- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

One Washington Capitals player recovering from an injury will test his ailing shoulder tonight, but a continuing injury to another player is causing management considerable concern.

Defenseman Calle Johansson, who underwent extensive rotator cuff surgery Nov.12, is scheduled to play his first game since Nov.8 when the Caps face Pittsburgh in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

But center Jeff Halpern is still hobbled from a groin injury that occurred after he completed his rehabilitation from reconstructive knee surgery Feb.20. Halpern pulled a groin muscle about three weeks ago and has practiced only once since, although he skated easily by himself yesterday for 40 minutes.

"It wasn't much of a concern after the first week, but it is now," coach Bruce Cassidy said of Halpern. "He may not play in any exhibition games, which is not good for a guy coming off major knee surgery."

But the problem goes deeper than that. The Caps have two holdouts, and both are centers, meaning the team is missing three people at a critical position.

"That becomes an even bigger concern," Cassidy said. "Down the middle, I've always believed you've got to be strong there to be in the game. If you're solid defensively and you're good down the middle, you'll be in every game but you may not score a ton. That's a concern. We've got guys who can play in the middle. It's just that the other guys have proven over the long term what they can do, so obviously we want to get them back."

Andrei Nikolishin and Dainius Zubrus are holding out. Both are seeking more than $1.6million, which is $500,000 more than the team said it would pay. Negotiations with Zubrus' agent have been off-and-on, and team sources said there has been little talk between the team and Nikolishin's people lately.

"There was no dialog today," general manager George McPhee said yesterday. "We'll consider them injured players and move on."

Meanwhile, Johansson has been to shoulder specialists in Kentucky twice to determine why strength is returning so slowly to his shoulder. New exercises were prescribed, and he said he is getting better, albeit slowly.

"The motion is pretty good, actually really good," he said yesterday after practice. "[The strength] is improving every day; it's just a matter of time. It's coming back."

Cassidy wants to take it easy with Johansson in the defenseman's first test so the player can gauge how it feels and so the coach can determine how the Swede looks after such a long layoff.

"Calle's been around a long time; I don't think he's going to put himself in a position he can't handle," Cassidy said.

Notes There is a league-wide roster freeze in effect to get ready for Friday's waiver draft. Each team can protect 18 skaters and two goalies. Washington should have no trouble protecting its forwards but could lose a goalie. It will protect Olie Kolzig, which leaves a choice between Craig Billington, 36, and Sebastien Charpentier, 25, for the other protected spot. Chances are the Caps will opt to protect the younger man and take the chance nobody will touch the veteran because of his age and salary ($875,000).

Washington's roster stands at 28, five more than the maximum number allowed during the season. The Caps probably will keep all 28 around to ensure there are enough players for the three remaining exhibition games.


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