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|9 ноября. 2006
Zubrus Finally Front and Center. Despite Knee Surgery, Capital Is Off to Best Start of Career // Washington Post
By Tarik El-Bashir
The lingering soreness Dainius Zubrus feels in his surgically repaired knee is apparent as the Washington Capitals veteran limps around the locker room before and after games. The only time it's not noticeable, in fact, is during the 2 1/2 hours in between.
Despite his discomfort, Zubrus is off to the best start of his career, and people around the NHL are beginning to wonder if he has finally become the dominant player he was once projected to be.
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound center has nine goals and 13 points through the season's first 14 games, and 43 points over the past 41 contests, putting him on pace to easily surpass last season's totals of 23 goals and 57 points, both career highs.
"Since the middle of last year, I was given an opportunity, the responsibility to play with [Alex Ovechkin] and really get a lot of quality ice minutes," said Zubrus, 28. "Ever since then, it's been totally different for me. It's a position I've always wanted to be in, to have that role. So I'm pushing not to lose it."
His offensive surge has a lot to do with playing on the same line as Ovechkin, one of the NHL's most dynamic scoring threats. Ovechkin has helped set up seven of Zubrus's goals. But what's less obvious is that Zubrus is just as important to Ovechkin's success.
"Whenever someone says Zubie's not a number one center, I take offense to it," Coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday at Ashburn Ice House. "He allows any player who is not strong defensively to skate the extra minutes it takes to put up numbers. Ovie loves playing with Zubie."
Zubrus's breakout season, and his close relationship with Ovechkin off the ice, will likely bode well for him at the bargaining table. He is in the final year of a two-year contract that pays him $1.85 million annually.
"He's playing the way we always envisioned," General Manager George McPhee said. "He's a well-rounded player now. He's good in his own end, he's good on faceoffs, he generates offense and has probably been our most consistent player this season."
"We want him to be here the rest of his career," McPhee added. "We'll see what we can do when the time comes."
The feeling is mutual. "I'm comfortable with the guys on the team, the coaching staff," Zubrus said. "I obviously get along with Ovie very well. I see the [team's] vision, the road that we're taking. I'm a believer in that. I like the way the team is set up. There's a very good possibility that I'm going to end up here."
Zubrus, who is Lithuanian and speaks Russian and English fluently, still helps Ovechkin, and now Alexander Semin, navigate a foreign land and language. The trio often warms up together before games, passing the puck the length of the ice while wearing flip-flops.
"Zubie is great," Ovechkin said. "We have dinner. All the time I go to his house for steaks. We are very good friends."
As for Zubrus's knee, it's also getting better with time.
"We've left it up to him as far as what he should do to feel best for games," McPhee said. "Clearly, whatever he's doing is working."