Oleksy and Kundratek pose with their milestone pucks. (Photo via the Capitals’ Instagram)
Tuesday, while also a good night for the Washington Capitals, was a great one for former Hershey Bears defensemen. First, Steve Oleksy notched his first NHL point, getting an assist on Mike Ribeiro’s second period tally. Later in the period, it was Tomas Kundratek‘s turn. With the Caps down 3-1, Kundratek put Washington within one with a pin-balling shot that hit the back of the net for his inaugural NHL goal. Thanks to Eric Fehr’s magical overtime marker, Washington came back to win 4-3, beating one of the league’s top team in the Boston Bruins. Kundratek, adding to his memorable night, had an assist on the game winner.
“It’s great to comeback in a game like this against a team like this,” Kundratek said after the game. “It’s great thing for us. We’ll have to keep going after this.”
“Fans were pushing us forward,” he added. “It was unreal. It was a great crowd.”
Kundratek’s goal, though special, wasn’t prettiest. Midway through the second period, the young Czech unleashed a wrist shot from the top of the circles. The puck hit Bruins defensemen Johnny Boychuk’s legs at the hashmarks, fooling goalie Tuukka Rask. Kundratek pumped his fists in ecstasy and hugged his teammates.
“I definitely celebrated like winning goal in playoffs,” he told me with a smile. “It’s the first one and I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
“It was great,” Kundratek continued. “”It was great, great feeling. I’m really happy for it. It was kind of an ugly one but it counts so I’m really happy.”
Thank you everyone for the congratulations for tha goal! #Sohappy great comeback!!!
— Tomas Kundratek (@Kundrc84) March 6, 2013
“You’re happy for him,” said head coach Adam Oates. “He’s played good hockey.”
Kundratek is well liked by the first year bench boss. Since getting called up after Jack Hillen’s early season injury, he’s wiggled himself into more playing time. He got into the lineup because Oates likes his defenseman to play on their natural side. Since the Caps have an abundance of lefties, the right-handed shooting Kundratek was slotted above veterans like Roman Hamrlik. Since then, he’s proven himself to Oates, who was a fan of Kundratek during his time behind the Bears bench while the NHL was locked out. Kundratek has gotten time on the power play, and thanks to Mike Green’s groin injury, he’s seen time on the top defensive pairing, including against Boston.
“It feels great,” Kundratek said of his increased playing time. “I really appreciate that coach is giving me an opportunity like this.”
“With Greenie out it’s more minutes,” said Oates. “You’re throwing him to the wolves a little bit. He handed it great.”
While Kundratek’s first goal is a nice moment, the fact he’s being relied on for big minutes is not. The Capitals have a big problem with defensive depth. Despite the injuries, John Erskine should not be a top-four defenseman, Steven Oleksy should not be playing in the NHL, and Kundratek should not get over 20 minutes of ice time a night. Still, Kundratek was eager to get on the board — and so were his teammates.
“In the pre-game skate Mikey came to me — Mike Green — and he’s like ‘You have to score the first one today!’ so I was like ‘I’ll try,” Kundratek said. “It went in so it’s a pretty great feeling.”
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