- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The Washington Capitals will try again today to complete their seemingly annual pre-holiday trek to .500, a position many on the team felt they could have achieved Thursday night in Atlanta before coming away with a disappointing 3-3 deadlock.
To get there, the Caps were told during practice yesterday at Montclair State University in New Jersey that they have to play for 60 minutes and play defense in the manner that has allowed them to claw back from being five games below break-even as late as the middle of last month.
Today's opponent is the New Jersey Devils, also struggling after reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season. Seven teams in the Eastern Conference have allowed fewer goals than the usually stingy Devils, while only four have scored fewer then the 63 put up by New Jersey. Add the two factors together and it spells mediocrity.
If Caps coach Ron Wilson is to get the type of performance out of his team that allowed it to crunch the New York Rangers 5-2 earlier in the week, he is going to need the type of turnout that was present that night 100 percent from all hands. He didn't get anything close to that Thursday night in Atlanta.
Not that he was solely at fault, but Jaromir Jagr stood out against the Thrashers. He appeared to be sleepwalking, hardly interested in what was taking place, while in his previous game against the Rangers he was so good that some were envisioning hockey in June in Washington with Jagr leading the way.
Against the Rangers the big right wing had seven shots on goal but mainly became a decoy, luring the New Yorkers out of the way so other Caps could move in and face little or no coverage because the defenders were following No. 68. Against Atlanta, "it's like he doesn't even want to be here," one interested observer said.
His reputation built during 11 seasons in Pittsburgh follows that scenario against top competition, he is at his best; against bottom feeders, he doesn't show much interest.
Jagr has nine goals this season, tied for third on the club, but has missed seven games with injuries. Nonetheless, he has now gone six games without a goal; he scored one in each of the previous four and seemed to be on track to regaining the form that made him a five-time NHL scoring champion.
But Jagr's current streak also falls within established guidelines for the player. Last season he once went six games without a goal and before that went seven straight without scoring, yet he won his fourth consecutive scoring title.
If Jagr was looking for a breakout game, this afternoon might be it. The right wing has scored 21 goals and 56 points against the Devils in 52 games.
The Caps play Pittsburgh, Jagr's former team, three times before Christmas, and Mario Lemieux said yesterday he won't be involved. The Penguins' owner and superstar has been slow in recovering from hip surgery. … The Caps have three home games next week against the Penguins on Tuesday, Boston on Thursday and Atlanta on Saturday.

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