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Capitals Look to Build on Fast Start

Sergei Fedorov, left, and Mike Green celebrate Alexander Semin's goal. Semin boosted the Capitals when Alex Ovechkin struggled early this season.
Sergei Fedorov, left, and Mike Green celebrate Alexander Semin's goal. Semin boosted the Capitals when Alex Ovechkin struggled early this season. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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· Defense. The Capitals have been outshot in five of the past six games and are yielding 29.4 shots per game, the 12th most in the league, while allowing 2.76 goals per contest, the 14th most. Saturday's 6-5 shootout loss at New Jersey, in which the Capitals repeatedly failed to clear the puck from the offensive zone, marked the fifth time they've yielded four or more goals in regulation. "We had a bad game," Boudreau said. "But the previous six games, we allowed two goals or less. Before the last game we were in the top 10. Saturday's game was an aberration rather than the norm."

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· Secondary scoring. Semin, obviously, is carrying his share of the load, while Ovechkin (five goals in his past four games) and Backstrom (10 points the past three) have recovered from poor starts. But others are still struggling. Captain Chris Clark has one assist in 16 games, but more troubling, he has just 13 shots on goal, 16th on the team. Michael Nylander, meantime, has one assist in his past eight games and was a healthy scratch Friday.

· Special teams. With as much offensive skill as the Capitals have, there's really no excuse for a power-play success rate of 17.4 percent, which ranks 15th. Often criticized by Boudreau for over-handling the puck rather than shooting and crashing the net in search of a rebound, the Capitals are 3 for 25 with a man advantage in eight games this month. The penalty kill unit, on the other hand, ranks 18th at 80.7 percent, also unacceptable for a team that hopes to challenge for a conference title. "They're getting better," Boudreau said. "We want to be over 20 percent [on the power play]. On the penalty kill, we want 84 or 85 percent before it's all said and done."

General Manager George McPhee agreed with Boudreau's assessment of the current state of the Capitals. McPhee also said he believes these deficiencies can be corrected without making any changes in personnel.

"We're certainly pleased with our record," McPhee said. "Capitals teams have typically not had starts like this. But I agree with Bruce, we both believe the team can play better. We haven't yet hit the point where we're playing the kind of hockey we're capable of every period, every night."

Capitals Notes: Semin (upper body) left practice early and is doubtful for tonight's game in Anaheim, Calif., Boudreau said. Center Sergei Fedorov (sprained ankle) is questionable and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (groin muscle pull) will be a game-time decision.


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