Thursday, October 12, 2006

2006-07 Washington Capitals Preview

Can I really call this a preview when the season's already two games in? Isn't it just a "view"? Doesn't matter. Enough with semantics.

By now, if you've been paying any attention whatsoever to the 2006-2007 edition of the Washington Capitals, you know that there's some things to be excited about. Obviously Alexander Ovechkin tops the list, but Alexander Semin announced his return on Saturday night with a hat trick.

2006-07 Capitals Toolkit



Team Stats: 2006-07 | 2005-06

Washington Post Capitals Section

Major Departures:
Jeff Halpern - C (Dallas)
   44 points in '05-'06, team captain
Brian Willsie - RW (Los Angeles)
   19 goals, 22 assists in '05-'06
Mathieu Biron - D (Sharks AHL affiliate)
   52 games played, -11 in '05-'06

Key Arrivals:
Alexander Semin - LW (Russian League)
   10 goals, 12 assists in '03-'04
Richard Zednik - RW (Montreal)
   299 career points, three 20+ goal seasons
Brian Pothier - D (Ottawa)
   5 goals, 30 assists in '05-'06
Donald Brashear - RW (Philadelphia)
   2,169 career PIMs, 179 career points

Media Previews: Washington Capitals season preview
Inside Hockey Washington Capitals season preview Southeast could be most talented division in NHL
Most Caps fans didn't need that performance to be excited about Semin's return, because in the 2003-04 season he scored 10 goals and added 12 assists in 52 games while proving he had the potential to be one of the league's most dynamic young players.

When the lockout rolled around Semin went back to play in Russia, but when the NHL started up again, Semin either wouldn't or couldn't (depending on who you believe) return to Washington. The Caps sued him and his agent but were unsuccessful in forcing him to come back, but eventually Semin and the Caps reached a deal that brought him back to the team.

Semin was a skinny 19-year-old in his first stint with the Caps, registering at 6'0", 174 lbs., but anyone with eyes can see he's added some muscle in his two years away from the team. The Caps' Web site now has him listed at 180 lbs., but other sites have him listed as high as 6'1", 187.

That gives the Caps two powerful goal-scoring Russians anchoring their offense, but the big question mark, like last season, is defense.

The Caps gave free agent defenseman Brian Pothier a deal worth a reported $10 million over four years. Pothier (pronounced Poth-ee-air, not Poth-ee-ay or Poitier) previous played with Ottawa and impressed the Caps with his quickness and ability to move the puck -- traits that are highly valued in the "new NHL." On the opposite end of that spectrum they signed hulking 6'4" defenseman John Erskine, formerly of the Islanders, although he seems set to receive limited playing time.

The Caps cut ties with struggling defensemen Nolan Yonkman, Ivan Majesky and Mathieu Biron and promoted 21-year-old Mike Green (21 today, actually -- happy birthday Mike! ... as if he reads this drivel) from the AHL champion Hershey Bears.

Coach Glen Hanlon also moved Ben Clymer from wing to defense to help bolster the young defensive squad.

The Caps signed one of the league's best enforcers -- and piano players -- in Donald Brashear. Between Brashear and Erskine, the message is clear: Mess with Ovechkin, Semin or Dainius Zubrus and you're going to face the consequences. Ryan Whitney better watch himself.

Offensively, the caps dealt for a familiar face in right wing Richard Zednik, who scored more than 20 goals each of the three seasons before the lockout but only netted 16 last season. The Caps have also promoted some offense from the championship Hershey squad, including center Kris Beech, who the Caps dealt to the Penguins in the Jaromir Jagr trade in the summer of 2001 and got back in last season's deal that sent Brendan Witt to Nashville. Beech has been working on a line with Semin and Zednik. Center Jakub Klepis, right wing Boyd Gordon and center Brooks Laich are all on the big club this year as well, although one of them may get sent down when left wing Matt Pettinger comes off the injured reserve.

In goal, the Caps still have the best goalie in the history of the club, Olie Kolzig, manning the nets, although he may get spelled for more games this season by backup Brent Johnson, who posted a .905 save percentage in 26 games (23 starts) for the Caps last season.

While most of the pundits are still predicting the Caps to land in the bottom two of the Eastern Conference again, Caps fans are hoping for more, but with a team as young as the Caps it's hard to know what to expect.

While the playoffs are seemingly unlikely, solid numbers from guys like Beech, Laich, Zednik and Pettinger complementing Ovechkin and Semin on offense, coupled with solid defense from Pothier, Green, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Eminger could give the team a fighting chance.

After messing with the lines a little bit for the season opener at the Rangers, Hanlon went back to the top line that was so successful last season. From here on out look for Zubrus to center a line with Ovechkin and new captain Chris Clark.

The second line is the biggest improvement, with goal scoring wingers Semin and Zednik centered by, for now, Kris Beech.

While Hanlon will probably mix up the lines a little bit over the course of the season, they'll likely tend to look something like this:

Ovechkin, Zubrus, Clark
Semin, Beech, Zednik
Pettinger, Brian Sutherby, Laich
Rico Fata, Klepis, Matt Bradley
(Extra: Brashear - LW, Gordon - RW)

Pothier, Morrisonn
Clymer, Eminger
Jamie Heward, Green
(Extra: Brian Muir, Erskine)

The Caps play the Wild in Minnesota tonight at 8 p.m.

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