Focus is necessary for Capitals' improvement

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With six of their first eight games against teams that made the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau often spoke of the two-week stretch as a litmus test for his team, which entered this season with so many high expectations.

The results weren't perfect: The Capitals won just two of the six against some of the NHL's elite. Four of the losses came by one goal -- one in a shootout and one in overtime.

In most cases, the Capitals were undone by a minor lapse in attention -- from unnecessary penalties to missed backchecking assignments to lackadaisical power plays.

"We can go great for so many periods of time, and we give up some brain-dead chances," Boudreau said. "We're up to about 51 minutes a game. If we can get those other nine minutes going, we'll be fine."

Many of the Capitals' 38 minor penalties occurred late in games, and the nine goals allowed in the third period is tied for third most in the league.

The Capitals have held a lead at some point in each game, but have a 4-2-2 record to show for it, something 14-year veteran center Brendan Morrison believes should be a wake-up call.

"We need to remain disciplined, staying out of the box is a big key for our team," Morrison said.

"We have to learn how to play with a lead too, and I think that will go a long way down the road. No, we didn't come out with an outstanding record, but I think we understand if we go out and play to our capabilities and our potential we're a good team. If we go out and don't perform, we're just an average team."

Time to heal

Goaltender José Theodore returned to practice for the first time since back spasms forced him to leave the Capitals' eventual 4-1 win against San Jose on Thursday. After three full days off, Theodore said he felt some stiffness but was pleased with his progress.

"I'm happy with where it's at," Theodore said, adding that it's too early to tell if he would be ready to play Thursday against Atlanta. "Now it's more a muscular thing; it's not like before when it was a really sharp, sharp nerve type of pain. Right now it's not so much of a soreness thing or that you're stiff, it's getting the timing back."

Theodore isn't the only player benefiting from Washington's longest break between games this season. Right wing Alexander Semin is sick and was sent to the doctor Monday. Third-line center Boyd Gordon (sore back) was unable to make it through practice and John Erskine's status is still unclear after he bruised his hand blocking a shot against New Jersey on Oct. 12. Shaone Morrisonn (lower body injury) participated fully in practice after after missing Saturday's contest.

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