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Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 08/09/2011

Coach Bruce Boudreau muses about Capitals’ line combinations for next season


Boudreau is shown at his annual hockey camp in St. Catharines, Ont. (Bob Tymczyszyn - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I spent this past weekend in St. Catharines, Ont., at Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau's 29th annual Golden Horseshoe Hockey School. In bad times, the camp supplemented his minor-league coaching salary. The past few years, though, he's kept it going for his 13-year-old son, Brady, and because he and his wife, Crystal, enjoy doing it.

Look for that story in the next week or so.

In the meantime, I want to share a few interesting items from an interview with Boudreau that focused on the Caps.

One of the more interesting items that came up was the style of play the team will implement this season. It's been well-documented that Boudreau was forced to switch from his trademark high-octane style to a defensive posture when the flood of goals all but dried up in December.

But now he's contemplating another tweak.

“I'm hoping that we can be a hybrid,” Boudreau said. “There's some parts we changed [last season] that I really loved. But when you're playing like that, you have score a lot of goals [on] dump-ins and you have to score a lot of goals off the forecheck because the quick-break isn't there. I'd like to get back to being more of a quick-break team.”

Boudreau would not delve into the specifics of positioning and the responsibilities of individual players in the new system. But he also made it clear that he doesn't want them to revert to the Caps of 2009-10, with forwards routinely gliding back, or camping out in the neutral zone while the puck is deep in Washington's end, or more important, feeling that defensive-zone coverage isn't in their job description.

“I'd like to be a quick-break team but not [have forwards] taking off, waiting at the blue line,” he said.

The coaching staff tested the hybrid system in development camp and will reevaluate its effectiveness in the preseason.

“It seemed to work really good,” he said, before later adding, “I'm always trying to be more of an offensive coach. I love offense. You have to score to win.”

Something else I found interesting was Boudreau's take on line combinations and defensive pairings heading into next season.

For one, it didn't sound like Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble is a lock to be the first line.

Or, for that matter, that Brooks Laich will be the second-line center.

Or, for that matter, that John Erskine will be sitting in the press box.

Here's Boudreau's unfiltered breakdown of the situation up front:

“Our depth is tremendous,” he said. “I go over the lines, as you know, every day. We've got four right wings: Brouwer, Semin, Ward and Knuble.”

“Who plays where?”

“There's a lot of options there,” he added, hardly taking a breath.

[The coaches] “will obviously discuss it more. But at center, we've got Backstrom, Johansson and — if we went with the premise that Halpern establishes the fourth line — then what are we doing with the third? We could sit there and say, 'We've got [Christian] Hanson, [whom] we got from the Leafs, Cody Eakin, Mattias Sjogren, Mathieu Perreault and Ryan Potulny all fighting for that third line spot. That may be [training camp's] great battle.”

I know that was a mouthful, but stick with him.

“But you've also got Jay Beagle who's a center or right wing. So we could also move Brooks Laich to center and move Marcus to the third line. Or move Brooks to third-line center and have a really good checking line, and move Beagle to the right, and [the wings] all move up and Brouwer moves to left wing, where he's played a lot of hockey before.”

“Hendricks, Chimera and Ovechkin are pretty well embedded into three left wing spots,” he continued.

Got that? Lots of flexibility, but it also sounds like there's a potential for another revolving-door situation at center between the first line, which belongs to Backstrom, and the fourth, which, for now, belongs to Halpern.

As for Boudreau's thoughts on the blue line, I'll paraphrase. The right-side defensemen will be John Carlson, Mike Green and Dennis Wideman, whom Boudreau described as “good to go and champing at the bit,” after missing the playoffs with a leg hematoma

“We never had one game last year with Wideman, Green and Carlson in the lineup,” Boudreau said. “Not one time.”

The left side defensemen will be Karl Alzner, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz/John Erskine/Tom Poti.

“Everybody is quick to punt John Erskine and make him the seventh, but I thought John Erskine was great last year,” Boudreau said. “When he plays that way, he's a really important player on our team.”

That, however, doesn't mean the third-pairing, left-side defenseman will automatically be Erskine. Boudreau said Schultz will be in much better shape in next month's training camp next versus last season and, in his opinion, “is going to open up some eyes.”

“Last year — this never got out — but he had an illness all summer long, so there was no training for him,” Boudreau said. “That set him back. This summer, he's been in the gym working, running and he's getting leaner, the whole time in Washington with [strength and conditioning coach] Mark Nemish. When I saw him at the end of July, he was in great shape.”

Boudreau said he did not have an update on Poti's status. But reading between the lines, it also did not sound like the coach is expecting the 34-year-old, who missed all of last season, to be ready after playing in only 21 games because of groin-muscle injury.

That's all for now, folks. I'll see if I can mine a few more nuggets from my recorder for another post later this week.

By  |  11:20 AM ET, 08/09/2011

Categories:  Bruce Boudreau

 
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