- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

It was not your average Washington Capitals practice. It was short, as most have been lately with the team playing at least every other night; there was plenty of skating to keep the legs loose; and there were shooting and passing drills designed to put more rubber in the path of opposing goalies.

The Caps' goalie, Olie Kolzig, was missing a cause for concern until coach Ron Wilson said the reigning NHL Player of the Week was being rested. The coach felt that after Kolzig had played 21 of the past 22 games, perhaps he deserved a day off.

Peter Bondra was not on the ice either. Wilson said the team's scoring leader also was being rested, but Bondra was not far away just inside the labyrinth at Piney Orchard going over his sticks with the care one would imagine Arnold Palmer reserving for his clubs.

Brendan Witt was there, and that is good news for the Caps after the physical defenseman had missed three games with a severe case of the flu that cost him 10 pounds. He has spent the past several days trying to put the weight back on so he can regain his strength.

"Witt's pretty close," said Wilson. "If he's ready to go we'll try to get him back in the lineup. Witt's important for us, especially playing a team like Buffalo [tonight and tomorrow night] where tempers always seem to flare between the two teams. Witt's an element we need in the lineup."

Basically, yesterday was a day of reassurance after Washington lost 5-3 to San Jose the previous night, ending its 4-0-0 overall win streak as well as its 7-0-0 and 7-0-2 home streaks. The Caps lost because they took a few penalties at inopportune times and the Sharks capitalized. But more than anything, the Caps lost because San Jose refused to stop trying to win, coming from behind three times, and Washington couldn't prevent it.

"We shouldn't lose our confidence because of Monday night's game," Wilson said he told the team during a brief gathering at center ice as practice ended. "We actually played very well and had a number of opportunities to put them away. We didn't. Their goalie [Evgeni Nabokov] made some incredible saves and from everything I've seen so far, they're one of the top two teams in the West, and they showed it.

"We had more scoring chances, more possession time, all the things you look for," Wilson said. "The lucky break they got was to get a 5-on-3 so they were able to even it up going into the third period."

Nonetheless, the Caps are 2-1-0 in recent games against Western teams, and a few years back Washington didn't win that many games in a full season against the other conference.

"This is almost like a playoff week for us in a sense," the coach said. "There's a couple games with Buffalo, which is a great test all the time, and then Florida as well. Even though Florida has only won six games, it's a big [Southeast] division rivalry and we want to make sure we're ready for them. We don't take any games lightly."

The Caps have won nine of their last 12, so perhaps the days of taking other teams lightly has disappeared.

Notes Right wing Ulf Dahlen is still out (sore back), and Wilson isn't sure when he will be ready to rejoin the lineup. Lines have been shuffled to make up for his absence, meaning players like Trent Whitfield and Matt Herr get to spend Christmas on the NHL roster instead of in Portland… . Center Jan Bulis (broken thumb) skated with the team and took part in shooting drills. He will probably be back within the week, as soon as the club can make room on the roster for him.

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