Capitals Still Have Room To Improve - Coach Bruce Boudreau Uses Break To Attack Weaknesses

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau isn't resting on a strong first half. "We need to improve in all areas, really," he said.
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau isn't resting on a strong first half. "We need to improve in all areas, really," he said. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

A year ago, the Washington Capitals arrived at the NHL's all-star break following a frustrating first half that featured the worst start in franchise history and the firing of their coach.

Their situation 12 months later couldn't be any more different.

With a cast of established stars and a host of emerging ones, the Capitals own a 12-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division and are on pace for 108 points, one more point than their best total ever, set in 1985-86. They have done so in exciting fashion, averaging 3.15 goals per game (tied for sixth in the NHL).

But as the players scatter for short vacations and golf getaways during the six-day hiatus, Coach Bruce Boudreau will hunker down in his office at Kettler Capitals Iceplex searching for ways to shore up the Capitals' weaknesses and ensure his team reaches its potential in the second half.

"We need to improve in all areas, really," Boudreau said. "If you're ever satisfied with where you are, then you're not good enough. Other teams are going to improve. So we have to improve, too. There are too many teams right on our [butt]."

Topping Boudreau's list:

· Fixing the penalty kill. The unit ranks 24th, killing off just 79 percent of the short-handed situations the team has faced. The unit has yielded at least one power-play goal in eight consecutive games and seven goals when down two men, the second most. When the unit struggles, it's typically because of players failing to clear the puck when the opportunity presents itself, resulting in tired penalty killers being hemmed in the zone for long stretches.

The return of top penalty killer Tom Poti, who has missed the past 14 games because of a groin injury, could provide a boost. But if the unit continues to struggle, Boudreau promised changes to the personnel. Poti, David Steckel, Jeff Schultz, Boyd Gordon, Karl Alzner and Brooks Laich all average more than three minutes of short-handed ice time per game.

· Holding players accountable for their penalties, which, of course, exacerbates the penalty-killing problems. In past seasons, the Capitals blamed penalty woes on a lack of experience and skill. That's no longer a viable excuse.

They have been assessed the fifth-most minor penalties (239), led by Alex Ovechkin's 28 and Milan Jurcina's 21 (they are the only Capitals who have taken more than 16).

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