- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Washington Capitals received some bad news last night, shortly after they were methodically wiped out by the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in their second straight loss.

The team announced that defensemen John Erskine and Bryan Muir have fractures in their feet and will be out for an indefinite period of time. Erskine was injured in the Philadelphia game Dec. 19, while Muir was hurt during practice Wednesday.

Muir has been a solid reserve, filling in when others were injured or somebody needed a rest. The loss of Erskine is far more costly.

He was called up from the minors on Nov. 9 to help bolster the sagging penalty-killers and has played a critical role clearing the opposition away from the Washington crease using physical play.

Considering the circumstances, the Caps played quite well for 38 minutes, until New Jersey took a 2-1 lead, then put the hammer down. The defensive system that has brought the franchise three Stanley Cups severely restricted Washington and all goalie Martin Brodeur had to do was hold the line. He did, and then some.

“I thought he played really well,” said Chris Clark, who scored the Caps’ only goal. “We had plenty of chances to win the game. … They played New Jersey hockey. They frustrate you, limit your chances. I thought we played well.”

Said Brodeur: “I felt pretty good tonight. I wanted to play well tonight for the start of our little road trip and it’s always nice to have four goals of support.”

Washington played with only five defensemen last night, with one being rookie Jeff Schultz, playing in his first NHL game. The team played 13 forwards, including Ben Clymer, who started the season as a defenseman.

The Caps now must make at least one call-up today. In order to accommodate that player, one of the injured Caps players will have to join right wing Richard Zednik (abdominal surgery) and left wing Matt Bradley (hand surgery) on injured reserve.

Washington already was short-handed because of the absence of defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who participated in the morning skate but was a late scratch after coming down with a bout of the flu. He did not accompany the team to Toronto last night.

To illustrate how quickly the Caps’ fortunes are changing, at the start of the month they had lost just 35 man-games to injury, illness or personal loss. As of this morning, that figure stands at 61 and will increase by at least five tonight.

Washington has three players who maintain order on the ice and two of them — Erskine and Bradley — are sidelined indefinitely. The third, Donald Brashear, returned last night from an unspecified injured but was used sparingly.

Notes — The team left immediately for Toronto, where it plays tonight before getting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, mandatory holidays according to the CBA. …

The Caps are holding a blood drive from noon to 6 p.m. on Jan. 4 in the Dewar’s 12 Clubhouse at Verizon Center. Fans who participate receive two tickets to a Caps game. …

Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom, taken fourth overall by the Caps in the 2006 draft, is listed among the top prospects who will play in the World Junior championships starting Tuesday in Sweden.

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