PITTSBURGH | Roman Hamrlik is surprisingly back in the Washington Capitals’ lineup at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, replacing Tom Poti.
Poti is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, a Caps spokesman said. Poti participated in the morning skate and reported feeling good. Coach Adam Oates praised the 35-year-old defenseman, too.
“He had two years off and you don’t come back and skate two weeks and you’re at the NHL pace,” Oates said. But I thought the other night he really had a little more jump in his game and was part of our doing a good job in the system. … He was a top-four defenseman and he can continue to regain that form it’s a big plus for us.”
Hamrlik had been a healthy scratch for the past seven games. Oates said this week that the 39-year-old would get his chance.
That chance came against the Penguins, his first game since Jan. 24. He’s playing alongside Tomas Kundratek after doing pregame rushes with John Carlson.
Hamrlik said Wednesday he was just waiting.
“Obviously just keep working, keep working hard in the practices,” Hamrlik said. “I’ve been in this situation many times, especially last year with Dale [Hunter]. Now it’s new system and I’m in the same track. Stay positive and keep working hard and hopefully I’m gonna get a chance to play again.”
Oates said Thursday morning his lines would be the same, but perhaps in a different order. Judging from pregame warmups, that is the case, as Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer took rushes as the first line. That makes Wojtek Wolski, Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin the Caps’ second line.
Michal Neuvirth starts in goal. He’s 2-0-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .954 save percentage against them since Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said on HBO’s “24/7” that Neuvirth had a “shaky” glove.
Think that has anything to do with it?
“Possibly,” defenseman Mike Green said. “I mean I don’t know; you’d have to ask Michal.”
Defenseman Kris Letang is not in the Penguins’ lineup Thursday night with what a team employee called a lower-body injury. That’s another break for the Caps, who have played against the Ottawa Senators sans Jason Spezza and the Buffalo Sabres sans Thomas Vanek. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for Pittsburgh.
Here are the Caps’ lines and pairings:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Wojtek Wolski - Mike Ribeiro - Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera - Joey Crabb - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Eric Fehr
Karl Alzner - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Tomas Kundratek