Aaron Volpatti played just 5:24 in his Washington Capitals debut, and even if he gets more ice time moving forward, the gritty left winger isn’t a difference-maker on the score sheet.
But Volpatti can make an impact with hits and fights, as he did by dropping the gloves Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets’ Anthony Peluso. Volpatti lost the bout but in the process showed what he can bring to the Caps.
“He wants to show the guys he’s here and that he’s a team guy right away, so he takes on a big man,” coach Adam Oates said. “He played good after that. Obviously, he didn’t get a lot of ice time, but I was really happy with him.”
Volpatti’s presence as a fighter and agitator is important if for no other reason than it frees up forward Matt Hendricks and defenseman John Erskine to do other things.
“Those two guys, like Hendy, I’ve talked to him like: ‘I know you like to fight, but you’re a penalty killer, you’re a guy that takes faceoffs; I need you on the ice,’” Oates said. “And Ersk, ‘You’re playing top-four minutes. You’ve got to pick your spots differently and you just can’t be reckless about it.’”
Enter Volpatti, claimed off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks last week. At 6 feet and 215 pounds, the 27-year-old isn’t a heavyweight, but he likes to think he brings “another element of grit” to the Caps.
“It’s better to have a tough team by committee, I think, than one guy,” Volpatti said. “I know those guys. … They’re gonna stick up for their teammates just as much as I would.”
That’s true. But Erskine, who the Caps last week signed to a two-year, $3.9 million extension, is counted on for substantial minutes and even some offense.
“I still like to drop the gloves once in a while,” the big defenseman said. “I just got to pick my chances and when I take someone off the ice, it’s got to be someone good, I guess.”
If Volpatti, Erskine and Hendricks are, at least for the time being, enforcer-by-committee, Hendricks is also part of first-line left wing-by-committee as Oates tries to find the right fit.
Even as Hendricks understands he’s not likely to stay on the first line for the balance of the season, he recognizes that Volpatti’s presence takes a load off him when games get chippy.
“Definitely. I’d be lying if I said no,” Hendricks said. “It’s definitely going to help and it’s going to benefit me to have a guy like that kind of plays the same of hockey as I do.”
Green misses practice
Mike Green missed his second straight practice after aggravating a groin injury, and the defenseman is not expected to play Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins. That would be the fifth game he has missed this season.
Oates said only that Green was not feeling 100 percent. He hopes that the 27-year-old will not have to be shut down for a long period of time.
“It’s that injury that feels like it’s healing. Maybe it’s not,” Oates said. “I wouldn’t say it was a setback. He just doesn’t feel comfortable, and we’re just waiting for that moment where it’s like, ‘OK, go again.’ And we don’t want it until he’s closer to 100 percent.”
Without Green, the Caps will likely lean heavily on defenseman John Carlson, while Tomas Kundratek should see an increase in ice time as well.
Johansson takes step
Marcus Johansson was set to have a test and be cleared for contact later Monday, Oates said. The forward has missed the past nine games with what the team is calling an upper-body injury.
Johansson has been skating with teammates and is progressing, the team has said. As for when the 22-year-old could return to game action, Oates pointed to “conditioning.”
“He needs some skates at full speed, some contact in drills,” Oates said. “But we’ll talk about it in terms of how ready he feels.”