- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000


The Washington Capitals moved above .500 for the first time since last season with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota last night, the Caps' sixth straight home triumph.

It was the first time the Caps had played the expansion team, and they had their hands full from the start. Washington got a first-hand lesson why the Wild has been involved in 15 one-goal decisions in its 32 games: by playing tenacious defense and not giving an inch.

"They frustrated us in the first period," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "They work so hard and really didn't give us too many shots at their net, much less scoring opportunities. We knew they were going to be a tired team, but I think we needed to be a little more physical in the first period."

After 27 scoreless minutes, Sergei Gonchar broke the tie at 7:11 of the second. A pass from Adam Oates from behind the goal line came out to Gonchar, and he ripped a 45-foot shot in on goalie Jamie McLennan, who was partially screened on the play.

"We're getting more confident with every game, especially now that the power play is doing well and the penalty-killing is doing okay," Gonchar said. "But overall we're playing much better because everybody has more confidence."

The goal was only Gonchar's second in his last 12 games, not quite what he thought he would have by this point.

"It was an important goal for me especially because everybody was saying I was such a slow starter," the defenseman said. "It's important for me to have these goals early so I get my confidence now and I don't have to wait until the middle of January."

It was nearly 10 more minutes before Washington was able to score again. This time Washington was on a power play and in control in the Wild zone. The puck finally came out to Peter Bondra, playing the left point with the second power play unit. Like Gonchar earlier, he took a feed from Oates and drilled a 55-footer through McLennan's legs at 16:19. Bondra's goal solidified the Caps' status as having the No. 1 power play in the league at home.

The Caps allowed just their second even-strength goal since Nov. 25 early in the third period. The Caps were allow to clear the puck from their zone, and the Wild got to it. It came to Aaron Gavey in the left circle, and he snapped a wrist shot into the left side of the net.

It is not that the Wild are a talented bunch no expansion team in any sport is, by design but the team is extraordinarily well drilled. That is a trademark of its coach, Jacques Lemaire, a fact that left him something less than popular with his New Jersey Devils despite guiding that team to a Stanley Cup.

There were three examples in the first period of what not following the game plan can cause while the Caps were on the same power play. Twice Kolzig had to make big stops because Minnesota got in on 2-on-1 breaks, and a third time Jeff Halpern had to take a penalty, holding Wes Walz, to prevent a shorthanded breakaway.

Notes After Minnesota and Carolina played a 1-1 overtime draw in St. Paul on Wednesday night, the Wild's chartered plane failed to show up on time. The team didn't make it to its Washington hotel until 4:45 a.m. Needless to say, the morning skate was canceled… .

Defenseman Sylvain Cote, who has been the Caps' seventh defenseman of late, finally got back into action after being a healthy scratch for nine games. Also in action last night was defenseman Rob Zettler, just recalled from Portland, Maine. Brendan Witt was out with the flu, and Ken Klee is sidelined with a knee strain that will keep him out indefinitely. The only healthy scratch for the Caps was left wing Craig Berube.

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