- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The lights at the Washington Capitals‘ practice rink were off Tuesday morning - a symbol for a team that needed a day to rest and heal.

Bruised, battered and beaten in three straight games, the Caps returned from a road trip to forget. Washington went 1-3-1 in its five games away from Verizon Center, but the record alone doesn’t tell the story.

The Caps allowed 25 goals in the five contests - not counting the extra one tacked on by a shootout loss at New Jersey - and by the end of the trip were running out of healthy bodies. They trailed by at least three goals in each of the final three games of the excursion.

“Our goal [Monday] was if we win, then we’re .500 on the five road games and we’re sitting there saying, ‘That’s not that bad,’” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But we didn’t get it done, and it is back to the ironing board or drawing board or whatever it is called.”

Despite missing three key offensive contributors, scoring goals hasn’t been a problem no matter where the Caps play. Preventing them is another matter: The Caps have allowed an NHL-worst 52 goals in 13 road games.

“That number will come down,” Boudreau said. “If you look at it, there are two sevens, a six and a five with two empty-net goals. Up to that point, we were beating Anaheim 6-2, and they scored two late goals. It is like a rut and groove - they are the same thing, but it can shift so quickly.”

There have been nights when the team didn’t receive adequate goaltending, but in recent bad performances, more of the blame could be directed toward the skaters in front of the netminders. This is where the barrage of injuries has hindered the Caps. Washington lost top minute-munching defenseman Mike Green to a bruised shoulder early in the road trip and finished Monday against Minnesota without defenders Jeff Schultz and John Erskine.

Toss in the absence of Sergei Fedorov and the departure of Boyd Gordon against the Wild and the Caps also were without two of their top defensive forwards.

“We’ll get back to being a solid team defensively,” Boudreau said. “I never like to blame injuries, but we’ve got some hurts on defense that have made it difficult.”

While the Caps didn’t practice Tuesday, the training staff was busy. As many as seven of the team’s 21 players could miss Wednesday’s game against Atlanta.

Schultz is the only player who is certain not to play. A broken finger will land him on injured reserve, opening a roster spot for a call-up from Hershey of the American Hockey League. The availability of leading scorer Alexander Semin (upper body), Green, Fedorov (ankle), Gordon (back), Erskine (undisclosed) and captain Chris Clark (undisclosed) is uncertain.

If the Caps call up more than one player, another player would have to go on injured reserve, which requires a stay of at least seven days.

On Wednesday night, the Caps welcome the second-worst team in road goals against. Entering Tuesday’s game in Toronto, Atlanta had yielded 3.89 goals an away game.

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