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Capitals might be down another defenseman

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On the night the Washington Capitals welcomed two injured players back to the lineup, they may have seen another fall out of the mix. Defenseman Dennis Wideman, who suffered a lower-body injury Tuesday night against Carolina, didn’t take part in practice Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Wideman, who is officially listed as day-to-day, left the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Hurricanes 4 minutes 56 seconds into the second period after a collision with Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu.

On the play, Wideman appeared to have lost an edge and was falling to the ice before Ruutu came in contact with him. The Capitals defenseman was slow to get up after the collision but was able to limp off the ice, favoring his right foot and leg, under his own power. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday that he didn’t know if Wideman would be available against Columbus.

At this juncture of the season, though, adjusting to the absence of a key player due to injury is nothing new for the Capitals.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Jason Arnott returned Tuesday night after missing three games and six games, respectively, but Washington came away with eight points on the road while they were out of the lineup. And while Wideman has made an impact as the point on the power play, Coach Bruce Boudreau said the Capitals will make it work in his absence.

“If he can’t play tomorrow,” Boudreau said, “we’ll find somebody else.”

Washington acquired Wideman from the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, and his arrival couldn’t have been better timed. Three days earlier, Mike Green suffered a concussion from a hit by New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan, robbing the Capitals of their No. 1 defenseman, leader in ice time and power-play quarterback. Wideman has helped fill many of those voids.

“He moves the puck well out of his zone, he’s calm under fire, he’s done a lot of great things for us,” Boudreau said. “Power play is one of the places, because [what] coincided with him coming here is Mike Green going down. It was an easy slide into that situation.”

In his 14 games with Washington, Wideman has averaged 24 minutes 4 seconds per game — playing as many as 28 minutes on one occasion — and he’s recorded seven points, including one power-play goal.

The severity of Wideman’s injury will dictate how much of an adjustment Washington will have to make, but he’ll undoubtedly be missed on the power play. In practice Wednesday, Boudreau used combinations of Ovechkin, John Carlson and Eric Fehr and Arnott on the point when conducting drills for the man-advantage.

“It puts a little more stress on the power play” to have Wideman out, winger Mike Knuble said. “You lose Mike, and it was a big hole in the team, and Dennis filled in that role really well. It kind of made it seamless, and we were relying on him a lot. When you mix some other people in there, you realize it’s not so easy to get pucks through [from the point] all the time.”

Despite the number of injuries and illnesses that have impacted the defensive corps this season — most recently with Green out, Tom Poti still unable to return from a nagging groin injury and John Erskine catching the flu — the Capitals have remained one of the top defensive teams in the league, with a fourth-best goals-against per game average of 2.32.

The ability to endure absences of key players, veteran Scott Hannan said, is a testament to how strong the Capitals’ commitment to defense has become since Boudreau instituted a shift to a more preventative mind-set than the run-and-gun offense of previous years. The system, Hannan said, helps mend the gaps.

“We’re going to have guys that can step in and take on minutes; it’s not going to be all on a couple guys or one person,” Hannan said. “The system is there to protect the key areas, and I think over time this season, it’s why we’ve been playing such good defense.

“We have faith in ourselves and our system — we’ll get through it.”

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