- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

When the Washington Capitals traded for Jaromir Jagr, they weren't looking for another Doug Jarvis they wanted somebody who could score goals.
The objective has not changed. That was the story when the Caps signed Robert Lang they were looking for an offensive center. The same with Kip Miller they were looking for someone with a proven history of feeding "the big guy," as Miller refers to Jagr.
The plan is paying dividends. Before last night's games, Washington was second in the Eastern Conference in scoring with 166 goals, an average of 2.87. The total ranked fifth in the league, a far cry from where the Caps were earlier in the season, when the club scored two or fewer goals in 15 of the first 19 games.
During the first six weeks of the season, the team averaged 1.85 goals while going through a transition period. Bruce Cassidy, the new coach, was trying to learn in detail what each of his players could do, and that process involved extended experimentation, new lines usually for every game, sometimes for every period, occasionally shift-to-shift.
Cassidy concedes he was responsible for some of the poor early performances, or at least a contributing factor. But since Game 20, a 4-3 loss to Minnesota, the Caps have been on the upswing and have averaged 3.23 goals, a difference of almost 1.
The acquisition of Jagr and Co. to bolster the few offensive-minded players already on the team was done to capitalize on what was already in place. There was a top-notch goalie in Olie Kolzig and a veteran if aging defense that was tiring from overwork.
"We were trying to generate more offense and if we slipped, we had one excellent goaltender and a good defense to help us out," general manager George McPhee said.
Said Cassidy: "Jagr can score, Lang can score, [Peter] Bondra is a scorer, Miller is an offensive player. Mike Grier had 20 once [actually twice], Steve Konowalchuk had 20 [23 and 24], Jeff Halpern had [21]. Dainius Zubrus was close to 20. Michael Nylander, he's a 55-point guy. We've got a lot of offensive guys. Sergei Gonchar, he had 26 last year."
Told that Gonchar tied his personal high for assists Tuesday night when he got his 38th, Cassidy was pleased.
"Good for him," the coach said. "He's having a good year. I don't know if he'll get 26 again, but he's a more complete player. I'd much rather have him the way he is right now. I have no complaints."
McPhee said, "If there's a way to upgrade the team, we will" but added, "We're happy with this group, and we're hoping it will reach its capabilities. I still think we have a little ways to go to get there. Like I said, we're happy right now, but we're expecting more."
Washington stormed out to a 5-0 first period lead over Atlanta on Tuesday night, then let up just a little but not enough for the Thrashers to get back into the game.
"I think we can get better, yeah," Cassidy said. "I think we can compete with the top teams. Our defense will have to get a little more involved, I think, getting off point shots with eyes, hitting the net more often. If you have a good shot from the point, with the minutes the top guys are getting they each could get four, five goals."

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