RALEIGH, N.C. | Tom Poti is set to return to the Washington Capitals’ lineup Thursday at the Carolina Hurricanes after missing a game with a back injury. Poti brings welcome experience to a blue line that featured three rookies the other night against Carolina.
The 35-year-old defenseman will likely replace rookie Cameron Schilling, though it’s uncertain whether he’ll be paired with John Carlson or Steve Oleksy. Poti was a healthy scratch for two games last week.
Coach Adam Oates said it has been difficult to evaluate Poti this season because of the injuries. Poti hadn’t played in over two calendar years because of groin problems and a fractured pelvis.
Poti has only played in 13 games so far this season.
“He hurt his neck and, quite honestly, I think his back stiffened up from time off,” Oates said after the morning skate at PNC Arena. “Then you come back and you cram it in and you take that long off, the body’s going to have to adjust to contact and skating every day again.”
Defensemen Mike Green (groin) and Jack Hillen (upper body) traveled with the team and took part in the scratches skate. So did forward Brooks Laich (groin), who said earlier in the week he’s “a ways away” from making his season debut.
Up front, Wojtek Wolski and Mathieu Perreault are expected to be the healthy scratches. Aaron Volpatti and Joey Crabb will return to the lineup, playing with Jay Beagle.
Matt Hendricks will reprise his role as a first-line left wing. But Oates didn’t want to shake up his lines too much after Tuesday’s shutout loss.
“I think chemistry-wise guys match up with guys in a certain way,” Oates said. “And you’ve got to be careful about when you push a panic button. You don’t want to show them that you’re panicking, the players. I don’t want those guys to feel that from me.”
Michal Neuvirth makes his first start in goal since Feb. 7. He’ll be opposed by Dan Ellis.
Defenseman John Erskine (apparently left hand or wrist injury) did not make the trip to Raleigh. Oates said he was hopeful Erskine could return for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Here’s a look at the Caps’ lineup for this crucial game:
Matt Hendricks – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr – Marcus Johansson – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mike Ribeiro – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Jay Beagle – Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner – Tomas Kundratek
Jeff Schultz – John Carlson
Tom Poti – Steve Oleksy