Friday, February 20, 2004

Prospect Brooks Laich and a second-round draft pick are the Washington Capitals’ long-term compensations for the trade of Peter Bondra to Ottawa. In the meantime, Matt Pettinger and Josef Boumedienne must help make up for the loss of the Caps’ all-time leading scorer.

So coach Glen Hanlon was thrilled — but not overly surprised — that Pettinger and Boumedienne teamed for the winning goal in Thursday’s 3-1 upset of defending champion New Jersey. Hanlon believes Pettinger, who has 12 goals in 121 games for Washington over parts of the last four seasons, and Boumedienne, who has been with four organizations in three years but played in just 22 NHL games, can be reliable regulars.

“I know Matt can score,” said Hanlon, for whom Pettinger scored 19 goals as a first-year pro with Portland of the American Hockey League in 2000-2001. “I think he has been misread here in the past. I know how important hockey is to him, and I know how hard he prepares.”

Pettinger, Washington’s second choice in the 2000 draft, played almost every night under Hanlon’s predecessors, Ron Wilson (2001-2002) and Bruce Cassidy (last fall). However, it’s a big leap from playing 10 minutes a night on the fourth line to being the left wing on the top line with NHL scoring leader Robert Lang and Anson Carter.

“Not everybody on a line can be a fancy player,” Hanlon said. “Somebody has to create space. Somebody has to be responsible. Matt has good speed and an NHL shot. Matt can score 15 to 20 goals and be physical, be responsible, kill some penalties.”

Pettinger, 22, appreciates his newfound opportunity, especially on the power play. His goal Sunday in Chicago came after an advantage expired, and Thursday’s happened on a wonderful feed from Boumedienne with Washington skating 5-on-4.

“It’s a privilege to play with Robert and Anson,” Pettinger said. “You’ve got to change your mindset, play a little more offensive minded because they’re thinking offense all the time. It’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I felt more comfortable as the game went on. With Peter gone, I’m getting an opportunity on the power play. If you get those opportunities, you’re going to get [scoring] chances.”

Meanwhile, Boumedienne, who was in the minors five weeks ago, wonders why it took so long for someone to realize he belongs.

“I thought I was ready to play in the NHL several years ago, but obviously I wasn’t in other people’s eyes,” said Boumedienne, a defenseman who bounced from New Jersey to Tampa Bay to Ottawa to Washington from November 2001 to December 2002. “I think I’ve showed people I can play defense, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as an offensive defenseman. If you’re a defenseman, your job is to make sure the other team doesn’t score. My best year in juniors [in Sweden], I had [just] six points. My game was playing defense.”

Hanlon has used Boumedienne as much as 30:46 in recent games, but the coach said the 26-year-old’s play in his own end doesn’t yet match the puck-moving ability displayed by the assist on Pettinger’s game-winning goal.

“You don’t teach that skill,” Hanlon said. “That’s poise, hockey sense and seeing the rink. That’s why I’m excited about Josef’s future. With all of the things that he does well, there are things that we’re working on. I’m very patient. You can’t expect people to change overnight, but you can expect them to progress. It’s not will. It’s making a read, reacting, keeping your stick on the ice. I’m extremely excited about Josef’s progress.

“Before he’s through in this league, you’re going to see a darn good hockey player.”

Notes — Center Michael Nylander skated throughout his first full practice since breaking his right leg Oct.3. However, Nylander still has some discomfort and won’t play tonight. He will be checked by doctors today and could return as soon as Monday’s game against Tampa Bay at MCI Center. … Center Dainius Zubrus remains sidelined with the strained chest muscle that has kept him out for all but 30 minutes of the past four games.

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