- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2012

NEW YORK — It’s nice when the Washington Capitals get production from the likes of forwards Jay Beagle and Joel Ward.

But in order to beat the New York Rangers, the core players - Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom - need to improve off their Game 1 performance.

“It starts with the individuals, but that will help our team game come,” Laich said. “Your top guys have to be your top guys and accept responsibility for that and be better next game.”

Laich’s saucer pass to set up Jason Chimera’s goal was one of the highlights in the 3-1 loss Saturday, but Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom were minus players and nonfactors.

“It falls on a lot of us. Individually, there were some guys that weren’t at their best. And as a team, we didn’t play well,” Laich said. “We took some penalties in the offensive zone away from our net. We fanned on some pucks. Some bad line changes. There’s a lot of areas of our game that we have to clean up”

Turnovers and defensive lapses are part of the problem. But as Chimera said after Game 1, “We need to be better right from our best players down.”

That means not just responsible defense but production.

“We got to start scoring goals, I think we created a couple chances,” Backstrom said. “We hit the post three times, I think. So its tough, but overall we didnt play a good game.”

Semin demoted

Perhaps Dale Hunter was sending a message to Semin for his poor play, including two stick penalties, by putting the Russian wing on the fourth line at Sunday’s practice. The Caps’ coach insisted he was just mixing up lines.

And while Hunter said Ryan Callahan should have gotten whistled cross-checking Semin on the play that ended up with a slash, retaliation isn’t acceptable this time of year.

“You just can’t do it,” Hunter said. “It’s one of those things that he did get cross-checked. But that’s the way hockey is, and you have to be smart on the ice.”

If Semin starts Game 2 on Monday on the fourth line, he’ll likely be skating with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin.

But it wouldn’t be the first time Hunter sent Semin a message in practice and kept him in his normal spot; that happened in March when practice lines the day before a game at Boston made it look appear he was a healthy scratch. He took his place on the right wing of the second line as usual.

Schultz back in?

Sunday’s practice made it appear as if Jeff Schultz will be returning to the lineup, paired with Dennis Wideman and replacing John Erskine on the blue line.

“Well, we’ve been undecided the whole time on who were going to play. Theyre both fairly big guys,” Hunter said. “Schultzys a little bit bigger. And you know Erskine is more aggressive. But we havent really decided yet. But whichever guy goes in has to do their job.”

Asked why impressive 20-year-old rookie Dmitry Orlov wasn’t meriting consideration, the coach said he wanted to go with more defensive defensemen on the third pairing.

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