- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

Earlier this week, there were dire predictions for the immediate future of the Washington Capitals. The team was mired in a six-game losing streak and based on the caliber of the opposition directly ahead and the way the team was playing, that negative figure could hit a dozen or more before it was snapped.

A few days later, all was right with the Caps. They convincingly won two straight and were still pretty far back in the East at 13th place but only two points out of seventh place in the tightly bunched conference.

So what happened in the course of a few days, first turning a pretty decent team (a 5-2 record) into a dog (no wins in six) back into a decent club, scoring as many goals (nine) in two wins as it had in its previous six games total?

“Well, we started scoring some goals and obviously that helps,” veteran goalie Olie Kolzig said. “When we played Toronto [a 7-1 loss] and Carolina [a 4-1 loss] and to some extent Atlanta [a 4-2 loss that should have been a win], we didn’t pressure the puck, create any turnovers. We’ve re-established our forecheck. You saw that against Dallas.

“It’s a fine line nowadays. In Tampa we gave up 50 shots, we take 20 and won 5-2. [Thursday] night we were out shot [38-23] again but we won 4-3. Against the Islanders last weekend, I thought that was our best game of the last three and we lost 4-1. The guys have to realize that sometimes when they win, they didn’t play that well, and sometimes when they lose, they played much better. Like I said, it’s a very fine line.”

Actually, it’s a little more complicated. There is a wide gap between teams with experienced depth and those who lack experience, depth and the overall talent that a few teams possess. Thursday night against the Stars was a good example: Dallas can miss a few key players and usually compete evenly against anybody in the league. Washington doesn’t have that luxury.

Other than in goal, the Caps are short in experienced, skilled personnel everywhere. When 100 percent healthy, Washington often plays well. When even one of its few key players is out, bedlam can result.

Alexander Semin is an example. He missed four games with a shoulder problem and the team was suddenly down to one capable offensive line, whatever line Alex Ovechkin was on. When Semin returned, Washington regained legitimate scoring potential from two lines and the power play became dangerous again.

“Everybody keys on Ovechkin, so Semin can sort of slide beneath the radar,” said left wing Matt Pettinger, who is on course to score 25 goals this season. “Having Semin back helps, obviously. He’s scored some very big goals for us this year and he gives us a second level of offense.”

Coach Glen Hanlon thinks a lot of the difference might be mental, the attitude a player carries.

“When you’re winning, you’re whole thought process, your demeanor changes, you’re thinking about how you’re going to win instead of how not to lose,” he said. “It takes a real strong mind to be able to get through [the bad times].”

What he did not question during the recent bad times was what he and his staff were doing.

“I’ve never been more committed to anything or how we’re playing or what we’re doing than I’ve been committed to what’s happening here,” he said. “I don’t question that resolve, ever.”

Note — Defenseman Jamie Heward stopped by practice yesterday before leaving for an appointment with a plastic surgeon. Heward sustained a horrible horizontal gash across the left side of his face — missing his eye by barely an inch — when he was bending down to see where a puck was in the third period Thursday night just as Mike Modano’s skate was coming up. It took more than 100 stitches to close the wound.

How long he will be out depends on what doctors say today but general manager George McPhee said he will keep the defenseman out at least a week to ensure healing is well under way. The team still has six defensemen on the roster, so no recalls are planned.

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