- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

If the NHL season had ended yesterday, the Washington Capitals would have home-ice advantage in a first-round playoff series. It doesn't seem right but those are the rules.
The rules do not take into consideration that the Caps' 11 points rank them 10th in the Eastern Conference, only that the six division leaders automatically gain a playoff seed.
Washington leads the Southeast Division but that isn't anything to brag about, not this season. The Caps were projected as one of the teams to beat for the division title, fighting Florida for the crown. After 12 games, the Panthers have won one game but trail the Caps by only three points.
Nobody ever said the Southeast Division was one of the best ever assembled; it was a mishmash thrown together for convenience. It was done during realignment when deep-thinkers tried to geographically distribute teams, ignoring in Washington's case a quarter-century of rivalries. The Caps against the Thrashers just doesn't have the same ring as the Caps against the Flyers.
The East as a whole isn't frightening many but the Southeast in particular has turned into the league laughingstock. Against the other 25 teams in the league, the Southeast has a record of 9-28-10-4 before yesterday's games, gaining 32 out of a possible 102 points.
The five Southeast teams do not have a single player ranked in the top 25 among scoring leaders; Sandis Ozolinsh, the defensively-challenged Carolina defenseman, is ranked 10th among blue liners with 10 points (but he is also minus-8, leaving him a net plus-2). Washington's Jeff Halpern leads the league with two game-tying scores but there are 30 players behind him tied with one. Florida's goaltending is ranked 16th, the Caps 18th, the rest of the division no better than mid 20s.
Why has a whole division stooped to this level?
"We get satisfied in this division to be the weak sister, just looking to get into the playoffs," Florida coach Terry Murray said. "We've got to force our teams to be better and that's our job as coaches. You compromise too much with your own team if you're just looking at the division and saying 'We're still in pretty good shape.' You have to be competitive with the rest of the league, win games there."
"We believe we can do a lot better than we've done to this point with everybody healthy, generally speaking, and everybody here who had contract problems," Caps' coach Ron Wilson said. "We're heading in the right direction."
Vezina Trophy winner Olie Kolzig had surgery and missed the first three games of the season and is just rounding into shape. Sergei Gonchar and Chris Simon were early holdouts. The Caps have sputtered, playing very well against quality opponents but down to the level of lesser foes, usually forgetting how to score. The Caps have been outscored by a 2-1 margin on the road and have managed just one win.
"In spite of what people said about the division in the past, two of the top five teams in the East were from the Southeast Division," Wilson said. "That some teams are struggling this year might have as much to do with [the poor overall performance] as the fact it might just be coincidence."
The team with the second best record in the East, Toronto, would be ranked only eighth overall in the West.

Notes Two struggling Caps, James Black and Jan Bulis, have changed their numbers. Black has gone from 28 to 21 (Black Jack, get it?") while Bulis offers no explanation for going from 8 to 38… . Bulis has been promoted to right wing on the top line, Wilson hopes this will jolt Bulis' offensive potential into gear while providing a measure of speed to the unit.

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