- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. The Washington Capitals resumed practice yesterday and it was right back to the basics, back to the stuff that got them this far.
The Caps spent more than an hour working on defense. The team worked on a variety of situations but they all came back to the same basic principal: You win games by stopping the other team, not by trying to outscore them.
"You don't like to lose four in a row at this point in the season, but this just gives me a bigger soapbox to stand on and talk about what's wrong," coach Ron Wilson said. "When you're not winning and not playing particularly well, there's big problems with our game defensively.
"Everybody says we got shut out here or there, people saying we're not scoring when in fact the reason we're not scoring is that we're not defending very well. I'm just reteaching the defensive points of our game, going over and over them so we start to get on the defensive side of the puck again."
Wilson and several of the players basically agreed that winning had become all too easy for the Caps and because of that, the fall seems all the harder. The bottom appeared to fall out after what was at the time believed to be Washington's biggest win of the season, 6-5 over Eastern Conference leader Ottawa when the Caps entered the third period down 5-2.
And there was one other point that crept into conversations yesterday at the Florida Panthers' practice facility. For all intents, the Caps had no competition, nothing to push them. They had taken a 15-point lead on Carolina in the fight for the Southeast Division championship with about the same number of games left in the regular season, so there was no reason to push hard.
"There was a lack of a sense of urgency and when you start winning games 4-3 and 6-5, scores like that, you tend to believe you're almost bulletproof you can turn it on at any time," Wilson said. "I haven't liked the way we played defensive hockey, and I haven't liked the way we killed penalties. It shows our lack of being on the defensive side of the puck. Four losses in a row allows us to see what's wrong and be able to fix it."
There have been breakdowns in virtually all facets of Washington's play and the more one player tried to jump in and fix things, the worse it got because it had become an individual thing instead of a team function.
"We've only got nine games left to get ready for the playoffs," defenseman Brendan Witt said. "If we don't figure out what we need to do to win and play a solid game for 60 minutes, we could be ousted in the first round again, just like last year."
Like others, Witt felt the big divisional lead eventually worked against the Caps.
"There wasn't much of a chance that Carolina could catch us so we sort of relaxed and sometimes you get out of focus that way," he said. "If they were still five points behind us like they were earlier in the year, I think you'd see a different team here today."
And the immediate future won't be an easy path either, which Wilson and others were more than happy to point out.
Said goalie Olie Kolzig, referring to the next two opponents: "Florida and Tampa [Bay] are playing for nothing so they go out there feeling relaxed and play loosey-goosey hockey, and most of the time those are the toughest teams to defend against.
"We've got to start feeling good about ourselves again," he said. "I thought we felt pretty good after the Buffalo game even though we lost, but the other night [against the New York Rangers] in the first period, we had so many breakdowns in our own end that as a goalie, sometimes you got to be a little worrisome. But I think the coaches and veterans will say something to help get this straightened out."


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