Adam Oates was so impressed with defenseman Jack Hillen in his return from a two-month absence Saturday at the Boston Bruins that the Washington Capitals coach had a simple message for assistant Calle Johansson.
“Obviously his skating ability is one of his best assets and that’s part of what we want from him,” Oates said. “I told Calle the second half of the game, ‘Play him more, let’s see.’ “
Hillen should get a chance to play even more Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres, as he’ll start on the second defensive pair alongside John Carlson. The 27-year-old was comfortable in his first game since Jan. 19.
“My legs felt fine. It was just about timing and getting your gap control and little things that you don’t get in practice,” he said. “It’s impossible to get some of those timing things in practice; you just have to get them in games. So I felt like it was a good first step towards getting some of that timing back.”
Hillen missed 25 games with what’s believed to be a left shoulder injury. He had no concerns about playing in back-to-back games.
“I feel good,” he said. “I haven’t played, so I’m fresh and I feel good.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby returns between the pipes after sitting out the past two games.
“It’s the same. Same way,” Holtby said of his preparation. “It’s just another game to go play, give us a chance to win. It really hasnt been that long since I’ve played. Nothing changes.”
Up front, the Caps have a few changes. Marcus Johansson will get another turn at first-line left wing roulette alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Mathieu Perreault is back in after being a healthy scratch for the past two and three of the past four.
“There’s a different lineup, everybody’s shuffling,” Oates said. “If we’re winning then you don’t shuffle.”
Fourteenth in the Eastern Conference, the Caps go into Sunday night losers of four of their past five games.
Here’s a look at the lineup:
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb
Karl Alzner - Steve Oleksy
Jack Hillen - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Tom Poti