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Caps keep filling holes as defensemen drop

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Three games in a row, the Capitals have fallen victim to ill-timed injuries, all to defensemen, all forcing the team to play short-handed on the back end.

"We'd just like to get through a game with more than five [defensemen]," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's been taking its toll, I think, fatigue-wise."

Boudreau certainly hopes that game comes Tuesday night at the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Caps try to move on from a rash of injuries to their blue line and heal up just in time for the playoffs.

Dennis Wideman remains out and could miss the rest of the season with a leg injury, but the Caps will have seven defensemen available in Toronto with John Erskine and Tyler Sloan expected back in the lineup. Erskine declared himself ready to go Monday, and Sloan - who got his "bell rung" in a collision Saturday night - said he passed all the requisite tests to return to the ice.

Sloan's injury appeared to put into practice the NHL's new protocol on suspected concussions, as he didn't return to the game after the open-ice collision with Buffalo's Cody McCormick. The defenseman said Monday it was for the best.

"The way I felt, I just did some things and made sure that we didn't wanna push it," Sloan said. "I really wanted to go back out there, but I gotta keep my health in mind a little bit, and doctors are good. It was a good decision, because I feel good today."

With Sloan "ready to rock," according to Boudreau, Hershey call-up Sean Collins could be a healthy scratch on defense, a luxury the Caps haven't had lately. The trend is improving even beyond the six regulars, too, as Mike Green (concussion) and Tom Poti (groin) seem close to playing.

Boudreau said he's "hoping at least one of them gets in one game before the playoffs start," and Green took part in a full practice Monday for the first time since getting hurt Feb. 25. While a return for the All-Star defenseman is possible as early as Wednesday against the Florida Panthers, Green isn't going to rush it, even given the state of injuries on the blue line.

"You never wanna see guys go down; fortunately we have guys in the minors that can come up and play," Green said. "But it's important that the guys that are injured to make sure they're doing the right things to get back. There's too many of us D-men going down."

Sloan said he didn't know why all of a sudden the Caps' defensemen have been hit by a rash of injuries but expects it to stop soon. His teammates who are taking on the brunt of the minutes certainly hope so.

"Sometimes you're coming up the ice and you're looking at the bench to see if anybody's ready for you, or if they're still kinda catching their breath," Karl Alzner said.

Playing with five defensemen for the remainder of a game isn't ideal, though the Caps seem to be getting used to it. Jeff Schultz credited assistant coach Bob Woods for rotating his defensemen fairly when injuries happen, though Boudreau said it's "impossible" to manage minutes when down a guy on the back end.

Things seem to be getting better for the Caps - and don't expect them to ask for pity from the rest of the league.

"That kinda comes with the territory with our sport," forward Matt Bradley said. "There's a lot of injuries, and part of being a good team is being able to deal with that and still play well and win games."

Note: Alexander Semin missed practice Monday with a "maintenance day," Boudreau said.

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