- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Brendan Witt, one of only two experienced defensemen on the Washington Capitals roster, will be unable to play for possibly a week because of a first-period injury against the Colorado Avalanche Monday night in Denver.

The Caps lost 4-1 when the Avalanche pushed across two late goals. Washington scored early in the third, trailed by a goal and outplayed Colorado for much of the period, but couldn’t tie. The Caps ended their five-game road trip with a 2-3 record.

General manager George McPhee, in Florida at the NHL board of governor’s meeting, said the club wouldn’t have an official report on Witt’s condition until the player’s MRI this morning. Witt, a 10-year veteran, took nine shifts in the first period and was done for the night.

However, another source said Witt’s injury was severe enough to cause the defenseman to miss at least one game, tomorrow night against Boston, and maybe more. He refused to be specific about where the injury was, saying only it was the “upper body.” Under McPhee, the Caps have consistently refused to be specific about injuries.

The injury leaves Washington and its top farm team in Portland, Maine, struggling to find defensemen. The Caps have five healthy defensemen on the roster and one on injured reserve; Portland has three defensemen sidelined, one of which is out for the season.

The Caps’ John Gruden has been out with a groin injury since early November. Nolan Yonkman, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder the club was trying to get ready for the NHL, had reconstructive knee surgery and is done for the season. Josef Boumedienne still is out with a high ankle sprain he suffered against Montreal on Oct.14, and J.F. Fortin is nursing back spasms and other problems.

If the Caps have to call up a defenseman, it might well be Dwayne Zinger, a 6-4, 216-pounder who has played more than 225 games in the American Hockey League and has four goals and seven points this season. Two other candidates are Jakub Cutta, a draft pick who has played five games for the Caps, or Chris Hajt, a veteran of more than 300 AHL games.

If Witt is unable to play against the Bruins, it will leave Sergei Gonchar as the Caps’ only defenseman with extensive NHL experience. Gonchar is the offensive leader (4-22-26) among NHL defensemen, but he and Witt are a combined minus-21 defensively.

Meanwhile, McPhee said last night no decision was made on the immediate future of 19-year-old wing Alexander Semin. Today is the deadline for a decision on returning him to the Russian national junior team. Semin, gifted offensively but struggling at times defensively, has played in 18 games with three goals and eight points. He is even defensively.

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