Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Two games in, Arnott fits just fine on the second line

March 4, 2011 - 12:01 AM
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Arnott celebrates his game-winning goal Thursday night. (Photo: Associated Press)

After Thursday night's 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues, we are officially two games into the ongoing operation to resuscitate the Washington Capitals' offensive punch. In those two games, Jason Arnott has shown exactly why Capitals General Manager George McPhee was willing to send David Steckel and a 2012 draft pick to New Jersey to secure the Stanley Cup winner's services.

Indeed, Arnott's arrival has paid immediate offensive dividends for Washington, benefits far beyond the wildest dreams of even the trade's staunchest defenders, perhaps even McPhee himself.

 

First there was Tuesday night's game against the Islanders, when Arnott spared his new team a ghastly loss in their first post-trade game by picking out Brooks Laich in front of the net for the equalizing goal in Washington's eventual 2-1 overtime win. As I wrote that night: "[W]ould someone like Marcus Johansson have had the composure to pick out Laich the way Arnott did? Perhaps, but even the most youth-obsessed fan would concede that Arnott was probably a better bet in that situation than the Swede or any of his contemporaries."

Then on Thursday night, with the clocking ticking toward the Capitals and the Blues having to play another five minutes of hockey, Laich poked the puck off of Roman Polak's stick at the red line and dished to Alex Semin. Semin and Arnott, sprung on a 2-on-1, broke into the St. Louis zone together. With both defeseman Barrett Jackman and goaltender Ty Conklin playing an expected Semin shot as the rush reached the top of the face-off circle, Arnott simply turned his body into a shooting position and waited for the cross-slot pass. Semin waited until Jackman went down on his hands and knees on the ice before sliding the puck over to Arnott, who duly one-timed a slap shot past Conklin for the winning goal.

"Jason is just an experienced body," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau about the goal. "When Semin gave him a really good pass, [Arnott] didn't have to make a play, he just had to shoot the puck, because he was already in a shooting position, which I thought was really good to see."

For the second game in a row, Boudreau played Arnott, Laich, and Semin together on the same line, and the results (small sample size not withstanding) have been impressive. The new trio has recorded two of Washington's five goals in that span, and combined for a +6. Meanwhile, Marcus Johansson, freed of the pressure of centering the intense Laich and mercurial Semin, has been thriving on a notably fast-paced third line between Jason Chimera and another new acquisition, Marco Sturm.

Not that any of these combinations are likely to survive Boudreau's notorious tinkering very long. "Who am I kidding?" Boudreau half-joked Thursday night. "I'm going to change it at one point, but hopefully for a while I can keep [Arnott, Laich, and Semin] together."

"Playing with Semin and Brooks, we're still creating a little chemistry, getting to know each other," said Arnott after the game. Judging by the results so far, this is one chemistry experiment Boudreau should think really hard about messing with.

My Three Stars

Jason Arnott-See above.

Michal Neuvirth-Made 25 saves to pick up his 21st win of the season, a franchise record among rookies.

Matt Hendricks-Won a battle in the corner to set up Washington's first goal. Along with Dennis Wideman, led the Caps in hits (five).

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