- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

It was subtle but telling Tuesday when Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee complimented the Philadelphia Flyers for acquiring defenseman Chris Pronger, a player the Capitals mildly pursued before the March trade deadline.

“It’s a nice piece they acquired,” McPhee said. “For the next couple years, it should help a lot.”

Translation: The Capitals were unwilling to give up at least two top prospects, two first picks and a proven player for Pronger, who turns 35 later this month.

In the interim, he’s a boon for the Flyers, a shut-down defenseman with a mean streak who makes Philadelphia an Eastern Conference contender.

In the long term, he’s a physical and financial gamble the Capitals thought they could do without.

The end result is that the six defensemen from last year’s team, which allowed 35 or more shots five times during last year’s playoffs, will be the top six defensemen Thursday night in Boston.

And keeping the pairings of Mike Green-Shaone Morrisonn, Tom Poti-Milan Jurcina and Brian Pothier-John Erskine may not be such a bad thing.

The Capitals, 19th out of 30 teams in goals-against average (2.93) and 13th in shots allowed (29.5), believe they’ll be sounder defensively and able to win a mud-wrestling match against New Jersey and Boston just as proficiently as they can win a high-scoring thriller against Pittsburgh.

“[The defense is] more experienced, we have size, we have mobility, we have puck movers,” McPhee said. “And if we get banged-up, we have good kids with [Karl] Alzner and [John] Carlson.”

Said left wing Brooks Laich: “Our team defense is going to be better - not specifically saying our defense, our forwards. As a team, for us to take the next step, we have to play better defensively.”

The Capitals took a step forward last year, earning their first postseason series victory in 11 years.

But even as the Capitals and Penguins were engaged in a scintillating series (five one-goal games, including three in overtime), the need for better work in their zone was evident. Clunky breakout passes created scoring chances. The failure of forwards to backcheck produced odd-man rushes.

As the Capitals squandered a 2-0 series lead, the absence of a physical defenseman such as Pronger was amplified.

The Capitals and Ducks talked at the trade deadline about Pronger, but when talks reignited around the draft in June, McPhee said the Capitals weren’t involved.

Any kind of deal would have produced a ripple effect.

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