- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon was asked yesterday why certain players are becoming late training camp casualties while other, seemingly unlikely candidates, are still in town.

Hanlon didn’t have to reply; the answer is becoming obvious. After watching some of the Caps’ skilled players get pushed around last season, Washington has decided to push back.

Left wing Donald Brashear has 2,165 career penalty minutes and 75 goals while enforcing his rules. Defenseman John Erskine has 336 penalty minutes and three goals in 141 games. Right wing Alexandre Giroux has no penalty minutes but only has been in one regular season game and is another physical presence.

Meanwhile, left wing Alex Ovechkin has just 52 penalty minutes (but 52 goals, too) in 81 games. But he had a five-minute fighting penalty among his nine penalty minutes in Tuesday’s 6-1 preseason victory at Philadelphia.

“We bring in Brashear and all of a sudden Ovechkin’s fighting,” Hanlon joked yesterday. “If we had known Ovie was going to fight, we wouldn’t have signed Brash.”

Left wing Tomas Fleischmann and defenseman Jeff Schultz were assigned to Hershey yesterday despite solid camps, leaving Erskine, Giroux and Brashear. Fleischmann and Schultz are quality players; the others are, too, but in different roles.

Ovechkin’s getting into a first-period fight with the Flyers’ Mike Richards, with the latter winning a quick decision, shows the importance of having other players capable of defending the Caps’ top goal scorer.

“I thought [Erskine’s] game against Philly was his best and with John it’s a situation where his value was [higher] after the incident in the first period,” Hanlon said.

Regarding Giroux, Hanlon said: “Historically he’s a guy who can score and create chances and that’s what we’re looking at. He can play physically.”

Schultz going to the minors leaves the Caps with eight defensemen, a figure Hanlon likes because it even things out in practice.

Fleischmann, the offensive star of Hershey’s Calder Cup triumph in the American Hockey League last summer, appeared to be one of the favorites to graduate to the NHL. He played well, Hanlon said, but not any better than some of established players he had to move aside if he wanted their jobs.

Center Jakub Klepis, on the other hand, is making things difficult. He has worked his way into a competition with Kris Beech, Brooks Laich and Rico Fata for one, maybe two spots up the middle. Dainius Zubrus, Brian Sutherby and Boyd Gordon all have slots nailed down, the latter because of his ability to shut down offenses. But having too many centers is not a problem because they normally can also play a wing position.

Washington has trimmed the roster to 25 players and must get to 23 by opening night.

Notes — The Caps play host to Philadelphia tonight and Zubrus will see his first action of preseason. He had more knee surgery during the offseason and is on a new type of medication to ease pain. He said yesterday it appears to be working. …

Giroux has been steady and consistent from the day camp opened. The Quebec City native was signed out of the New York Rangers organization as a free agent and yesterday was playing the right side on the first line with Zubrus and Ovechkin. …

Ben Clymer’s move to defense appears to be taking. “We watched the [Philadelphia] game and thought there was a sharp increase in his improvement. He reacts well to [coaching suggestions] and puts them into play,” Hanlon said. …

The Caps play host to Carolina on Sunday afternoon in their final exhibition game.

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