Injuries put Capitals in market for a new plan

Washington now needs untested players to step up

November 12, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals had put together a great plan for this season. A run at the Stanley Cup was in their view finder. And Washington may still make the run. But if the Caps do, they will do it in quite a different way from what they had first imagined.

Saturday, the team learned it will be without defenseman Calle Johansson, its longtime defensive anchor. The 14-year Caps' veteran is having surgery today to repair a severely torn right rotator cuff and will be out for up to eight months.

Johansson is just the latest player to be bitten hard by injury. Left wing Steve Konowalchuk, an integral part of one of the best checking lines in the NHL, is out until at least February after surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder.

And Jaromir Jagr, the right wing who is considered by most to be the best hockey player in the world, has been hobbled by a knee strain since the third game of the season. He still seems unclear about his return, though Saturday night he said the knee is feeling better and he anticipates participating in practice as early as today.

Now, there will be men named Jakub Cutta and Dean Melanson on defense, who will try to fill the hole left by Johansson, and others named Matt Pettinger, Chris Corrinet and Stephen Peat playing where Konowalchuk and the recently traded Trevor Linden used to be.

"The rest of the year without Calle, of course it is tough," Jagr said. "He's big part of team for 15 years. Big loss ... I like the young guys. All of them very talented. You've got to bring young guys along. They give you life. They bring something extra every night - enthusiasm, excitement."

And, as the team's leading scorer, Peter Bondra, said, "They'll get experience, quick. But there is no question we're going to miss Calle. It's a big hole."

Johansson's injury occurred in Boston Oct. 8, in the second game of the season. He had played nine of 15 games since then, but the pain Johansson said "never really settled down or went away." A complicated injury, it took a series of tests to find the root of the problem, and was not diagnosed until Saturday afternoon.

"I had no idea it was this bad until they told me," said Johansson, looking rueful. "If you look at the big picture, at all the terrible things going on in our world - in New York and D.C. - compared to that, this isn't so bad. But to me personally, it is devastating. I feel awful. Very bad. You feel guilty toward the team because you're letting them down.

"It's like our injuries are a never-ending story."

After today's surgery, Johansson said he will rest three to four weeks and then join Konowalchuk in rehab, where "we'll be seeing more than enough of each other."

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