the lucky straw to get back in Saturday at the Boston Bruins.
“It’s me and Ersky, so we will see who he’s going to put in the lineup,” Hamrlik said. “I’ll just play the way I played before.”
Asked if he expected to be Hunter’s choice, the former No. 1 overall pick said: “I don’t know. No clue.”
Like Jeff Schultz before him, Erskine has seen the Caps call up a defenseman rather than put him in the lineup, so it’s understandable that he’s reluctant to talk about getting back in.
“I try and prepare every day to come in to play,” he said. “Things haven’t been going my way. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
The big defenseman doesn’t know about rust and what it would be like if he plays.
“I’ve just got to go in the game and play if I play. I’m sure it takes you a period or so to get going. But I don’t know. I’ve been working hard out here and I shouldn’t be off beat too much,” Erskine said. “It’s usually tough when you sit out a couple games to get back. I’ve played, what, one of the last 20 or something. It’ll def be a challenge the first period but we’ll see what happens.”
Hunter apparently has not communicated to Erskine why he has been a healthy scratch. Green’s return and Jeff Schultz’s play, which has drawn praise from the coach and general manager George McPhee, has slid him to No. 8 on the defenseman depth chart.
Instead, assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson have been the ones talking.”
“Who? Dale? Dale, he hasn’t talked to me one bit,” Erskine said. “I talk to Deano and Jimmy Johnson here or there but that’s about it.”
Similarly, Hamrlik is unsure of what to do until he plays again.
“I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see when I get the chance,” he said. “You can ask me after. Just keep working hard in practices and thats pretty much what you can do.”