By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Washington Capitals were granted a rare reprieve from the regular season grind over the weekend. But two days away from the rink didn't do as much for Donald Brashear and Mike Green as the team had hoped.
Brashear joined his teammates on the ice yesterday for the first time in almost three weeks, but he was forced to leave practice early after aggravating the injury that has forced him to miss the past eight games.
Afterward, the veteran enforcer said the sprained anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee is "better" and that he wants to practice again today. But Coach Bruce Boudreau planned to take the cautious route, saying the Capitals intend to recall a forward from the minor league Hershey Bears to replace Brashear in the lineup tomorrow against the NHL-worst New York Islanders. Boudreau wouldn't say who would be recalled from the Bears.
"It's better," Brashear said of the injured knee. "But once we got to the physical stuff, it's not there yet. I still tweak it here and there."
Brashear said he's gained strength and range of motion in the knee. But he also said he still doesn't know exactly when he'll be able to return.
"I'm really day-to-day," Brashear added. "The last three days are the days I have felt the most improvement. And today was the best of the three days."
Green, meantime, is the latest player to come down with the virus that's been working its way through the Capitals' locker room in recent weeks. It's too early to know whether the NHL's leading scorer among defensemen will miss tomorrow's game, Boudreau said, but the hope is that Green will be able to practice today.
"Instead of having another eight guys catch it, we just sent him home for today," Boudreau said.Gordon Could Be Out Longer
Boyd Gordon had been hoping to return before the end of the regular season, but the checking-line forward acknowledged yesterday that his recovery from a broken index finger on his left hand likely will linger into the first round of the playoffs.
"Sometimes you just need to let things heal," said Gordon, who owns the second-best faceoff percentage on the team (56.1) behind David Steckel (56.8) (Sergei Fedorov is at 57.5 but hasn't taken enough faceoffs to qualify for the league ranking). "I don't know exactly when; it's the worst finger to break."
Gordon said he didn't suffer a setback, and the break, which is near the knuckle, didn't require surgery. But he described the injury as "complicated" and said it could worsen if he doesn't allow it to heal completely.The Race for Second
As the Capitals close in on their second consecutive Southeast Division title -- any combination of three points won by the Capitals or lost by the Carolina Hurricanes will do it -- Boudreau said the team's focus over the final six games is beating out the New Jersey Devils for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"I think it's realistic," Boudreau said. "It makes the last six games -- if you want that second seed -- pretty important. We like playing at home, so it would be beneficial for us to [finish] as high as we can in the standings. We'll be watching the TV pretty closely tonight."
New Jersey blew its chance to put some distance between itself and the Capitals over the past week, having lost five in a row (0-4-1), including last night's 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.Varlamov Recalled
Goaltender Simeon Varlamov was recalled yesterday after making a pair of starts for Hershey over the weekend. He's been promised by the Washington coaching staff at least two more starts with the Capitals before the end of the regular season. . . . Fedorov hasn't recorded a point in his past five games and has one point, a goal, in his past eight. He didn't record a shot on goal in the Capitals' 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Friday. . . . Boudreau shuffled his forward lines again, putting Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on the first line and Tomas Fleischmann, Fedorov and Eric Fehr on the second line. Viktor Kozlov, meantime, skated on the third line with Michael Nylander and Brooks Laich.