Kundratek grabs big minutes in Green's absence

Kundratek grabs big minutes in Green's absence
February 22, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Capitals defenseman Mike Green didn’t declare himself ready to return to the lineup on Saturday when the New Jersey Devils visit Verizon Center, but he did talk about his lower body injury in the past tense.

“We’ve done this right,” Green said after participating in a full practice on Friday. “We’ve done the necessary steps and I feel good. So it’s been a quick turnaround.”

Green has missed the last two games with an apparent groin strain and since he missed 41 games last season following sports hernia surgery he took the option of sitting out Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Devils in the front end of the back-to-back set.

“You’ve got to play it smart,” Green said. “It’s better that I be safe than sorry and be out for longer.”

With Green out of the lineup Adam Oates has asked a lot from defensemen John Carlson and rookie Tomas Kundratek. Carlson logged more than 26 minutes against the Rangers and a season-high 30:34 against the Devils, while Kundratek played 23:25 against the Rangers and 19:02 against the Devils.

Of the 30-plus minutes Carlson played on Thursday, 4:40 was spent blocking shots on the penalty kill. He finished the game with five blocks and ranks third in the NHL with 45.

“You worry about [Saturday],” Oates said. “He played 30 minutes. How’s he going to feel at noon? It’s all cumulative how it adds up.”

Kundratek has also been given a bigger bite of games, playing on a top pairing with Karl Alzner during Green’s absence.

“You don’t want to put guys in situations that they’re not used to,” Oates said. “It’s also a good chance for Kundy to prove who he can be and all those kind of things. But you have your guys for a reason.”

Through the first 14 games of the season Green was that guy for the Caps, averaging a team-high 26:33.

“When you play that many minutes, you’re expecting so many decisions based on that because of who he is and how many good decisions he makes,” Oates said. “It helps our club.”

Other injuries: Forward Marcus Johansson, sidelined the past five games, skated again with the team on Friday and said he’s making progress, but is not giving a timetable for what is believed to be a back injury.

“I’m not good yet but hopefully soon,” he said. “It’ll take a little time. You never know. It might go quick, it might not.

“You never want something to go on that long. I want to be 100 percent, that’s the important thing. You want to be able to give 100 percent and not have any doubts in the back of your head.”

Wing flipping: Oates promoted Eric Fehr [3 goals] to a second line, where he’ll replace Wojtek Wolski [2 goals] with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.

“I want to give Fehrsie a few more minutes playing with Nick and Brouwer just because I thought that he’s been playing some really good hockey for us and I want to test chemistry,” Oates said.

As for Wolski, he’s gone eight games without a goal and is a minus-6. He took just one shift in the third period Thursday night. Wolski will play with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward.

“It gives WoJo a chance to take a step back and play with two different guys and maybe try not to be too fancy and simplify his game a little,” Oates said.

“I thought he made a couple of mistakes early in the game and that’s part of what we’ve talked about- that’s not system mistakes, those are mistakes and we can’t have those.”