Caps Ponder Painful Chore of Final Cuts

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 1, 2007

For the handful of players hoping to earn a spot on the Washington Capitals' opening night roster, all they can do now is wait.

Last night's 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center was the seventh and final game of the preseason. Today, the Capitals will participate in the team's charity golf event, and by 3 p.m. tomorrow, the finalized, 23-man roster must be submitted to the NHL.

With 26 players (not including injured right wing Eric Fehr) still in camp, now comes the hard part for Coach Glen Hanlon, his staff and General Manager George McPhee, who will meet today to decide which three players won't make the roster.

"We'll have to make some decisions," Hanlon said. "This game just made some tough decisions even tougher. But that's good. That's progress.

"It really hurts when you see people leave the organization who have given their heart and soul to this group."

With the first, second and third forward lines all but set, and enforcer Donald Brashear guaranteed of a position on the fourth line, six players -- David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Brooks Laich, Brian Sutherby, Ben Clymer and unsigned Jakub Klepis -- are battling for the final two spots in the lineup. One or two others could be kept as reserve players, depending on whether the Capitals keep 14 forwards and seven defensemen or 13 and eight.

Asked if he would sleep soundly, Laich, who can play both wings and center, said: "Yeah, I think so. I'm happy with the way camp went."

Steckel also said he was confident, adding, "I couldn't have done anything more."

On defense, the top four is set, meaning Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Steve Eminger are all vying for playing time on the third pairing. Each of them could make the team, though, if Hanlon and McPhee decide to go with 13 forwards. Green and Schultz are the only defensemen who don't have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the minor leagues, but Schultz indicated he's been told to get a place to live and purchase a car. Green said he has not been informed about his status.

"That's a good sign," Schultz said, smiling. "I'm just renting for now, though."

Players needing to be sent through waivers must be put on the wire by noon today. If they clear, they can be assigned to Hershey, Pa., of the American Hockey League at noon on Tuesday.

The only position where the Capitals are set is goaltender -- Olie Kolzig will be the starter, and Brent Johnson will back him up.

Hanlon said he was disappointed that the Senators, who improved to 7-0 in the preseason, decided to bring a weak lineup to Washington because it would have been more meaningful to judge the bubble players against NHL stars such as Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

"We didn't get that luxury and that's too bad," said Hanlon, whose team wrapped up the exhibition schedule with a record of 3-3-1.

Capitals Note: Winger Alexander Semin (sprained right ankle) did not play last night. The injury, though, is not believed to be serious enough to prevent him from playing in the season opener in Atlanta on Friday.

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