- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Already without goaltender Olie Kolzig and captain Chris Clark because of injuries, the Washington Capitals will be without two-thirds of their top defensive line in the coming days.

Matt Pettinger will miss four to six weeks with a broken right thumb and Boyd Gordon is expected to be out 10 days to two weeks with a knee injury.

“It was fun while it lasted, having a line you could match against [other top lines],” Caps’ coach Glen Hanlon said. “But now it is kind of the standard answer: Someone else will have an opportunity to get more minutes, so somebody has to come forward.”

Pettinger and Gordon have teamed with Matt Bradley to form the one consistent line for Hanlon in recent games. While trades and injuries have forced him to shuffle the units, he has kept that group together and pitted them against opposing teams’ top lines.

The team called up Alexandre Giroux from Hershey of the American Hockey League yesterday to fill out the active roster. Giroux is a 26-year old Quebec native who played two games for the Caps earlier this season and one for the New York Rangers last year without registering a point.

He leads the Bears with 34 goals and 55 points, and he has scored more than 30 goals in each of the two previous seasons with Hartford of the AHL.

The Caps will again play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen tonight like they did Tuesday against Florida.

Backstrom update

Former Cap Bengt Gustafsson was at Verizon Center on Thursday night. He is the coach of Sweden’s national team, and he was there to speak with a pair of Tampa Bay players — goaltender Johan Holmqvist and Andreas Karlsson — about playing for him at the IIHF World Championship should the Lightning’s season end in time.

One player Gustafsson will coach at the tournament, which starts April 27 in Moscow, is prized Caps prospect Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s first-round pick in last June’s draft played for Gustafsson in last year’s tournament, seeing action in four games without registering a point.

While Backstrom leads his team, Brynas, with 40 points (12 goals), despite missing time to play in the U-20 world junior championship in late December and early January, his production has slipped of late.

Gustafsson saw Backstrom’s team play Wednesday night before coming to Washington.

“He has had a tough time after Christmas but I was watching the game yesterday he was playing,” Gustafsson said. “I could see that he is on the way back up again and hopefully he can find the form he had before.

“He has all the skills. If he plays with the right surroundings I am sure he will produce and play as well as he can. He had a lot of pressure on him this year. He played in the world championship last year and he had to play in the junior world championship at home with all that pressure.”

The Caps expect Backstrom to play for them next season, but Gustafsson said he talked to the 19-year old center’s manager and Brynas is still hoping he might return for another season.

Washington is expected to pursue a frontline center either through trade or free agency this offseason — partly so Backstrom isn’t expected to play on the first line as a rookie.

But looking long term, the organization — and plenty of other people associated with the sport — envision the play-making skills of Backstrom and the goal-scoring ability of Alex Ovechkin to be a deadly combination.

“It is impossible to compare players because everyone is unique,” Gustafsson said when asked if Backstrom’s most frequent comparison — Peter Forsberg — was fair or accurate. “When Peter was young he was unique as he is now. He can be a gritty player too — not only does he have the good skills. I think that’s really what Nicklas hasn’t got really yet.”

Johnson takes rest

Goalie Brent Johnson did not practice yesterday, but it was just to rest. He has started eight straight games since Kolzig was injured.

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