Capitals Banged Up Entering Busy Stretch

Forward Matt Bradley (10), out up to four weeks following finger surgery, is one of several Capitals slowed by injuries.
Forward Matt Bradley (10), out up to four weeks following finger surgery, is one of several Capitals slowed by injuries. (By Mitchell Layton -- Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2006

The Washington Capitals begin one of their busiest stretches in recent memory tonight against the New Jersey Devils with several players nursing injuries.

Forwards Chris Clark, Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear, as well as defensemen John Erskine and Bryan Muir, were absent from yesterday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a disturbing development for a team without much depth and facing a grueling holiday schedule that includes six games over the next nine days.

"It just means that someone else is going to have an opportunity and a recipe for someone to get some more minutes here," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said.

The injuries will likely necessitate two minor league call-ups. It's believed the Capitals plan to summon winger Alexandre Giroux and 20-year-old defenseman Jeff Schultz from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League this morning.

Clark's condition is not considered serious and shouldn't keep him out of the lineup against Martin Brodeur and the Devils, who have lost four of their past five games and sit two points ahead of the Capitals in the Eastern Conference standings.

"He's one of those guys that have nagging little injuries that just rest will heal," Hanlon said of his team captain. "It's not going to happen overnight."

But the news wasn't so good regarding Bradley, who recently underwent surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand and will miss three to four weeks, according to General Manager George McPhee. The checking-line winger was hurt during a fight with Anaheim's Travis Moen on Dec. 8 and has missed five games.

Bradley is the second Washington player to be operated on this month. Winger Richard Zednik underwent abdominal surgery and won't be back for at least another four weeks and possibly longer.

Meantime, Brashear, Erskine and Muir are listed as day-to-day because of undisclosed injuries.

Brashear missed Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and has not skated with the team since, although he might suit up against the Devils.

"If Brash is healthy enough to play, he'll play," Hanlon said. "Erskine is the one that's farthest away from being ready to play."

Erskine blocked a shot with his left foot against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and has been off the ice since. Hanlon has mentioned how much the Capitals have missed the toughness and veteran presence of Brashear and Erskine, who have eight of the club's 19 fighting majors.

Muir, who has two goals and an assist in his last four games, skated for about five minutes yesterday before limping off. He is questionable.

As for Giroux and Schultz, whether one or both gets into the lineup will depend on the other players' status. Giroux, 25, received 6 minutes 48 seconds of ice time against the Lightning and had a scoring chance in the third period. After the game, he was sent back to Hershey, where he leads the Bears in scoring with 21 goals and 32 points in 28 contests. Schultz, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound 2004 first-round draft pick, will be looking to make his NHL debut.

"It hurts when you lose guys to injuries," center Dainius Zubrus said. "The good thing is most of them are not that serious. But even if one or two guys are out, we can't look at that as an excuse. We have to just keep going."

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