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Posted at 02:09 PM ET, 01/18/2010

Carlson sent down, Ovechkin named first star

Today's practice was optional and several players, including Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann, exercised that option. Still, there was plenty going on.

*Let's begin with the news of the day: Defenseman John Carlson was returned to Hershey after practice, despite his strong showing against Toronto and Philadelphia. Carlson was a combined plus-4 in the two games, the best of any Caps' defenseman in that stretch.

He's headed to Portland, Maine, for Tuesday's AHL All-Star Game. It's unclear if he'll make it there in time to take part in the hardest shot competition tonight in the skills showcase.

*Carlson's demotion could mean that John Erskine (upper-body injury) is close to returning. Erskine practiced fully today.

*Brian Pothier, who has been sidelined the past two games with an undisclosed injury, also skated. But he still was limited in what he could do and afterward told me he's not ready to return.

*The injury news regarding goalie Semyon Varlamov (groin/knee) did not sound all that encouraging. He had hoped to practice with the team at some point this week, but he did not skate at all today.

Asked if Varlamov had suffered a setback, Boudreau said: "I don't know. I just think he's been skating every day for so long that sometimes you give it a rest. Once you give it a rest, he'll be stronger tomorrow."

When asked if Varlamov, who has been out since Dec. 7, would be on the ice tomorrow, Boudreau added: "I'm not a 100 percent sure, but I know he wants to."

While it's far too early to reach for the panic button, Varlamov's health is likely the most pressing matter facing the Caps at the moment.

*With three goals and seven assists in the past four games, Alex Ovechkin has been named the NHL's first star of the week.

At least as impressive as his 3-7-10 scoring line was the fact that Ovechkin was plus-5 in the Caps' last two games (both victories) and is now plus-28 for the season, tops in the NHL -- and a big jump from his plus-8 finish last season.

*No word yet on whether the Caps plan to recall Karl Alzner now that he's eligible to suit up for the Bears during the Olympic break. But the team is considering it.

*With the Red Wings, Penguins (in Pittsburgh) and Coyotes on the schedule this week, this is an important stretch as Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee take stock of what they've got and what they might need. After Saturday's game, the Caps will only have 11 more games before the March 3 trade deadline.

"This is a great 'test' week," Boudreau said. "The statistics don't show Detroit as a top team in the league. But you always play them as if they're the top team in the league. Then we're playing the champions and you throw everything out when it's Washington-Pittsburgh. They're a great team. Then you're playing Phoenix, the upstart team. It's not that you take them lightly, but they've got 61 points and they just keep coming at you. Teams get up for us now. So everyday we have to be at our best."

*With the Caps' offense having produced four or more goals in seven straight
games, Boudreau sounds like he might have found that elusive balance he's been seeking with his forward line combinations. (At least for now.)

"People keep forgetting that this is not a sprint, you start in September and you're going hopefully until June, so this is a marathon," he said. "So you've got to try and experiment with different things. Right now it's a good fit. We found out that [Tomas] Fleischmann is a good fit with Semin. It took us 40 games plus to get it. Hopefully we can keep it the same."

By  |  02:09 PM ET, 01/18/2010

Tags:  Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Semyon Varlamov

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