2007 Capitals Preview

By Tarik El-Bashir
Friday, October 5, 2007; Page E04

(Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais - Associated Press)
Puck Stops Here
Olie Kolzig can't stop 50 shots a game; young defensemen must step up.
Turn Up the Power
Defenseman Tom Poti needs to be the missing link to an improved power play.
Finish the Job
They must find a way to be better than 1-11 in games that end in shootouts.
C Michael Nylander
The catch of the Capitals' offseason, the 35-year-old former New York Ranger is coming off a career season (26 goals and 57 assists) as Jaromir Jagr's setup man. This season, Nylander will feed the puck to another elite right wing, Alexander Semin, who scored 38 goals last season without the benefit of world-class playmaker. Imagine how many goals Semin will score with one.

C-LW Nicklas Backstrom
After adjusting to the smaller rink and the NHL's rougher style of play, the 19-year-old Calder Trophy candidate is starting to look like a potential star. Eventually expected to blossom into a two-way center, Backstrom will begin his rookie season as the left wing on the Capitals' second line, skating alongside Semin and Nylander, Backstrom's mentor and a fellow Swede.

D Tom Poti
Among the Capitals' biggest shortcomings last season was their lack of a power-play quarterback. Poti, a smooth skater with a big shot, will fill that role, as well as many others, in Washington. The No. 1 defenseman for the New York Islanders last season, the 30-year-old will be expected to skate 25 minutes or more each night.

C Viktor Kozlov
At 6 feet 4 and 224 pounds, the 32-year-old Russian cuts an intimidating figure. But what scares opposing defensemen most are his creative passes and deceptive open-ice moves. Another July free agent signing, Kozlov will open the season on a line with all-star and fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin, who has amassed 198 points in two seasons without the luxury of a playmaking center. Now that he's got one, watch out.
(Photos by Getty Imges, The Washington Post and Associated Press)
1. Defense
The Capitals yielded 275 goals last season, or 3.35 per game, which ranked 26th in the league. Needless to say, if they want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03, that number must be much smaller. Coach Glen Hanlon, in fact, would like to see it drop to around 240.

Tom Poti, the New York Islanders' No. 1 defenseman last season, should help some, but his strength is creating offense, not preventing goals. In the absence of trading for another veteran defenseman to bolster the blueline, the Capitals' best chance of improving defensively will be the continued development of youngsters Shaone Morrisonn, Milan Jurcina, Mike Green, Steve Eminger and Jeff Schultz.

2. Power
In the new NHL, a potent power play is essential.

The Capitals were long on inexperience and short on skill last season, and as a result mustered a meager 16.4 percent effectiveness with the extra skater.

But that's about to change, or so they hope. The addition of free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Poti -- who accounted for a combined 25 power-play goals last season -- to a lineup that already boasts Alexander Semin (17 power-play goals) and Alex Ovechkin (16) should ensure that the Capitals actually have an edge when skating with the man advantage this season.

3. Shootout
Designed to be an entertaining way to break ties, the shootout was anything but for Capitals' fans last winter. Washington won only once in 12 games decided by the shootout, netting only 5 of 40 attempts. Most baffling was the lack of success for slick stickhandlers Ovechkin (2 for 12) and Semin (2 for 10).

That, too, is expected to change, thanks to a pair of shootout ringers signed in the offseason. Nylander led the Rangers with five goals in 13 attempts, and Kozlov also was 5 of 13.

That's twice last season's output right there.


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