- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Leave it to Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson to deliver the kind of sarcastic dose of perspective that makes him the most entertaining coach in the area to write about after last night's 3-2 loss to Chicago at MCI Center, which stopped his team's undefeated streak at 12 games. "It's not the end of the world," he said. "Now everyone can go back to normal and forget the Caps. They lost."

Caps management has put a power play on the local media to step up coverage of the franchise, and at practice the day before Wilson jabbed the contingent of reporters on hand. "They only come out if you win 12 in a row," he said. "You win three in a row, it's not good enough for them."

OK, all right, already. We get the point. Win three in a row now, and we'll all be back.

Really, the Caps are really the only pro team in town right now worth the attention. (Maryland rejoined the ranks of the interesting with its win last night over Duke). And despite their loss last night to the Blackhawks, there is no reason to believe that they won't even get more interesting as we get closer to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as long as they do what they had been doing for the last month or so and not what they did last night not create enough power-play opportunities.

"This is not the system we are supposed to play," said Peter Bondra. "They did a good job at stopping the power plays."

It has been their bread and butter, the power play. Before last night, the Caps had at least one power-play goal in 10 straight games, going 14-for-44, nearly a 32 percent success rate.

"We've been relying on our power play," Wilson said. "Our first power play was excellent. It's too bad that our next power play wasn't until a minute to go in the game."

Then again, if you manage to go an entire month without losing the Caps hadn't lost since Jan. 27 they'll expect you to do it every month, and that's not fair. The other months have more days than February.

The Caps don't have to go undefeated in March. All they have to do is stay within the system that has made them the hottest team in the league, putting them on top the Southeast Division with a 32-20-10-1 record.

Before they even skated last night against Chicago, Wilson spoke about the mission facing his team in the coming weeks leading up to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "What we have to do is maintain what we are doing now," he said. "I don't think it would be fair to say we need to do more of this or more of that. Our penalty killing is great, our power plays are great, the faceoffs and the plays we run off the faceoffs have been excellent. Since the road trip, when we've had a chance to practice, our defensive play has almost been air tight. What we have to do is try to find a way to maintain this.

"That doesn't mean that you go the next 20 games without losing a game," Wilson said. "There's going to be some bumps in the road. It's just trying to remain consistent and continue to play to our strengths."

They need last night to be one of those bumps in the road and not a change in direction. It's a continuous high-maintenance effort.

"We play a style that needs everybody on top of their game," Wilson said. "We expect everybody to contribute. It's not easy to play that way. It's difficult to play that kind of grind for 82 games and then think about the possibility of duplicating that in the playoffs for another 20 or 25 games, if you want to win the Stanley Cup, it's difficult."

They weren't at the top of their game last night. "We didn't play good as a team tonight," Ulf Dahlen said. "We know we can play a lot better."

That is an important piece of knowledge and an indication of the confidence and expectations the Caps have for themselves after going undefeated for 12 games.

"We believe in ourselves," Wilson said. "Last year everyone was telling us we were lucky. This year I see our confidence being very high."

High enough to get over those bumps.

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