- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

It is fair to say Tom Poti is not a big believer in hockey-related stereotypes.

The Washington Capitals signed Poti to a three-year contract in July, and the reputation that preceded him was simple — a minute-munching offensive defenseman with a penchant for mistakes in his own end. He would help the team’s power play, but critics warned of his defensive deficiencies.

“That’s just a catch phrase,” Poti said of being characterized as an offensive defenseman. “If a defenseman puts up a lot of points, then he’s labeled as an offensive guy who has problems in the defensive zone. When an offensive defenseman makes a mistake in his zone, he is a liability. When a defensive defenseman makes a mistake in his zone, it is a mental error or just a mistake. That’s just how it goes.”

As it has turned out, Poti hasn’t spent nearly as much time on the power play as expected, and his offensive numbers have dipped from last season. But his defensive play has been far better than what his critics predicted, and Poti has proved plenty valuable without the big point total.

The 30-year-old defenseman from Worcester, Mass., has been a stabilizing presence for a young defense corps, especially without fellow veteran Brian Pothier. He leads the team in ice time, and he is an anchor on the team’s penalty-killing unit while also spelling Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin on the points during power plays.

“I don’t know what he was before, but he is a very solid player,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s our Mr. All-Around. He can make plays. When he is on top of his game, I think he is as good as there is and we really count on him.”

Added general manager George McPhee: “He’s been knocked from time to time for various things, and I didn’t see it. I just thought he would be a real nice addition to our blue line, and it feels good to be able to stand here today and say we were right.”

Poti’s first season in Washington has not been an easy. He has missed 11 games this season because of injuries.

He sat out six games in late October and early November with what was described as a groin injury, but it was his left shoulder that bothered him. Poti returned and tried to play through the pain, but it was a struggle. He missed three more games in early January with the injury, but since then it has improved.

“The middle 30 games of the year I was basically playing with one arm,” Poti said. “My shoulder basically, wasn’t even there. I couldn’t shoot the puck; I couldn’t get any zip on my passes. Stuff like that just takes time to heal. I think I was trying to come back too quickly, but that’s just me. I always want to be on the ice.”

His offensive numbers have started to increase since his shoulder has healed. Poti has 24 points this season, but 11 of them have come in the past 17 games.

While Green and Shaone Morrisonn have been paired together since Boudreau took over — a span of 51 games — Poti’s partner has rotated frequently for much of the season. Recently though Poti has been paired with Jeff Schultz, and their success has helped Boudreau decide to leave them alone as well.

“I think we both just try to keep it simple out there,” Schultz said. “He has a lot of experience and I just try to watch him and try to learn from him as much as I can. He’s real calm out there and I am kind of the same way.”

The prototypical defense pairing for hockey coaches is one offensive-minded guy with a defense-first guy, along with a lefty and a righty. Green and Morrisonn fit this mold perfectly.

But Poti and Schultz are both left-handed shooters and they share similar playing styles. It is just another reason for Poti to be weary of old hockey stereotypes.

“People just get labeled in this league,” Poti said. “I don’t know why.”

Today’s game

BOSTON BRUINS AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS

When: 3 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

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

Goalies: Bruins ” Alex Auld (9-7-3, 2.43) or Tim Thomas (23-17-4, 2.56). Capitals ” Cristobal Huet (23-14-6, 2.50).

Injuries: Bruins ” Out: C Patrice Bergeron (concussion), G Manny Fernandez (torn ACL), D Andrew Alberts (concussion), C Alexi Zhamnov (ankle). Questionable: D Zdeno Chara (upper body), D Bobby Allen (back spasms). Capitals ” Out: C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff), RW Chris Clark (groin), D Brian Pothier (concussion), C David Steckel (broken finger). Doubtful: D John Erskine (undisclosed).

Outlook: With Boston’s overtime win yesterday against Philadelphia, the Caps are six points behind the Bruins and four behind the Flyers, who hold the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. … Huet is 9-3 with a 2.00 goals against average in his career against Boston. … Alex Ovechkin needs one point for his second 100-point season, which would make him the first Caps player to accomplish the feat. … Chara is second in the league in goals by a defenseman behind Washington’s Mike Green, who has 17 (Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien doesn’t count because has spent large parts of this season as a forward). The Bruins captain has missed the four games since these two teams met March 8 because of a mysterious injury he suffered against the Caps.

Corey Masisak

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