Capitals Are Goal-Oriented

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

With a sputtering offense and a four-game losing streak, Washington Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon shook up his forward combinations yesterday in the hopes of sparking a turnaround.

The biggest change involved putting rugged right wing Chris Clark on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov -- a reunion of sorts for Clark, who enjoyed back-to-back career seasons on Ovechkin's line in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

"I'm just trying to create some offense, so we'll see if that helps out a bit," Hanlon said. "At the end of the day, that's what you're hoping for, that there's some familiarity."

Ovechkin was more optimistic, saying: "We understand each other. [Clark] plays hard all the time. He fights for the puck. He's good defensively and last year he scored 30 goals. It's good."

Well, it can't really get any worse. After Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals have scored a mere 14 goals in seven games, one more than the New York Rangers, who have the fewest with 13.

Hanlon had planned to keep Clark with Matt Pettinger and Boyd Gordon on the third line, which he said has been "exceptional" defensively. But with the Capitals struggling to score and Clark searching for his first point, the coach wanted to see if Clark and Ovechkin could rediscover their chemistry.

But there's a twist this time around: Kozlov is now the center on that line, not Dainius Zubrus, who was traded last February.

"Maybe the chemistry was with Zubrus and Clark," Hanlon said, shrugging. "We don't know what the chemistry is going to be because it's not the same group."

Clark said he's excited about his new role, but he's not planning to alter his hard-nosed playing style.

"I can't play any different because that will just get me in trouble," Clark said. "If I change anything, be more fancy, it's not going to work. Ovechkin and Kozlov have more than enough skill to bring me along."

Clark replaces Joe Motzko, a minor league call-up who spent the past two games on Ovechkin's line. David Steckel, meantime, will step into the spot vacated by Clark on the checking line, and Motzko will join Donald Brashear and Brooks Laich on the fourth line.

The second line also will have a different look tomorrow when the Capitals host Tampa Bay. As expected, high-scoring winger Alexander Semin (sprained right ankle) practiced for the first time in more than two weeks yesterday, skating on the right side of Michael Nylander and Nicklas Backstrom.

"If we were winning, and things were going perfectly, we wouldn't rush him back if he was a little out of shape," Hanlon said of Semin. "With saying that, if he gets clearance from our trainers, he'll be in our lineup, even if it's just to play the power play for a couple of shifts"

Hanlon also made some changes to personnel on the power play, which, through Sunday's games, is 4 for 35 and ranked 27th, tied with one-win Atlanta with an effectiveness rate of 11.4 percent.

In fact, Hanlon devoted the majority of yesterday's two-hour practice to sorting it out. One power-play unit consisted of Ovechkin, Kozlov and Clark, with defensemen Tom Poti and Mike Green on the points. The other featured Pettinger, Nylander and Backstrom up front and Semin and defenseman Brian Pothier on the points.

"We have to keep it simple," Poti said. "We have to get the puck to the open guy, get the shot, crash the net and get one to go in off someone's shoulder or leg or something. A goal like that can spark you. We just need one lucky bounce."

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