- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Washington Capitals have had few constants during this recent era of rebuilding, but one of them has been Brian Sutherby.

A first-round pick in 2000, Sutherby played almost an entire NHL season at age 20 and had logged nearly 250 games before his 25th birthday. During the past few years, Sutherby has been mentioned often as one of a core group of young players with whom the organization would build and move forward.

But this season has been a drastic change for Sutherby. Once a stalwart in the lineup, he has been a healthy scratch for nine of the Caps’ first 11 games.

“It has been very frustrating. In the [256] games that I’ve been here I’d only been a healthy scratch once before this season,” Sutherby said. “It is something new, and I’m not enjoying it very much.”

Two seasons ago Sutherby centered the CBS line with Ben Clymer and Matt Bradley. The unit was the Caps’ shutdown line, and Sutherby chipped in 14 goals and 30 points. Last year Sutherby’s numbers fell off (seven goals, 17 points). Like most of the players on the team, he moved from line to line, and the wings he skated with were in a constant state of flux.

During the offseason, Washington signed Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov, who began training camp as the team’s top two centers. Boyd Gordon entrenched himself as the team’s checking center last season, and David Steckel earned a spot on the team as the man in the middle on the fourth line.

“Brian is a centerman, and I don’t want to go through our lineup one-by-one, but the centermen have all done a good enough job,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “I feel for him. This has nothing to do with Brian Sutherby as a person. I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for him.”

Steckel’s emergence is probably the biggest reason for Sutherby’s situation. A couple of other players, such as Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley, also have earned spots because of their versatility and Hanlon’s trust in them as penalty killers. When the team is at full strength, Sutherby essentially has been the 14th forward on a team that only dresses 12.

“I knew right away early on in camp — I only played in three exhibition games out of seven, and I played well in those games — it was something that seemed like it was already decided before the season started and before training camp even started,” Sutherby said. “It seems like there was a plan going into training camp, and I wasn’t a part of it.”

Sutherby dressed for the first time this season against the New York Rangers but played sparingly. For a player whose strengths are energy, grit and defense, having the team fall behind early did not help.

He was in the lineup again Monday in Toronto, and Sutherby scored his first goal. If the Caps are still without Chris Clark and Alexander Semin tonight at Madison Square Garden, there will be a sweater in Sutherby’s locker again.

“We don’t want to see injuries, or we don’t want to see people not doing it,” Hanlon said. “But sometimes people don’t play for eight or nine games, and they end up playing the last 70 games better than they have ever played.”

Still, Sutherby isn’t sure where he stands with the organization.

“Not really, no. From them it is just kind of see what happens,” Sutherby said. “I don’t really know what is going on, and I haven’t really known from October 5 when I wasn’t in the lineup. I don’t know. It is hard, and it is frustrating. It is not a lot of fun.”

Sutherby was named one of the team’s assistant captains last season. Hanlon has said on several occasions that Sutherby remains a leader, and it is out of respect he doesn’t let someone else wear the extra “A” when Sutherby is out of the lineup.

Being a leader certainly has been more difficult this season for Sutherby.

“Yeah, it is a little weird. I wouldn’t consider myself one right now being that I’m not in the lineup,” he said. “I try to go out there and work hard in practice and not sulk and try to make myself better. But as far as trying to be a leader in the room, when you’re not playing games and you’re not in the dressing room before the game, that is difficult to do.”

Sutherby’s future in Washington is certainly less clear now than it was a year or two ago. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but for a guy who was once considered a potential future captain in this organization, one thing is pretty certain — he just wants to play.

“Absolutely, I am 25 years old,” Sutherby said. “Again, I don’t know what is happening, but we’ll see. I want to play wherever it would be. I feel like I have a lot of good things left that I can do in this league, and whether that is here or not, we’ll see.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT NEW YORK RANGERS

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/Radio: CSN, AM-1500, FM-107.7

Goalies: Capitals — Olie Kolzig (4-3-0, 2.30) or Brent Johnson (1-3-0, 3.53). Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist (4-6-1, 1.82).

Injuries: Capitals — Out: D Steve Eminger (ankle), RW Eric Fehr (back/hip). Questionable: D Tom Poti (groin), RW Alexander Semin (ankle), RW Chris Clark (ear). Rangers — Out: LW Martin Straka (finger), RW Ryan Callahan (knee). Questionable: LW Sean Avery (shoulder).

Notes: Poti did not skate at practice yesterday, Clark did briefly and Semin did but not at full speed. Decisions will be made on all three after the morning skate today. Lundqvist has started 38 consecutive regular-season games for the Rangers, who have scored a league-low 19 goals.

Corey Masisak

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