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Boudreau has different set of health questions

by Dan Rosen
Forever a minor-league guy until just 2 1/2 years ago, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau roots hard for the boys that play for the AHL Hershey Bears, but he'd also be thrilled if he doesn't have to coach any of them this spring.

Washington's depth is so great Boudreau probably won't have to. He will, though, likely have to choose up to five players to be healthy scratches when the playoffs begin next week because the Capitals should have 15 forwards and eight defensemen (nine when Milan Jurcina gets healthy) on their playoff roster.

"In the course of the playoffs, if you go anywhere you're going to have injuries, bumps and bruises and we'll be able to replace people without much of a decline in the ability," Boudreau said. "Taking nothing away from Hershey, but it won't be the same thing if you have to go to Hershey to call up guys."

Boudreau cautions that having at least five able NHL bodies in the press box is a healthy situation only "if everybody is on the same page, which I think we are." It can be a negative if players make their frustrations known publicly.

That doesn't seem likely.

Just about everyone in the Capitals' dressing room at one time or another has voiced a belief that this team is about to embark on a special playoff journey and nobody wants to ruin it with selfishness.

Boudreau made sure to meet with each one of his players individually after the trade deadline to explain the philosophy and hammer home the message.

"Any player will tell you that they want to be in the lineup, and when that is taken away from them, you're sure there is a level of frustration, but we understand we have quality players that can play and we have to find a way to keep guys fresh," Brendan Morrison said. "We feel we're going to have a long run and having these extra bodies will pay dividends down the road. Not that you need motivation to sharpen up at this time of the year, but sometimes (having to earn your ice time) can give you that extra edge."

The Capitals picked up a bulk of their depth at the deadline when they added Scott Walker, Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo and Jurcina and subtracted just one roster player, Brian Pothier. The trades also included three draft picks and prospect Oskar Osala.

They have made transactions with Hershey of late, calling up Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner to play, but their only playing time came because Boudreau rested a few regulars to keep them fresh for the playoffs.

Of the 23 skaters, only Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin have dressed for every game since the trade deadline.

Boudreau was afforded that luxury because the Capitals had the conference's top seed wrapped up so early. That allowed him to have the guts to sit Corvo two nights after he scored 2 goals in Carolina. Mike Green hasn't played in the last two games.

Jeff Schultz, who leads the NHL with a plus-44 rating, played 22 minutes against Pittsburgh on March 24, and then watched in a suit as the Caps won in Carolina the next night. Similarly, Tom Poti played 22 minutes against Chicago on March 14, but was scratched two nights later in Florida.

Tomas Fleischmann looked gassed in the first three games back from the Olympics, so Boudreau told him take a breather when the Capitals played Dallas on March 8. Fleischmann responded with goals in the next two games.

"I sat out Joe Corvo after he got 2 goals so it's not because they're playing badly," Boudreau said. "You can't look at it and say you've been really bad for a long time so we're taking you out. That hasn't happened."

The key to this formula is Boudreau hasn't sat any of his healthy core players for more than one game at a time. That was part of the philosophy, and depending on how the playoffs unfold, it could stay the same for a while.

"You have to keep the players involved in games. You don't want them to go three or four weeks without playing and then say here, you're playing in Game 7," Boudreau said. "We want them to stay acclimated and we're trying to keep everyone involved that way, so that's made it a little more difficult. But I think we have succeeded and the players have bought into it, which is a great sign. Nobody likes to sit out, but they understand what we're trying to do. They have the same common goal as I do."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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