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Caps forced to contemplate lineup changes for Game 5 vs Rangers

- May 9th, 2013

NEW YORK — Given the amount of lineup intrigue that has been prevalent through the first four games of the series between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, it comes as little surprise there’s more coming for Friday’s Game 5 at Verizon Center.

Before the Caps hit the ice in Arlington, Va. for their workout, the team announced they’d recalled 2012 first round pick Tom Wilson and veteran RW Joey Crabb from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Both players were on the ice after making the trek from Providence, R.I. after the team was eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs by the Providence Bruins.

The loss of LW Martin Erat to a suspected left wrist/arm injury leaves a vacancy on the fourth line (since Eric Fehr has been bumped up to the second line LW spot and Joel Ward onto the 3rd unit RW spot).

Crabb, 30, is the experienced option and Caps head coach Adam Oates also has gritty Aaron Volpatti and skilled Wojtek Wolski at his disposal as well.

But it was Wilson (who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds at the age of 19) who took turns with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks on Thursday morning and he brings a combination of skill and physical force that could help bring a little more intensity to the Caps lineup, if that’s the direction Oates goes.

Not surprisingly, Oates wasn’t ready to announce if it would be Wilson jumping in for Erat, noting that no definitive decisin had been made as of yet.

(ASIDE: Oates said the Caps were still awaiting the results of Erat’s MRI at the morning availability but he’s been ruled out for Game 5).

Does Oates go with the more experienced or safer option in Crabb, who had five goals in five Calder Cup playoff games this spring and averaged a point-per-game after being sent down to the farm on Mar. 22.

“Crabber got caught a little bit with the numbers game with guys coming back from injuries. But we feel very good about his game,” said Oates. “Yeah, he did great. He was one of the best players in the playoffs. Great for him. Very professional.”

Wilson has a high ceiling, but it’s important to note that if he suits up Friday, he would be playing for his third team in just over a week, since his Plymouth Whalers were ousted by the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs before he made his pro debut.

“I think if you ask him (about three teams in two weeks) I’m sure he’s not complaining,” said Oates. “And you know what, we brought him up here, he’s obviously a big part of our future. It’s a good opportunity for him.”

When speaking to reporters, Wilson told them how he heard the news on Wednesday night.

“I was just sitting on the bus, pretty down after the loss and (Bears GM) Doug Yingst called me up to the front of the bus and told me that I’d be going so it’s pretty cool and I was very excited,” said Wilson. “It was definitely a long morning driving up with Crabby but it’s good to be back here.”

Wilson said he’d be ready for whatever comes his way if he’s the one skating on the fourth unit Friday.

“I think like any fourth line would want to bring- energy and lots of physical play and stuff,” said Wilson. “I’ve been watching their games and they’re two great skaters with lots of energy, so if I do get the chance then that would be great to jump in with those guys.

“You never know right? Like I said, I’m just coming in here learning and not trying to get my expectations up or anything. But I’ve been watching every game, I love watching the Caps play, they’ve been very exciting lately and now I’m in the room and stuff and it’s very cool.”

Capitals LW Brooks Laich skated with the team for the second consecutive day and remains out indefinitely, though he’s making progress.

I wasn’t there, but it’s good that Laich cleared the air with the media on Thursday, admitting he had a minor procedure (read surgery) for the groin injury that limited him to only nine games this season.

“I think that’s five skates in the last week. I think I did two or three by myself and yesterday and today with the team. I’ve still got a little ways to go but I’m really encouraged over what I went through yesterday and what I went through today. I understand I’m probably not going to make that big of a jump every day but certainly I’m leaving here today pretty happy,” said Laich, who was then asked about what needs to happen for him to return to the lineup. “Some conditioning I think, get some more touches with the puck and get more up to full practice speed and be able to adjust to game speed.

“Sometimes I think I’m superman a little bit but I need a little bit of work still. Then it’s up to the coaching staff. When the medical staff and myself feel that I can contribute and compete and not be a liability then it’s going to be up to the coaching staff, but leaving here today I’m a lot more optimistic.”

The belief is that Laich won’t be able to return against the Rangers but could be a possibility for the Caps in the second round, should they advance that far.

Over in Greenburgh, N.Y., the Rangers held an optional skate that included LW Ryane Clowe, who made his series debut in Game 3 and finished with an assist in just over 12 minutes.

Clowe didn’t speak to the media after the game (presumably because he was getting treatment for his undisclosed injuries that kept him out of the first three games.

Rangers D Marc Staal, who sat out Game 4 after playing more than 17 minutes in Game 3, didn’t participate in the on-ice workout and his status for Game 5 remains up in the air.

We’ll be back in Washington on Friday morning for the skates and will update you as best I can.

For the Friday’s print edition and online mediums in the Sun Media chain, I’ve got a column on why I think Caps G Braden Holtby deserves consideration to be one of Canada’s goalies for the 2014 Olympics and a sidebar on Rangers C Derek Stepan.

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