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Practice-Day Notebook, 1-21-13

New Face – Defenseman Tomas Kundratek joined the Caps for the latter stages of Monday’s practice session, arriving from Hershey after being recalled from the Capitals’ AHL affiliate. The 22-year-old Kundratek played in Hershey’s AHL Outdoor Classic game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last night, scoring the lone goal in a 2-1 Bears loss.

In a corresponding roster move, the Caps placed defenseman Jack Hillen on injured reserve. Hillen left Saturday’s game against the Lightning early in the second period after absorbing a hard check from Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier. Hillen suffered an upper body injury on the play and is day-to-day.

Prior to his recall, Kundratek had 13 goals and 26 points in 41 games with the Bears this season. He ranked third among all AHL defensemen in goals and sixth in scoring. Kundratek is currently leading the Bears in goals, power play goals (six) and shots on goal (78)

“He’s been playing good down there,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “He’s a right-shot defenseman, and we’re kind of short one. He played a little bit here last year and [he gives us] a little bit of balance.”

Brooks Back? – Ailing Washington forward Brooks Laich is believed to be getting closer to a return to action. Sidelined because of a lower body injury sustained while playing in Switzerland during the lockout, Laich missed the team’s abbreviated training camp last week and did not accompany his teammates to Tampa Bay for Saturday’s season opener.

According to Oates, Laich could be back on the ice with his teammates as soon as Wednesday’s practice.

“Brooks is kind of exhausting all options,” says Oates. “He’s feeling better; he just wants to make sure it’s going in the right direction. He’s coming back. He talked to me. Hopefully like Wednesday he could maybe skate with us.

Net Selective – Oates said he hasn’t decided which goaltender will get the net for Tuesday night’s home opener against the Winnipeg Jets. Although Braden Holtby surrendered a single-game career high six goals in Saturday’s 6-3 setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning, three of those tallies came on the power play. Oates didn’t fault Holtby in any way immediately after the game on Saturday, and didn’t do so on Monday after the benefit of video analysis.

Holtby is his own harshest critic, and he thought he could have played the first and fifth goals better. He admitted that he never saw Martin St. Louis’ laser shot from center point, the 5-on-3 tally that proved to be the game-winner. Holtby holds himself to high standards; whenever he gets the net again he’ll be especially determined to follow Saturday’s game with a stronger one.

Although Holtby has played in just 36 NHL games (33 starts) including the 2012 playoffs, he has suffered consecutive losses in the same season only once, on Nov. 19-22, 2010.

If past performance is any indicator – and if Oates is inclined to give any inclination to past performance – Neuvirth could get the call. Holtby has faced the Jets (née Thrashers) just once in his career, a Nov. 19, 2010 start at Atlanta in which he surrendered three goals on five shots in nine minutes of work before being pulled.

Neuvirth has faced the Jets 10 times in his career, forging a 6-2-1 mark with a shutout, a 2.74 GAA and a .918 save pct. He started three games against the Jets last season, going 1-1-1 with a shutout, a 2.65 GAA and a .919 save pct.

Being a Better Killer – We’ve written a fair amount about the Caps’ modified power play alignment and structure, so here are a few words from Washington center and penalty killer Jay Beagle on what the coaches are looking for from the team’s penalty killing outfit this season.

“It’s just more positional, I think,” says Beagle. “The coaches talk a lot about trigger points; when to go and when to hold your lane. Obviously the forecheck was different. I think everyone could tell that we were more pressured down ice. I like it, it’s just a matter of getting used to it and also getting your brain [reprogrammed].”

Those trigger points are based on what happens with the puck and sometimes the positioning of the power play personnel.

“It’s more what they do with the puck and what’s happening with the puck,” says Beagle. “It’s more if a puck is bobbled or if their back is turned on us. If their backs are turned or if [the puck] is along the boards, those are times to pressure and to close the gaps faster.”

Like the power play and the five-on-five, the adjustments on the kill will take some time to assimilate.

“A couple of times on the first couple kills,” says Beagle of Saturday night’s season opener, “I fell back into the old system. Even out there on the ice in the forecheck on the 5-on-5 and all that stuff, it’s that instant, that split second where you’re out of position just a bit because you’re kind of stuck between the two [systems] and thinking about it a little too much. Once it comes to us with more games, it’s going to be a lot easier.”

Rule Tweaks – While consuming the splendid media meal at Tampa Times Forum before Saturday night’s season opener, I also consumed a three-page (double-sided) memorandum from the league on new rule changes and tweaks related to penalty calls.

The penalties affected include interference, face-off interference, holding, hooking, slashing, broken stick slashes, and diving/embellishment.

We saw that last one come into play in the Caps’ season opener when Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (embellishment) and Tampa Bay’s Sami Salo (holding) were both taken off at the same time on a single play.

From the league’s memorandum: “The Group agreed there should be a heightened awareness by officials and a stricter standard of enforcement applied to embellishment. Simply stated … more 2+2s should be assessed.”

So expect to see more examples of the referee taking both players in an embellishment circumstance, rather than just the alleged embellisher.

I asked a couple of players about that memo today, and the guys I spoke with both pointed to the new rule that prohibits hand use off the face-offs until a third player – from either team – has touched the puck as the one that will require the most “getting used to.”

“Every single one of us got a three-page memo from the league making sure that we know all the new rules,” relates Caps’ right wing Troy Brouwer. “The big one that we have to be worried about is not using your hand on the draws. I know a lot of guys use that as a tactic to make sure that if the puck is just scrambling around there, they can swipe it back. That’s one big thing, especially in the d-zone because you’re going to scratch and claw and do everything you can to try to get that puck back.”

The new rules and tweaks came about as the result of Aug. 21-22, 2012 meetings at the league office in Toronto where general managers, coaches, players and on-ice officials convened to discuss the standard of enforcement for those rules.