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Jeff Schultz returns to Capitals’ lineup; Michal Neuvirth gets nod in net vs. Panthers

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

SUNRISE, Fla. — Every game day in 2012, Jeff Schultz has gotten to the rink and learned he wasn't playing. Twelve straight games, no injury and the defenseman couldn't crack the Washington Capitals' lineup. The team even called up Tomas Kundratek to make his NHL debut rather than play Schultz.

That streak of healthy-scratch games came to an end Wednesday night as Schultz played at the Florida Panthers, his first game action since Dec. 31.

"It feels good. It's been a long time," Schultz said Wednesday afternoon. "With how the last couple months have gone, you don't really know too much of who's playing and who's not. So I was a little bit surprised this morning."

What he has known for a while was he had a spot in the press box, though Schultz has handled his benching about as well as could be expected.

"Just staying positive and trying to stay in the game — watching and trying to learn from what I'm watching up there," he said.

Trade rumors have swirled around the 6-foot-6 defenseman, and this game could be a chance for the Caps to showcase Schultz.

Schultz was a healthy scratch for 20 of the past 22 games, and Wednesday night was just his seventh game under coach Dale Hunter.

"He's a defensive defenseman. We want to see him play sound defensively," Hunter said. "He's not an offensive D. He's not going to be a tough guy out there, so we need a defensive defenseman."

Schultz replaced John Erskine in the Caps' lineup and started the game alongside All-Star Dennis Wideman.

Neuvirth starts

Tomas Vokoun has now made two trips back to South Florida with the Caps without getting a start. On Dec. 5, Hunter gave Michal Neuvirth the nod and Vokoun said he was a "paid employee" and didn't have a say in the decision.

It was Neuvirth again Wednesday night on the second half of Washington's back-to-back in Florida. Vokoun made 27 saves on 31 shots in an overtime loss Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It's tough coming off of five days off and then play back-to-back games," Hunter said. "It's a lot to ask [of Vokoun] right off the hop."

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