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Caps Shorthanded On Eve of Home Opener

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
It’s only one game, it’s only one loss and the season is 82 games long. All that is true of course, but the Washington Capitals nevertheless shook up their lines at Friday’s practice, less than 18 hours after Thursday’s 5-2 opening night loss to the Rangers in New York. Preparing for Saturday’s opening night at Verizon Center, the Caps were able to ice only 10 healthy forwards on Friday afternoon.

One of the changes was obvious and predictable. Right wing Chris Clark, one of Washington’s best skaters in the opener, was moved back to the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus. During his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in 2005-06, Ovechkin was never worse than a minus-2 in any of the 81 games in which he played. In Thursday night’s opener, Ovechkin and his linemates – Zubrus and Richard Zednik – were minus-4. The trio was on the ice for a last-minute empty-net goal.

“Maybe you can see how important Chris Clark is on that line for retrieving pucks,” said Caps coach Glen Hanlon after Thursday night’s loss. “The [Kris] Beech-[Alexander]Semin line looked like the Zubrus-Ovechkin line of last year. They did a good job on the power play.”

The rest of the changes are up in the air at this point and involve a more worrisome issue: injuries. Two of Washington’s other top speedy puck-pursuing wingers were out of the lineup against New York, and they may soon have company on the sidelines. Matt Bradley and Matt Pettinger missed the opening night game in New York with injuries. Neither was back on the ice Friday. That duo was joined on the sidelines by center Boyd Gordon and center/left wing Brooks Laich, both of whom are nursing minor ailments.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen [Saturday] for the lines,” said Hanlon. “We’ve only got 10 healthy forwards.”

When the Capitals take on the Canes on Saturday in Washington, the Ovechkin-Zubrus-Clark line (the Equation Line, if you will) will likely be reunited. And that is about all that is known about the makeup of Washington’s lines for Saturday.

“I thought they looked good again today,” said Hanlon of his newly reunited trio. “It’s hard not to play them. When you have success, it’s hard not to play them together. I thought Clarkie played well [Thursday] night. We’ll take a look at it [Saturday] and see who we have who can play and we’ll go from there. I do think we need puck chasers on every line. I think [Thursday] night really proved that. We missed that hounding of pucks.”

The Capitals’ AHL Hershey affiliate is slated to open the defense of its 2005-06 Calder Cup title in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton against the Penguins on Saturday night, But before the Bears board the bus for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, a few may need to be pointed in a southerly direction.

“I would think that we would have to, yeah,” offered Hanlon, when asked if the Caps might not need to dip into the AHL for a few healthy bodies before Saturday’s face-off. “We have to wait and see what’s going on with these other guys. But if they’re not ready to go, then [maybe we’ll recall] one or two [players].”

Washington vice-president and general manager George McPhee echoed Hanlon’s thoughts, but indicated that decisions and actual recalls would not likely occur until sometime Saturday, after the training staff has a chance to assess the injured.

The last forwards cut from the Capitals and sent to Hershey as training camp wound down were wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Alexandre Giroux. Hershey currently has a bit of a glut at forward on its own roster, so a recall or two might not be as crippling to the Bears now as it could be later in the campaign. Washington played its season opener with 11 forwards and seven defenseman. The Caps have eight healthy blueliners on the roster now, so one forward might be all that's needed, assuming none of the four injured players are able to suit up on Saturday.
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