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Deadline acquisition Jason Arnott meets his destiny

by Corey Masisak
Of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals had the most defined need when the trade deadline approached.

To this point it looks like General Manager George McPhee found exactly the guy he needed in center Jason Arnott, who could play a vital role in what would be the first prolonged postseason run by the current collection of Capitals.

From the minute Sergei Fedorov decided to continue his career in his native Russia, Washington has been looking for a center to slot behind Nicklas Backstrom.

The Capitals tried several players there during the 2009-10 season without finding a definitive fit and coach Bruce Boudreau had to mix and match at that spot again for the first two-thirds of this campaign.

"The biggest element he gives us is an experienced second-line center," Boudreau said. "Taking nothing away from Matty Perreault or Marcus Johansson from the first 50 games but they are younger guys. We had no big guy behind Nicky who could handle, especially when we were on the road, other team's top centers. He gives us that and he gives us the experience of being there."

Washington has built one of the best collections of talent on the wings in the League, but the Capitals needed another center for a couple of reasons.

They needed a guy who could find some chemistry with Alexander Semin, but, maybe more importantly, they also needed an upgrade in size and experience at the defensive end of the rink.

Even if Washington had been able to dispatch Montreal in the first round last spring, there would have been serious questions about the Capitals' ability to matchup down the middle with other top teams in the East – and that was with veterans Eric Belanger and Brendan Morrison as candidates for the job. The gap was likely to be even larger this postseason if Boudreau had to turn to Johansson or Perreault.

A Backstrom-Arnott combo is not better than Philadelphia's collection of centers or Tampa Bay's top duo of Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier or even Pittsburgh's potential pair of a healthy Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, but adding Arnott does cut into the disadvantage considerably and could allow Washington's strength on the wings to be the difference up front.

Arnott, like Fedorov, was not producing at previously expected levels with his former team, but he did make a quick impact with the Capitals after being dealt from New Jersey on Feb. 28.

Arnott had a game-tying assist and a game-winning goal late in the third period of his first two contests after the trade, and Arnott does have 7 points in 11 games, although he has been sidelined with a lower-body injury. That production is an improvement from his 24 points in 62 contests before the move.

"He was playing really well -- getting a lot of timely goals and making timely plays then he missed the seven games," Boudreau said. "[His production] has been a little slow coming back or a little slower than before. At this stage of the game, he's not trying to lead the League in scoring -- he is trying to get his body right for come playoff time."

Another positive from the addition of Arnott has been his effect on the Capitals' dressing room. The nucleus of Washington's team is still young, and the Capitals have relied on rookies and youth more than every other Cup contender this season.

Mike Knuble has been a valuable veteran, but Arnott improved the depth in that intangible category immediately. Arnott and Knuble are the only two players on the roster who have won the Stanley Cup.

"You can tell the stories and tell them how emotional it was and how much work it was and little things like that, but for the most part guys have to experience that stuff for themselves," Arnott said. "You can only do so much to help them, and that is just going out and showing them in the playoffs by working hard and just coming up with little things that could maybe help the team during the playoffs to help us get over that hump."

If the parallel between Arnott and Fedorov continues to play out, the Capitals may ask him to do some big things as well. Fedorov scored the biggest goal for the franchise in the past 13 years when he bagged the winner in Game 7 against the New York Rangers in the opening round of the 2009 playoffs.

Arnott has a little experience that department -- he scored the Cup-winning goal for New Jersey in 2000.

"For every situation there is, Jason can come up to you and talk about it," Boudreau said. "I think he, like when we had Fedorov, he had that instant respect from everybody in the dressing room. I think that has made a big and tangible difference."

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