- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

Two seasons ago the Washington Capitals were the third-worst team in the NHL at killing penalties.

The Caps were a little better last year, but they expect to make a big leap forward in that department this season.

“With the personnel we’ve added, we should [get better],” Caps goalie Olie Kolzig said. “I expect us to be in the top 15 — that’s going to be our goal.”

New addition Tom Poti will join Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina and John Erskine (provided he is in the lineup) as the main defensemen charged with killing penalties. Caps coach Glen Hanlon could have plenty of options up front with returning players Boyd Gordon, Matt Pettinger and Chris Clark joined by newcomers Michael Nylander, Nicklas Backstrom and possibly David Steckel.

The Caps have successfully killed 31 of 36 penalties (86.1 percent) in five preseason games (there are no official stats from the team’s game at Philadelphia), and before Friday night they were 29-for-32 (90.6). By comparison, Washington fended off only 78.9 percent of the extra-man chances in the 2005-06 season.

“It is a huge improvement,” Hanlon said. “The mobility of our defensemen helps and the insertion of a couple of players that have done a good job killing penalties has certainly helped a lot.”

One reason for the Caps’ success is they have been more aggressive before the opposing team has the puck in the offensive zone. The objective is to either cause a turnover in the neutral zone or force the other team to dump the puck.

Either occurrence chews up time and makes it tougher for the other team to set up.

“The system always falls in line with the type of players that we have,” Hanlon said. “When there is more mobility in your group, you’re not so protective in other areas. That’s what we feel that we have now.

“The things we’ve done in practice you would have never seen two years ago, but you didn’t see Nylander and you didn’t see Poti and you didn’t see the improvement of some of our younger players. You always want to be aggressive, but it makes our success rate better.”

Another way for the Caps to be more successful killing penalties is to allow less extra-man opportunities. Last season Washington finished tied for 23rd in the league by killing penalties at an 80.2 percent clip, but it was tied for 12th with 414 times shorthanded.

The Caps have taken six penalties or less in three of the five games.

“I’ve seen teams that were down 4-0 with 10 minutes to go come back,” Erskine said. “There are so many penalties called you’ve got to have an effective penalty kill.”

Notes — Alexander Semin did not practice yesterday after not playing in the third period of Friday night’s game against Philadelphia. He was checked behind the Flyers net midway through the second period. He was at Kettler Capitals Iceplex yesterday, but his right ankle was taped. …

Josef Boumedienne and Joe Motzko cleared waivers. Motzko will play for Hershey, but it is possible Boumedienne will return to Europe.

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