Following Friday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Capitals coach Adam Oates was asked about the importance of being a tough team to play against.
“There’s a lot of different ways,” he said. You can try to be a physical team, an intimidating team, a speed team, a relentless team,” he said. “I think we’re kind of in that ballpark. I want to be a relentless team.”
Through 19 games the Caps rank 22nd in the NHL in hits with 388 and 28th in fighting majors with five.
Enter Aaron Volpatti, a hard-hitting, glove-dropping left wing whom the Caps claimed off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Oates said the 6-foot, 215-pounder will join the Capitals in Winnipeg and make his Capitals debut Saturday afternoon against the Jets, likely in place of struggling left wing Wojtek Wolski.
“He’s a big strong kid, another big guy in the lineup to help the system go north,” Oates said. “We’re looking forward to see what he brings.”
Volpatti, 27, recorded 42 hits and four fighting majors in 16 games with the Canucks this season. That would rank him second on the Caps in hits [behind Troy Brouwer’s 44] and tied with Matt Hendricks for first in fights.
Hendricks said he remember Volpatti being effective against the Caps last season in their only visit to Vancouver.
“He plays hard, hits hard, and plays that gritty style of hockey I like to see,” Hendricks said. “This time of the year we need as much energy as possible.”
Volpatti also relieves Hendricks of some of the responsibilities as the Capitals’ tough guy. Defenseman John Erskine is the only other Capital with a fighting major this season.
Asked if having Volpatti makes his job a little easier, Hendricks was honest with his reply.
“I’d be lying if I said no,” he said, “It’s definitely going to benefit me to have a guy like that, who play the same style of hockey as I do. I’d be crazy if I said no.”
Oates said Volpatti’s presence will allow Hendricks and Erskine to concentrate on some of their other responsibilities, like killing penalties and, in the case of Hendricks, taking key faceoffs.
Most importantly, Volpatti gives the Caps something they might have lacked in Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss in Philadelphia – a little push back.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough,” Oates said of team toughness. “When you go into hostile environments – Philly, for example, tries to bang and intimidate and wear you out and it’s good to have guys that can handle that.”
Wolski to the scratch sheet? Since Volpatti plays left wing he’s like to replace Wolski on a fourth line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb. Wolski has gone 11 games without a goal and has just two goals, two assists and is a minus-5 in 19 games this season.
“He’s snakebit and he might need take a step back and regroup,” Oates said. “He’s one of the guys, when it comes to execution, I need more of.”
Holtby returns: Oates confirmed that goaltender Braden Holtby will make his ninth straight start in goal Saturday against the Jets. Puck drop is 1 p.m.
Injury update: Right wing Marcus Johansson, sidelined since Feb. 7 with an upper body injury, took turns on a fourth line on Friday but has not yet been cleared for full contact. That clearance is expected to come next week when the Caps face the Bruins on Tuesday and Panthers on Thursday.
Time flies: Sixteen years ago, on March 1, 1997, Adam Oates came to Washington in a blockbuster trade that also brought Rick Tocchet and Bill Ranford to the Caps in exchange for goaltender Jim Carey, centers Anson Carter and Jason Allison and a 1997 third-round draft pick.
Asked about that day, Oates, 50, shuffled his feet and said, “God, I’m getting old.”