Injury Centers Attention On the Capitals' Gordon

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Boyd Gordon's role the past two seasons has been to shut down the other team's playmakers. But his job description changed suddenly Monday, when star center Michael Nylander opted for season-ending shoulder surgery.

Left with a gaping void in the lineup, Coach Bruce Boudreau turned to Gordon, who was promoted to the second line and now skates between skilled wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin.

"He's not anywhere near a scoring threat like Michael Nylander," Boudreau said of Gordon, his most versatile forward and an integral part of the Hershey Bears team Boudreau guided to an American Hockey League championship in 2006. "He gives some balance to the line. Instead of all offense, you've got some offense with a little defense mixed in."

Though Gordon didn't factor into the scoring in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators, his line was dominant. Semin scored twice and Fleischmann notched a pair of assists to help the Capitals complete a season sweep of Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa and pull within five points of a playoff spot.

Because of the trio's successful debut, Boudreau said Gordon will remain there tonight against Shawn Horcoff (19 goals, 44 points) and the Edmonton Oilers, who have lost just once in their past five games but haven't won here since 1997.

"I'd like to score more, obviously, and this is a great chance to do it," said Gordon, who played briefly on a line with Kip Miller and Jaromir Jagr as a rookie.

Gordon, like many of the Capitals' youngsters, has seen his game flourish under Boudreau. The 24-year-old, who makes up for what he lacks in skill with an abundance of hockey sense and grit, has three goals and four assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-5 since the coaching change, compared to three points and minus-2 before it.

"He's not like Nyls, but he's a skilled guy," Fleischmann said of Gordon, a former minor league teammate. "He can move the puck pretty quick and make good passes, too."

Gordon amassed 16 goals and 22 assists in 58 games to help the Bears win the AHL title. Two years later, Boudreau is giving him the chance to showcase his offensive ability alongside one of the game's brightest talents in Semin.

"I'm just going to try to get the puck and give him some space," Gordon said with smile. "He's unbelievable."

Boudreau also addressed the goaltending situation yesterday. Backup Brent Johnson replaced starter Olie Kolzig in Sunday's 6-4 loss to Philadelphia, then shined in Tuesday's win.

Kolzig was critical of Boudreau for pulling him against the Flyers in a newspaper column published yesterday. Boudreau said he had spoken to Kolzig about the comments, but declined to share specifics.

"We've got two good goaltenders," Boudreau said. "Olie is the guy who's going to play the brunt of it, and he's our number one guy."

Capitals Notes: Nylander underwent successful surgery on his torn left rotator cuff yesterday at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and is expected to miss three to six months. . . . Brian Pothier (concussion) and Chris Clark (groin) are out for tonight's game.

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