Marco Sturm had just two assists to show for his first 12 games with the Capitals. But the veteran winger never stopped smiling around the locker room.
That's because despite not having a sparkling stat line, Sturm - who scored his first goal with Washington on Saturday - has been the perfect role-playing winger for a first-place team in need of that sort of depth.
"He hasn't scored, and he's probably struggled, but positionally he's been great," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Positionally you can count on him, and you have a reliable player to count on come April, May and June. Those are the guys you want."
The Caps got him for nothing Feb. 26, plucking him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings. Except for the $3.5 million cap hit (which comes off the books after the season), it was a low-risk move, as Sturm is a team guy who wasn't likely to disrupt locker room chemistry.
Instead, he has taken some time to adjust to a new group and fit in quite nicely off the ice. On the ice he was unable to contribute offensively and frustrated by his goal drought, but the happiness remained.
"I think I had a lot of good chances I just couldn't find the net. That's why I was trying to do a lot of little things right," Sturm said. "But we were winning, so that makes things much better."
Perhaps that's the stat that means the most: The Caps are 11-2 since plugging Sturm, Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott (who could be back this week) into the lineup.
Arnott's leadership and Wideman's presence in replacing the injured Mike Green have been well-noted, but some have wondered just what Sturm's contribution to this team has been. It's hard to measure or pinpoint, but it's there.
"He's a true professional," Boudreau said. "He can play left wing or right wing, or first line or third line, but he's really good positionally and makes our team better."
Of course, getting a little offense couldn't hurt. He excelled Saturday night on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin and could skate with them again Tuesday night as the Caps return home to face the fading Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
If that line (which scored both goals against Montreal) keeps clicking, Boudreau's concerns about getting goals up and down the roster won't be a concern.
"We're not gonna win if you don't get secondary scoring," the coach said. "Everybody has to contribute in the playoffs."
That obviously means on the scoreboard - and Sturm wants that kind of production. But he knows he's doing something to help the Caps fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"When you win it's always fun," he said. "I'm a guy who likes to smile and have some fun."
Notes: Alex Ovechkin and Arnott both practiced with the team at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday, and Boudreau said both could be back this week. ... Green and Tom Poti also skated, and both would like to be back before the playoffs but there's still no real timetable for their return.
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