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Southeast: Caps need others to step up in Ovi's absence

by Mike G. Morreale /
While there's no denying the upper-body strain that sidelined Washington's Alex Ovechkin has created a huge hole in the Capitals' lineup, there never was a reason to believe the team didn't have the necessary ammunition to carry on offensively.

That was until Wednesday, when the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision to the New Jersey Devils in Newark.

"Not only didn't our secondary star players stand out (against the Devils), but they cost us the game and that's a tough one to swallow," coach Bruce Boudreau told the media.

In particular, Boudreau was frustrated by untimely penalties in the third period that led to a pair of power-play goals by Devils rookie Nicklas Bergfors. The two calls that irked Boudreau were interference penalties taken by Alexander Semin at 11:01 and Brendan Morrison at 14:24.

"They're automatic penalties," Boudreau said. "When you go behind the net and put your stick on a guy, you're going to get a penalty. And Brendan Morrison has been in the League for 10 years and Semin for five years, and these guys know this. It's just dumb penalties."

While some may claim the Capitals are crippled without the services of Ovechkin -- history has shown it -- Boudreau would like to think otherwise. He'd like to see those secondary players rise up in the absence of the organization's top player, but so far it hasn't happened. The Caps are 1-4-0 without Ovechkin in the lineup since he joined the team in 2005 and 0-3-0, with just three goals, over the last three games without him.

"Offensively and on paper, I still look at our lineup and felt our top two lines were better than (New Jersey's) top two," Boudreau said. "I felt we had the firepower, so that's not the question."

So what is it?

"Guys didn't come to play, whether they're feeling sorry for themselves because Alex isn't in, I don't know," he said. "This isn't a one-man team and these guys have got to understand that because people can get hurt at any moment."

While the club's current top two lines of Brooks Laich-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann-Brendan Morrison-Mike Knuble struggled to find their groove without Ovechkin, it was the club's fourth line of Tyler Sloan-Mathieu Perreault-Chris Clark that shined.

"That was our best line (against New Jersey), by far," Boudreau said. "I was happy to see Sloan score a goal and Perreault get 2 assists, but you cannot have that as your best line on the road against that team."

In all fairness, Fleischmann has points in three straight games and 3 goals and 4 points in four games since returning from a blood clot in his leg. Also, Laich leads the Capitals with 9 points in the third period this season, and has 10 of his 15 points have come on the road.

Visions of Vancouver
-- It was a pretty eventful week for Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

Not only did he survive getting hit in the face by a shot after losing his goalie mask, but he may have enhanced his chances of earning an Olympic roster spot for his native Czech Republic for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

As it stands right now, the rookie goalie will be starting for the Thrashers for the foreseeable future, especially after Wednesday's news that Kari Lehtonen was expected to miss 6-8 weeks after undergoing a second surgery to his back. Lehtonen, who has missed 20 straight games dating to last season, had surgery to repair a herniated disc July 20. He was back in Rochester, N.Y., last Friday to remove edges of bone that were applying pressure to nerve roots in his back in two locations.

In his absence, the 22-year-old Pavelec has gone 5-4-1 with a 2.88 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

Does he have his eye on the Olympics?

"Absolutely," he told "I'd love to go there and be one of the three goalies for my country."

Pavelec is one of eight candidates for a spot on the team, including Florida's Tomas Vokoun. Dominik Hasek, who was in the midst of a comeback with his hometown club, HCE Pardubice, sustained a pulled thigh muscle that forced him from a game last week and he wasn't optimistic about returning in good enough shape to participate in Vancouver.

"It's in my mind because it's a huge thing," Pavelec said. "I'm a big fan of the Olympics and to get an opportunity to go there would be great. It's up to me, though. I know I have to continue to get better."

He knows it won't be easy without star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, either. The Thrashers captain is expected to be out until late November after suffering a broken bone in his right foot Oct. 24.

"Any time you lose a player with Ilya's ability it's bad news, but I think we have a lot of guys capable of stepping up," Pavelec said. "I can see it in practice. I'm facing great shooters every day, so even though it'll be tough, we have to get it done."

Hit man in Florida -- If you haven't yet seen Florida Panthers rookie forward Victor Oreskovich, what are you waiting for?

He's big, strong and fast -- something coach Peter DeBoer was privy to as his coach in the Ontario Hockey League with the Kitchener Rangers. Oreskovich, who actually retired from hockey in 2007 instead of trying out for the Colorado Avalanche, has a new lease on life now after signing a two-year contract with the Panthers last month.

"He's a big, fast guy," DeBoer told the Miami Herald. "He finishes his hits and gets in on the forecheck, and we don't have a lot of that in the lineup. He knows what to expect because he's played for me, so he has an advantage there.''

DeBoer even had Oreskovich on a line with Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik at one point during his team's 3-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday. Despite the fact he hasn't registered a point in two games with Florida, he's already dished out six hits, including a highlight-reel body blow on Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu on Wednesday that sent the veteran into the air.

Oreskovich has averaged just over 12 minutes on the ice and also has been used sparingly on the penalty kill. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound native of Whitby, Ont., spent 1 1/2 seasons at the University of Notre Dame before moving to Kitchener during the 2005-06 season. Prior to joining the Panthers this season, he notched 4 points in five games with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.

The ironman sits -- As if being mired in the worst start in franchise history wasn't bad enough, now the Carolina Hurricanes will be forced to right the ship without center Eric Staal.

Staal, who left Sunday's game against San Jose with an upper-body injury, is considered week-to-week at this point. Since entering the League in 2003, Staal had missed just one game and had a stretch of 349 consecutive regular-season games played end Wednesday when he wasn't in the lineup against Florida.

"We're not looking at it as several (games)," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We're not expecting him for the weekend."

Carolina entered Friday's tilt with Toronto winless in its last 10 games (0-7-3). The winless skein is the club's longest since the final 11 games of 2002-03 (0-9-2).

"It's going to be hard not having (Staal) around, for sure," said Carolina forward Sergei Samsonov. "It'll be strange. He had a pretty amazing streak going. He plays a lot of minutes, a lot of important minutes. Normally when guys like that go out you have to pick your game up, and I think we will. I don't think anybody is giving up in this room."

In Staal's absence, Maurice had Jussi Jokinen centering Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu on the top line, and Matt Cullen flanked by Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose on the second unit.

Staal's games-played streak ranks first among Carolina players since the team's relocation from Hartford in 1997 and is second in franchise history to Dave Tippett (419). His streak was second to Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (356) entering the weekend's action.

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