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Checking Line Could Put Up Big Numbers

Assuming Coach Glen Hanlon keeps together them together, the checking unit of Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon and Chris Clark could be a critical - and potent - combination this season.

You've got a former 20-goal scorer (Pettinger), a 30-goal scorer (Clark) and, at least in my opinion, one of the most underrated defensive forwards in the league (Gordon).

Their first responsibility, of course, will be to shut down the other team's top line. But ...

Gordon's defense first mentality will allow Pettinger and Clark to take a few more chances. And because they'll be skating against offensive-type players who aren't exactly adept at playing defense, I'm thinking they'll be able to take advantage of that weakness sometimes.

This might become a pointless discussion if Hanlon is forced to play Clark in a top-6 role. Which might happen if Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom don't fill the right wing spots on the first two lines. But we won't know the answer to that question for a few more weeks.


By Tarik El-Bashir  |  September 20, 2007; 1:59 PM ET
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Next: Fleischmann To Get New Deal


Tarik...sounds like you've done a 180 on the merits of Boyd Gordon. ;) I think he'll be a Selke candidate very shortly.

Posted by: topshelf22304 | September 20, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I think Hanlon is putting himself in a hole with Kozlov at center. I dont mind him there however, I think you can see the situation he has put himself with this move. Kozlov at center leaves unkown's at Wing. If you Backstrom at center then you can have Kozlov at wing and therefore you can put Clark at wing on the 3rd line. Leaving Liach or Clymer or Bradley for the 3rd and 4th line spots. Just my 2 cents

Posted by: Darryl | September 20, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I really do hope backstrom cracks the second line...i will be really disapointed if he's not able to...i was hoping for clarkie to be on the top line to redo his 30 goal season but your right about that 3rd line-could be one of the best. I am personally worried that Kozlov will be our first line center, although AO can work with anyone and be good, I was really looking forward to seeing ovy get to work with nylander..and flash on the first line? I don't really like that att all, he showed signs of greatness last year but i would prefer to have him somewhere else. I would rather have Clark with AO and Kozlov, back-nyland-semin, then have Laich-Gordo-Pett and then Brash-Sutsy-Clymer/Bradley

Posted by: Mike | September 20, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice to see Flash on one of the top lines.

Posted by: C-Way | September 20, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

topshelf -- you're right. i wasn't sold on Boyd Gordon at the start of last season. He really impressed me in the second half.

Posted by: Tarik | September 20, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I've admired Gordon for a few years now. I see him as being a very very improtant cog in the Caps future; he's a responsible defensive player who plays pivot very well and is willing to sacrifice personal glory for the sake of the team. You just can't say enough about that; sure, there are a lot of players who are willing and do so, but that tenacity coupled with skill lead to great things. I remember being ridiculed by other fans because Gordon wasn't going to be putting up big numbers. #'s aren't as important as the intangibles. The only question mark on a Petty-Gordon-Clark line is Pettinger. Can he stay healthy? If he can, then I think he figures to cement a line with two very good players. They have speed, grit and know how. The only thing you can ask for more of is size. We'll see how Steckel pans out.

Posted by: MM | September 20, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I think that Clark is perfectly suited to this shutdown role; even as the offensive threat from our first two lines expands, that third line has every potential to be the one that other teams hate playing against most. His leadership would do the most good there; I think he's a big part of the 'tough-to-play' persona of the team, and with the C on his shoulder, other teams are going to worry as much about beating him as they do about defending against OV and Semin.

I think in a top-6 role he'll be doing a lot more to keep the C from floaating gently to the ice than he would imposing his will on the other teams, like some Jagrs we've seen.

Posted by: Kurt | September 20, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Does it scare me that our top line would be Ovie, Kozlov, Backstrom or fliechman. Second line would be Nylander, Semin, Backstrom or Fliechman.


if they don't have the puck then we have no defensive forward on the lines (maybe Nylander?). I think this is more of a liability. Yes if they control the puck they can score goals... but defensively this is not who I'd want in front of Olie.

Just my .02. I trust Glen and I have the confidence he'll make the right decision.

Posted by: Go Skins Go | September 20, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Clark, Gordon, and Pettinger could be the best checking line the Caps have had since Kono, Dahlen, and Halpern. In fact, with a few games to gel, they could be better.

