As if the foundering Washington Capitals needed any more adversity, Friday they received another dose of it: Captain Chris Clark will be sidelined at least seven to 10 days with a sprained shoulder.
Clark, the right wing who skates alongside Dainius Zubrus and Alex Ovechkin, has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced. His vacated roster spot will be filled by prospect Tomas Fleischmann, who was recalled from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League.
Clark was injured during a violent collision with Sharks defenseman Doug Murray in the third period of Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Sharks, the Capitals' fifth consecutive defeat and eighth loss in nine games decided by shootout this season.
"It wasn't a dirty hit," Clark said. "He just outweighs me about 40 pounds. It could take longer [than seven to 10 days] to heal, but it's definitely better than it was when it happened. Hopefully tomorrow it's better than it is today. "
Clark wasn't the only right wing the Capitals were concerned about following Friday's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Youngster Eric Fehr left the ice after only a few minutes with a sore back and is questionable for Saturda's game in East Rutherford, N.J., against the Devils, who have defeated the Capitals six consecutive times and face them again at Verizon Center on Sunday. Only San Jose has a longer active winning streak against Washington (10 games).
Because of the injuries to Clark and Fehr, Coach Glen Hanlon mixed and matched his forward lines -- the most interesting combination had enforcer Donald Brashear skating with Zubrus and Ovechkin -- but Hanlon wouldn't commit to any of the combinations. Hanlon said he's considering putting Alexander Semin or perhaps Richard Zednik on the right side of the top line, but that "stacking" one unit could have a detrimental effect against the defensively dominant Devils. Fleischmann, recalled later in the day, also could see playing time on that line.
"They do a great job against us, especially with [Devils checking line center John] Madden's group," Hanlon said. "So you can't put all of your offensive weapons in one basket. We've talked about a lot of different options, but if they shut down one group . . ."
Hanlon didn't finish his sentence. But he really didn't have to. Because since tweaking the forechecking system to put more emphasis on defensive play before playing in Pittsburgh on Feb. 3, the Capitals have scored an average of 2.0 goals during those nine contests, well below their season average of 2.97.
The offensive downturn can be traced to a problematic power play (it has converted only six of its last 48 opportunities) as well as an unproductive Ovechkin (one goal in nine games) and struggling Semin (two goals in the same span).
The Capitals couldn't have picked a worse time to have scoring woes with goaltender Martin Brodeur and the Devils up next for a home-and-home series this weekend. Brodeur leads the league in shutouts with 11 and ranks second in both goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.926). He also has all 38 of the Atlantic Division-leading Devils' victories this season.
As for Fleischmann, he's getting his fourth opportunity in Washington this season. The 22-year-old has proven almost all he can in the AHL (he has 20 goals and 47 points in 42 games for the Bears this season), and now it's time for him to show he can produce for the Capitals.
Capitals Note: Backup goaltender Frederic Cassivi is not expected to see any action this weekend, despite the back-to-back games. "It's not about Freddy," Hanlon said. "Brent Johnson has been really good here. He wants to play, and as long he keeps playing like he is, I don't see any reason for him not to start."