- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

If the Washington Capitals needed something to help get them pumped a little higher for tonight's game in St. Louis, the NHL has provided it.

Sergei Gonchar is not listed as a nominee for February's All-Star Game in Denver although he has scored more goals (39) than any other defenseman in the league during the past two seasons despite missing 38 games with injuries, was plus-27 over that span and finished fifth in voting for the Norris Trophy last season,

It is possible to vote for Gonchar, but he would have to be a write-in and only one is allowed per ballot.

A league spokesman said nominees for the North American and International teams are selected by members of the NHL's Hockey Operations Department and declined to identify them.

The Caps have two nominees, center Adam Oates for the North American team and goalie Olie Kolzig for the Internationals. Kolzig, the defending Vezina Trophy winner, was the only Cap in the game last season.

Gonchar had a subpar season for him with 18 goals in 73 games but was an outstanding plus-26 defensively. Others being nominated for the International team include players like Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis, who had three goals and was minus-12, and Boris Mironov of Chicago, who had nine goals but was minus-3.

The ballot is strictly symbolic; fans pick the 12 starters with the league filling in the holes to make sure each of the 30 teams has at least one representative. Two years ago, two teams were left out and annually there are players involved who have no business even being allowed to watch the All-Stars on TV.

Gonchar's slight came as the Caps went through a lighthearted workout (backup goalie Craig Billington actually ran practice) after their best performance of the season by a wide margin in Tuesday night's 6-2 victory over Detroit. The question now is, what can the players and coaches do to keep the momentum going?

"Prepare ourselves mentally, and that's up to the guys who are the leaders," said left wing Chris Simon, who has played three games since ending his 46-day holdout. "There's things that need to be said before a game … and during the game. It's not totally up to the coaches to do it all the time; we need guys to step up and say what's got to be said. It's not personal, just certain things we got to do to win the game."

At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Simon doesn't have to speak very loudly to be heard clearly. There are some beside Simon who feel more voices need to be heard inside the locker room.

Asked if the room was too quiet, allowing things to fester, coach Ron Wilson replied, "I think so. I still think we're quiet even with Simon in there. We need more guys to speak up and get comfortable about speaking up."

Washington put together as close to a perfect game as Wilson said he had seen his team play since he arrived more than three seasons ago. There were no periods of lackadaisical play, the team was not only constantly in motion but also in sync. Wilson said a lot of that had to do with having everybody healthy for a change.

"That's really important to our team," he said. "The chemistry means so much, having everybody there who can contribute. Everybody pulled together for a great game, one of the better I have ever seen our team play. The second period was by far the best period we have ever played. We totally dominated the game. This should do a lot for our confidence."

Notes The Caps said they have signed veteran goalie Corey Hirsch and loaned him to Albany, N.Y., in the American League. That gives the team a veteran to call up should something happen to Olie Kolzig or Billington and lets the club keep its youngsters down on the farm where they can develop… . Defenseman Rob Zettler was returned to Portland, Maine, after being recalled Monday. That apparently means defenseman Ken Klee (wrist surgery) is close to returning.

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