I'm getting awfully anxious for the season to begin!

Posted by: Blueline | September 20, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I'd rather have an unknown (like Backstrom) playing RW and than unknown (like Backstrom) playing C. The C has a lot more responsibilities. While Kozlov is not a natural center, I don't see a problem starting him at C as Backstrom gets acclimated to the NHL. I think we all expect that before too long Kolzov will be back on the wing and Nylander/Backstrom will be the top 2 centers on this team. Why push Backstrom into that role is he isn't ready for it yet?

Posted by: Jeff | September 20, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I think you can pencil in the following for now:

Curly Brashear/Moe Laich/Larry Sutherby


Clymes or Bradley,Erskine or Green on the bench

Posted by: shaggy | September 20, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

blueline is right..
that was an awesome line....
Remember the Dahlen duck walk?

And yes these three could be better.

I also think that a brash/sudsy/clymer line could be pretty good. Lets face it Donald knows his roll. If the other two get on board as true 4th liners they could be pretty hard to play against.

Posted by: livinit | September 20, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

It's somewhat amazing to see how much deeper this team has become since last year. If the top 3 lines end up with the 9 expected guys (including Flash as one of them) then that leaves guys like Laich, Bradley, and Klepis potentially off the opening night roster.

I'm hardly a huge fan of any of these guys, but there was a pretty good article about Laich on He definitely started out slowly last season, but in the last 50 games or so last season he was +7 on a team that was obviously well under .500. He also did chip in offensively here and there, and really upped his PK ice time (and had 3 SH goals). I'm not saying he is a guy who deserves a spot based just upon his performance last season, but it does seem like he is versatile and has value. Just amazing how much stronger this team looks right now than at the end of last season.

Is it opening night yet!?

Posted by: Jeff | September 20, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Gordon is a terrific defensive forward, and so far this preseason I think he has only gotten stronger, more able to win battles for the puck along the boards. Also, something to keep in mind, he is not horrible on the offensive end, either, contributing 7 goals and 22 assists last season. Not bad for a guy who played on the 3rd and 4th lines all season. And getting to play with guys who can put it in the net in Clark and Pettinger should not hurt his stats.

Posted by: T | September 20, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

backstrom is good defensively as well

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ThePeerless | September 20, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if concerns that Flash can't crack the top two lines are behind Tarik's reference to a possible trade yesterday. I think a Pettinger-Gordon-Clark shutdown line would be a huge contributor to the Caps success this year, and the ability to keep that line combination together (as well as the emergence of Alzner in a season or two) would justify a trade today involving some young defensemen.

Posted by: Fred | September 20, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

During the Q&A session after the first day of Training camp, Clark made the same argument. Some fans were a little upset for him feeling that he had earned the right to be on the top two lines. He said he didn't care where he played, and said he would get plenty of chances to score with petty and gordo. more quotes can be found here

Some pretty funny stuff from Clark and Leonsis

Posted by: Brandon | September 20, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Whoops. That link above was to the photos. The Q&A recap is here

Posted by: Brandon | September 20, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Like I said late night in the previous blog...

I think debating line pairings is all well and good but no one has discussed goaltending.
In my mind, our goaltending is a major issue, ESPECIALLY if Olie gets hurt. I know Johnny has a decent save percentage and GAA but to make the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup you need two steady goaltenders and we don't have it.
Anyone else?

Here's a trade for ya:
Sutherby, Clymer, Eminger and maybe one of our abundant goalie prospects for Bryzgalov.. :)

But still no one comments. Is it that we are set and content with Olie and Johnny for the season or don't want to think about it?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

That's a fantasy trade: our garbage for someone else really hot up and comer

Posted by: Icaurs | September 20, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it would be nice to have a backup goalie who could be a starter on most teams. But a backup has to have the right mind set to play mop-up duty, be a team guy, and have a good relationship with the starter. There's no doubt that Johnson provides those things. Johnson, when on his game, is a good backup. The problem is when he is NOT on his game, he looks quite poor. And obviously when Olie got hurt last year Johnson had a tough go of it and there were a lot of losses there (tho really, his starts for the most part weren't that bad...the team just doesn't play nearly as well in front of him).

