TAMPA, Fla. | Tom Poti is expected to play for the Washington Capitals in Saturday night’s season opener at the Tampa Bay Lightning, the latest milestone in his improbable comeback from almost two years’ worth of injuries.
The 35-year-old defenseman last played Jan. 12, 2011 at Tampa Bay. His NHL return comes two years and two weeks later.
“It feels good,” Poti said. “It’s nice to know that all the hard work I did over the last few years paid off and I’m just excited to be back with the guys and playing some games and having the some fun again.”
Poti is one of seven defensemen who will dress for the Caps, something coach Adam Oates said was more because of conditioning than anything else.
“It’s a hot building, it’s the first game, little extra emotional and just I’m more worried about the defensemen getting tired,” Oates said, “and I just figured if we have an extra pair of legs it will help them, take a couple shifts off guys and most of our defensemen. None of our defensemen have played games.”
Among Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, Jack Hillen and Poti, none played competitive hockey during the NHL lockout. Having seven defensemen does present its challenges.
“It depends on how it works, the flow of the game,” said Hillen, who will make his Caps debut. “Sometimes if there’s not a lot of power plays, it’s nice because you just keep rolling seven. But if there’s lots of power plays and stuff, it can throw off the rhythm sometimes.”
John Erskine will be the healthy scratch on the blue line. Up front, the Caps will dress just 11 forwards. Eric Fehr and Joey Crabb will be healthy scratches.
Being short-handed with forwards likely means Alex Ovechkin will get double-shifted.
“That’s the goal early. Obviously penalties, you can never tell how that’s going to work and how injuries [will change things],” Oates said. “I really feel the forwards, everybody’s going to get a lot of ice time. But, yeah, Alex, the right wingers will definitely double-shift.”
Braden Holtby will start against Lightning offseason acquisition Anders Lindback.
Anticipated lines and pairings:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Wojtek Wolski - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perreault - Alex Ovechkin
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Tom Poti - Jack Hillen