- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Entering tonight's game against the Stars in Dallas, Washington's Jaromir Jagr is minus-7 defensively, which may be the low point of his 12-year NHL career. This for a man who finished with a minus defensive rating only in his rookie season. His average yearly finish is an impressive plus-19.
There is more. The five-time league scoring champion has just 12 goals and 29 points in 30 games. Lines have been juggled with amazing regularity as the coaching staff tries to find linemates he feels comfortable with and can be successful with. The juggling continues.
The Caps, meanwhile, are winless (0-3-1) in four games, have won only three of their last 10 and have won only one road game since Halloween. Yesterday they were in 12th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference, three games below .500.
"The team's troubles I would say it's 80 percent me," Jagr said yesterday, with a cavalier approach that is only partly accurate. He has been a factor in the team's poor record to date, but so has every other player who has worn a Caps' sweater this season.
Coach Ron Wilson interrupted yesterday's practice seconds after it started and chaired a 40-plus minute forum on the ice during which everybody had a chance to voice his concerns and clear the air.
The meeting followed another "stinker' of a performance, to use center Adam Oates' apt description, a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. Afterward, in the Flyers' dressing room, a few veterans appeared shocked at how far the Caps had fallen.
"They don't even put up a fight," said one, speaking off the record. "They didn't even try to give us a game."
Said Oates: "We played a stinker last night."
But there have been several games that fall into a similar category this season. Why?
"Unfortunately, I don't have the answer," he replied. "It's obvious the guys on the ice are not ready to play, myself included. Why, I don't know."
The team has lost some individuals to injuries, namely Calle Johansson, its best all-around defenseman, out for the season; Steve Konowalchuk, the team's best defensive forward, out until sometime in late February; Ulf Dahlen, one of the more consistent forwards this season who was leading the team in scoring when he was injured a week ago and has not returned; Dainius Zubrus, a tough defensive forward who keeps the opposition honest.
But the type of free-fall the team is experiencing was totally unexpected, as were world-beating performances one night followed by three nights of Gong Show auditions.
Asked after practice which team he thought would show up tonight, Wilson replied, "That's what we'll find out. I'm interested myself in what shows up."
Players said the meeting was intended to identify problems and concerns, and some were quickly pinpointed. Playing like a bunch of individuals searching for personal rewards instead of team achievements was one of the key findings, players and Wilson said. Players not backing each other up when a mistake is made was another.
"We have to be committed to maximizing our chances to win games that's what it's all about, not maximizing our chances to pad statistics."
Wilson has threatened to sit people who don't adhere to the team's system, but there is little he can do right now, strapped as he is to dress 20 healthy players each night. And while there are prospects in the minors, none is ready to step in.
"Am I satisfied? No, no way," Jagr said when asked about his game. "How can I be satisfied with the way I play. I struggle big time. I don't have any excuses. But I got pretty good confidence, I don't think I forgot [how] to play hockey. I got confidence I can come back. But if a guy like me is not going to play good, the team is not going to play good. That's what I'm saying you cannot blame anybody else."

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