By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Washington Capitals' hopes of making an improbable second-half run to the playoffs may have suffered a serious blow yesterday when the team announced that star center Michael Nylander will be out for three to six months because of a shoulder injury.
Nylander, the Capitals' prized free agent acquisition in the offseason and second-leading scorer with 11 goals and 26 assists, had been playing with a torn rotator cuff for the past six weeks. He is scheduled to have surgery today at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, according to General Manager George McPhee.
"I give him full marks for having the courage to play the last three weeks with it -- until he couldn't play anymore," Coach Bruce Boudreau said before last night's game against the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center. "He's tried and he's taken [practices] off, but he just couldn't go anymore. So it was best to get it done.
"We just have to band together."
The loss of Nylander comes as the Capitals were starting to turn around their season. The team has gone 10-4-3 in its last 17 games, and is five points out of a playoff spot with 37 games remaining.
Last night, checking-line center Boyd Gordon was promoted to the second line, where he skated between Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin. Gordon has four goals and six assists in 29 games this season.
"We're going to play with what we have," McPhee said. "We played pretty well when [Nylander] was out of the lineup before. We're not going to trade assets -- young players -- to fill a hole."
Asked if he might consider recalling a player from the minor league Hershey Bears, McPhee said: "Not right now. We'll see how the next week goes."
Nylander's point total was second on the team to Alex Ovechkin's 54 points (entering last night's game). His five power-play goals ranked second, but his plus-minus rating of minus-19 was the worst on the team. Boudreau said the injury contributed to Nylander's struggles in the defensive end.
"Absolutely," Boudreau said. "As centerman, when you have to compete against the big guys, that's when Mike would come to me and say, 'I feel so bad because you're not seeing the real Michael Nylander.' "
McPhee said he believes Nylander suffered the injury while taking a faceoff during the Capitals' 2-1 win at Florida on Dec. 1. Nylander missed the next four games -- the Capitals went 3-1 without him -- and returned on Dec. 14.
Nylander played the next 13 contests, and had a goal and an assist in the Capitals' 6-4 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. But he was unable to practice Monday and decided to end his season and opt for surgery later in the day. Nylander, who signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract in July, is expected to return to Washington in the coming days and begin his rehabilitation with head trainer Greg Smith, McPhee said.
A league source told The Post last week that the injury to Nylander's left shoulder was far worse than the Capitals or the player had acknowledged, and that surgery was a possibility.
"It was the player's decision," McPhee said. "The manager or the coach can't tell the player what to do when it comes to something like this."
Nylander's injury is the latest setback for a team that has struggled to stay healthy all season. Captain Chris Clark was sidelined again last night with the strained groin muscle that has forced him to miss 18 of the past 19 games. The Capitals also are without defenseman Brian Pothier, who has missed four games with a concussion and has yet to resume strenuous activity.