- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

SUNRISE, Fla. In previewing last night's Washington-Florida game, the Miami Herald had this line: "Nobody knows what to make of the Capitals, including the Capitals themselves."
The Caps know what to make of themselves now, and they can't be too pleased.
In an embarrassing performance, the Caps played dead for more than a full period while the usually woebegone Panthers waltzed to a 5-2 victory, putting new coach Mike Keenan above the .500 mark at 4-3-0.
Washington squandered its opportunity to get above .500 for the first time since Oct. 26, as well as a chance to get two points closer to Southeast Division front-runner Carolina, now seven points ahead of the Caps. Even more disturbing, the Caps' road record dropped to 4-11-3.
"We played OK for the first 10 minutes of the game, and then I don't know what happened," coach Ron Wilson said. "They took it to us pretty good, and we didn't have any answers. We have to compete a lot harder if we want to be successful on the road. … We just didn't compete the way we have to."
The Caps played the game with a startling lack of intensity, one day after spending some time discussing the need for urgency to get into the playoff picture. Pass attempts were halfhearted, there was little attempt to finish off checks, there was no compulsion to either go to the net or knock Panthers out of goalie Olie Kolzig's way.
It was a meltdown in many respects. The Caps' recent three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1) seemed to be a fantasy. At one point, starting nine minutes into the first period, Washington went 23 minutes without a single shot on goal, being outshot 20-0 by the lowest scoring team in the Eastern Conference.
"When they turned it up a little bit, we didn't that was the discrepancy in shots," Wilson said. "They had 20 straight shots on goal, we didn't have any and that's simply not good enough. If we want to win our division or whatever, we got to come in and compete a lot harder than that."
To make matters worse, right wing Jaromir Jagr left the game on the first shift of the second period after being hit in the face accidentally with a high stick from either Cap Ulf Dahlen or Panther Lance Ward. He did not return.
"He lost a tooth and had to have a root canal and a few other things, but I'm sure he'll be in better shape tomorrow," Wilson said. "He could have played in the third period, but under the circumstances I thought it was better that he wait."
The high point of the night, if there was one for the Caps, came when Washington successfully killed a two-man disadvantage covering 1:28 in the second. The Caps tried the same trick in the third, but Florida pumped a second rebound past the badly outmanned Kolzig.
There were plenty of low points. Center Jason Wiemer blasted a shot through Kolzig's legs in the first when a Washington defender decided to ignore him, and Dan Boyle blasted a rebound past the goalie when Kolzig should have hung on. Bill Lindsay, an original Panther, stood around in front long enough to get his own rebound and rip it into the net, and so on.
Washington's best chance to get back into the game came 13 minutes into the second when the power play appeared to be working smoothly and wing Peter Bondra was set up twice at the back door. As luck would have it, he failed to connect twice on excellent chances. It was that kind of night.
Washington did score twice within 28 seconds in the third period. Chris Simon got his sixth of the season and Joe Reekie his second.
Caps center Andrei Nikolishin made it back into the lineup after missing two games with a bruised left leg. Nikolishin's return left only right wing Dainius Zubrus (slight groin strain) on the short-term injured list. Center Trent Whitfield and defenseman Rob Zettler were the healthy scratches.
For Florida, right wing Kristian Huselius, the Panthers' leading scorer and the only Panther in double figures in goals (14), remained in a New York hospital where he has been since Monday with what is only being described as an intestinal ailment.

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