BOSTON | Jack Hillen will play his first game since opening night Saturday when the Washington Capitals face the Boston Bruins. Hillen takes injured defenseman Tomas Kundratek’s place in the lineup.
Coach Adam Oates said “you really can’t” assess Hillen given how long he has been out.
“He only played three minutes so it’s tough,” Oates said. “He’s an NHL player, he’s a veteran. He’s coming off an injury; I’m sure he’s done it before. Obviously it’s a difficult situation today against the Bruins, but it’s part of the job.”
Hillen is paired with Tom Poti on Saturday.
The 27-year-old suffered an apparent left shoulder injury Jan. 19 when he fell into the boards awkwardly at Tampa Bay Times Forum after being hit by Vinny Lecavalier. Hillen was reluctant to even address his injury when he was back on the ice later that month.
General manager George McPhee said Feb. 8 that Hillen would be out six to eight more weeks. Coach Adam Oates said Friday he didn’t think Hillen was ready to play.
Apparently he is. The Caps sent rookie defenseman Cameron Schilling down to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League to clear room to activate Hillen from injured reserve.
Oates said the Caps will try to ease Hillen in at Boston.
We’ll see how it goes: the game, matchups, etc.,” he said. “But hopefully we can make it an easy process for him.”
Hillen’s skating ability could benefit him in his first game in almost a month.
“I think it’s a little bit easier for him to catch up, and he’s been going through the paces pretty good,” Oates said. “Obviously a physical team over there; they come hard, they come with four lines. Hopefully his feet can help him out.”
Oates had no update on Kundratek, who had an MRI Friday.
Michal Neuvirth will make his second straight start in goal. The decision to go with Neuvirth over Braden Holtby, who beat the Bruins in last year’s playoffs, was based on Thursday’s performance at the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He played good. He won. It’s his turn,” Oates said.
This is Neuvirth’s first start against the Bruins since Oct. 19, 2010. In five career games vs. Boston, he’s 1-2 with a 3.55 goals-against average and .841 save percentage.
The Bruins are starting backup Anton Khudobin, who will be making his first career appearance against the Caps.
The Caps’ lineup:
Aaron Volpatti - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mike Ribeiro - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner - Steve Oleksy
Jeff Schultz - John Carlson
Jack Hillen - Tom Poti