- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sean Collins thought his weeklong dream was over.

Collins had his equipment bag and sticks slung over his shoulder and was exiting Verizon Center on Friday night with Oskar Osala, who also had been reassigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League. But while Collins was contemplating his first stay in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and which city in Texas he would join his Bears teammates in, team services manager Ian Anderson came running after him with good news.

“I was almost out to the parking lot when Ian chased me down,” Collins said. “He said, ‘Collie, Collie, hurry up - we’ve got to hurry,’ so we both started running. I was just like, ‘Why? What is going on?’ We threw my stuff on the bus, and [general manager George McPhee] told me that I had been called back up.”

Such has been the story for the Caps and their injury woes. Players are coming and going, staying and leaving - or in Collins’ case, thinking they are gone but sticking around.

“My head is still spinning with guys coming off the ice, going on the ice,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice Monday. “It is almost comical.”

The roster has been in a state of constant flux for nearly a month. Collins was the fifth defenseman summoned from Hershey this season, but he only expected to be around a day or two. He was actually “sent back” to the AHL during the day Friday but was told to stick around in case someone else got hurt.

After the Caps defeated the Senators 5-1 that night, the team was concerned about Mike Green’s sore shoulder and didn’t want to get caught with only five healthy defensemen the next day in Montreal. So Collins was back on the roster, and his dream was still alive.

His services were not needed in Montreal, but now Tyler Sloan is questionable for Tuesday night with a lower body injury stemming from a hit against the Canadiens, so Collins could be back in the lineup when the Caps play the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

“It has been awesome,” Collins said. “As a hockey player, this is where you want to be. There is no league above this - it is the best. I am thankful every day that I wake up and I’m still here, and I’ve tried to take advantage of it.”

While the situation on the blue line has been scrambled, the recent goalie shuffle reached new levels of wackiness. When Jose Theodore couldn’t play Friday because of a hip flexor, the Caps were forced to add Web producer Brett Leonhardt to the roster as the backup netminder for warmups and part of the first period against the Senators.

Simeon Varlamov traveled from Houston to the District on Friday night and made his NHL debut Saturday in Montreal. Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 shots and looked very much like the top goaltending prospect he has been touted as.

“He’s everything we thought he would be,” McPhee said. “There was no trepidation on our part. This is a chance to see what these kids are made of. It is kind of exciting to throw somebody out there in this situation, and he played really well.”

Varlamov wasn’t the only goalie trying to make his way to Verizon Center on Friday. Michal Neuvirth, a second-round draft pick in 2006, was in Florida with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL when his wild weekend began.

Neuvirth was unable to get to the District, so he joined the team in Montreal. He wasn’t added to the roster Saturday because Johnson was OK to back up Varlamov, but the Czech Republic native did spend Sunday as an official NHL player before being reassigned to South Carolina after practice Monday.

“I was preparing for the pregame skate, and the coach told me I was called up, so I packed my stuff,” Neuvirth said. “I was supposed to fly to Washington, but the plane had some problems so they canceled the flight. I flew to Montreal that night.”

Being placed on the roster allowed Neuvirth to practice with the team Monday and spend some one-on-one time with goalie coach Dave Prior.

“It has been a great experience for me to be with the NHL guys,” Neuvirth said. “I travel a lot, but it is a great experience.”

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