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As NHL trade deadline approaches, Washington Capitals could try to add a defenseman

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2011; 1:23 AM

SAN JOSE - The Washington Capitals' most pronounced need as the NHL's Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches is arguably to acquire an established, second-line center. But it's possible that General Manager George McPhee could look to bolster the blue line as well.

Veteran Tom Poti has only appeared in 21 games - some for only part of the game - because of a nagging groin problem, and there is no definitive timetable for his return.

The defensive corps has fared well without him, though, due in large part to the November acquisition of experienced blue-liner Scott Hannan from Colorado in exchange for forward Tomas Fleischmann.

But with injury concerns to Mike Green, who missed a third straight contest with an inner-ear trauma Thursday night in San Jose, the presence of another experienced defender could solidify the unit even more - particularly in the event of another player being hampered by an injury.

The Capitals "could really benefit from more experience on the blue line, like what Anaheim just did by bringing Francois Beauchemin back," said Craig Button, an NHL Network analyst and former general manager in Calgary.

"To add another guy like Hannan, on the blue line or elsewhere like that who has been through the experiences of winning in the playoffs, it can take some pressure off of players like John Carlson, Jeff Schultz."

Among some of the more prominent defensemen who are set to become unrestricted free agents this season are Ottawa's Chris Phillips, Phoenix's Ed Jovanovski, St. Louis's Eric Brewer and Toronto's Tomas Kaberle, who has long been the subject of trade rumors, most recently involving the Boston Bruins.

McPhee was typically reserved when discussing his plans for the trade deadline, but he did say he will not tamper with Washington's pair of 22-year-old goaltenders.

Countless rumors have surfaced this season stating that the Capitals would pursue a veteran netminder to lean on rather than Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov, but McPhee said he has no such intent.

"No. We're sticking with these goaltenders. They're playing well and we like them a lot," McPhee said. "They've been good for us this year. We're pleased with what they've been doing. We're confident in the goaltenders; we're not making any changes there. . . . Whatever else may happen is hard to define right now."

The need for a second-line center wouldn't necessarily preclude McPhee from looking at any other forwards that might be available in an attempt to create more of an offensive spark.

Washington is not looking for the same goals per game average it had in 2009-10 when it won the Presidents' Trophy, but it needs to find a way to bring the fledgling power play (16.1 percent) back to life.

Last season, when Washington had the league's best power play, seven Capitals - Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Green, Brooks Laich, Fleischmann, Matt Bradley and Eric Fehr - posted career highs in points.

Washington is scoring only 2.72 goals per game this year, and making a move to kickstart the offense may not be out of the realm of possibility, either.

Some forwards who may find new homes by this year's deadline include Boston's Blake Wheeler, Atlanta's Niclas Bergfors, Edmonton's Ales Hemsky and Ottawa's Alex Kovalev.

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