Optimism waxes and wanes when it comes to the NHL's labor negotiations with the NHL Players' Association. Maybe the lockout will extend for weeks or months more. Maybe the two sides are closer than ever to settling things after talks this weekend in an undisclosed location indicated some progress.

But the players have to be ready either way. And while six Capitals ply their trade in Europe to stay in shape, two of the team's best young players are back in the minors hoping their next chance in the NHL comes soon. Goalie Braden Holtby has nothing to fear save injury. The star of last season's postseason run at worst will split time with Michal Neuvirth in net when the NHL finally solves its work stoppage.

Holtby missed time with a lower-body injury but has started four of Hershey's nine games so far this season. He is 2-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, which ranks fifth among American Hockey League goalies with at least three starts. All that in front of a Hershey defense that has struggled to limit opponents' shots on goal.

One of those blueliners is Dmitry Orlov, the 21-year-old who again chose to stick it out in North America instead of returning to his native Russia during the lockout. Orlov, too, is dealing with an injury. He has played in seven of nine games and has a goal and three assists so far but is also a minus-1. He played 60 games for Washington last season, though he was a healthy scratch in all 14 postseason games. Orlov is expected to make the final roster for the Caps after an abbreviated training camp -- but he still has to perform better for the Bears.

"[Orlov] didn't play this week, so I haven't seen him for a week. I think he's been one of the guys going through a little bit of the transition in terms of being back in the minors," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "I'm sure he was hoping to step into the NHL. But it's a transition. I think sometimes you got to let them fight through it."

- Brian McNally