WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The phrase "injection of youth" has become almost cliche in sports. As players get older, fresh faces come in to liven up the roster and provide a spark. But for the Washington Capitals, the complete opposite was needed. A team full of fresh faces, the Caps had lacked experience, especially in the postseason.
But that has changed this season, thanks to four key midseason acquisition. Jason Arnott, Dennis Wideman, Marco Sturm and Scott Hannan are four players the Caps have brought in this year. All have played in big games throughout their career, and all will play a key role in getting them over the proverbial hump.
Their impact has already been felt. The Caps are 2-0 since the trade deadline, and Arnott in particular has made a big difference. On Tuesday, he set up the game-tying goal from Brooks Laich in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders. Two days later, he also scored the game-winning goal in Thursday's 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues.
"Mike [Knuble] said the other day that ‘It feels good, we've gotten a lot older,' but older in a good way," Matt Bradley said after the game Thursday. "Obviously, a guy like Jason Arnott's been through it all, the way he's calm and leads by example is great. I played with [Sturm] in San Jose and other guys have played over 800 games. And [Wideman]. We've added a lot of great guys to this team, so it's definitely an improvement."
Washington acquired Hannan Nov. 30 in a trade that sent Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche. Sturm joined the Caps last Saturday after being claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, while Wideman and Arnott followed suit Monday in respective deals with the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils as the trade deadline approached. Combined, these four players have appeared in 3.292 regular season games as of Friday. Factor in fellow veteran Knuble's 951 games and these five players have played in almost three times as many games as Washington's four "Young Guns" (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green).
The familiarity among the veterans and their teammates is also helpful. Bradley, Sturm and Hannan were teammates with the San Jose Sharks, while Sturm and Wideman played together on the Boston Bruins.
Hannan came earlier than the other three players, and with nagging injuries keeping fellow veteran Tom Poti out of the lineup for most of the season, Hannan is responsible for mentoring a young defensive corps which doesn't feature a player with more than nine seasons of experience. But Hannan admitted that more grizzled voices in the locker room has been a relief for him.
"It's great," Hannan said. "Any presence you can have in the room. These guys have won before. I know Arnott's won a championship. We're pushing it towards the playoffs here and that's our goal. Those guys can add a lot of experience and help."
Where they can help the most is in the playoffs. Since the Caps returned to the playoffs during the 2007-08 season after a five-year hiatus, they have won only one playoff series in four tries, all of which have gone to seven games. The four veterans acquired this season have 261 playoffs games under their collective belts. Both Knuble and Arnott have won the Stanley Cup, with Knuble appearing in three games for the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings that swept the Capitals and Arnott scoring the game-winning double overtime goal to lift the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup. For a team with plenty of regular season accolades and no postseason success, having players who know how it feels to win can't hurt.
"Now we have some good veteran leadership outside of Mike Knuble," head coach Bruce Boudreau. "It's good. These guys have all won before. Arnott's won a Stanley Cup. [Hannan's] been on great teams [Sturm's] been on great teams. [Wideman] has been on teams that've won the President's Trophy. They all know what it takes to win. They've been there before and hopefully that can rub off on some of our younger guys."
The Caps have a 35-20-10 record, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. After 65 games last season, Washington was 44-13-8 and had a stranglehold on the top seed in the conference. A President's Trophy did nothing to help the Caps win in the playoffs, but players like Hannan, Sturm, Wideman and Arnott provide the intangible of championship experience that has been missing from the locker room for several years.
"I think they're great guys and experienced guys," Backstrom said. "They've been in this league for a long time. That's what we need on this team. And hopefully we can just get as much advice and get together as a group before the playoffs."