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By Michael Rushton, Contributing NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - If one is to build anything upwards, you need to establish a solid foundation first. The Washington Capitals are entering season No. 2 since the fire sale that concluded the 2003-04 season and that cornerstone, of course, is set.

Alex Ovechkin lived up to the hype that surrounds a first -overall selection (2004). He recorded team highs with 52 goals and 106 points, won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie, scored what is now simply known as "the goal" and parlayed his success onto the cover of a hockey video game.

Ovechkin became the first rookie to amass 100 points in a season since Joe Juneau and Teemu Selanne accomplished the feat during the 1992-93 campaign and the Russian also was the first rookie with 50 goals since Selanne.

However, like most other teams near the bottom of their respective conferences, Washington was handicapped by its defense. The Capitals led the league in penalty minutes and subsequently, ranked 28th in the league in penalty killing at 78.9 percent.

Obviously, no team wants to lead the league in penalties but it becomes more of a hindrance if your penalty killing unit can't get it done either. Overall, the Capitals' defense ranked 29th in the league.

Washington did add to its blue line in the offseason in the form of Brian Pothier. The six-foot defender was a plus-29 with Ottawa last season and had just 59 penalty minutes in 77 games.

Ovechkin also needs some help up front. The play-making Russian doubled the goal total of Washington's second-leading scorer -- Dainius Zubrus with 23 goals -- as the Capitals had no player other than Ovechkin finish with more than 60 points.

FORWARDS - Washington again turned to Russia to help shore up its offense as Alexander Semin returns to the club after playing last year in his home country. Semin was selected 13th overall by Washington in the 2002 draft and tallied 10 goals and 12 assists in 52 games during his rookie season in 2003-04.

Throw in Matt Pettinger and his 20 goals and Washington has a nice left side to its offense. On the right side, Chris Clark will again team with Ovechkin on the first line while the team re-acquired winger Richard Zednik to add depth at the forward position.

Up the middle, Zubrus will continue to try and setup Ovechkin while Brian Sutherby (14 goals) and Brooks Laich (seven goals) shore up the top three lines.

Gone from the equation is center Jeff Halpern, who took his 44 points -- good for third-highest on the team -- and defensive abilities to Dallas. Washington also added tough-guy forward Donald Brasher in the offseason.

DEFENSE - Other than Pothier, Washington made no other significant upgrades at defense through free agency. 6-foot-1 defender Mike Green is expected to spend the full season with the club this season however.

Green had one goal and two assists in 22 games last season and spent the majority of the season with the Calder Cup-champion Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

Pothier and Green are welcome additions to the blue line that also includes an improving Shaone Morrisonn, who finished last season a plus-seven.

GOALTENDING - 36-year-old Olaf Kolzig finished 20-28 last year with a 3.53 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. However, Kolzig can hardly be blamed for the team's misfortunes due to his team constantly being outnumbered on the ice thanks to penalties.

After all, Kolzig has a lifetime GAA of 2.66 and will at least solidify the position, leaving Washington with one less thing to worry about. His backup, Brent Johnson, looked capable last year as well with a 3.44 GAA in 26 games.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/ADN4042056.htm
 
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