Steckel Still in Mix For Caps

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Please excuse David Steckel if he jumps a bit when his cellphone rings, or if his heart pounds a little harder when he reports to the rink for practice.

These are anxious times for the checking line center, who is battling for one of the few remaining spots on the Washington Capitals' roster. With the deadline for setting the 23-man roster at 3 p.m. Tuesday, the next four days figure to be the longest of Steckel's life.

"I pretty much just come to the rink, and if they don't tell me to go home, awesome," he said before scoring his second and third goals of the preseason in last night's 7-5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center.

With the Capitals' top three lines seemingly set and left wing Donald Brashear a lock to make the team, that leaves Steckel, Brooks Laich, Brian Sutherby, Ben Clymer, Matt Bradley and long-shot Jakub Klepis fighting for the center and right wing positions on the fourth line. Another forward, possibly two, could make the team as reserves, depending on whether seven or eight defensemen make the cut. Either way, Steckel is facing a nerve-wracking numbers crunch.

"He's still on the island," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said after yesterday's cuts, which saw forward Chris Bourque assigned to Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League and three other players waived.

Steckel, 25, a defensive specialist who excels on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle, is doing a fine job of ensuring that Hanlon's decision will be a difficult one. In addition to his three goals, he has won better than 60 percent of his faceoffs.

Steckel's contract situation, however, could work against him. Unlike Sutherby, Bradley, Laich and Clymer, he doesn't have to clear waivers in order to be sent to Hershey, where he spent the majority of the past two seasons.

A former first-round draft pick of Los Angeles and four-year player at Ohio State, Steckel played for the Kings' minor league affiliate in Manchester, N.H., before being signed by the Capitals in August 2005. The signing was recommended by Bruce Boudreau, who had coached Steckel with the Monarchs. Boudreau was hired as Hershey's coach earlier that summer.

"We knew that [Steckel] had a good chance if he worked on some things," Hanlon said.

One of those things has been adding mass to his lanky 6-foot-5 frame, something he's struggled to do since turning pro. He came into camp this month weighing 218 pounds, which is considered his ideal playing weight. To maintain that, though, he must consume as many as 6,000 calories per day.

"I'm not psychotic about it," he said. "I just know I have to eat a lot and eat well."

Steckel also must continue to play well. Last night's performance against the Flyers and tomorrow's showing against the Ottawa Senators will go a long way toward determining whether he starts the season in Washington or 130 miles to the north. The Flyers brought a mostly NHL lineup to Verizon Center; Ottawa is expected to do the same.

"I feel good," Steckel said. "I feel like I'm playing my game on the [penalty kill], I'm winning draws and moving my feet, which is what I have to do to stay up here."

Capitals Notes: Defensemen Jame Pollock and Josef Boumedienne and forward Joe Motzko were waived yesterday. Should they clear, they are expected to join the Bears. . . .

Tomas Fleischmann scored the Capitals' sixth goal with 1 minute 48 seconds remaining and Alex Ovechkin had two goals and two assists. Matt Pettinger and Viktor Kozlov also scored. Alexander Semin did not return for the third period after a high hit midway through the second, but is fine, according to a team spokesman.

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