- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

Coach Ron Wilson wasn't his usual smiling, wisecracking self yesterday after putting his Washington Capitals through practice. But was he happy with how his team looks after two moves before Tuesday's trade deadline? You betcha.

"We're capable of playing anybody now and not having to be lucky to beat them," Wilson said. "We've answered without weakening ourselves, [and] we've made ourselves a lot bigger, too… . Maybe the most important move was getting another defenseman who can play. Because of injuries this year … we're dangerously thin in terms of experience on the blue line for any kind of sustained run."

Is Wilson predicting a long run in the playoffs? He is far too smart for that, but he was quick to concede that Washington had dramatically improved its ability to grapple with beefy East opponents after the haze in general manager George McPhee's back room finally cleared.

"I'm a little more comfortable about playing the Philadelphias and New Jerseys and being able to compete with them physically over a long stretch," said Wilson, noting the additions were larger and tougher than the players they replaced. "You play a team once and it's not the same as playing it six or seven times, when a big physical team can wear you down.

At practice yesterday, Trevor Linden was centering for Peter Bondra and Andrei Nikolishin, Dainius Zubrus was on a line with Adam Oates and Dmitri Khristich and gritty Jason Marshall looked like he might be paired with Sylvain Cote.

All told, the Caps' three newcomers quickly fit into the picture.

The line combinations probably will change, Wilson said, as he tries to find combinations that will make the team more potent offensively while forming a better umbrella in front of goalie Olie Kolzig.

"Basically, we have five centers now," Wilson said, referring to Oates, Linden, Nikolishin, Jeff Halpern and Trent Whitfield. "I'll start Trevor in the middle, but I wouldn't hesitate moving him over to [right] wing playing with Oates. There's a lot of different options I have. We still have very solid third and fourth lines; now it's just a matter of getting these guys acclimated to our play, getting their teammates to understand their little idiosyncrasies and then go from there."

Probably for that reason, practice was longer than usual yesterday, with the club working on line rushes and special teams. The Caps have 12 games left before the playoffs begin during the second week of April, starting with Carolina tonight at MCI Center.

"It's just a matter of putting the puzzle together," Wilson said. "We've got a lot of pieces now."

With the trading deadline gone, roster restrictions (23 players) have been lifted, but recall limits are in place. All teams are limited to four recalls, gaining an additional one after each playoff round. The Caps have 24 players on hand, two extra defensemen and two extra forwards.

One of the spare forwards was enforcer Brantt Myhres, and just the fact that he is on the roster is enough to keep a lot of opponents honest.

Backup goalie Corey Hirsch was returned to Portland yesterday.

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