Capitals add grit with recent roster moves

Steve Oleksy latest tough guy to come aboard in squad makeover

When the Washington Capitals signed Steve Oleksy and called him up from the Hershey Bears, coach Adam Oates told the defenseman that, as much as he fought in the minor leagues, the team didn’t get him just to be an enforcer.

“I know that’s part of his game,” Oates said. “That’s not why he’s here. That’s not. We need him to play.”

The Caps also need defenseman John Erskine and forwards Matt Hendricks and Aaron Volpatti to play, but in moves made over the past week, they’ve gotten much tougher. They claimed Volpatti off waivers and then signed Oleksy, adding two fighters and altering the dynamic of the roster.

“I think we’ve got a tough team,” Erskine said. “You look at Boston a couple years ago when they won the Cup, or even now they’re successful, and they’ve got a few tough guys on their team. They play very gritty. I think you can’t get enough of gritty, tough-style players.”

Oates and general manager George McPhee obviously agree, even as the coach cited Oleksy being a right-handed shot as the reason he’s here. Balance on defense is something Oates strongly believes in.

But it also doesn’t hurt to have some policemen skating around with skilled players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

“Any team you need a combination of both. You can’t just play with skill,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “You need role players; you need guys to do different things. You can’t just win with one-dimensional teams, that’s for sure. Adding guys like that, character guys like that, it sure helps in the long run.”

In the long run, neither Volpatti (four points in his first 55 NHL games) nor Oleksy, who was to make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins, will produce a whole lot. Oleksy did manage to put up two goals and 12 assists in the American Hockey League this season, but his game is best in the defensive end.

“What goalies really want in a D-man, that’s basically what Oleksy is,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “He’s a little more of a defensive D-man, obviously he plays very physical especially in front of the net, he’s a hard guy to play against. … You know he’s going to be safe in your D-zone, he’s going to do the smart plays.”

And, like Erskine, Hendricks and Volpatti, he’s not afraid to fight.

“He does that to stick up for teammates and bring an amount of emotion to a game if it’s needed,” Holtby said. “He’s not a fighter, he’s more of a Hendy-type guy who does it to help the team.”

Volpatti and Oleksy combine to give the Caps “lots of energy” and will “pay attention to the details that count,” said agent Peter Cooney, who represents both. And as much as both players are gritty and tough, Oates is still trying to feel out what team toughness really is.

The Bruins are a good model for what he wants.

“They’re team tough based on the fact that they play,” Oates said. “They stick their nose in and they’re willing to take bumps. And that’s what it is to me. … Just being able to go down the walls, take the bumps, take the punishment. They got some big defensemen, big forwards. That’s the way they play. You got to be able to handle it.”

Oates said he wants his team to be “relentless,” pinning opponents in their defensive zone and controlling the tempo of the game. That’s not the same thing as having agitators and enforcers, but it can play a role in keeping opposing tough guys honest.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • **FILE** In this April 23, 2013 photo, Cuba's former pitcher Conrado Marrero, the world's oldest living former major league baseball player, holds up a baseball with his signature at his home, two days before is 102nd birthday, as he holds an unlit cigar in his mouth in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

    Conrado Marrero dies at 102; ex-Senator was oldest living MLB player

  • Washington Wizards guard John Wall, left, and Bradley Beal celebrate the Wizards' 101-99 win as Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich walks off the court after missing two free throws during the overtime period of Game 2 in an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    HARRIS: D.C. not yet spellbound by Wizards, but they’re no illusion

  • Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III watches Baylor and Central Florida play during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

    Robert Griffin III to drive pace car before Richmond NASCAR race

  • Washington Wizards forward Nene, left, guards Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer during the first half in Game 1 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series in Chicago, Sunday, April 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Early returns show projections of physical Wizards-Bulls series were correct

  • Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) celebrates after catching a 25 yard touchdown in the first quarter as the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles in Monday Night NFL football at FedExField, Landover, Md., Monday, September 9, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

    Dan Snyder: DeSean Jackson ‘really a good guy’

  • Celebrities In The News
  • ** FILE ** In this March 19, 2013, file photo, Justin Bieber performs during a concert at Bercy Arena in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

    Justin Bieber apologizes for Japan war shrine trip

  • FILE - This Jan. 8, 2014 file photo shows singer Chris Brown, right, arriving at the District of Columbia Superior Court in Washington. After a brief postponement, singer Chris Brown's trial on an assault charge is scheduled to begin in Washington. Brown's trial had been set for Monday but was delayed while lawyers tried to work out whether his bodyguard will testify. It's unclear whether the trial will start Wednesday, as Brown's lawyers seem to want, or if further legal maneuvering will delay it.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

    Chris Brown assault trial delayed again

  • Justin Bieber seeks delay in Fla. DUI trial