Aaron Volpatti gets chance as Capitals' first-line left wing

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BOSTON | In a perfect world, Adam Oates has said time and again, the Washington Capitals would have Brooks Laich on their top line, something that makes pieces down the lineup fit together betters. Laich still isn’t ready to play, so Saturday at the Boston Bruins it’ll be Aaron Volpatti’s opportunity to play alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

“For me I don’t think it can really change too much,” Volpatti said. “Obviously I’ve got to be good defensively with those two guys, if I’m the high guy ive got to make sure I stay the high guy. I’m just going to try and be physical and create some room for them. Don’t change too much here.”

Volpatti took a handful of shifts with Backstrom and Ovechkin in Thursday night’s comeback victory at the Carolina Hurricanes, replacing Matt Hendricks, who started the game there.

“[Volpatti] goes hard to the net and he can make plays, that’s what we need,” Backstrom said.

Left wing opposite Ovechkin has been a rotating cast of characters through 26 games. Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski, Jason Chimera, Hendricks and Volpatti have each gotten a shot.

What Volpatti brings, in addition to a simple, north-south game, is the ability to protect Ovechkin and Backstrom on Saturday at TD Garden against the Bruins. In the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers would sometimes put Dave Semenko on Wayne Gretzky’s line as something of a policeman.

“I have no problems doing that if it gets a little bit out of hand sending a message or keeping the other team accountable,” Volpatti said. “It’s not an issue.”

Volpatti earned the promotion during Thursday night’s game after he set up Joey Crabb for Washington’s first goal. Flashing that kind of skill “never hurts,” the 27-year-old said.

“I think I was accountable defensively, played more of my physical game, was a little bit grittier,” Volpatti said. “That’s pretty much it.”

Friday’s practice at Boston University’s Agganis Arena was optional, though Ovechkin and center Mike Ribeiro were the only players who did not skate. Defensemen Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Steve Oleksy were shooed off the ice after playing so many minutes Thursday.

“They all want to get a little skating in,” Oates said. “And obviously schedule-wise playing an early game, they want to get a little bit of sweat going.”

John Erskine was not with the team in Boston, which speaks volumes even though Oates has targeted Sunday for the big defenseman’s return. That’s when Erskine is eligible to come off injured reserve.

Oates wouldn’t reveal his starting goaltender for Saturday afternoon’s game at the Bruins between Braden Holtby, who has had success against Boston, and Michal Neuvirth, who won Thursday.

“Neuvy played great [Thursday] night and as we said all along we’re going to use both our goalies and they both get their chances for runs,” Oates said. “After the first 10 minutes he really shut ‘em down for us.”

Laich (groin) skated with teammates again. There’s no official time frame for him to make his season debut.

Here’s a look at the projected lines, judging from Friday’s practice:

Aaron Volpatti - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Eric Fehr - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mike Ribeiro - Joel Ward

Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb

(Healthy: Wojtek Wolski, Mathieu Perreault, Nonroster: Brooks Laich)

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