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Capitals want to get secondary scorers going

by Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON -- The strength of the Washington Capitals during coach Bruce Boudreau's tenure has always been the depth of the team's offensive firepower. Few teams can boast about a quartet of elite scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, but even fewer have "secondary scoring" options like Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and now rookie defenseman John Carlson.

After a slow start by nearly the entire team, Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin have produced as expected in recent games, but the Capitals need more from their supporting characters.

"Our team prides ourselves on making sure we have every line that can score," Fehr said. "We like rolling through our lines. In the past we've had no problems getting goals from different lines, but right now we're a little bit snakebitten. Hopefully we can regroup and get back on track."

Added Carlson: "I think our team is deep. Every line can score and especially if you look at some of the talent that isn't on the first line that could be on the first line on other teams. It is just a matter of time. That's a good thing -- when one line is in a slump we've got other lines that can pick them up and vice versa."

The Capitals have relied on the goaltending of Michal Neuvirth and better defense in an interesting twist at the beginning of this season, but a 7-2 victory Saturday night at Calgary could be the contest Washington needed to ignite its typically impressive offense.

Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin started the game together on the top line for the first time this season and combined to produce 4 goals and 10 points in the rout. They are likely to be together again at the start of Washington's contest Wednesday night with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but rarely does the trio stick together for long.

"Everything is a game-to-game situation. As far as individual talent goes, they're very good, but they haven't played enough [together]," Boudreau said. "It is my fault because after about four games they drive me nuts and I break them up again. If they could keep it going and play on a consistent basis together, yeah, they would be as good as most lines in the League."

While the Capitals are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference and trail the top three teams by only a point, consistency -- especially at the offensive end -- has eluded them to this point. Washington is tied for seventh in the League in goals per game, but 14 of its 34 tallies have come in a pair of seven-goal outbursts.

There are several key members of the team whose offensive production has slowed of late. Laich has 1 point in the past six games. Ditto for Fleischmann, though it was an overtime goal against Atlanta.

Fehr has 1 point in seven games and was a healthy scratch against the Flames. Knuble had a 2-assist night Thursday against Carolina, but has no points in eight of his past nine games and has converted only 1 of 32 shots this season.

"Until we start doing everything consistently, it is hit and miss," Boudreau said. "I think the other guys are the same way. They'll get it going, but we want to get them all on the same page at the same time for a long period of time."

Green had a 3-point game against the Flames, which more than doubled his season total. He missed three games and played a couple while still dealing with an upper-body injury, and as his health improves his offense may continue to spike.

Carlson was expected to help supplement Green's offense from the blue line and while his season didn't get off to a great start in his own end, he did produce 6 points in his first five games. He has also played through an injury after taking a shot off his leg, but he has no points in his past six games.

"I don't get worried over that. It doesn't make a difference to me," Carlson said. "I just want to be happy with my game and how I am playing and the team winning. I still have a lot of work to do. This is just game [12]. We've got 70 more to go here. It is a long season, and it is just about getting better every day."

Boudreau moved Laich to center on the second line for the game in Calgary -- the fourth different guy in 11 games he has deployed along with Backstrom as his top two pivots. It was a trouble spot for the Capitals last season as well, but the organization hoped Fleischmann would settle into the role.

He's expected to be back there against the Maple Leafs with Laich at left wing and Knuble on the right side until Boudreau decides he's had enough of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin triumvirate.

"Secondary scoring -- it has to be there," Fleischmann said. "That's why we are there and tonight's game we have to put some pucks in the net. It is what we are expected to do.
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