Well assuming you are reading this because you are an avid Washington Capitals fan, it's likely you already know: a) the Caps now have as many at least eight players on their roster who are injured and working to return to the roster: 1) Sergei Federov, 2) Mike Green, 3) Alexander Semin, 4) Chris Clark, 5) Jeff Schultz, 6) John Erskine, 7) Chris Clark, 8) Boyd Gordon and 9) Brian Pothier; and b) only six Caps have not missed games this season due to injury: 1) Alex Ovechkin (who missed a couple to travel to Russia for personal reasons), 2) Nicklas Backstrom (who played several games at the start of the season nursing an injury from the pre-season, 3) Tomas Fleaischmann, 4) Brooks Laich, 5) Milan Jurcina, 6) Matt Bradley. The recent five game road swing, perhaps the most grueling road trip of this year's schedule behind them, the Caps find themselves i) juggling their roster to deal with the injures to: a) one of their best forwards who is their current leading goal scorer, b) three top four defenseman, c) potentially their Captain, and d) arguably their most versatile player - a future hall of famer, and e) yet one other defenseman and one of the solid defensive grinder forwards ii) still off to their best start and in first place in their division.
While looking ahead at the start of this month's schedule it appeared November was probably the most important gauge that would for tell how the Caps' 2008-2009 season would go, it can probably now be said that because of the injury situation, as the end of November approaches, that "make or break" period has to be extended through the next 17 games through the end of December as well. In particular, between today and December 13th (a 19 day period) the Caps have another 10 games. Of the 17 games between now and December 31st, 15 are against Eastern Conference opponents of which 3 are against Southeast Division rivals. To be sure, both the Southeast Division opponents and the Caps' traditional rivals will look to these games to capture some standings points against the injury depleted Capitals. It is probably for that reason, that the character the Caps showed in trying to come back and capture a win against Minnesota last night after going down 4-0, is so important.
Once again Coach Bruce Boudreau's familiarity with the Capitals' player development pipeline, and the fact that the Hershey Bears, under Coach Bob Woods, play the same system as Boudreau's Capitals will need to be relayed on to make up for the holes in "the big club's roster." Will it be enough? Who really knows? We won't be able to tell until much until mid-December has come and gone. Further complicating putting solutions in place to address the challenges injuries create for the Caps over the next four weeks are two things: i) the current lack of salary Cap space the Caps have and b) the CBA requirements which mean that once a player plays 10 games on an NHL team's roster, he has to clear waivers to be put back down onto a club's AHL associates' roster. What's that mean? Well in the likely event the Caps call up someone like Sami Lepisto or Karl Alzner up to fill in for Jeff Schultz over his projected 4+ week period on injured reserve, who ever they decide to send down to Hershey to make Cap room for Schultz when he returns will have to clear waivers. Right now it's very possible that any of the Caps likely choices for that trip could get picked up by another NHL team. All three of the development pipeline players: Tyler Sloan, Sami Lepisto and Karl Alzner, as well as the Caps third defensive pair of John Erskine and Milan Jurcina all have various attributes that could easily make them appealing to other NHL clubs. [ed note: I stand by that comment despite what some others might be saying about Erskine and Jurcina, at times.]
As far potential back fills for any required call ups in the ranks of forwards, once again the Caps could face the same situation, loosing a good player in the pipeline when they need to send him back down to Hershey. Even if say, Quintin Laing is recalled to back fill for Boyd Gordon, just because he cleared waivers at the start of the season, doesn't mean he would again. Such would be especially true, assuming he once again makes the best of the opportunity to shine again on the NHL stage, like he did last season. As for the current sharpshooters in Hershey who are lighting the red lights behind their AHL opponents goals with regularity lately, the likelihood of one of them getting picked up as they need to clear waivers is probably even higher. What does that all mean - it probably means that Caps' manager George McPhee and Coach Boudreau will make even more moves then they might otherwise shuttling some additional players back and forth between Giant Center and KCI then they might otherwise to make sure they don't subject some of those prospects to the risk of being claimed by others off the waiver wire.
So if any of us are lamenting the pressures and problems we have to deal with in our day jobs, we'd do well to appreciate the pressures and challenges that McPhee and Boudreau will be dealing with over the next 36 days. Add the fact that they have to do what they do under the glare of media and being routinely challenged by professional journalists, TV analysts and commentators and numerous bloggers and fans and if you're like me you're glad that you don't have their day jobs. Final thoughts: 1) as Capitals fans aren't you glad that from what we all could tell, by and large the Caps came into the start of the season in much better physical condition this year then last? Sure seems like they figured out they weren't going to "sneak up" on anybody this year and lots of teams would be gunning for them, especially on the road. And. 2) If you felt strongly that Bruce Boudreau deserved the jack Adams Trophy last season, what will you think if the Caps stay on track for 104+ points this season over the next 30 days?
Next up Division foe Atlanta Thrashers, tomorrow night at Verizon Center. I'll be driving to Myrtle Beach to spend the holiday with family for at least the first and probably second periods. But, I swear I'll be "Rockin' the Red" in my Caps Sweater while I do so.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!