Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
The Caps have gone through a ton of defenseman this season — Jack Hillen got hurt, John Erskine was suspended, and head coach Adam Oates has looked for any possible combination to get the Caps out of their slump.
Since January 22nd, that has meant going with Tomas Kundratek, a 23-year-old Czech acquired in a minor league trade a little over a year ago, sometimes at the cost of guys like Roman Hamrlik. Kundratek was called up from Hershey after putting up 26 points with the Bears and being in the top five in goals among AHL defensemen.
“I coached him a little in Hershey and liked him and liked what I saw,” said Oates. “I think he’s done a great job when he’s been here so far.”
Oates, it seems, is a fan of the offensive side to young D-man’s game. Kundratek has seen ice time on the power play for the Caps, playing the point on the second unit. At even-strength, Kundratek, a right-handed shot, has lately been paired with Jeff Schultz, a lefty, as Oates wants to see his defenseman play on their natural side.
While Kundratek got in a few games with the Caps last year, he had yet to register an NHL point until Tuesday. When Marcus Johansson, a guy familiar with not getting on the board, tallied his first goal of the year, it was Kundratek with the primary assist.
“It felt great, but I wish we would win tonight,” a disappointed Kundratek said after the game.
With the Caps on the man advantage late in the first, Kundratek received a pass at the near faceoff circle. Wasting no time, he fired the pass to Johansson, who was waiting in front of the net.
“He made a great play on the goal — great play,” Oates told me. “It was big goal for us.”
The problem for the Caps, though, is there was only one more tally on the night. Once again, Washington came up short, losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. The Caps fell to 2-7-1. With five points, they now have the worst record in the National Hockey League. There’s more than a fifth of the season in the books and things are getting desperate for the Washington Capitals.
“I really don’t have the answers,” said Matt Hendricks. “I’m having a hard time with this.”