- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Building a team around Alex Ovechkin isn’t easy.

The 21-year-old wing is a genuine superstar, faster than almost anybody on the ice, with quicker reflexes, superior range of vision and a shot that rockets off the blade of his stick so fast that goalies often can’t react quickly enough.

The problem is, where do you find players to team up with such an individual? The answer is, if they’re out there at all, they’re not available at almost any price.

The Washington Capitals have been trying to assemble a solid support group around Ovechkin so his talents can be maximized.

Ovechkin scored 52 goals and posted 106 points as a rookie last season, but he was, in a sense, relatively easy to guard because he was a one-man shooting gallery. He had almost no offensive support, so defenses could simply wait for him to take the ice.

That situation has improved — slowly, yes — as the Caps embark on the new season tonight.

The Caps finally pried left wing Alexander Semin from the Russian Super League for his second shot at the NHL, and he so far has been as impressive here as he was in Russia. Semin is being counted on to make a large offensive contribution.

Richard Zednik, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, is also back in Washington for a second go-round. Zednik scored 73 goals in less than three full seasons with the Canadiens. The Caps would be very happy if he scored 25 to 30 this season.

The acquisition of those players lifts a considerable load from Ovechkin. He no longer will be required to provide about 25 percent of the scoring, though he still could do so if enough defensive attention shifts to Semin and Zednik and the ice opens in front of him.

The Caps also strengthened their porous defense. Ben Clymer moved from wing to his natural defensive position, Mike Green graduated from Hershey, and Brian Pothier and John Erskine signed as free agents.

If those players can help reduce the goals-against, there will be less pressure on Ovechkin to make up late deficits.

Finally, there is Donald Brashear, the free agent left wing who often acts as a piecemaker. In his role as an enforcer, he meets disorderly opponents on the ice and reminds them that if they do mean things to his teammates, he will break them into tiny pieces.

It’s a start.

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