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Hendricks expects big things from Wolski

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Hendricks expects big things from Wolski

By Ben Raby
CSNwashington.com

STE CATHERINES, ONTARIO Sometimes the fate of a professional hockey player simply comes down to having an opportunity. Few players know this better than Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks who is entering his third year with the team after making good on a professional tryout in 2010.

So when Hendricks was asked last week what he thinks it will take for his former teammate Wojtek Wolski to regain his 20-goal form, the answer was a familiar one.

I think it has so much to do with the opportunity youre given and the role that youre put in, he said. Hendricks and Wolski were roommates with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2009-10 campaign, and after Wolskis signing with the Caps last month, the two will be reunited next season in Washington.

Wolski had a career-high 23 goals and 65 points with the Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes in 2009-10, but in the two years since he has combined for just 16 goals and 47 points while playing for three different teams.

He just wasnt put in the same role that he had in Denver, Hendricks said. He wasnt given as many minutes on the power play, or as many minutes against other teams lines that he can take advantage of and those things factor into a guys point production - who youre playing against, how much ice time youre given, how much power play time youre given.

The other thing is the mental side of it. Its hard when you get traded around- you dont have that comfortable feeling with your teammates, and coaches. Im sure thats something hes looking forward to this year in Washington- getting in there right away and establishing himself with a good training camp. If hes comfortable and confident the rest of that stuff will come. The opportunities will come if he shows that hes ready for it.

Wolski, 26, had career-lows of four goals and 12 points last season in 31 games split between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. He missed significant time with a groin injury but was medically cleared by the Capitals before signing in July. If healthy, Hendricks sees Wolski as a top-six forward.

Hes a very skilled player but hes also a big strong kid. If he can get the puck, he can be a bit like Jason Chimera with that outside speed but also with the strength to cut in and outmuscle defensemen in front of the net. So youre going to see that and youre also going to see his playmaking abilities. He has the ability to put up points if hes given the opportunity (theres that word again) on the power play and such.

OPPORTUNITY OF A DIFFERENT KIND:

Hendricks opportunity in 2010 came largely from his relationship with then-Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau. Hendricks had played for Boudreau with the 2006-07 Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and the coach had a soft spot for the 29-year-old who had 301 career minor league games to his credit and just 60 career games in the NHL.

Despite Boudreau moving on to the Anaheim Ducks last season, Hendricks has not forgotten who provided him with his big break for a fulltime NHL gig. With that in mind, when Boudreau asked a few of his current and former players to assist him at his summer hockey school, Hendricks jumped at the- well, opportunity- to help out.

Bruce asked me back in September to do this, Hendricks told CSNWashington.com from Boudreaus Golden Horseshoe Hockey School in Southern Ontario.

Then he goes to Anaheim and Im in Washington and we didnt really touch base for the rest of the year but he contacted me after the playoffs and asked if Id still be interested in attending and I said yes. I said that I committed to doing it then and I dont see why it should change now. Bruce and I have always had a good relationship since my playing days in Hershey so anytime that I have the chance to help him out a little bit, and I felt that I could do it, I was excited for the opportunity.

Boudreaus summer hockey school celebrated its 30th anniversary last week with 400 campers with varying skill levels and ranging from ages 4-16.

Check back to CSNWashington.com in the days ahead for more on Boudreaus Golden Horseshoe Hockey School including our one-on-one interview with the Caps former bench boss.

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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