TAMPA, Fla. — In an odd bit of serendipity, Tom Poti on Saturday found himself in the same place he was two years and seven days earlier.
The Washington Capitals defenseman had last played in an NHL game Jan. 12, 2011, at the arena now known as Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Saturday night, Poti’s comeback became complete as he returned from a groin injury and fractured pelvis. He skated 19 shifts for 13:20 in the 6-3 loss to the Lightning.
“It felt OK,” Poti said. “It felt good. I didn’t feel pain or anything.”
Poti has been pain-free for just a few weeks after an arduous couple of years. The 35-year-old defenseman picked up a secondary assist in his return but conceded it took a couple of shifts to get into a rhythm.
Because of conditioning and not concerns over Poti’s health, coach Adam Oates opted to dress seven defensemen. Poti’s two-game stint with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League last week was the only recent competitive game experience on Washington’s blue line.
That turned out to be a smart decision as Jack Hillen left in the second period with what Oates called an “upper-body injury.” Hillen was checked by Vincent Lecavalier and careened into the boards from a couple of feet away, appearing to hit his left shoulder.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound defenseman skated off under his own power but appeared to be favoring his left shoulder or arm.
With Hillen out after just 3:29 of ice time, the Caps could at least roll the usual six defenseman the rest of the way.
“Of course I didn’t want it to be like that,” Oates said. “But having that extra D, that was part of the reasoning.”
Ward makes impression
Right wing Joel Ward just wanted an opportunity to contribute offensively with the Caps like he did with the Nashville Predators previously, something he didn’t get under coach Dale Hunter.
But Ward started the season on the power play and rewarded Oates‘ confidence.
Ward scored twice Saturday night, including once on the power play.
“If I can kind of just continue with my linemates and stay on the plus side of things, it gives our team a better chance of winning games,” Ward said.
Ward had just six goals all of last season when he couldn’t get a sniff of the power play and often played on the fourth line.
Ribeiro hard on himself
Mike Ribeiro was hardly one of the Caps’ main problems in their season-opening loss, but the veteran center beat himself up over one play in the third period.
After the Caps took two penalties in short succession to go down five-on-three in a tie game, Ribeiro tried to settle a bouncing puck and clear the zone.
Instead, the Lightning kept it in, and Martin St. Louis scored soon after.
“I think if I cleared that puck, it might be a different game,” Ribeiro said. “I cannot clear the puck, come back, they score, 4-3, and then you’re playing from behind, trying to chase.”
Ribeiro had a heads-up play that led to Wojtek Wolski’s second-period goal and looked strong in his debut.
But that didn’t stop the 32-year-old from lamenting what he insisted was a key blunder.
“Details of the game that are going to cost you — that was one of them,” Ribeiro said.
Unsettling start for Holtby
Braden Holtby played 25 games for Hershey during the NHL lockout, so the goaltender wasn’t rusty. Still, he allowed goals on the first two shots he faced Saturday night.
Holtby settled in and wound up stopping 28 of 34. Six goals allowed doesn’t look good, but Oates‘ initial impression was not to blame his goalie.
“You know what, I don’t fault Holts at all on the goals. I think it was more all of us,” the Caps’ coach said. “And he played hard. I’ll talk to the goalie coach and we’ll evaluate that on Monday.”