Breaking down the Capitals goaltending lineup

Posted on: Tuesday 3/27/2012 11:48am

AP: 1d5e539a-9f8a-4686-b3dd-04e955eca0e1
Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) block a shot during the first period of an NHL hockey game against Toronto Maple Leafs, Sunday, March 11, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals' depth at the goaltending position was on full display at practice Monday with Tomas Vokoun, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby all taking the ice.

Vokoun remains sidelined with a groin injury while Neuvirth and Holtby have combined to start 13 of the last 16 games.

But in addition to Vokoun, Neuvirth and Holtby all practicing Monday, goaltending prospect Philipp Grubauer was also at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Grubauer is in town for medical reasons and the 20-year-old told WTOP.com he is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday on his injured wrist.

Washington's 2010 fourth-round draft pick was enjoying an impressive rookie campaign with the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays before suffering his season-ending injury.

Grubauer also had his final season of junior hockey cut short last year due to a bout with mononucleosis, but associate goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig said last month that Grubauer is on track with his development.

"He's mature beyond his years," Kolzig said. "He's very athletic, very poised, doesn't get too high or get too low. As a goaltender, you have to develop that happy medium where you don't get too caught up when you're playing bad or too excited when you're playing good. Just go about it every game the same way."

In his first professional season, Grubauer went 23-15-5 with a 2.22 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. He was also named the ECHL's Goaltender of the Month in November and its Rookie of the Month in January.

"He legitimately should be in the American League, and unfortunately with the numbers here he's in the East Coast league. And he went down with a great attitude and because of that he's had a fantastic year."

Catch the Capitals and Buffalo Sabres Tuesday at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at federalnewsradio.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

'Airplane' meets 'Dude, where's my car?' for Caps' Holtby

Posted on: Tuesday 3/27/2012 9:03am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Combine the movies "Airplane" and "Dude Where's my Car" and you may get a story that closely resembles the tale of Braden Holtby's recall from the AHL's Hershey Bears to the NHL's Washington Capitals.

It's not that Holtby's flight from Harrisburg, Pa., to Chicago over St. Patrick's Day Weekend required an automatic pilot or that he can't remember where he last parked his car.

In fact, after getting the call to join the Capitals two Saturdays ago, Holtby's flight to Chicago went smoothly and he safely stowed his car in the daily parking lot at the Harrisburg International Airport.

Soon after, he met the Capitals in the Windy City figuring that his stay with the Caps would be brief. With Tomas Vokoun considered day-to-day with a groin injury, Holtby served as Michal Neuvirth's during a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks.

One day later, with Vokoun still sidelined and the Caps playing their second game in as many nights, Holtby earned his second NHL start of the season.

And then?

And then the 22-year-old stopped 30 of 33 shots in a 5-3 win in Detroit.

And then?

And then Holtby earned another start three nights later- a 2-1 shootout loss in Philadelphia.

And then?

And then he started for the third time in a week and was named the game's first star in a 3-0 shutout win over Minnesota.

And then?

And then he joined the Capitals Radio Network for a post-game interview and discussed his longer-than-expected stay with the Caps and the whereabouts of his car.

"It's funny, actually," he said. "I got told (Saturday) night -- we were playing in Hershey -- to go up Sunday morning. And I was basically told; See you at the start of the week. Basically, just go up there for a couple of days."

Dude!

"It was an early flight, so I thought I'd chance it with day-to-day parking at the airport in Harrisburg. So it's collecting a pretty big paycheck there right now. I don't want to tell somebody to go get it, don't want to change things up."

So Holtby would prefer to keep his car in the $20-a-day parking lot rather than have someone in Hershey pick it up for him.

Surely you can't be serious?!

"Twenty dollars a day," Holtby said. "I know, I keep thinking about going to ask someone (to move it)... It's collecting a pretty big toll over there."

He may not be Shirley. But apparently he is serious -- both about the status of his car and his play between the pipes.

Since his recall was made official nine days ago, Holtby has gone 2-0-1 and will likely start Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres in what is arguably the biggest game of the year.

So on behalf of Caps fans everywhere, we just want to say "Good luck Braden -- we're all counting on you."

