Capitals news and notes: Joel Ward off crutches

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Joel Ward was spotted Friday night at Verizon Center walking on crutches, possibly the result of taking a shot off his foot Thursday night at the Philadelphia Flyers. He didn’t play against the Winnipeg Jets and did not take part in an optional Washington Capitals practice Saturday.

But coach Dale Hunter provided a bit of good news in his update.

“He’s better,” Hunter said. “He’s off crutches now, and it’s just a matter of day-to-day.”

Asked if Ward took a puck off his foot, Hunter deflected.

“Somewhere down there, you know,” he said with a laugh. Ward is officially listed as having a lower-body injury.

Asked if Ward would be available to play Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, Hunter just repeated that the 31-year-old right wing was “day-to-day.”

Aren’t we all.

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It could be good news about Ward that the Caps shipped forward Cody Eakin back to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

Eakin was recalled Friday morning in case Alexander Semin couldn’t play because of a lower-body injury that had been bothering him. Both players took the ice for pregame warm-ups Friday night, and Semin was in the lineup, showing no ill-effects. Eakin assigned to Hershey on Friday night, though the move was announced Saturday.

With Semin OK, though, the Caps have just 12 healthy forwards if Ward is unavailable. The potential certainly exists for the Caps to dress seven defenseman, though, as Hunter shortened his bench up front Friday, benching Jeff Halpern and Keith Aucoin for long stretches.

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Shortening his bench earned Hunter some well-deserved heat. Even as players shook off the fatigue excuse for coughing up a three-goal lead, others admitted they were tired on the second half of a tough back-to-back.

Hunter’s explanation Friday night was that “our fourth line didn’t do the job, so a couple of them sat down.”

Asked again Saturday about it, he pointed line-matching and mistakes by fourth-liners as reasons for his decisions.

“It’s one of those games where they were on the ice for a couple [of goals],” Hunter said. “[The Jets] were wheeling the one line, the [Blake] Wheeler line, so much trying to tie the game up. So they were shortening the bench also.”

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Thirteen Caps players on the active roster took part in Saturday’s optional practice, along with Nicklas Backstrom, who is trying to work back from a concussion.

Aucoin, Halpern, Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Jeff Schultz, Dmtry Orlov, Braden Holtby, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth participated.

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