Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Washington Capitals are revamping their lineup to bolster their sagging special teams and provide more offensive punch after they failed to score more than three goals in any of the first nine games this season.

The new lineup will get its first test tonight against Buffalo at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial in Rochester, N.Y.

Coach Glen Hanlon started shuffling personnel Monday out of necessity when two regulars were missing: Dainius Zubrus was out with an injury, and defenseman Brendan Witt was tending to his family just north of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Zubrus was back at practice yesterday, but Witt remained in the Hurricane Wilma-ravaged portion of Florida’s East Coast, and it is not known whether he can make it to tonight’s game.

Washington recalled center Brooks Laich from Hershey to add some scoring to the punchless lineup — he has six goals and 10 points in seven games with the Bears — and sent defensive forward Boyd Gordon to the American Hockey League team.

Hanlon would not say who was playing where or with whom for tonight’s game, but it was possible Laich could go from the minors to the first line. At a practice devoted mainly to special teams yesterday, Zubrus was centering Alex Ovechkin on the left, and it appears Laich could move in on the right.

That would leave veteran Jeff Halpern centering an energetic line with wings Matt Pettinger and Brian Willsie. A second line with scoring potential would comprise Andrew Cassels between Jeff Friesen and Petr Sykora, while the checking line would have Brian Sutherby centering for Chris Clark and Matt Bradley.

With Witt a question mark, the three defensive pairs expected for tonight all differ from Saturday’s game against Carolina. Bryan Muir has medical clearance to return from a groin injury and will skate with Jamie Heward; Steve Eminger and rookie Mike Green will be the second unit; and Shaone Morrisonn and Ben Clymer will make up the third.

Clymer could be making a firm conversion from forward to defense, a switch he should be used to by now. His original position growing up in suburban Minneapolis was on defense, but he was moved to forward as a teenager. He switched back to defense in college and was drafted as a defender by Boston in 1997. He was moved again to forward when he played for Tampa Bay for four seasons and won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2003-04. Now he’s headed back to the blue line.

The NHL’s rules changes are favorable to smaller, more agile skaters like Clymer, who is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Part of why NHL scouts noticed him was his ability to skate well and fast.

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