Washington Capitals Coach Ron Wilson has heard all of the criticism about defenseman Dmitri Mironov. He has even leveled some himself. Lately Wilson has been waiting for a chance to praise the big Russian, but it seems few want to credit Mironov for the steady improvement he has made since a poor start in training camp.

Mironov, in the second year of a four-year deal worth $11.5 million, is coming off back surgery. His less-than-fiery personality sometimes makes it difficult to discern how focused or intense he really is.

After Mironov, 33, was caught making costly mistakes in the season opener at Florida, some in the organization wondered if his head was in the game. The team shopped him around the league, hoping to relieve themselves of the steep contract. And all Mironov has done since is play a steady game predicated on his passing ability. He has picked up five assists in the last six games and leads the team in that category, moving the puck well on the power play and performing better in his own zone.

"Everybody dumps on him for some reason," Wilson said. "I don't understand it. Maybe when you're a big guy and make a lot of money, people's perceptions of you get skewed. With the exception of the first game, we've been very pleased with Dmitri.

"He had an awful first game. One of the goals was clearly his fault and he didn't really help out on another one, but other than that he's helped us and created offense, and actually played better than some of our other defensemen. You're expecting offense from Dmitri and this is good to see.

"He's only going to get better because of what happened to him last year [his back]. We're a little bit better team and a quicker team, and it's just going to take time for him to get to where he was before back surgery."

Rising Star

Former Capitals forward Dave Tippett has become one of the NHL's hotter coaching commodities. He is in his first season as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings after running the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League. Tippett's name is often mentioned when head coaching positions become vacant, and this might be his lone season as an assistant.

"It goes way back to when I was playing in Washington," Tippett said. Former Capitals general manager "David Poile and I talked about the coaching business and what it entails, and I mentioned to him I would certainly like to do something like that, and things have certainly gone well so far. Going to Houston was unbelievable for me. I learned all aspects of the game, and I think this was the best year for me to get back to the NHL."