I can't imagine there being a change to the Kolzig/Johnson duo any time soon. Johnson was just re-upped, so making a trade for a different backup goalie seems quite unlikely. No doubt there are risks if your top goalie goes down, but really...that applies to almost every team in the league. Can you imagine Vancouver without Luongo, or NJ without Brodeur?

And yes, I realize many of you will be oh-so-happy to point out that Kolzig isn't in the same class with those guys...but, ultimately, he IS our #1, and I'm sure the odds of a playoff birth are much higher with a healthy Kolzig than a hurt Kolzig. Let's hope he can play his 60ish (regular season) games this season and be fresh for any post-season hockey that may be to come.

Posted by: Jeff | September 20, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I may be alone, but in my opinion Olie is still a quality keeper. I thought that he kept the Caps in games during the first two and a half months of the last season that they had no right to be in at all; with a better team playing in front of him, I am very content to see him between the pipes. He also brings intensity, focus and leadership to a younger team, and that has a value that also can't be discounted. I have more questions about Johnny, but we'll see. For this season, I don't think goaltending is the biggest question.

Posted by: Fred | September 20, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

both goalies should be better this year as our d got (slightly) upgraded. also having the defensive forwards being able to play their game instead of trying to b first/second line fillins should help olie and bret.

Kolzig will do much better this year if the rest of the team can keep his work load down.
If he is still facing 40+ shots every night this year goaltending will be an issue.

Posted by: livinit | September 20, 2007 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Bourque may be the fly in the ointment. He played well in the scrimmage Wednesday and from what I hear he's had a good camp so far. Why send him down if he's ready to contribute?


Posted by: Oneal | September 20, 2007 5:14 PM | Report abuse

To Shaggy's comment, I cannot see how Eminger plays while Green sits. Eminger has been unremarkable, Green has looked solid all camp, not top 4 but definitely top 6 D. Him with Boomer is not a great defensive pairing, but I just cannot see Eminger as better than Green, respectfully speaking of course.

Perhaps Schultz to Hershey, Eminger traded, then Green slips in and Erskine is #7. Or Erskine goes and they give Eminger a 4th and final last chance.

Posted by: Golfer | September 20, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The only reason for Flash in a top-6 role for this team is wishful thinking of fans. Not only does he not bury his chances, he doesn't do much of anything else. Clarkie's going to play in the top-6 unless the Caps pull a trade.
Equally disturbing is the possibility of Boumer making this team. He's lesser defensively than Poti and not as offensively capable. Look for big nights for opposition forwards against that third pairing.

Posted by: pga3 | September 20, 2007 5:59 PM | Report abuse


Just Imagine of what Ovie/Backis could do 2gether?! screw the pressure its called sit back and just be in ahh!!!

Trade Eminger,Clymer,Klepis for a 1st round draft pick or a solid 10-20 goal scorer already in the league like a Jiri Hulder from Detroit

Posted by: Zack Attack | September 20, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Well...Flash will certainly help his cause if he continues to score.


Posted by: pmoravek | September 20, 2007 7:45 PM | Report abuse

One would think that the pre-season games would be televised. At least on the team's web pages. Or even on NHL.COM.

Posted by: Greg S. | September 20, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Given all the goalie talk, I feel bad for Frederic Cassivi. All he did was win the Calder Cup MVP award a couple seasons ago, but apparently the team doesn't see enough in him to let him be on the big club full time. I guess the team sees more in Johnson than most of us.

I agree with you Tarik, when I first thought of a Pettinger-Gordon-Clark combination, I was excited. But a question: obviously, Clark's stats have been enhanced from skating on a line with Ovechkin. I don't know if he has that type of scoring talent independently.

Posted by: Bret | September 20, 2007 10:46 PM | Report abuse

I am probably alone in thinking this. But Backstrom would probably benefit from playing in Hershey this year a la Spezza instead of being rushed into a top line in Washington.

Posted by: Steve | September 20, 2007 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Backstrom belongs up top with us. Though I would normally agree that he needs time to develop into a North American style hockey player, he's had a pretty good camp and is showing that he belongs up here. As long as he can continue to impress, there's no reason to send him down for part of a year.