Catch the Capitals and Buffalo Sabres Tuesday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at

Ovechkin honored after Capitals back in 8th after 3-0 win over Wild

Posted on: Monday 3/26/2012 4:57pm

WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin has been named NHL's Third Star of the Week for the week ending March 25, the team announced on Monday.

The Capitals forward led the NHL with six goals and also had an assist during the week in which Washington captured six of a possible eight points in four games. He is now tied for fourth in the league with 36 goals in 72 total games.

Ovechkin had two goals in a 5-3 win vs. Detroit on March 19, scored the team's only goal vs. Philadelphia on March 22, notched two more vs. Winnipeg on March 23, and added his sixth of the week in the Capitals' 3-0 win vs. Minnesota on Sunday night.

He has 10 goals in the month of March and nine in his last nine games. He has scored in five consecutive games dating back to March 18, which is seven total goals.

Ovechkin continued his recent resurgence with his ninth goal in seven games, and the Washington Capitals pulled back into the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perrault also scored, and Braden Holtby made 28 saves in his fourth start of the season as the Capitals broke a two-game skid to move back into a tie on points with the Buffalo Sabres, with Washington holding the tiebreaker.

The Capitals and Sabres, both with just six games remaining in the regular season, meet in Washington on Tuesday night.

Looking again like the player who twice won league MVP, Ovechkin was influential throughout the game, highlighted from his blast from the left circle in the third period for Washington's third goal. He led the Capitals in ice time and had a superb shift during a second-period power play, hustling back to his own end to break up a short-handed odd-man rush and then supplying the secondary assist on Perrault's goal that made it 2-0.

Ovechkin has 36 goals on the season, having recently pass his career-low from last season, but he's still on pace for a career-low in points. He has 61, well below last season's mark of 85.

Recent call-up Holtby, sharing time with Michal Neuvirth while Tomas Vokoun recovers from a groin injury, started for the third time in four games and shut down the NHL's lowest- scoring team for his third career shutout. His point-blank save on Devin Setoguchi in the first period helped set the tone for the Capitals, who needed to re-establish momentum after blowing a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

Another goaltender not long promoted from the minors, Matt Hackett, made 20 saves for the Wild. Niklas Backstrom did not make the trip because of a lower-body injury, and Josh Harding played Saturday in a 3-1 loss at Buffalo.

The Wild were shut out for the eighth time this season. Their latest injury casualty is center Matt Cullen, sidelined after breaking his right index finger in Saturday's loss at Buffalo.

After a scoreless first period, Chimera gave the Capitals the lead by converting the feed from Alexander Semin on a two-on-one break. Perrault poked in a pass from Troy Brouwer for Washington's second goal.

Notes: Capitals RW Joel Ward missed his second consecutive game with a lower body injury. Washington C Nicklas Backstrom, sidelined since early January with a concussion, has resumed practicing with the team and could return this season. ... Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second game since sustaining a concussion in Thursday's win over Calgary, and LW Matt Kassian sat out his third straight with a groin injury.

___

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP


(Copyright 2012 WTOP and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Caps look for win at end of seven-game stretch against Flyers

Posted on: Thursday 3/22/2012 1:58pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

PHILADELPHIA - When the Washington Capitals looked at their schedule two weeks ago, they were met with what appeared to be a daunting task.

From March 10 - 22, the Caps would play six of seven games on the road, including a season-long five-game trip.

The list of opponents included the past two Stanley Cup champions in the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks and two of the NHL's best teams on home ice in the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings.

But as the Capitals prepare for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers -- the finale of what was potentially a grueling seven-game stretch -- they do so with the chance to finish with a 5-2-0 record.

"You want to tap right into that feeling we had in Detroit," Mike Knuble said of Monday's 5-3 win against the favored Red Wings. "We want to try to duplicate that. We know it won't happen like that all the time and that was an incredibly great start that we had … so if it doesn't go, hopefully you're tied after one period and can just play a strong road game from there."

Monday in the Motor City the Capitals jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead thanks to an even strength goal from Knuble and a pair of power play tallies from Alex Ovechkin. It marked the first time on the Caps' five-game road trip that Dale Hunter's bunch played with the lead.

"It was big," Hunter said of the early lead. "Any time you go into another arena if you fall behind, fans get behind their team and it's always tough to come back. But we took the fans out of it early in Detroit and it quiets them down."

Ovechkin's two goals on Monday gave him five in the last four games and 32 on the season (one shy of his total from last season).

"He's hitting on all cylinders right now," Hunter said. "Before, he was getting his chances but he was hitting posts and missing the net. But right now, he's in a zone and when you're in a zone good things happen."

Ovechkin could be challenged to keep his hot streak going Thursday against his countryman Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers No.1 goalie has been named the NHL's Player of the Week in each of the past two weeks, and has gone 8-2-1 in the month of March with a 1.28 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage.

Bryzgalov also has four shutouts in March, including a 1-0 win at Verizon Center on March 4.

The Capitals have not officially announced who will start Thursday night, but it appears as though Braden Holtby will get the nod for the second straight game.

Holtby stopped 30 of 33 shots in Monday's win Detroit. Tomas Vokoun remains sidelined with a groin injury.

Catch the Capitals and Flyers tonight at 7:00 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com .

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps' Jay Beagle ready to face Steven Stamkos

Posted on: Thursday 3/8/2012 6:23am

AP: 139938dc-9cd0-4f46-a902-8702c9917f6d
Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle (83) embraces left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, after Beagle scored against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second period of an NHL hockey game at the Verizon Center in Washington, on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Jay Beagle was promoted to the Capitals' third line Tuesday and given the assignment of shutting down Hurricanes leading scorer Eric Staal. No easy task.

But Beagle responded by playing a career high 16 minutes and 40 seconds and scoring his first goal of the season.

Beagle also kept Staal from finding the back of the net and frustrated the Hurricanes No.1 center for much of the night.

"Staal didn't want to play with him," said coach Dale Hunter. "He was mad at him. You could see him kind of hitting him all the time because he works so darn hard out there and for a scorer like Staal, it's annoying to have [Beagle] all over him all the time."

Staal managed to extend his point streak to a season high 12 games thanks to a secondary assist on a Jiri Tlusty goal, but Beagle's line wasn't on the ice to prevent it.

It was one of the rare shifts that Staal could enjoy without Beagle hovering around him, providing those friendly reminders that he was nearby.

"I've kind of been bred to do that," Beagle said. "Down in Hershey for three or four years, that was my role. Third line center and with [other teams'] top guys, I would just annoy them and make it hard on them to get points and create offense."

Beagle is expected to center Washington's third line again Thursday and the task doesn't get any easier with a visit from Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Stamkos leads the NHL with 48 goals and is tied with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin with a league best 81 points.

"If I'm called on to play against him it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be one that's fun and one that I'll be geared up for and ready to go," Beagle said. "Those challenges, as a player, are what you want. You want to play a major role on a team and if I get the chance to play against him, I've got to be ready and I'll have to make the most of it and do the job."

Beagle was joined by Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer on the third line Tuesday and the trio was often joined by defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson to form a five man unit against Carolina's No.1 trio.

All five will likely see plenty of time against Stamkos Thursday.

"I think he's upped his game to not just that superstar status, but that elite [status], like when [Alex Ovechkin] had 65 goals," said Alzner, teammates with Stamkos at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships. "He's just one of those guys, there's a reason why he's there. He's hard to stop."

Alzner went on to compare Stamkos to a "game breaker on a video game" for his knack at scoring big goals. The 22-year-old Stamkos leads the NHL with ten game-winning goals this season.

"He's a smart player to begin with," said Hunter, who coached against Stamkos in the Ontario Hockey League from 2006-08. "He can pass and shoot. Even for goalies, he's got almost 50 goals but he also is a good passer."

Stamkos has an extremely quick release and a patented one-timer from the left faceoff circle that is particularly effective with open ice on a power play.

If the Caps are to end Stamkos' four-game goal scoring streak and put a dent in his bid to become the NHL's first 50-goal scorer of the season, they'll have to keep a close eye on No.91 in white and limit his time and space.

"You've got to be on top of him all the time," Beagle said, "and just make it a really tough game for him to play. If you're hounding him constantly, he'll get frustrated hopefully and you just make it tough on him. That's all you can do."

Tampa Bay has won four of five games and seven of their last ten games overall to climb back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Lightning are in 11th place with 68 points four behind eighth place Winnipeg and two behind ninth place Washington.

It's no coincidence that as the Lightning have played some of their best hockey of the season, so too has Stamkos. Stamkos has 11 goals and 19 points in his last 10 games.

"He's tricky and he's always around the net," Beagle explained. "He works hard and for a skilled guy to work that hard it makes it a lot harder to play against him. He's a great player and I look forward to the challenge if called upon to do it."

Catch the Capitals and Lightning on Thursday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Coach Dale Hunter benches Ovechkin for part of game

Posted on: Monday 3/5/2012 10:25pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Neither John Tavares or Michael Del Zotto knew very much about future Capitals head coach Dale Hunter when they were traded to Hunter's London Knights in January 2009.

Tavares and Del Zotto came to London from the Oshawa Generals in an Ontario Hockey League trade that involved six players and six draft picks.

Their time with Hunter was brief -- London was eliminated from the OHL playoffs three months later -- but it didn't take long for Tavares or Del Zotto to learn that behind the bench, Hunter meant business.

"The biggest message that I remember he used to send," Tavares recently told the Capitals Radio Network, "is that if you weren't playing well or doing things the right way or if you were making mistakes and not working hard, then you usually just didn't play."

Hunter's message apparently hasn't changed since he was named Capitals head coach on Nov. 28. In the 43 games since, Hunter has made healthy scratches out of 40-goal scorer Alexander Semin and veterans Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik.

"He's going to play his top guys especially if they're playing well," said Del Zotto, now a New York Rangers defenseman. "Another great thing about him is that if you're not playing and you're one of the big guys, he's not afraid to come after you. I think that's pretty important -- you can't just let guys roam around and do whatever they want, they have to buy into the structure and buy into the team and he's not afraid to put his foot down."

In Sunday's 1-0 loss against Philadelphia, Hunter showed that not even Alex Ovechkin gets a free pass, sending the Caps' captain out for just one shift in the final 12 minutes of the second period.

"It wasn't a benching," Hunter insisted after the game. "I definitely was matching lines. It was one of those things that he wasn't the right match up. I didn't want him against [Jaromir] Jagr and Jagr's line."

While it's true that Hunter has made line matching an important part of his game plans, when your leading scorer takes just one shift over a 12 minute stretch in a one-goal game, eyebrows are sure to be raised.

Combine that with the fact that an Ovechkin turnover led to the game's first goal and it's natural to draw the conclusion that Hunter was sending a message not only to the captain but to the entire team.

"People get sat," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said. "Maybe you know for what reasons- to learn a lesson, I don't know- but it happens in hockey. I thought we kept playing hard without him."

Added teammate Karl Alzner: "You don't play to have everyone even in minutes. You play whoever is going- it doesn't matter if they're guys that are normally your fourth liners or your first liners- you have to go with the hot hand, just like you would with goalies."

Tavares can speak from experience. Already the projected first overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft when he was traded to London, the OHL's all-time goal scoring leader recalls being treated no differently than any of his teammates while playing for Hunter.

"If he had that trust in you and you played the game the right way, then you were going to be counted on for a lot of responsibility. He wanted to make sure that you were not taking things for granted, that you were doing the right things out there and that you were working hard."

Catch the Capitals and Hurricanes Tuesday at 7:00 pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 pm on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM, and online at wfed.com.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Backstrom in Sweden spending time with family

Posted on: Monday 3/5/2012 3:17pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

ARLINGTON, Va. - Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is in Sweden to spend time with his family, a team spokesman confirmed to WTOP Monday.

The Capitals' top center has been sidelined with a concussion since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.

In the last 58 days, Backstrom skated for just five minutes on Jan. 23. He has since been limited to riding a stationary bike.

According to the team, Backstrom is not seeing any medical specialists in Sweden. The return home is strictly to see family and to spend some time away from hockey.

It's similar to what Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby did last season when he spent time in Nova Scotia while recovering from his concussion.

The Caps have won 11 of the 27 games Backstrom has missed, and Dale Hunter continues to search for answers for a power play unit that is 2-34 since Feb. 12, and 6-68 since Jan. 13.

Backstrom remains the Capitals' second leading scorer this season with 42 points in 38 games.

Catch the Capitals and Hurricanes Tuesday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Standing still to move forward

Posted on: Wednesday 2/29/2012 7:29pm By jwarner

AP: ca48a4da-5d74-4b1c-89b1-d7ebee323adf
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, celebrates his game-winning goal with teammate Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green (52) in overtime of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Washington. Skating at rear from left to right are New York Islanders' Matt Moulson (26), Travis Hamonic (3) and Andrew MacDonald (47). The Capitals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Jonathan Warner, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Capitals came up empty at the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline, so -- for better or worse -- this is their team going forward.

And, that’s not such a bad thing.

Deadline deals don't guarantee anything. The best example of it paying off for the Caps came in 2008, when they acquired center Sergei Fedorov and goalie Christobal Huet.

Both were huge down the stretch when the Caps won their last seven games, all with Huet in net, and 12 of 13 to capture the Southeast Division Title in Bruce Boudreau’s thrilling run.

The Capitals made no moves the following year in 2009 and compiled the second best record in the East while reaching the second round of the playoffs.

The next two years, they had great regular season success and their deadline moves were supposed to position them for long playoff runs.

That didn’t happen.

In 2010, with the Capitals compiling the best record in the NHL, they added center Eric Belanger, defenseman Joe Corvo and winger Scott Walker. All three had very little impact as the Caps suffered a shocking first round exit to Montreal.

Last year, the Capitals acquired center Jason Arnott, defenseman Dennis Wideman and winger Marco Sturm. Wideman missed the playoffs with a leg injury, Arnott didn’t recover fully from a knee surgery in March and Sturm had one playoff goal.

This campaign, Washington is battling just to secure a postseason berth similar to 2008.

A center or another scoring option would have helped, but General Manager George McPhee felt the asking price was too high from the few teams that were out of the playoff chase.

You can’t argue with that logic. Why sell the farm for one shot at the prize?

This may be a disappointing season for the Capitals, but it’s far from over. They appear to be finding their groove and I still think they’ll win the Southeast division.

They’re getting solid goaltending from both Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth. Mike Green’s return has improved the defense and powerplay. Alexander Semin is playing his best hockey of the season. Alex Ovechkin is looking like the Great Eight again.

Besides, look who the Capitals are chasing. Florida and Winnipeg are not exactly Stanley Cup contenders.

Yes, I miss the high-flying, high-scoring Capitals of recent years. If this team continues to play solid defense and opportunistic offense with energy, they should not only make the playoffs, but could make some noise once they get there, especially if Nicklas Backstrom returns. That would be the best addition they could make.

Follow Jonathan Warner and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps' Perreault scores big -- with his face

Posted on: Thursday 2/23/2012 8:55pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault has scored more goals against the Ottawa Senators than against any other NHL opponent.

Four of Perreault's 21 career tallies have come against the Senators, but none quite compare to the goal the 24-year-old scored in Wednesday's 5-2 loss in Ottawa.

Trailing 4-1 midway through the third period, Perreault drove to the net where he was eventually rewarded -- sort of -- with his career-high 10th goal of the season.

Teammate Jason Chimera tried to feed a centering pass in Perreault's direction, but on its way the puck caught a piece of Milan Michalek's stick. The brief contact between puck and stick caused the disc to go airborne and strike Perreault in the face.

See the video here:

Moments later, the puck was behind Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and Perreault, thanks to his face, had pulled the Caps within two.

"It hit me but as I was going down. I looked [at the net], so I saw it go in and I knew it went in," Perreault told the Capitals' official website. "But at the same time, it kind of hurt. It hit me right in the teeth and tongue, but I'll be alright.

"I got a little lucky but they say that when you go to the net and when you crash the net, good things happen," he said.

Perreault was all smiles Thursday when discussing the goal. He was due for a dentist appointment in the afternoon to examine a chipped tooth he suffered on the play.

"Matty has been stepping up pretty well and scoring with his face," head coach Dale Hunter said with a chuckle. "But it's one of those things where he's got 10 goals now and for Matty that's a good job he's done and he has to keep it going. We need him, as a team, to create offense for us."

Perreault's goal was so unusual that it even caught the attention of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption." Show hosts Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon reviewed the goal during their "Report Card" segment Thursday afternoon.

"I've had a lot of good times with my tongue," Kornheiser began, "but I don't want to score a goal with it. I just think to me- they didn't even win and they had a terrible road trip. I give it a B-plus."

Catch the Capitals and Montreal Canadiens Friday at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Hamrlik more of a liability than asset, Caps coach says

Posted on: Thursday 2/23/2012 4:26pm

Caps.jpg
Washington Capitals' Roman Hamrlik (44) checks Florida Panthers' Matt Bradley (22) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. The Capitals won 2-1. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

ARLINGTON, Va. - Shortly after signing with the Washington Capitals last July, Roman Hamrlik spoke of the chance to win a Stanley Cup for the first time in his 19-year NHL career. Nearly eight months later, Hamrlik's goals, and perhaps those of the team he plays for, are far more modest.

"Hopefully I [can] stay here and make the team a lot better," Hamrlik told reporters a day after he was a healthy scratch in a 5-2 loss at Ottawa. "Hopefully make the playoffs and stay here. I don't have reason to leave."

Hamrlik was expected to bring stability to Washington's blueline, but according to head coach Dale Hunter, the Czech defenseman has been more of a liability during the team's recent struggles.

"He's taken some penalties and we need him playing better defensively," Hunter said. "He's a defensive defenseman and he's been involved in -- the way we do the marking of scoring chances -- he's been involved in them, too many of them, and that's why he was sitting out."

In Monday's 5-0 loss in Carolina, Hamrlik took an elbowing penalty just 3:29 into the first period. Twelve seconds later, Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk scored on the power play and the Carolina rout was on.

Hamrlik said Thursday that he has not spoken with Hunter regarding his being scratched and that he did not know what was involved in Hunter's decision.

When it was brought to Hamrlik's attention that Hunter was disappointed in some of the penalties he has taken, the 37-year-old shot back.

"You should ask him about the penalties because when he played I think he made lots of penalties… so he should know better. This is the game. Guys go on emotion time. I know I take bad penalty, but if it's that reason I didn't play that's his decision."

Hamrlik has two goals and ten points in 55 games this season and is signed through 2012-13. Hunter would like to see the 6 foot 2 inch, 210-pound Hamrlik do more to challenge opposing forwards.

"He's backing in way too much and letting the wave come through and they're hitting the second tier. So he's making a few mistakes and [watching] video and sitting out is a humbling experience, we've all been through it if you've played hockey… you just have to go to practice and work hard like he did today and watch video and learn from it."

Hunter put the Capitals through a 60-minute practice Thursday following a 1-3-0 road trip which kept Washington on the outside of a playoff position.

"The road trip we just had didn't go our way," Hamrlik said. "Last two games we got outworked, we got outplayed. They scored big goals on the power plays. Just doesn't go our way. We have to find a way to win more hockey games otherwise we're going to be out of the playoffs. Everybody knows that. Nobody's going to help us. We have 20 guys in our locker room. That's our destiny. We have to find a way to win hockey games."

The preseason Stanley Cup favorites have lost three straight games and six of seven overall (1-5-1). They have allowed the first goal in six straight games and fallen behind 2-0 in three straight games and trailed 4-0 in the last two games.

"It's a lot tougher," defenseman Karl Alzner said of playing from behind. "You start taking a few more chances, the other teams plays a little more confident… Teams are taking advantage of our slow starts right now and we're a little too fragile right now to bounce back right away and that's one of the frustrating parts for us."

The Capitals have played 340 minutes of hockey over their last six games and have trailed for 279:57, been tied for 73:30 and led for just 6:33.

Catch the Capitals and Montreal Canadiens Friday at 7:00 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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