Jurcina Sees 'Good Situation'

Milan Jurcina joins the injury-plagued Capitals, in last place in the division.
Milan Jurcina joins the injury-plagued Capitals, in last place in the division. (By Winslow Townson -- Associated Press)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 3, 2007

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 2 -- When Milan Jurcina skated onto the ice for practice Friday afternoon -- his first as a member of the Washington Capitals -- the 23-year-old defenseman was sharing a hearty laugh with Shaone Morrisonn.

The sight of a familiar face was a welcome one for the newcomer, who was acquired Thursday from the Boston Bruins for a conditional draft pick. Both he and Morrisonn were drafted by the Bruins in 2001 and later were a defensive pair in Providence of the American Hockey League.

"When I walked in here, I didn't know nobody," Jurcina said at Mellon Arena, where the struggling Capitals will face Sidney Crosby and the surging Pittsburgh Penguins at 1 p.m. on Saturday. "So it was nice to see him."

Jurcina met his new teammates in Pittsburgh, but he was aware of what transpired the previous night at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. The injury-ravaged Capitals had lost for the seventh time in nine games, 6-3, to the Florida Panthers, dropping them into last place in the Southeast Division.

"It's an opportunity for me to show this organization that I can play hockey," Jurcina said.

His first assignment figures to be a tough one. Although Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon wouldn't reveal his revamped lineup on defense, Jurcina and Morrisonn skated together throughout practice, leading to speculation they'll be paired together against Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer (25 goals and 82 points) and catalyst behind the Penguins' five-game winning streak.

Morrisonn said he is looking forward to being reunited with Jurcina.

"He's very strong and has a big shot," Morrisonn said. "He's mobile and he's physical, too. He's a good fit for the new game."

But is he a good fit for the Capitals? Management hopes that answer will become obvious at some point during the season's final 30 games. Jurcina, brought in because of injuries to Bryan Muir and John Erskine (both are out with a broken foot) and Brian Pothier (concussion), is on a one-year contract that pays him $500,000. If he performs well, it's likely his tenure will be extended.

"We're excited," Hanlon said. "In our situation, he's going to get a chance to play more minutes than he played in Boston. We want him to give a solid effort, be a good teammate and we'll work together on his game."

Jurcina, indeed, is considered a bit of a project. He's a 6-foot-4, 233-pound stay-at-home defenseman who boasts a big shot from the point, but is still learning to use his massive size effectively. It became a source of frustration for the Bruins' first-year coach, Dave Lewis, who scratched him six times. His playing time diminished from 16 1/2 minutes per game last season to barely 11. Jurcina said he is anxious to put the trade behind him.

"My first thought was, 'What did I do wrong?' " Jurcina said of his reaction to being dealt. "But I've just been keeping it positive as much as possible. Washington is a good situation for me. It looks like they are building something with young guys."

Capitals Notes: Jurcina will wear No. 23. . . . Backup goaltender Brent Johnson was absent from practice. He suffered an undisclosed injury during the morning skate on Thursday and was replaced on the bench by minor league call-up Daren Machesney, who remained with the Capitals on Friday.

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