- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

The question today is not whether the Washington Capitals can finally beat the Flyers in Philadelphia for the first time in eight seasons. The question is whether the average fan will be able to recognize many of the players on either roster.

Two injury-riddled teams will face off for the fourth time tonight at Wachovia Center in south Philadelphia and the respective coaches may not know until game time who their club will be facing.

After remnants of a team went through a shortened drill yesterday, Caps coach Glen Hanlon was asked if there will be call-ups for the game.

“It will be three or four at least,” he said, “maybe five.”

The Caps had just eight forwards at practice yesterday.

The Flyers used eight first-year players in a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders on Wednesday, with all five goals coming from newcomers — including a hat trick for Mike Richards.

But, Hanlon said, quickly interjecting a qualifier, “there’s certain levels of first-year players. There’s first-year players who are contributing and ready to play [at the NHL level] and that’s great. But if your first-year players are not going to be able to play [at that level] until their fourth year, then that’s a totally different thing.”

Washington promised its youngsters in Hershey that if they played well, they would get a look at the NHL level. General manager George McPhee and Hanlon have kept their word. So far 15 have been given a look with the Caps and a few, such as center Brooks Laich, who arrived 45 games ago, have yet to go back.

Washington will be without at least four experienced players. Center Jeff Halpern has been in and out of the lineup since Jan. 1 when he injured a knee. A sore back has kept him out of the last three games. Right wing Matt Bradley took a slapshot on a foot in on Jan. 13 against Anaheim, but played through it until Jan. 29 when he could no longer function.

Right wing Chris Clark was having a great time working on the first line until he signed a two-year contract extension Feb. 3. He hasn’t played since. His ailment is being described only as a lower body injury. Defenseman Steve Eminger badly sprained an ankle in overtime of the Anaheim game and hasn’t played since.

“Absolutely,” Hanlon said when asked if he will keep those players out until after the Olympic break. “If they have nagging injuries and do something to irritate them, you’re going to knock them back another week and a half. They’ve already have a week and a half [of recovery] so instead of setting it back, we’re way ahead.”

Washington will call players up from the minors rather than sign available free agents to contracts that could have lasting effects under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.

“There’s no way around what we’re doing,” Hanlon said. “We’re not going to pick five guys off the waiver wire and two weeks from now we’re stuck with $3 million worth of salaries and they’re not going to be here. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The Caps play host to Pittsburgh tomorrow night.

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