___ Skating on Thin Ice ___ Players and owners are hunkering down for what many expect will be the longest work stoppage in pro sports history.
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Coach Glen Hanlon expects to use an experimental lineup for the duration of the season, and has been switching players recently from defense to the wing. Rick Berry, who spent his entire career on defense, played several weeks on the wing before returning to his natural position, while defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre is now skating as a forward.
Grand-Pierre played defense through his junior and minor league career, but spent time on the wing with Columbus. He was acquired on waivers from Atlanta on March 9 and has played every game for the Capitals since. With so much uncertainty surrounding the makeup of Washington's roster in future seasons, given the massive ongoing rebuilding process, Hanlon wants to explore all options in the final games of the season, which will have virtually no bearing on his last-place club's finish.
"Moving forward, we don't know what's in store for us in the next five or six months," Hanlon said. "So I don't want the question being presented to me seeing [Grand-Pierre] playing forward for someone else next season when we have chance to see him now. So the opportunity to experiment is here."
Washington lost a valuable player to waivers before this season began, when Alex Henry was claimed by Minnesota. Henry was a defenseman who Washington converted to the wing, where he served as the team's enforcer last season. Minnesota has played Henry as a depth defenseman -- a quality the Capitals are badly missing -- with good results, and the franchise can ill-afford parting with such commodities with so few quality players on the roster.
Hanlon has also moved winger Bates Battaglia, woefully ineffective since being acquired from Colorado in October, to center and significantly increased his minutes. Battaglia has responded to the challenge and figures to get a good look at center for the rest of the season. . . .
The Capitals had no expectations for their power play after Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr were traded, but the unit has been keeping them in recent games. Washington has scored seven goals over its last three games, with all coming on the power play. In their last 10 games, the Capitals have mustered only four even-strength goals. . . .
Hanlon gave the team yesterday off and they will return to practice this morning, then depart for a three-game trip to Long Island, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Five of the club's final seven games are on the road.
-- Jason La Canfora