@ Zack: This is pretty much what I'm looking at for the start of the season. I agree that Pettinger, Gordon, and Clarkie would KILL as a shut-down line. I really hope Hanlon doesn't put Clark on a top two just because I'd rather hurt the numbers of Semin/Ovi a bit if the other team's top line can't score AT ALL.

My only qualm was with Bourque on the 4th line, but if he shows he can bust ass for the 7 or 8 shifts / game he would get, then I'd be all about giving him a shot. He, much more than Backstrom though, might need some time in Hershey and might be better as a first call up.

Posted by: Raber | September 21, 2007 5:27 AM | Report abuse

Did you see the stats from last night? Gordo at -3, Pettinger -2, Clark -1. This super checking line did not look good statistically. The Caps were -9 and Ottawa +9. The Caps still are not gelling defensively. Ollie was in goal for the entire game and let in 5 goals on 30 shots. Flash's goal was a fluke off a Senator. The blog makes it sound like the Caps are a playoff lock, but their stats in two games do not indicate that this team has turned the corner by playing team defense very well. Schultz and Poti were all -2 with Potheir and Green at -1. Yes, it is the preseason, and yes the PP & PPK look much improved, but the Caps have a LONG way to go to being a legitimate playoff team.

Posted by: Jim | September 21, 2007 7:39 AM | Report abuse

It's silly to take the goal production that two players generated in their BEST-ever years while playing on lines with OFFENSIVE assignments (with TALENTED offensive partners) and project that they'll produce at the same rate when teamed with one another on a line with a DEFENSIVE focus.

They might surprise, but realistically, it would make more sense to project their production of their career AVERAGES. (And event then those averages are skewed upward.)

So, look for production closer to these levels:

Pettinger (14.7 goals per 82 games)
Clark (19.7 goals per 82 games)

And remember that Pettinger has NEVER played all 82 games in a season, and Clark's done it only once.

There are good reasons that BOTH these players earn substantially less than the league average salary.

Posted by: McLean, VA | September 21, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Who said anything about the Caps being a "playoff lock"?

that didn't come from me. They are much improved; they've also got much work to do.

Posted by: Tarik | September 21, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Hey Jim, this is also a Jim. Where did you see the game. I heard on Vogel there would be some webcast but couldn't hear where it was. Will there be more webcasts?

Posted by: Jim | September 21, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The thing about a 30 goal scorer (Clark)is that at least when someone gives him the puck, he's not too nervous and won't flub it. The puck is going in the back of the net. That player may or may not get those opportunities (why getting Oates was so great for the Caps)but some players can't make the play when they do get the opportunities so it's nice to have them around.

Posted by: Jim | September 21, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Well, the Cap's defense still sucks. Good job McPhee!!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Just curious on your thoughts of last nights game seeing how it looked like the Caps had there regular line up, other than Semin and Brash, against an Ottawa Team w/ a 50/50 line up and back up Goalies. Looking at the score sheet it seemed as though the Caps blew a three to one lead and then couldn't get the win even with a 9th round pick College goalie in net for the last half of the game. Is this going to be another long season? Also, while I have you, what are your thoughts on the job this front office is doing as far as the draft? It seems as though there are still many questions in regard to GMGM's choices. Regarding RW Eric Fehr, why is he still a question mark while other pick's chosen after him like Corey Parry a RW who played for Dale Hunter, Ryan Getzlaf or Mike Richards centers, have all been with their respective clubs for at least a season and have all had great success. Perry and Getzlaf have won a cup with Anaheim. Is Anaheim that much better at recognizing talent? They did swoop in to snatch up Randy Carlyle and look at his numbers and winning percentage. Now they have Doug Shearer the equipment manager. People used to talk about how players moved on from the Capitals to have success with other clubs, now we have trainers doing it. Way to go Dick P. and GMGM, great job! Back to the Caps, I have been a fan since the save the Caps days back in the late seventies early eighties. Then we were saving the team from a community that didn't understand the game. Now it seems this team needs to be saved from its own front office. Why was the once highly regarded number 5 pick in this years draft Alzner sent home after just four days of camp? Isn't the pre-season for evaluating talent? It seems as though another one of Dale Hunters players, Sam Gagner (chosen w/ # 6th pick) is still playing preseason games with the Oilers. Why start your entire regular season line up in a preseason game? Is this staff that desperate for a win? Is it that the "building process" lines have run its course and now the pressure is on to win? Well, look at what happened. Ottawa had some of their big guns, but also had just as many prospects in their line up. They even changed their goalies. Ollie played the entire game. Are the Caps that bad? Also, comparing this checking line of Gordon, Pettinger, and Clark to Kono, Dahlen and Halpern, PLEASE! They were -3, -2 and -1 respectfully. I don't expect you to answer these questions; it would be nice but I realize it may put you on the spot. But the next time you see Ted, ask him if he is serious about selling tickets and getting this area behind this team? If he is, there is a simple plan to follow, and I'd be glad to sit-down with him about it.
Some else who knows

