With defenseman Karl Alzner (upper body) and left winger Marcus Johansson (lower body) unavailable for Monday’s practice and questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals could ill afford to see Brooks Orpik storm off the ice in frustration less than 10 minutes into the team’s hour-long workout.
Orpik, 35, has been sidelined since Nov. 10 with a lower body injury.
“Obviously, he was a little frustrated,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s just not coming around the way he wanted. We’re not going to hurry him, as I’ve already said. He’s going back to have some more tests done for a little bit of peace of mind. We’ve just got to make sure we’re doing all the right things.
“He’s gotten some rest and he’s skated some and he’s had some good days and some bad days, but it’s not coming around as cleanly as it should for us and for him. He’s too valuable. You know what kind of battler he is. He’s an all-in guy and he’s too valuable to our team to risk that.”
While Orpik will sit out his 12th straight game on Tuesday, Alzner could have his 401-game playing streak halted with an upper body injury sustained in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Winnipeg. The last time Alzner missed a game due to injury was after he injure his hand in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 28, 2008.
Trotz said he would probably know Tuesday morning whether or not Alzner and Johansson will be available to play against the Red Wings.
If Alzner cannot play, look for Aaron Ness to take his roster spot on a third defense pairing with Taylor Chorney. That would move Dmitry Orlov up into Alzner’s spot on a second defense pairing alongside Matt Niskanen.
Ness, a left-shooting, 5-foot-10, 187-pounder from Roseau, Minn., has played in 29 career NHL games with the New York Islanders, but none since the 2013-14 season.
“I’ve done it before,” Ness said. “It’s not my first time. I just want to stick to what I do and see how it goes.”
Signed by the Caps as a free agent last summer Ness’ greatest attribute is his speed and overall skating ability.
“He’s a terrific skater,” said Niskanen, a fellow Minnesotan. “He’s been a pro player for a while now so he’s got some experience. He’s got a good sense for the game and he skates very well. He’s been called up and down a lot, so he knows what to expect. I’m not worried about him. He’ll be a good player for us.”
In 21 games with Hershey Ness has no goals and nine assists. Trotz said the decision to recall a defenseman came down to Ness and Connor Carrick, who has five goals and seven assists in 23 games for the Bears.
“Ness was just a little bit better,” Trotz said. “And he was one of the last cuts (in training camp). It made a lot of sense. He left here in a good state of mind, went down to Hershey and has played really consistent and he gets rewarded.”
As for Alzner possibly having his games played streak ended – he was a healthy scratch for the Caps’ season finale of the 2009-10 season -- Trotz said Alzner is battling “two little ailments.”
“He’s been a rock for us since I’ve been here,” Trotz said. “He’s one of those calm and steady forces and you know what you’re going to get with Karl. To me he’s one of those unsung heroes that doesn’t get enough recognition.”
Trotz said he has a message for the six healthy defensemen who will be in the lineup Tuesday night against the Red Wings.
“Step up,” he said. “Everybody wants opportunities and right now some guys are really taking advantage of that opportunity. You’ve got to elevate your game. If you don’t, when people get back you move down.”