- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon has made it very clear he wants to reserve judgment about the play of recently acquired defenseman Milan Jurcina.

“I am bound and determined not to make the mistake of being overly excited or overly disappointed after two games,” Hanlon said on Monday. “It is a trap you fall into with young kids at training camp, trades, callups — at the end of 10 games I will give you a better comment about whether I am happy or not.”

When questioned on the matter yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Hanlon offered a similar response.

“Coaches are the first guilty party and the media are the next in terms of giving three or four games and then writing things and evaluating people. Then after 10 games you sort of go, ‘Oh, I wish I wouldn’t have said that or I wish I didn’t write that.’ ”

Still, if Jurcina continues his current level of play, Hanlon might not be able to wait six more games before telling anyone who will listen about his new defenseman.

Jurcina, a 23-year old from Slovakia, was acquired nine days ago from Boston to help fortify a depleted defensive corps. Hanlon has played him with Shaone Morrisonn and made the duo his go-to pair. Jurcina has played at least 20 minutes in each of the four games, including a team-high 25:47 on Sunday against the Islanders.

With Jurcina and Morrisonn taking shifts against the other teams’ top lines, the Caps have allowed eight goals — in the four games proceeding the trade, the Caps yielded 18.

“He’s played very well for us and you’d expect a player who is getting an opportunity like this to play well,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “If he can maintain this level of play — and it sure looks like he can, it looks like there is upside there — then we will be very happy with the trade.

“He’s young, he’s smart, he’s big and he can make a play. He sees the ice. He’s not one of these [clear the puck] off the wall guys. He can see people, and it is nice to be able to spring your forwards like that.”

There is some history between Jurcina and Morrisonn. Both were prospects in the Bruins organization before Morrisonn was dealt to Washington as part of a package for Sergei Gonchar in March 2004.

Morrisonn said they actually were paired together for about 30 games with Providence, Boston’s American Hockey League affiliate.

“It is pretty comfortable here. It is a great group of guys and it is very exciting,” Jurcina said. “I knew [fellow Slovakian Richard] Zednik and I know ‘Mo,’ but that is all. But it is a lot of young guys, great guys. I think it is great.”

Jurcina is listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, and he has put his long reach to good use with the Caps, especially in penalty killing situations. The Caps have killed off 17 of 19 penalties in the past four games, and one of the goals came in a 5-on-3 situation Thursday night.

The extended minutes in important situations represent a big change for Jurcina, who had fallen out of favor with the Bruins. After averaging more than 16 minutes a game last year as a rookie, Jurcina’s time had fallen off to less than 11 minutes this season.

“I was kind of expecting to go in a trade because there was newspapers all over the place saying my name, so I was expecting a trade but I had no clue I would go to Washington,” Jurcina said.

The Caps play host to Jaromir Jagr and New York Rangers tonight and could complete a 3-0-1 homestand with a win. The team’s improved play of late is tied to its defensive resurgence.

Washington has held its opponents to fewer than 30 shots in three of the past four games.

“Those Florida games, we were giving way too many shots,” Morrisonn said. “We went over the video and those scoring chances. We are not going to win if we’re giving up that many shots. We realized as a group that we have to come together here and take care of our end and the rest will take care of itself.”

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