Karl Alzner's Back, Brent Johnson's Out, Capitals Make Waiver Claim

Allen PopelsCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2009

One day after a lackluster effort in a rare 5-4 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Washington Capitals have once again shaken things up.

To say the team struggled defensively last night is being kind. They had multiple breakdowns leading to breakaway chances that the Kings capitalized on.

The five goals given up by the Capitals were the most since a 5-4 loss in Montreal on Jan. 10, so it was no surprise to see Karl Alzner, the team's top defensive prospect, in the building this morning.

"We weren't happy with last night obviously," said Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau.  "We've got the room so we brought him up."

Alzner was reassigned to Hershey in a salary cap related move back on Jan. 28 after veteran Tom Poti returned to the lineup. Since then, an injury to Chris Clark has given the team the cap room to call him up.

A former captain during his junior days, his professional attitude led him to make the most of his time down in the AHL.

"I think going down to Hershey was the best thing for me at this stage because I thought my game wasn't at its best for the last little while that I was here," said Alzner.

"I went down to Hershey and let go of a lot of superstitions and relaxed so much [more] before games. I felt so confident and played four really good games.  So now I'm back here and I feel a lot more free than I used to."

They'll need his presence back on the blueline to help out goaltender Jose Theodore, who will be called upon even more now that Brent Johnson will need to have surgery on his injured hip, sidelining him for about the next two months.

"It's a huge load that's going to be put on Jose's shoulders," said Poti. "Brent was playing great every time he got called on, every time we asked him to go in. It's tough to see him go down and to have surgery. Jose's going to have to step up and I think he's definitely up to the task."

With Johnson out, the Capitals have recalled 20-year-old prospect Michal Neuvirth from Hershey to back up Theodore.

"We have a lot of faith in the kids," said Boudreau. "I love the young guys, the players that are in the minors. I think we have quite the capable group to do it."

Neuvirth has bounced around a lot this season. After the Capitals couldn't find a place for him to play in the AHL, they thought they had set up a loan opportunity for him to return to his home in the Czech Republic and play for Trinec, but the deal fell through and he found himself in the ECHL. 

Neuvirth played in 13 games for the Caps' affiliate in South Carolina and was named an All-Star. After an injury to goalie Simeon Varlamov, he got the call to Hershey and appeared in eight games in the American Hockey League this season. Now with the injury to Johnson, he finds himself in the "big show."

"It's a really nice thing. This was my dream all my life to make the NHL," said Neuvirth.  "I have to work hard every practice and hope I get the chance."

Caps center Brooks Laich missed practice with a lower leg injury after taking a shot off of his calf last night. His absence, along with fellow center Viktor Kozlov's (who is still recovering from a groin injury he suffered against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday), led to some different looking lines today.

Michael Nylander has been moved up to the first line on the right wing, joining Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom is back on the top line for the first time since the Caps' overtime loss in Boston on Jan. 27.

The Rest of the Lines and Defensive Pairings Should Look Like This

Forward Line Two: Semin, Fedorov, ????? (presumably Laich or Kozlov)

Forward Line Three: Fleischmann, Steckel, Fehr

Forward Line Four: Brashear, Gordon, Bradley

Defensive Line One: Schultz, Green

Defensive Line Two: Morrisonn, Poti

Defensive Line Three: Alzner, Jurcina

Defensive Line Four: Erskine, Pothier


According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, the team made another move on the blueline after today's practice, claiming Staffan Kronwall off reentry waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He's a 6'4" defenseman from Sweden and has spent the majority of four professional seasons with Toronto in the AHL. We'll see how he fits in to the team's plans in the upcoming days.


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