One Big Goal Left After 75 In AHL

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

After scoring a record 75 goals in the American Hockey League last season, Alexandre Giroux hoped to begin training camp this month with a guaranteed spot -- somewhere -- on an NHL roster.

But the opportunity did not materialize for the Hershey Bears forward, and Giroux is back in a familiar position this month: at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, competing for a job with the Washington Capitals.

"I was surprised that somebody who needed goal scoring didn't" sign him, Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Because his history is that he's always been able to score, and history says that if you can score in the American Hockey League, and you get minutes here, you're going to score in the NHL."

With Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann ailing, the Capitals have given Giroux every opportunity to seize a spot on the opening-night roster. But after uneven efforts in the first three preseason games -- he's one of only two players to appear in each of them -- questions about Giroux's ability to translate minor-league success to the NHL persist.

"He's still in the mix," Boudreau said. "We didn't expect him to score like he did at the American League level. He's playing a lot, there's a spot or two to be had, and he's going to get another chance and then evaluate more. But it's going to go down to the end."

Giroux's preseason could not have gotten off a better start. The 28-year-old Quebec native scored Washington's first goal of the exhibition season in Buffalo last week after banging a cross-crease feed from Brendan Morrison between Patrick Lalime's pads.

But Giroux has been absent from the scoresheet the past two contests, registering a combined two shots in the Capitals' overtime victory in Chicago and home loss to the Sabres. He had a scoring chance on the opening shift of the game, but clanked the shot off the goal post from close range.

"I know they know that I can score, but now I got to do it," Giroux said after Tuesday's practice. "I need to prove that I can do it on a regular basis."

He was given three chances to prove just that last season with the Capitals. But he scored only one goal and misfired on numerous other chances.

So Giroux spent most of the year in Hershey and put together one of the best seasons in AHL history, notching 60 goals in the regular season and 15 more in the playoffs to lead the Bears to the franchise's 10th Calder Cup.

When Giroux became an unrestricted free agent last summer, he was set on securing a lucrative contract and a guaranteed spot on an NHL roster. Instead, he said, his former agent focused on securing a deal in Europe.

"I had an issue with my agent," said Giroux, adding that he ended up parting ways with Newport Sports Management. "He really wanted me to go to Europe, so we lost some [negotiating] time right off the bat. But with the season I had, my first choice was to come back and play" in the NHL.

So, left with fewer options than he had anticipated, he re-signed with the organization where he was already known, agreeing to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him a league-minimum $500,000 with the Capitals.

"There are still a lot of guys, friends back home, good free agents out there, who don't have a job," he said. "I'm just happy to have one."

Giroux would be much happier, though, if he's punching the clock in Washington.

"I scored 75 goals last year," he said. "But I have to show that I can play defensively and match the intensity of the game."

Capitals Notes: Alexander Semin left practice early after twisting his left leg awkwardly during a collision with Jay Beagle. "I don't think this is an injury," Boudreau said. "I think this is a tweak." . . . The Capitals cut defensemen John Carlson and Patrick McNeill, forwards Francois Bouchard, Steve Pinizzotto and Andrew Joudrey and goaltender Jason Bacashihua. All of the players were reassigned to Hershey. . . . Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will start Wednesday against Chicago.

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