In Red Wings, Capitals see a model for the future

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Washington Capitals look at the Detroit Red Wings, their next opponent, and see 11 championships, including four Stanley Cups in 12 seasons. They see 55 playoff appearances and seminal Hall of Famers from a franchise that has been winning with more regularity than any other in the NHL, and they recognize the vast separation between themselves and the current industry standard.

Even during this season, when they've absorbed injuries that could have ruined playoff aspirations for lesser organizations, the Red Wings remain a contender in the Western Conference. They trail the Los Angeles Kings by a point for the eighth and final playoff spot, and although they have lost two straight, the Red Wings enter Tuesday night's game at Verizon Center with 13 points in 10 games and are starting to convalesce.

"If you look at our team, any good hockey team, when their star players go down, the rest of the guys rise up," said Capitals center Brooks Laich, who had two goals and an assist in Sunday's 5-3 victory over visiting Philadelphia. "When we lost Alex [Ovechkin], whether it was suspension or injury, you see [Tomas] Fleischmann score eight goals in eight games, so sometimes losing a star can really motivate the rest of your team.

"Detroit maybe hasn't been the powerhouse people are accustomed to seeing them be, but they're still a team that was in the [Stanley Cup] finals last year," Laich added. "They're a very good hockey team, and we're going to have to be at our best to win."

One month ago, the Red Wings had eight players on injured reserve when left wing Henrik Zetterberg (separated left shoulder), their top scorer, became the latest member of that list. Other players on injured reserve included center Johan Franzen (torn left ACL), center Valtteri Filppula (broken right wrist), right wing Dan Cleary and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (sprained left MCL).

Including Sunday's 4-3 shootout loss to Chicago, Detroit has a league-high 233 man games lost this season. It had 187 all last season.

"If they are [vulnerable], this is the time," Washington center David Steckel said. "I think they have a laundry list of injuries right now. Knock on wood, we've been pretty fortunate with our [injury situation]. We know what they go through. They're not going to play any less hard, or they're not going to be any less skilled."

The Red Wings since have welcomed back many those players but now are facing potentially another few weeks without leading goal-scorer Tomas Holmstrom, who has a broken foot. The injury occurred during practice in the first week of this month when Holmstrom took a puck off his foot while working on redirecting shots from the blue line, according to Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland.

Kronwall, meantime, has not come back despite reports indicating an ultrasound revealed no structural damage in his knee. One of the Red Wings' most rugged players as well as their leading goal scorer among defensemen, Kronwall was hurt after a hit from Montreal's Georges Laraque on Nov. 21 that resulted in a five-game suspension for the forward.

"Detroit, whether they win or not, they just keep going and going and going," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They're great, and they find players out of the woodwork, it seems, and they come in, and you put the Red Wings jersey on, and you automatically play better."

The Capitals (30-12-6), who lost in the season's first meeting with the Red Wings, 3-2, on Oct. 10, aspire to reach that level of achievement, where their name instantly is associated with Stanley Cups. General Manager George McPhee has taken steps to facilitate that transformation by signing Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year contract and inking Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Laich and Steckel to deals that will keep them with the team for the immediate future.

During that process, the Detroit blueprint has not been far from his thoughts.

"They have smart hockey people on their staff, clearly, and it's really been all about talent for them," McPhee said of the Red Wings. "Just accumulating talent and having as many good players in the lineup as you can put in. . . . I get seduced by skill."

Said Boudreau: "When you come into that team, you come into a situation where you're no bigger than anyone else, and it's all a concept of team, no matter how good you think you are. It's a model franchise, and I think every team in their wishes would like to model themselves after that team."

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