- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001


NEW YORK The Washington Capitals embarrassed themselves last night, playing giveaway hockey against a team that has played dead for the rest of the NHL this season.

The Caps pretended "defense" was some kind of naughty word and seemed to stay away from it all night, making things easy for the woebegone New York Rangers in a 6-3 victory.

It was Washington's fourth straight loss, the team's longest losing streak since it closed the 1998-99 season with six straight defeats. Also lost in the barrage was Washington's nine-game (8-0-1) road unbeaten streak, second longest in club history.

The Caps broke down in every conceivable fashion. The club played well for the first five minutes of the game, then let it dribble through their collective fingers, driving their own goalie from the net. The worst part is the game could have and should have been a Washington victory.

"Defensively we weren't very good," said coach Ron Wilson, trying to be as diplomatic as possible. "All the stuff we're good at, we weren't tonight. We didn't get the job done in our end and they had a lot of pretty easy chances. We were just running around like chickens with their heads cut off."

Washington still has an 11-point lead over Carolina in the fight for the Southeast Division title but it is a battle that should have been finalized days ago. The Caps have not played well since beating Pittsburgh on March 7 and that includes their only win since then, 6-5 over Ottawa, a victory that required a four-goal third period rally.

"You don't like to lose four in a row but I'm not going to push the panic button," Wilson said. "I just wish some people would play with more of a sense of urgency than they've shown in the last four games, especially the group of guys we have playing on defense. Too many people are standing around the front of our net. I need to see more urgency than that."

The Caps were in a hole after two periods. Porous defensive play allowed the Rangers to score a pair of shorthanded goals (Washington had allowed only four such goals in their first 72 games) and a huge gamble that failed led to another New York goal.

The Rangers roared out to a 4-1 lead after one when Mark Messier (shorthanded), Jan Hlavac, Kim Johnsson and Brian Leetch each scored. The latter two were power play drives. Calle Johansson, playing in his 1,000th NHL game, tied the game at 1-1 with a power play score less than a minute after Messier gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Olie Kolzig had been trying to snap out of a personal slump, but a man wearing a blindfold before a firing squad stood a better chance last night. He probably should have redirected the rebound that Messier scored on, but otherwise would not be faulted. Nonetheless, Craig Billington was in net when the second started.

Jeff Halpern closed the gap to 4-2 at 6:34 of the second driving a rebound under goalie Kirk McLean and then it looked like Washington might catch a break. The Rangers were on their heels and were called for a penalty, but the advantage quickly turned. Messier intercepted a pass and slipped the puck out of the zone. Radek Dvorak raced for the loose puck from one direction, Billington from the other. Dvorak's stick got there first and the right wing shot with one hand under the goalie. The puck dribbled into the cage for the second shorthanded score of the game and a huge, demoralizing blow.

Sergei Gonchar got that one back on another power play at 12:05 but the Caps were unable to take advantage of a five-minute penalty to New York's Michal Grosek who sucker punched Dmitri Khristich in the left eye. The right wing's eye closed almost immediately and he did not return.

Also injured late in the second period was left wing Chris Simon. He fell awkwardly after he collided with Adam Graves and landed on his right elbow. He appeared to be in a great deal of pain on the bench before leaving.

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