- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wojtek Wolski broke his 11-game goal drought Tuesday, scoring at a crucial time in the Washington Capitals’ victory over the Boston Bruins. But it was his all-around performance that kept the forward in the lineup for Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers.

“He has to play the game,” coach Adam Oates said. “If you play the game correct, he’s got the skill set, he’ll get some points. For me, I need him to play solid.”

Oates said goal-scoring from Wolski is a “bonus,” but that’s one of the primary reasons the 27-year-old forward is here. Signed to a one-year, $600,000 contract in the offseason, he has just three goals in 20 games.

Wolski’s game suffered during his month without a goal, Oates said, adding that it affected some of his decision-making.

“I had a game in Philly where I could’ve been better on the boards, I think, and a couple games before that I struggled a little bit,” Wolski said. “I think [I need to be] executing and making sure I’m good with the puck coming out of our zone.”

Wolski was a healthy scratch Saturday at the Winnipeg Jets, and he could be back in the press box if his play slips back to that level soon.

“Everybody’s got a leash,” Oates said. “So much of the game today is being able to get the puck out over your own blue line, chip it in, put it in the right spot in their end so we can forecheck and get territory and wear them out. … The scoring will come if you do that. The more we’re in their end, the more we’ll score. The more we whiff it in our own end, the more we’re in trouble.”

Recently acquired tough guy Aaron Volpatti was made a healthy scratch as right wing Troy Brouwer returned from a one-game absence because of an illness.

Neuvirth sick, Grubauer recalled

For the second time in eight days, the Caps recalled goaltender Philipp Grubauer from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League to serve as Braden Holtby’s backup because Michal Neuvirth was sick.

Neuvirth hasn’t played a game since Feb. 7, when he allowed two goals on 11 shots at the Pittsburgh Penguins and was pulled. He would have started Feb. 27 at the Philadelphia Flyers had he not been sick.

“There’s some things you can’t control,” Oates said. “I feel bad for him.”

With the Caps set to visit the New York Islanders and host the New York Rangers on back-to-back afternoons Saturday and Sunday, Oates had planned on giving Neuvirth one of those starts to spell Holtby.

“I’d still like to split ‘em, whether it’s Grubauer or Neuvy,” Oates said. “It’s a lot of hockey for [Holtby], back-to-backs especially. And you’ve got to get your other guy a game here and there.”

Grubauer, who was not on the ice for Thursday’s morning skate, made his NHL debut in relief at Philadelphia, stopping all 14 shots he faced.

NHL realignment set for approval

NHL realignment is good to go with the consent of the NHL Players’ Association, executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

Pending approval of the Board of Governors, the NHL will realign into four divisions beginning with the 2013-14 season. The Caps will play in the Atlantic Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Under the new playoff format, the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, and the two remaining teams in each conference with the most points qualify as wild cards.

Laich on ice, without skates

Brooks Laich has not skated since Feb. 16 as he battles a lingering groin injury. But the forward did make a cameo on the ice Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

Laich did not even wear skates. He wore sneakers and shorts as he lofted pucks down the ice toward Graham McPhee, son of general manager George McPhee, who was practicing after the Caps were done with their morning skate.