- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

With one-third of the team’s skaters unable to play Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals had to lean on organizational depth for reinforcements.

Four players - defensemen Karl Alzner and Sami Lepisto and forwards Chris Bourque and Graham Mink - were recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League and were inserted into the lineup against the Atlanta Thrashers.

“We all followed each other down here,” Bourque said of the drive from Hershey. “Me and Karl are roommates, so it made that pretty easy. We were kind of waiting for the call [Monday]. We knew there was a possibility of getting called up and we were just kind of waiting around all day.

“We haven’t had that many call-ups and then all of a sudden we have four guys come up. It is kind of funny. I’ve definitely never seen that before.”

The game marked the NHL debut for Alzner, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft and the consensus top prospect in Washington’s system. Alzner is in his first professional season after a decorated junior career.

He has two goals and nine points for the Bears in 20 games, and is a team-high plus-15.

“We want to see a Steady Eddie,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We want him to move the puck, not get beat and make the right plays. We don’t need him to go end-to-end.”

Lepisto, a third-round pick in 2004, played in seven games for the Caps last season. He has three goals and 14 points for the Bears, and ranks second to Alzner on the club with a plus-14 rating.

This is Bourque’s second stint with the Caps this season. He played in one game, Oct. 18 against New Jersey, the first time he was recalled. Bourque, a second-round pick in 2004, has six goals and 22 points in 18 games for Hershey this year. Both Bourque and Lepisto are expected to help man one of the points on the power play with Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov missing.

Mink, 29, is a rugged forward who was undrafted but signed as a free agent - first with Washington’s AHL affiliate in 2001 (Portland) and then with the Caps in 2002. He played for Boudreau on the Calder Cup-winning team in 2005-06, collecting 21 points in 21 postseason contests.

He played in two games for Washington in 2003-04 and three contests in 2005-06 before signing with the Sharks in the summer of 2006. After two years with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL, Mink returned to the organization this summer. Mink has 10 goals and 21 points for the Bears this season.

“It is exciting - I got called up a couple of times a few years ago so it isn’t brand-new for me, but it is still very exciting for me,” Mink said.

Seven regulars - defensemen Green (bruised shoulder), Jeff Schultz (broken finger) and John Erskine (undisclosed) plus forwards Fedorov (sprained ankle), Alexander Semin (upper body), Boyd Gordon (back spasms) and Chris Clark (forearm stress fracture) – were unable to play, and the number swells to eight if defenseman Brian Pothier (out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms) is included.

The Caps have minimal salary cap space and were at the 23-man roster limit. To make room financially, the team placed Schultz and Clark on long-term injured reserve.

By doing so, the Caps can replace a pro-rated amount of the nearly $3.9 million in cap space the contracts of Clark and Schultz take up. By going on LTIR, the two players will miss at least 24 days, and are eligible to return Dec. 19 (Schultz had surgery on his finger and is expected to miss four to six weeks while Clark’s timetable hasn’t been defined).

To open two more roster spots, Green and Semin were placed on injured reserve, which constitutes at least a seven-day stay and provides no salary cap relief. Both were placed on IR retroactively and are eligible to return Friday against Montreal. Green was the only of the seven injured players that participated in the morning skate Wednesday, and he said he hopes to return Friday or Saturday.

One of the goals for general manager George McPhee during the rebuilding process was to accumulate organizational depth, and considering the success both the Bears and South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL are having this season, it appears to be working.

But needing to call up four guys in one day is not something teams typically have to encounter.

“You see something new every day in this game,” Boudreau said. “It was more surprising when they were going down. Every time I looked down the bench [Minnesota] there was another guy hurt.”

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