- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

PITTSBURGH What's the over/under on total shots on goal in tonight's Washington-Pittsburgh game? Chances are, not very much.

Last Sunday night the Penguins lowered the franchise record for fewest shots on goal at home to 11 in a dreadful 7-0 hammering by Carolina. On Wednesday night against Florida, the Caps went 23 minutes without a single shot that goalie Roberto Luongo had to handle.

A few months ago, tonight's contest would have sold out in seconds as the long-awaited return of right wing Jaromir Jagr, the local hero who had the nerve to ask for and was granted a trade to the Caps as it turned out. Some in the Steel City viewed Jagr as a traitor for even suggesting he would consider playing elsewhere. It would be like Terry Bradshaw wanting to quarterback the Cleveland Browns.

Suddenly, however, there are things a lot more important to both teams than sentimental reunions. The Penguins have lost four in a row and fallen two games below .500; the Caps were trounced Wednesday night by Florida, a team kept out of the league basement only by Atlanta's existence.

With the loss, Washington's record dropped back onto the negative side, just one game below .500. Beating the Penguins here tonight and at MCI Center tomorrow night would put the Caps a game above break-even at the Christmas break, while injury-riddled Pittsburgh would get a huge boost by sweeping the Caps.

Not that Pittsburgh will let the moment pass tonight without some sentimentality creeping in. Jagr did help the Penguins win two Stanley Cups, he scored 439 goals, nearly 1,100 points and won five scoring championships. A video tribute to Jagr will be shown during one of the TV timeouts during the first period.

And barring some other mishap, the right wing will be in action for the Caps. He was accidentally hit in the mouth by Lance Ward's stick seconds after the start of the second period Wednesday night against the Panthers. Jagr left the game immediately, lost a tooth, had a root canal performed and may need more of the same.

Jagr practiced with the Caps yesterday before the team left Florida, wearing a full facial shield he is expected to use tonight. Coach Ron Wilson said after that game he thought Jagr could have played "in the third period, but under the circumstances we thought it best that he wait."

Washington was down 4-0 to the Panthers but rallied within 4-2 with more than seven minutes to go, and Jagr might have made a contribution had he been put back into the game.

"We could have got back in the game, but it's not going to happen too often when you're four goals down," said left wing Ulf Dahlen without mentioning that the Caps are 4-11-3 on the road. "We have to talk among each other and work in practice to find a way to win on the road. We haven't done that."

Notes As expected, goalie Olie Kolzig was named to the German Olympic team if the team makes it through the qualifying round (Peter Bondra and his Slovakia team have to do the same). The Russians will announce the rest of their team today while the Americans and Swedes fill out their rosters tomorrow, the deadline for announcing complete rosters. … Right wing Dainuis Zubrus will also miss tonight's game trying to get his strained groin to mend.

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