Defensive Fill-In Fits The Bill

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The first time Tyler Sloan's father visited his son in Hershey this year, the longtime minor league defenseman earned a call-up to the Capitals, leaving Fred Sloan rushing back to Calgary to see his son's NHL debut. The elder Sloan scheduled another Hershey visit for late April, and after about two weeks watching the AHL playoffs, his son was informed the Capitals needed his services again.

And so, in his 11th professional season and his eighth professional stop, the 28-year old Sloan made his playoff debut in front of his father last night. He skated more than 16 minutes filling in for the injured John Erskine, assisted on the David Steckel's second-period goal that tied the game at 2, and was showered with praise in the Capitals' victorious dressing room.

"No nerves for him, he was great," said veteran Brian Pothier, who skated with Sloan much of the night. "I don't think he made a mistake tonight. I thought he was real solid, even on the penalty kill, which is tough with that much firepower coming up. He was poised and did all the right things."

The Capitals were as healthy as they've been in the postseason following their first-round victory, but things began deteriorating over the weekend when both Erskine and Tom Poti came up limping after blocking shots.

Sloan and defensive partner Karl Alzner both missed Hershey's game on Sunday with what was described as the flu, and both joined the Capitals at yesterday's morning skate. Poti dressed and was one of four Capitals to log more than 20 minutes, allowing Alzner to be scratched. But when Erskine was unable to play, Sloan got his chance.

"Getting to the rink this morning and [having] the pregame meal, nerves started coming," Sloan said. "But I settled down when I got here, and I felt good, I felt comfortable."

Fourth-line right wing Eric Fehr, meantime, seemed set for a more prominent role last night, getting a power-play shift in the first period. But after a violent collision with Ruslan Fedotenko, Fehr left after barely two minutes of ice time and didn't return. The team said he was day-to-day.

The Penguins also suffered at least one significant injury, with defenseman Kristopher Letang being helped to the dressing room late in the third period after being guided into the boards by Mike Green. Letang remained hunched over in the tunnel after leaving the ice, and didn't return.

Power-Play Swings

The Penguins were peppered with power-play questions following their 0-for-5 struggles in Game 1, carrying a 1-for-24 slump into last night's game. Their percentage was boosted by a 2-for-5 showing last night, but they failed on their best opportunity, a 46-second two-man advantage in the first period.

Pittsburgh led 1-0 at the time, and the Capitals took momentum from the kill into the first intermission, scoring two minutes after the break.

"Huge," said Steckel, a penalty-kill stalwart. "That was the turning point. I mean, if they score there, it could be different."

Sidney Crosby's power-play goal in the final minute boosted Pittsburgh's playoff success rate to 14.3 percent; Washington has converted on 20 percent of its advantages.

Celebs Rock the Red

The suites were thick with local sports personalities, including Wizards Coach Flip Saunders, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, Redskins Executive Vice President for Football Operations Vinny Cerrato and Redskins Coach Jim Zorn, who sat on the glass with special teams coach Danny Smith.

In keeping with the theme, Zorn wore a red shirt and bright red knee-high socks, and smooched his wife on the Kiss Cam. And yes, he was rooting for the home team.

"I love the competition," he said. "I get intense, but I'm not trying to go backstage either. I'm enjoying the heck out of the game."

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