Familiar faces everywhere as Capitals open season

When the Washington Capitals open the season Friday night, it

will be hard to spot an unfamiliar face.

Nearly every Capitals player who takes the ice against the

Atlanta Thrashers either played for Washington last year or has

played for the team’s AHL affiliate in Hershey. The only exceptions

are Marcus Johansson, a 2009 first-round draft pick who spent last

season in Sweden, and enforcer D.J. King, acquired in a July trade

with the St. Louis Blues. The other sort-of new face is Matt

Hendricks, but he played for Hershey in 2006-07 before spending two

seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.

Otherwise, it’s the tried-and-true crew featuring Alex Ovechkin,

Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green – along with the

emerging young guys from the minors, many of whom the Capitals

drafted themselves.

”We’re in a lot of ways lucky, I guess,” general manager

George McPhee said. ”We came up with this plan years ago, and

fortunately ownership stood by it. In a lot of cities, a lot of

teams, ownership does not have the patience. We’re starting Friday

night with 11 of our own first-round picks in the lineup. The

league average is four. The closest team to us has seven.

”We put this plan together and we’re in pretty good shape. It’s

a good team, they’re our guys, and hopefully it leads to a Cup one

of these days.”

McPhee saw no reason to pick apart the team that accumulated an

NHL-high 121 points last season, even if the Capitals did suffer

yet another early playoff defeat by blowing a 3-1 first-round

series lead before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in seven

games.

If nothing else, Washington should lead the league in

continuity.

”Very, very rare,” veteran defenseman Tom Poti said. ”There’s

always at least five-to-seven new guys on every team I’ve ever been

on over the years. I think it’s a good thing. We all know each

other. We’re used to each other. The less new guys, the

better.”

A series of savvy drafts have stocked the Capitals’ minor league

system, so there’s not much need to look for outside help. Hershey

has won the last two AHL titles, and there’s little doubt that

several of the players Washington sent back to the minors this week

in the final cuts would have made NHL rosters in other cities. When

Washington needed to call up players last season because of

injuries, the team kept winning.

”One of the reasons we were strong last year is there was never

really a dip,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, who was also promoted

from Hershey when he took over the Capitals’ bench in November

2007. ”Guys are NHL-ready when they come up.”

Washington had to endure three last-place finishes while

pursuing owner Ted Leonsis’ strategy of building slowly through the

draft. While the Capitals are expected to top the standings again

this season and make the playoffs for a fourth straight year, the

payoff only comes if they can break their run of postseason

misery.

”In some ways, I don’t care about whether we win our division

or Presidents’ Trophy or anything else,” McPhee said. ”It’s about

making the playoffs and having a good playoff run, and how we get

there is less important than getting there and doing well this

year.”