- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

The Washington Capitals suddenly found themselves without the services of two regular defensemen, and yesterday they called up two players from their Portland, Maine, farm team.

The team announced late yesterday afternoon that Sergei Gonchar and Dmitri Mironov have been placed on injured reserve. Presumably, Gonchar's stint on IR will be made retroactive to last Thursday when he last played; Mironov participated in practice yesterday.

Recalled from Portland were Rob Zettler, a veteran stay-at-home type who is coming up for the third time this season, and Alexei Tezikov, a young offensive-minded player who has struggled from the time training camp opened but finally may be getting his act in gear.

The problems along the blue line might not stop there. Veteran Joe Reekie was struck on the right leg with an Andrei Nikolishin slap shot from near point-blank range yesterday during practice and retired to a bench for nearly 15 minutes to let the pain subside. He returned to the drills but was obviously hobbled.

Washington plays at Tampa Bay tonight and the Lightning have a lengthy injury list of their own. Tampa Bay has lost six straight and won only one of its last 12.

Gonchar, the Caps' representative in the Feb. 4 All-Star Game in Denver, missed Washington's game in Chicago last Friday nursing what has been described as a sore shoulder. The defenseman missed practice again yesterday but coach Ron Wilson had said Gonchar's use against the Lightning tonight would be a game-time decision. Later developments apparently ruled Gonchar out.

Mironov appeared to take part in the full practice and his name never came up as being injured in any way. But that also changed later.

"Wilson called me and said Mironov's back is bothering him and that's all I know," general manager George McPhee said yesterday. Mironov already has missed two games this season with a stiff back.

Mironov has a history of back problems and played only 46 games three years ago because of soreness. He underwent surgery during the summer of 1999 to fix the problem and played seemingly without pain last season.

Zettler has no points in four Caps games this season; he was 1-9-10 in 31 games with Portland. Tezikov, obtained from Buffalo for Joe Juneau three years ago, was 5-15-20 in 36 Portland games this season. He played 23 games for Washington last season but was not consistent enough to avoid being sent down.

The roster shuffle comes when the Caps are trying to get back on track after a 2-5-1 skid that includes a pair of two-game losing streaks. The always-struggling Lightning would seem to be the perfect cure for what ails any team but in the past Washington has had problems with just such opponents.

"We go in with a bad attitude down there, our losing streak snowballs to three," said goalie Olie Kolzig. "Then we come home, we're tired and we have Florida [tomorrow night] and all of a sudden we've lost four in a row.

"We've got to have killer instinct. If we get out to a lead, we've got to put them away. If they somehow manage to get a lead, we've got to stay positive, not get down and keep playing smart. The level of the competition shouldn't determine the level we play at, we've got to dictate our game."

The last time the Caps played at Tampa Bay on Nov. 5, the team anticipated an easy victory. Instead, the Lightning got rid of a lot of frustration with an easy 5-2 win that was not as close as the score indicated.

"They're all important now," Wilson said of every game on the schedule. "You're getting down to what you call the last third of the season … and you've really got to start to push. It's a little easier to get it done now than it is in the last week of the season when all the pressure's on you."

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