- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

Against the Stars on Friday night in Dallas, the Washington Capitals got good goaltending from Craig Billington and an excellent overall defensive performance from the 18 skaters. The result is predictable when those two factors are combined: victory.
The Caps will have to repeat that performance this afternoon, and for the remainder of the season for that matter, if they hope to make the playoffs. Today's match (3:08 p.m. at MCI Center) against Southeast Division leader Carolina is a huge step in that direction.
Washington defeated the Stars 3-2 in overtime after a 40-minute meeting Thursday that aired a lot of concerns between staff and players and identified some of the problems facing the team. There was another meeting Friday where specifics were discussed.
If Friday's performance is an example of what comes out of those meetings, they may become mandatory. While the Caps were far from perfect, the performance was distinctly better than some of their recent "stinkers," as one ranking player describes them.
"Any time you communicate your thoughts, it's important," Billington said yesterday after winning his second straight start. "It's important to regain some focus, individually and perhaps collectively, on what we need to do to win. Let's face it: It's not much fun when you're not winning, and we all like to have fun."
It would be wrong to say Billington was the key to the victory, because Friday night was a genuine team effort, the type of thing that has been missing much of this season for one reason or another. That was evident at the start and still evident at the end, when the Caps dominated in the extra period before defenseman Ken Klee got the winner at 2:03.
"Everybody was committed to defense that was the difference," coach Ron Wilson said. "When you're the second worst defensive team [in the league] and you've had a good defensive record in the past, it just means you're not committed to getting the job done defensively. Friday night, we were much closer to being committed, of realizing what our weaknesses are and trying to disguise them, instead of playing and trying to deny we have some weaknesses. We protected ourselves real well against Dallas and got the job done."
No small measure of that was accomplished when wing Dainius Zubrus returned from a groin strain.
"We got good goaltending from Biller, and Zubrus came back and really added some things that have been missing a presence on the forecheck and some speed," Wilson said. "He gave us [22] real solid minutes up front going in both directions, and that was huge for us."
Wilson said yesterday that no decision had been reached on a goalie for today, whether to stick with Billington or go back to starter Olie Kolzig.
"It's always nice to contribute," said Billington, who has been in only eight games this season. "It's always good to go into a game and help from that end. I know it doesn't happen that often, so it's a good feeling when that pays off."
Notes The Caps could get a huge manpower boost today. Wing Ulf Dahlen, who was the team's leading scorer when he was injured Dec. 19 in Florida, skated yesterday and will test his sore foot again today. If he and the coaches think he's ready, Washington will have all its short-term injured back in the lineup. … The Caps play host to the New York Islanders at 3 p.m. New Year's Day.

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