It’s starting to look a lot like Hershey on the Washington Capitals’ blue line.
Defensemen Mike Green, John Erskine and Tom Poti all are injured, so the Caps recalled Cameron Schilling from the Bears of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. With Schilling joining Tomas Kundratek and Steve Oleksy in the lineup, half of the Caps’ defense corps was with Hershey when the NHL season began.
“There’s a lot of depth in this organization,” Oleksy said. “Hershey takes a lot of pride and [coaches] Mark French and Troy Mann take a lot of pride in preparing us for the jump. And I think that’s why they make the transition a little easier. And it definitely helps us as players, too.”
All six defensemen who faced the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday came through Hershey. But Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Jeff Schultz combined for 841 of the blue line’s 873 games of NHL experience.
“It’s nice to get guys some games, and sometimes when you call those guys up they have something to prove so they go that much harder,” Alzner said. “A lot of times it works out really well.”
While it has worked out well so far for Kundratek and Oleksy since being recalled, it’s usually not a good thing to be relying on minor leaguers in such important roles. But with Erskine and Poti out with upper-body injuries, Schilling got the call.
“It’s part of the game,” coach Adam Oates said. “I think it helps Schills that Tomas and Stevie O are here doing OK. That should give him confidence that, ‘Yeah, I can step in and play a simple game and be solid.’ We obviously feel that way.”
Erskine, placed on injured reserve to make room for Schilling, is eligible to return for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. If Poti is unable to play Thursday against the Hurricanes or Saturday at the Boston Bruins, that could mean an extended stay for Schilling.
It could help the 24-year-old that Oates spent time in Hershey during the lockout.
“It was great in Hershey. Adam’s a very hands-on guy,” Schilling said. “He taught us a lot of things, and hopefully in my time here he can teach me a lot more about the game. He obviously knows a tremendous amount and it definitely helps being able to have him as a head coach down there and now being able to have him up here.”
Green ‘coming along’
Green doesn’t have a timeline to return from a groin injury, though the defenseman skated Tuesday with teammates and reported some progress.
“Coming along here,” Green said. “Still a little bit of a ways away, but at least I’m back on the ice.”
Green has missed eight of the past 10 games with the groin injury he originally suffered Feb. 14 at the Tampa Bay Lightning. He aggravated it Feb. 27 at the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s something you can’t predict, obviously,” Green said. “It just happens. Just needed some more time off to make sure that it was 100 percent rather than 90.”
Green knew right away that his groin wasn’t fully healthy.
“Try and play through it, but you’re only so effective then and then you’re not playing your best game and possibly hurting your team,” he said. “So that’s why I decided to take some time off and get it 100 percent.”
Oates has said multiple times about Green and forward Brooks Laich that it’s nearly impossible to gauge progress of groin injuries.
“He’s been through this so many times,” Oates said. “I’m sure that’s going to be between [general manager George McPhee], [trainer Greg Smith], Greenie and myself.”
The 27-year-old credited off-ice workouts for his improvement, specifically dry-needling, a form of needle therapy that “helped out and sped up the recovery big time.”
Green has missed 89 of the Caps’ past 189 regular-season games because of injury, dating to the start of the 2010-11 season.