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I love when people cry that the sky is falling after one (I'm not going to include the first pre-season game as it was not even close to a full roster) pre-season game against a power-house team.

Obviously the season is lost and we might as well just give up after last night!

Posted by: Jeff | September 21, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Wake up. Not close to a full roster? Who else wasn't in last night?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Steve--"Backstrom would probably benefit from playing in Hershey this year"

I couldn't disagree with you more. Backstrom was pretty successful for his age last year in one of the better European leagues. I don't think him spending a year in the AHL will benefit him at all, with the exception of maybe learning the nuances of the smaller rink. Not only would it not benefit him, but he'd be taken away ice/development time from players that actually belong there. Yes, he will probably have some growing pains on the main club this year, but I can't think of anyone within the system that is a better option right now, and there is no denying that he will contribute.

Jim--"Flash's goal was a fluke off a Senator"

His goal may have been a fluke, but how often in recent memory have these "flukes" gone in the Caps direction? I continue to believe that the spot on the first line is Flash's to lose, and wouldn't be surprised to see him start the season matter how the rest of camp plays out. Again, the team is better suited with him there and Clark on the 3rd line. The upside of what that line could do is to great, IMO, to not give him the ice time/opportunity to gel with OV and Kozlov.

Jim--"The blog makes it sound like the Caps are a playoff lock, but their stats in two games do not indicate that this team has turned the corner by playing team defense very well.

I don't think anyone has said outright that the Caps are a playoff lock. Are their chances better this year?? Absolutely...especially when you look at the rest of the Eastern Conference and the question marks other teams have. As for turning a corner, I think we are still too early in the preseason to rush to judgement. Everyone is still shaking off the dust...the last few games will be better indication IMHO.

/that is all.

Posted by: Yosh | September 21, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

No, last night was nearly a full roster. I was referring to the FIRST game, when OV, Nylander, Semin, etc were not playing. And yet without all them, they had a 2-0 lead going into the 3rd when they put in their own 4th/5th string goalie and ended up losing. That game was the one I was leaving out...not the one last night.

I'm saying that making a whole bunch of comments based upon the box-score and questioning whether the outcome suggests a long season ahead may be a bit extreme after 1 game, as players are still getting adjusted to their linemates. That's all.

Posted by: Jeff | September 21, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

that was not ottawa's "50-50"lineup at all

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

anyone who thinks backstrom should spend the year in hershey obviously didnt watch the game last night, the kid is great

Posted by: Anonymous | September 21, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Yosh, Jeff, and Tarik, If you read this blog daily, a lot of folks are very excited about the Caps prospects this season to the point of being cocky -- not that any of you have to my recent memory. I was not trying to say that the sky is falling or that Flash outright sucks 9he doesn't IMO). What I was trying to point out is that the Caps are a work in progress and that I hope they can start to gel as a team, esp. on the defensive side where they lost every in their zone 5-5 face-off. I also wanted to point out that the checking line, esp. Gordo, much bally-hooed as of late, still needs to gel and that the fans should get used to the fact that the Caps are in the 3rd year of a 5 year plan. I hope for the best, like making the playoffs being not a fond wish but an expectation. Go Caps!

Posted by: Jim | September 21, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I kinda of really like the sounds of this checking line. I haven't been able to watch much caps hockey lately, because i live out of state. The caps used to always have a VERY good checking line...Miller, Ridley...Konowalchuk, halpern. Plus those checking lines also put up points. Hopefully we'll see that again. Seems like our checking guys aren't interested in putting up more than 3 goals and 8 assists per year these days.

Posted by: jojo | September 22, 2007 6:37 AM | Report abuse

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