The Caps are set to take on the Winnipeg Jets here at MTS Centre this afternoon in an important Southeast Division match-up. Washington will be looking to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Flyers in Philly on Wednesday. Nestled in the basement of both the Southeast and the Eastern Conference standings, it is more crucial now than ever for the Caps to follow losses with chunks of wins.
Winnipeg starts the day in a first-place tie with Carolina for the top spot in the Southeast, six points ahead of the Caps. The Jets have won five of their last six, and they’ve scored a goal in the first five minutes of five of their last six games. In Thursday night’s win over New Jersey, Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd scored just eight seconds after the opening face-off to give his team a 1-0 lead.
On the other side of the coin, the Caps fell into a 1-0 hole in their Wednesday loss at Philadelphia when the Flyers’ Claude Giroux scored 23 seconds into the contest.
Here in Winnipeg – in one of the loudest barns in the league – it’s important to get off to a good start, or at least to prevent the Jets from having a great start, to minimize the impact of the crowd on the contest.
“Hopefully it doesn’t happen again,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, referring to the first shifts of both the Caps’ and Jets’ previous games. “We’re going to show them the face-off goal they got the other night in eight seconds. They have had quick starts. This building, it will be rocking tonight. Guys have got to be ready for it right away.”
Left wing Aaron Volpatti will make his Capitals debut today. Volpatti was claimed off waivers from Vancouver on Thursday and will be playing his first game with Washington without the benefit of a practice or a morning skate. He joined his new teammates in Winnipeg yesterday.
“It will be a little bit different getting into a little bit of new gear and playing with some new guys,” says Volpatti. “But once the first few shifts are out of the way, I think it will be fine.
“We went over a little bit of video yesterday at the hotel. And we’ll do a little bit now. I think they expect me to play my game and contribute.”
With Vancouver, Volpatti was deployed largely in a fourth-line role and he was frequently used to start shifts in the Canucks’ defensive zone.
“We talked to him,” says Oates. “The defensive system in Vancouver was very similar. Obviously the neutral zone is going to be a little different. We guided him through and gave him some video yesterday. We talked to him yesterday and we’ll do it again right now. We’ll throw him to the wolves a little bit and he’s got to adjust.”
Volpatti had spent his entire pro career in the Canucks’ organization until the Caps claimed him.
“I guess it was a little bit of mixed feelings at first,” says the 27-year-old winger. “Being put on waivers, I was a little bit disappointed. I didn’t know what to expect. Coming here, I think it’s a great opportunity and hopefully I can run with it.
“I’m starting to settle down here. The last 48 hours have been a little bit crazy. But it’s just another hockey game.”
Volpatti is no stranger to the Winnipeg barn. He started his pro career here late in the 2009-10 season, playing for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose upon completion of his four-year NCAA career at Brown.
“I don’t know if it helps,” says Volpatti of playing on familiar ice in his first game with the Caps. “It will be kind of cool to get back here and play. I had a lot of fun here with the Moose.”
The Revelstoke, B.C. native scored for Manitoba in his first pro game, a road contest at Abbotsford on March 29, 2010. After playing so close to home for the first two-plus seasons of his NHL career, Volpatti now moves all the way east to Washington.
“That’s why we’ve got good wives and stuff, right?” he says, of dealing with the off-ice aspects of the game. “She helps me out with that. It is tough, but you just kind of have to pack up and leave. Unfortunately some other people get stuck with settling up some loose ends. But it will be fine.”
Washington will be playing without defenseman Mike Green, who was left back in Washington to receive treatment for a lower body injury that kept him out of three games the week before last. Green returned to the lineup to play at home against Carolina on Tuesday and in Philly on Wednesday, but in doing so he re-aggravated the injury.
“It’s just not quite feeling right,” says Oates of the Green injury. “He played a couple games, got hit a little bit and it’s just not quite right. We’re taking a step back until he heals 100 percent.”
“We’ll see how he is when we come back. Maybe a couple of treatments and he feels that much better. It’s obviously concerning because of his past history. We need to really get this correct.”