- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

CAPS 2, THRASHERS 2

This was a game the Washington Capitals had to win. It was against a recent expansion team; it was a home game; it came when the host team was well-rested and had only one key player out with an injury.

This was a game that could not get away not from a team that had won only three games one-fifth of the way through the season and has hopes of advancing to the playoffs.

This was a game where somebody had to step up and do something positive, where somebody had to do more than make statements about better effort and slow but steady improvement. It was a game that attracted 5,938 less than a sellout at MCI Center on Sunday afternoon when the Redskins were not playing, and perhaps there is a reason for that.

Of course, the Caps didn't win.

Defenseman Ken Klee scored midway through the third period yesterday as Washington settled for a 2-2 overtime deadlock against the Atlanta Thrashers. It was a game where the Thrashers took advantage of two Washington defensive lapses to score twice within 1:16 of the second period, outshooting their comatose hosts 13-2 over a span of 16 minutes.

It was a game where center Jan Bulis had a clear breakaway halfway through the five-minute extra period and shot into goalie Milan Hnilicka, who would be a rookie in the league but for the fact he is 27 years old, was originally drafted by the New York Islanders and rejected an opportunity to stay with the New York Rangers.

Not to sell Atlanta short. With 2 and 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Bulis, Andrei Nikolishin and Richard Zednik surrounded the Thrashers' net with the puck in their possession. They did not get off a shot, so thorough and ruthless was the Atlanta defense in knocking them aside.

"We had a number of chances to win the game," Caps coach Ron Wilson said.

Said left wing Steve Konowalchuk: "We should be able to put away a team like that early."

And right wing Ulf Dahlen: "We came back in the third, but it wasn't good enough to get the win."

Former Cap Andrew Brunette scored for Atlanta 7:44 into the second when a shot Olie Kolzig had stopped came back out of his pads and wasn't cleared out of danger. Brunette buried it on the play, which started as a 2-on-1 break for the Thrashers.

Seventy-six seconds later, with Ron Zettler in the penalty box, Brunette passed through the crease to Ray Ferraro, uncovered to Kolzig's left, and he slammed the puck into the twine to complete the Thrashers' scoring.

It is such letdowns that the Caps discussed last week during practice, letdowns they admitted did not occur last season. A year ago, one player might be in a funk for a few minutes after an error, but others would pick up the slack. This season, after a costly error, it appears the whole club falls into a funk for an extended period.

"Last year we had confidence; we felt good about ourselves," Wilson said. "I think we're playing better this year. We haven't caught many breaks. Last year I wasn't very comfortable with our style of play, now our style is there. We don't seem to get rewarded for hard work. It's hard to convince guys to 'keep on, keep on it's going to turn around.' "

Sergei Gonchar got the Caps started with a screened 55-footer on a power play early in the second. That came on the Caps' 15th shot; they ended the period with only two more.

Klee's goal was the product of determination. He got the puck in the Caps' zone and brought it out himself, all the way down ice. He circled the cage, curled around the left side and jammed the puck between Hnilicka's legs.

The Caps are now 0-3-2 in games this season against Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus and Tampa Bay. They were 9-1-0 against Atlanta and Tampa Bay last season.

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