- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

CAPS 2, PREDATORS 1

The Washington Capitals have discovered the secret to winning: Make sure center Jeff Halpern has many, many, many chances to score.

Washington defeated the Nashville Predators, 2-1, last night at MCI Center and Halpern, the second-year player from Montgomery County, Md., scored a goal.

How important is that? The Caps are 8-0-4 this season when the Princeton graduate contributes to the offense.

"I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Halpern said, laughing at the very thought. "The team is undefeated when Joe Reekie scores, too."

Well, not quite. Reekie had the game-winner against Boston on Dec. 2 and the only goal in a 3-1 loss in Chicago later in the season.

Halpern and Dmitri Khristich got the goals last night as the Caps stretched their unbeaten streak to 10 games. Nashville scored off a lucky bounce, ruining an otherwise great performance by Olie Kolzig. Washington's 30th win of the season was enough to keep the Caps nine points ahead of Carolina in the Southeast Division.

"There were some goals on the road that I normally stop that found a way through," Kolzig said. "That's not how I like to play. I had two good days of practice, and I felt confident out there. We knew it was going to be a tough game, first game back from a long trip. They're a hard-working team, battling for a playoff spot. We knew it was going to be a grind, and that's what it ended up being."

Halpern got the Caps started after Ulf Dahlen drew a delayed penalty against defenseman Cale Hulse. The puck was deep in the Nashville end when the referee's arm went up, and the Predators couldn't get control to stop the play. Meanwhile, Kolzig got off and Adam Oates, who was playing his 300th game as a Cap, got on.

Nashville defenseman Ron Zettler hammered at the puck, but it whipped around the boards and came out to goalie Tomas Vokoun's right. That's where Halpern was, and he deposited it in the top shelf before Vokoun had a chance to get back post-to-post.

"We're trying to play our game and have teams play our game," Halpern said. "We'd rather have good defensive games because that's what we know we can do. We'll have those four-goal games, but these are the games we can win."

It became a 2-0 game midway through the second period off a perfectly placed shot by Dmitri Khristich with Washington on a power play. Oates passed down low to Khristich, who came out of the left corner of the ice and lifted the puck into a tiny opening between Vokoun's right shoulder and where the pipes converge. It was the eighth straight game in which the Caps have had at least one power-play score.

Kolzig lost his bid for his fourth shutout of the season with 33 seconds left in the second period after Richard Zednik tried to clear the puck around the rear boards. His drive hit referee Blaine Angus and stopped, giving the closest Predator, Cliff Ronning, time to grab it. He did and fed Greg Johnson, 10 feet in front of Kolzig. Johnson snapped a shot through the goalie before he had a chance to react.

Kolzig had faced his toughest challenge up to that point 12 minutes into the second period when Peter Bondra went off for high sticking. Nashville attacked with as much tenacity as it can muster, and Kolzig had to be at his sharpest for the full two minutes.

The Caps are now 8-0-2 in their last 10 games, the hottest team in the league and not cooling off.

"Going back to last April the whole year has been building up to where we were last year before Game 1 of the Pittsburgh [playoff series]," Halpern said. "We're trying to improve ourselves as a team because obviously we didn't have what it took last year. Games like tonight, the wins are important but what's more important is improving as a team and getting ready for the playoffs. We may have felt good about ourselves last year, and we're conscious of that, and we're cautious about going into it this year."

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