Injuries place Capitals in bind

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The Washington Capitals begin one of the toughest stretches of their schedule tonight with a sizable portion of the roster either on the mend or unavailable because of injuries.

Six players did not take part in drills yesterday at Capitals Iceplex in Arlington and it was revealed that one of them, right wing Matt Bradley, had surgery on a knuckle on his left hand and will be out about a month. He already has missed five games with the injury, sustained during a fight in the Anaheim game Dec. 8.

Aside from Bradley, defenseman John Erskine (foot), right wing Chris Clark (various injuries), right wing Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery), defenseman Bryan Muir (ankle) and left wing Donald Brashear (injury not reported) also were missing yesterday.

“If Brashear’s healthy enough to play, he’ll play,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “Clark’s playing; there’s no way he’s not going to play.”

Two players — defenseman Jeff Schultz and center Alexandre Giroux — are being recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League for tonight’s game against New Jersey. Both players have been recalled previously this season, though Schultz wasn’t used.

If both recalls are needed to fill out the roster, and it appears they will be, one or more players on the current roster will have to join Zednik on injured reserve. Bradley likely would be the choice because he won’t be ready for a month with Erskine also a candidate.

The absences of Bradley and Erskine and possibly Brashear would mark the Caps’ second straight game without a physical presence. Washington fell behind Tampa Bay 5-2 on Tuesday before losing 5-4, with all three out. The Caps played softer than usual and the Lightning took advantage, especially around the net on power plays, where they scored three of their goals.

Giroux has been one of the top scorers in the AHL this season and came close to scoring Tuesday in just his second NHL game. Schultz is being brought up so he can get a look at the NHL and so the Caps can get a look at him against better competition.

“I’m happy for him,” Hanlon said of Schultz being promoted. “Sometimes this is what these guys need to play. We did it with [Mike] Green last year, trying to get him 10 to 15 games. We try to reward who’s playing best down there.”

Washington’s stretch spans six games in nine days, with three back-to-back matches and only two of them at home. The team is in Toronto tomorrow then has mandatory days off Sunday and Monday before playing at Buffalo on Tuesday. The Caps are then at home against Montreal the following night and are off Thursday before playing next Friday night at New Jersey and next Saturday night at the New York Rangers.

Note — The Caps yesterday signed Viktor Dovgan, 19, to a three-year entry level contract. The 6-foot-1, 205 pound defenseman has been playing for South Carolina in the ECHL where he has a goal and two points and is plus-1 in 22 games. He was taken by the Caps in the seventh round of the 2005 draft but the pick was challenged by the league, which claimed Dovgan was too young to be drafted. After investigating, the NHL approved the Washington selection.

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