The Washington Times - March 27, 2012, 11:51AM

With John Erskine out with a lower-body injury, Tuesday’s scratches skate featured three forwards taking shots on goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun. That’s because the Washington Capitals will again go with seven defensemen Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

“It just gives the “D” more of a breather. You don’t have to play so many guys so many minutes,” coach Dale Hunter said. “[And] it’s just a rotation thing up front. I get to play my better players more.”

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Breathers, Hunter means, for the bottom three defensemen. Sunday that was Jeff Schultz (9:49 of ice time), Dmitry Orlov (10:55) and John Carlson (11:17). They’re likely to rotate again, with Dennis Wideman, Karl Alzner, Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik handling the bulk of the defensive duties.

The added benefit is getting to double-shift Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin to make matchups more difficult.

“It is tough. We’d be in the same situation if [the Penguins] double-shift [Evgeni] Malkin or somebody like that,” Hunter said. “So definitely it’s hard to match lines. Ovi’s out there a lot and Alex Semin will be out there a lot. So it’s a little tougher to match.”

Jeff Halpern will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game after a brutal turnover Friday that led to a Winnipeg Jets goal. Joel Ward will miss his third straight game after taking a shot off the foot Thursday at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“He’s just getting back going again right now,” Hunter said of Ward.

Nicklas Backstrom was the other forward on the ice for extra time, as he tries to get back into game shape as part of his return from a January concussion. There’s no timetable for Backstrom’s return.

“I don’t know. That’s [trainer Greg Smith],” Hunter said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Here’s a look at the likely lines and pairings:

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin

Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Mike Knuble

Marcus Johansson - Keith Aucoin - Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman

Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green

Jeff Schultz - Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson