February 11, 2011 6:00 pm

Playing the `new-look’ Capitals and Ovechkin

It’s been an odd season for the Washington Capitals, who were strong in October in November but then went into a high-profile — thanks to HBO — 0-6-2 skid in December. That was followed by a 5-0-1 run, but since their Jan. 1 Winter Classic victory over Pittsburgh, the Capitals are the definition of mediocrity, with a 6-4-5 record. Even of late, the Capitals have been uneven. They had impressive victories over Tampa Bay (5-2) and Pittsburgh (3-0) last week, but then lost 2-0 at home to the hot San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. The Capitals got three days off at home after that game to prepare for the Kings, and Terry Murray planned to spend his Friday night watching film of the Capitals…

MURRAY: “That’s what I’ll be doing. Reading an article recently, though, they’ve gone to more of a checking game, a 1-2-2 neutral-zone forecheck, which is a big change for them. So there’s an emphasis on that side of the game for them. I go back to my first year with the L.A. Kings. That, to me, was the most important part of it, to get the checking game established, learn to play without the puck, and then you build from that point. So we have a foundation in place, and that’s the only way you can win in the National Hockey League, is if you know how to win one-goal games, to shut it down and get into the playoffs and do the right stuff away from the puck in those playoff games. So I’m seeing a chance in that attitude (from the Capitals).”

Of course, all discussion of the Capitals starts with Alexander Ovechkin, who is the team leader in goals (20) and points (55) in his 55 games. Ovechkin has been held without a point in five of his last six games, but in the one game in which he did score, Ovechkin put one goal and three assists on the board in a win over Tampa Bay.

MURRAY: “You’re not going to eliminate the opportunities that he’s going to create. You’ve got to try to limit them, with smart team play. He’s an exceptional player, powerful, can beat you in many different ways. So it’s got to be great awareness, and the right defenseman will have to be right on top of his game, in the game tomorrow.”

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