- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001


ST. PAUL, Minn. Coach Ron Wilson warned his Washington Capitals before the team left for the Twin Cities that they shouldn't be deceived by the expansion status of the Minnesota Wild.

Maybe now they'll listen.

The Caps didn't prove to be much of a challenge for the first-year Wild last night, losing 3-0 in front of the team's 26th consecutive sellout of 18,064 at Xcel Energy Center.

The Caps had seven shots in the last two periods in what is arguably their worst performance of the season.

"They are a very determined team," Wilson said. "A lot of tonight has to do with the fact we're just dead right now, and you can see it when we have a couple key people out. It sounds like you are making excuses, but a team like that takes the starch out of you early. With the magnitude of games we have played, we had zero left in the second half of the game. When you look, we did not have a forward with a shot on goal for 38 minutes."

The defeat left the Caps saddled with a two-game losing streak, their first since Nov. 5 and 9, when Washington lost to Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers. The win extended Minnesota's team-record home unbeaten streak to nine (6-0-3).

The Minnesota streak wasn't against the soft underbelly of the league, which is what an expansion team would normally be considered for years. In the eight home games before the Caps, there were wins over Dallas and Detroit and ties against Ottawa and Phoenix. The 6-0 trashing of Dallas, the former Minnesota North Stars, on Dec. 17 is considered the greatest game in the club's short history and was the first win of the undefeated streak.

Washington has a record of 1-2 against this season's two expansion teams: splitting with Minnesota and losing 3-1 to Columbus on Oct. 27.

The Wild's Aaron Gavey ruined Olie Kolzig's bid for a shutout Dec. 14 when the teams first met, scoring in the third period of a game the Caps won 2-1.

Last night he scored shortly after the halfway mark of the first, when Washington gave the Wild enough room to do just about anything they wanted. Defenseman Brad Bombardir had the puck just inside the Washington blue line and casually walked it in 15 feet before passing down to the right corner of the crease. There Gavey reached in with his stick and redirected it into the net, just out of Kolzig's reach.

Eleven minutes into the second period Scott Pellerin got loose on a breakaway with Caps defender Dmitri Mironov in pursuit but not close enough to make a difference. Pellerin closed on Kolzig, deked one way and then slipped the puck into the short side for a 2-0 lead.

Any hope of a Caps rally in the final period faded rather quickly. Center Stacy Roest deflected a shot from the right point at 2:34, and doubt about the eventual result was erased.

Five minutes after the third Minnesota goal, Craig Billington replaced Kolzig in net, although Kolzig could hardly be blamed for the loss. It was the first time this season Kolzig did not finished what he started.

Washington was held to four shots in the second period as Minnesota kept Washington off-balance and away from the crease to prevent the Caps from reaching rebounds. Rebounds, of course, are virtually impossible without shots.

The Minnesota team is the spitting image of its coach, Jacques Lemaire, who has nine Stanley Cup rings to his credit, including eight as a player for Montreal. Only four of the 12 Canadiens teams he played for failed to win championships. His ninth ring came as coach of the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils.

Lemaire never scored less than 20 goals in a season and never had less than 42 points. But his specialty was defense, and he was an early advocate of the original trapping defenses Montreal employed. With the Wild, he has molded a disciplined team that has been blown away only twice this season, an extraordinary feat for an expansion team.

It is interesting to note, and the Minnesota press notes do, that the Wild were 13-20-8 for 34 points (the extra point for losing in overtime not counted) after their first 41 games, while the expansion Washington Capitals were 3-33-5 for 11 points after 41 games. Of course, the expansion draft in 1974 was far different than today's.

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