- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ask a player what he remembers most vividly, a big win or a humbling loss. The latter will jog the memory a lot quicker than the former.

“We owe [the Atlanta Thrashers] a couple for what they did to us at the beginning of the year,” Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig said yesterday, speaking of tonight’s opponent.

Kolzig was referring to the Caps’ second and third games of the season, when Atlanta outscored them 15-4 and it was believed the Thrashers made every effort to humiliate Washington.

“That’s a team that embarrassed us a couple times this year,” veteran center Jeff Halpern said. “You get up for things like that.”

At this point in the season — with the Caps long since eliminated from playoff contention — many believe teams such as Washington have nothing else realistic to play for. But when discussing how a team gets mentally ready to compete at that stage, Halpern disagreed.

“That’s not quite accurate,” said Halpern, the team captain. “There are still things to play for. You’re still getting paid to play, this is still a game where you try to entertain the fans so you try to go hard.”

But, as Halpern and other Caps veterans acknowledged, this is not the easiest time of the year for a team out of the playoff race.

“It’s definitely easier if you’re in the playoffs,” Halpern said. “From that sense, this is a completely different mind-set from where you want to be. But at the same time there are a lot of guys here playing for jobs, playing for next year. At this point you’re playing for pride and wanting to win as a group. But I admit we should be ashamed about some of the games we’ve played lately.”

Coach Glen Hanlon, who doesn’t like to get into the business of publicly criticizing anybody, doesn’t disagree with Halpern’s basic point.

“The Islander game [Saturday night] was a different game,” said Halpern, who said the Capitals should have been ashamed of their performance that night. “The game in Boston … I thought there was a chance it would be a real stinker but it wasn’t too bad.”

But that was because the two teams finally awoke midway through the second and Alex Ovechkin won the game in overtime with his 49th goal of the season.

“I don’t think getting up for games is a problem,” right wing Chris Clark said. “We have a lot of young guys, everybody’s looking for spots here or somewhere next season. There’s too much to lose for anybody to be packing it in.”

Added Kolzig: “We hope we’re spoilers against Atlanta. Everything we do now will carry over to next year. The more wins we have now, the more confidence we have next season. You always want to finish strong, head into the summer feeling good about yourself whether you’re out of the playoffs or in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

“Besides, all things considered I think we had a pretty successful season. People look at the standings or our stats and they say, ‘Boy were they awful,’ but in reality I think we’ve come a long way as a team. Add a little depth and get a little help for special teams and we could be right there in a playoff position.”

Notes — Center Dave Steckel, 20, was recalled from Hershey under emergency conditions to replace Brian Sutherby in the lineup. He was 14-20-34 in 74 games with the Bears. Sutherby has missed three games with a recurring lower body ailment. … Two collegians signed by the Caps were on hand for practice yesterday. Defenseman Jamie Hunt worked out but forward Matt Stephanision did not. He is still recovering from wrist surgery in February. … Caps assistant coach Jay Leach has been named one of the assistants for the U.S. team that will play in the world championships next month in Latvia. Hanlon will be the coach of the Belarus team.

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