- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

The special teams numbers are impossible to overlook.

The Washington Capitals’ power play connected just 14.7 percent of the time last season, the franchise’s worst performance in 28 seasons. The Caps scored just 72 goals with the extra man; only four teams scored fewer.

Perhaps that is why there was a hush in the stands yesterday morning at Ashburn (Va.) Ice House when the projected first power-play unit went out for its initial test. Alexander Semin and Richard Zednik were on either side of center Dainius Zubrus, with Brian Pothier on the left point and Alex Ovechkin on the other side. The unit appears loaded with offensive might.

“Hold on,” said well-known killjoy Glen Hanlon, the Caps’ coach. “Remember last year at camp, who’d we have out there?”

He mentioned an offensive dynamo that failed to click, as the numbers attest, and said: “There are no guarantees on specialty teams.”

As it turned out, the No. 1 power play unit didn’t score yesterday, but the fact that three of its five members are new with the team this season was enough to pump some fans up.

“We’d like to project we’re going to be better because of Zednik and Semin and Pothier, three pretty good guys to add to a power play,” Hanlon said. “So is it fair to say we’re going to be better? Yeah, we’re going to be better. [But] how much?”

Hanlon put the team through a lengthy power-play session, then split up the club and had a full-scale scrimmage. Semin stood out, looking bigger, heavier, more sure of himself and more polished than he was three seasons ago when he last wore a Washington uniform. He spent the last two seasons playing in the Russian Super League.

“He was 183 pounds when he had his exit physical [in 2003]; now he’s close to 200 pounds and lean as a rail,” Hanlon said.

One of the primary questions of camp was who among a bevy of left-handers would be able to switch to the right side. Europeans, for the most part, don’t seem to care much about which side they play or shoot from. There is a lot of cross-over, and playmakers are able to find targets on instinct.

“It’s not an issue that Semin can’t play right wing,” Hanlon said. “That’s easy to do. They’ll find each other. [Semin and Ovechkin are] two smart guys who can play. Zubrus will be at center. He’ll do a fine job, and there will be no issue of defensive zone coverage or anything.

“The [argument] isn’t whether Semin can play right wing. It’s whether we want to put our most offensive guys on the same line. I’m not worried that Semin can’t play the right side. He’s as smart as they come.”

But it appears Semin and Ovechkin won’t be on the same line regularly. Ovechkin will stay with Zubrus and Chris Clark. Semin probably will be with Zednik and center Kris Beech.

Notes — Earning praise from Hanlon after the scrimmage were wings Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis, offensive stars with Hershey last season. One or both might be with the Caps when the season starts. …

The first cuts will come after today’s scrimmage. Management will trim 10 to 15 from the 49-man roster, then decide on a lineup for tomorrow’s exhibition game against Tampa Bay at Verizon Center.



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