- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001


PITTSBURGH The Washington Capitals didn't make many mistakes against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. But that is precisely the problem make even one mistake against Pittsburgh and it's probably fatal.

Such was the case last night. The Caps played Pittsburgh even for the majority of the game but made a critical mistake late in the game and as a result the Penguins won 3-2 at Mellon Arena. There is a rematch Monday at MCI Center.

The error came nearly 12 minutes into the final period. Two Caps chased left wing Jan Hrdina behind the Washington net and tried a pass off the boards to get the puck out of the zone.

Bad move, or at least bad timing. The puck came right to Mario Lemieux and he immediately noticed the mismatch behind the net and one other thing right wing Jaromir Jagr standing alone at Olie Kolzig's right. It is never wise to leave the defending league scoring champion alone with the goalie the only person close to him.

Lemieux ripped a pass across the rink and Jagr one-timed it past Kolzig as the goalie was making both arms and both legs fly in different directions in a vain attempt to block what he knew was coming.

"It was a great pass," Kolzig said. "We got caught with nobody in front of the net. I knew he was there but you have to play Lemieux honest. I've seen the two games he's played where he's scored on the short side. I made sure I didn't leave that post, didn't cheat at all. I thought I got over there but [Jagr] just put it inside the post. He's one of the greatest players in the world. If you're going to leave a guy that wide open, nine times out of 10 he's going to score."

In his three games since coming back, Lemieux now has three goals and six assists for nine points. However, for vast portions of last night's game, he was all but invisible. But when he appeared, such as on the game-winner, he was totally in charge.

"We had a few breakdowns but they were little things that are correctable for when we play them Monday," coach Ron Wilson said. "The times we backed off and showed too much respect, we got in trouble. You have to maintain a presence in front of the net and for a split second we didn't. Mario made a great play to Jagr."

The Caps carried a 2-2 tie into the final period, thanks to goals by Steve Konowalchuk and Peter Bondra in the second period that offset scores by Lemieux in the first and Hrdina between the two Caps goals. Bondra's was his 21st of the season, tying his 1999-2000 season total.

Lemieux ended the night in the penalty box for high-sticking Bondra with five seconds left. He complained about the penalty en route to the box and complained some more as he followed the officials off the ice, showing that some patterns of behavior don't change even after a 3 and 1/2-year layoff.

Washington got some bad news before the game was over. Right wing Dmitri Khristich left the contest 15 minutes into the second with what was described as a hamstring problem. Wilson said he would be reexamined today.

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