The life of Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray wa simplified yesterday, when a talk with defenseman Rod Langway revealed the veteran needs another two weeks of conditioning and healing before beginning his part-time role.
Finding that out made it possible for Murray to make a full two-week commitment to defenseman Jason Woolley, who was recalled from the Skipjacks yesterday. Woolley will be playing in his first Capitals game tonight since breaking his wrist Oct. 12 in New Jersey.
The Capitals face the New York Rangers in the Capital Centre in a battle for second place in the Patrick Division.
"I've made a commitment to Jason that covers our next five games," said Murray. "After talking to Rod, it's clear he's not 100 percent yet."
Langway, who underwent surgery on his left knee and shoulder Nov. 20, developed a severe blister on his heel shortly after beginning his rehabilitation, and that heel remains "a little soft and tender."
Yesterday, when Langway came off the ice, he didn't complain of the foot problem, but, sweating freely, said he was tired from the two-hour practice and still needed at least a week of work to regain his conditioning, legs and timing.
"That's something you can't get while riding a stationary bike," Langway said.
Woolley, who produced four goals, including three on the power play, and 10 assists in eight games with the Skipjacks, realizes this is his chance to stick with the Capitals.
"I know how it works," Woolley said. "I have to play well. When you're a young kid -- 18, 19 or 20 -- they'll let you make learning mistakes. But I'm not a kid , and with the way our team is playing, there isn't any room for mistakes. I don't know how long I'll be here, but if I play well, I'll be fine."
Murray has five set defensemen -- Kevin Hatcher, Al Iafrate, Sylvain Cote, Calle Johansson and Paul Cavallini. He also has a 20-man roster, which he likes because it is good for player morale. On game day, each man knows he is going to suit up.
To make room for Woolley, who was impressive in the Capitals' first four games before his injury, the Capitals sent defenseman Shawn Anderson (two goals, six assists, 28 games) to the Skipjacks for two weeks of conditioning.
Anderson initially joined the Capitals because of injuries to Woolley and Cote (broken foot). Murray said he was "happy" with Anderson's play "when he got his minutes," but added getting Anderson two or three shifts a game was difficult and Anderson needs the playing time he'll get with the Skipjacks.
Murray, obviously, wants to get a solid look at Woolley. If Langway had been ready to return this weekend, it would have meant greater limitations on Woolley's playing time. Now, he won't have to split time in these next five games, but he still will be fighting for a spot.
"I can't guarantee anything in terms of playing time for Jason," Murray said. "But I'm going to try to play him a whole lot. If we're playing well, it will make it a lot easier to get four lines and six defensemen in. If we're not, well, those are decisions -- on where to cut back -- that I have to make behind the bench as the game is going on."
Murray again will find himself facing personnel decisions in 14 days, when he either has to recall Anderson or risk passing him through waivers. As a six-year NHL veteran, Anderson falls under the league's three years of service rule requiring he be put on waivers before he can be permanently assigned to a minor-league club.