Alex Ovechkin on right wing is a process he’s getting more comfortable with. Finding a left wing to play alongside him and Mike Ribeiro is proving to be a challenge for Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates.
Enter Matt Hendricks, who is expected to be the top-line left wing Saturday afternoon at the Winnipeg Jets.
“You know what, just a change. Give someone else a shot there,” Oates said. “[It’s] kind of by committee right now until I feel that there’s a real guy who can be entrenched there.”
Taking out the four games Ovechkin played left wing on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb and the Caps star has played alongside a rotating cast of characters. Nicklas Backstrom to Ribeiro isn’t a difficult adjustment, but on the left side Ovechkin has played with Marcus Johansson, Hendricks, Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera.
Those guys have combined for four goals, 10 assists and a minus-15 rating.
“That’s where you miss Brooks [Laich], no question,” Oates said. “It’s an opportunity for other guys and we’ve just got to keep going with it.”
Hendricks got spot duty on a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom earlier in the season. He’s hoping to make the most out of this opportunity.
“I’m going to bring that energy that I try to bring every night, play a little bit physical and try to make the other team to turn pucks over so that Alex and Ribs can have more ice and more space,” Hendricks said. “So that’s really what I’m going to try to do: create turnovers for them, I’m going to go to the net hard, crash and bang and just try and keep the puck on their stick as much as I can.”
Hendricks’ promotion to the top line meant a domino effect down the lineup. Jason Chimera is back to a more suitable role on the third line, but it was Wojtek Wolski who took a tumble.
Wolski, whose last goal came a month ago, Feb. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers, hasn’t registered a point in 10 games dating to Feb. 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He took turns on the fourth line during Friday’s practice, but it’s possible he will be a healthy scratch at the Jets.
Oates said newly acquired agitator Aaron Volpatti will be in the lineup Saturday in Winnipeg. The Caps coach said he was “still deciding” whom to make the healthy scratch; Wolski and Joey Crabb are the prime candidates.
Considering Volpatti, who is set to meet the team in Winnipeg, is a natural left wing, Wolski could be the guy who sits. Oates’ comments about Wolski’s game hinted in that direction.
“I thought if anything, I think maybe being a little snakebit is affecting some of his decisions and play,” Oates said. “He’s got to take a step back and just regroup and he’s one of the guys with a little bit of execution I need more of.”
Braden Holtby will make his ninth straight start in goal, as it appears Michal Neuvirth missed his chance by being sick Wednesday. Holtby allowed four goals on 18 shots to get the hook against the Flyers, but his numbers during this stretch are more than respectable.
In eight straight starts, Holtby is 5-3 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
Defenseman Mike Green did not practice Friday after aggravating a groin injury, and he won’t make the trip to Winnipeg. Without him, the Caps will again lean on rookie Tomas Kundratek to play heavy minutes.
Kundratek is expected to resume his role as a top-pair defenseman alongside Karl Alzner, which he filled previously when Green was out.
“I thought he’s handled it well,” Oates said. “I actually thought he played very well in New York and in Philly the other night, which are tough environments. It’s going to be a tough environment tomorrow; Winnipeg’s crazy at the beginning. It’s just another part for him in his learning curve.”
Forward Marcus Johansson, on injured reserve with what the team is calling an upper-body injury, practiced with teammates again but has not been cleared for contact. There’s no timetable for his return after missing the past eight games.
Forward Brooks Laich (groin) has not skated since Feb. 16. Oates had no update on Laich when asked Friday morning.
Here’s a look at the lines and pairings Friday, with the caveat that visa issues prevented Volpatti from participating:
Matt Hendricks - Mike Ribeiro - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Wojtek Wolski - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner - Tomas Kundratek
John Erskine - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Tom Poti