- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Coach Ron Wilson had a novel explanation yesterday of why his Washington Capitals have fallen into a deep pit a little more than one-fifth of the way into the season.
He traces the problem to Oct. 26, when the Caps went into Atlanta to conclude the brutal opening portion of the schedule playing nine of the first 11 games on the road, from Boston to Los Angeles, Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale.
A victory that night in Atlanta would have put the Caps above .500 for the first month of the season at 6-4-1. The Caps outshot the Thrashers 37-21 and had a ton of chances, but what they ended up with was a lot of frustration, a 1-0 loss and an injury to Adam Oates on top of everything else.
"The focus becomes 'we've got to score goals,'" he said yesterday, hours after his team was brought to its knees 11-5 by Ottawa at MCI Center. "All of a sudden everybody is scoring against us while we're standing around trying to think of ways to score goals. Because we didn't score one night, although we had tons of chances, it's gotten into our heads and we've fallen off the tracks."
"Off the tracks" is putting it mildly. The Caps, a preseason favorite to make a deep impression in the playoffs next spring, are four games under .500, their collective goals-against average is third worst in the league, they have allowed 11 more goals than they have scored, their power play has fallen to eighth from its No. 1 perch and the penalty-killing has pretty much fallen apart.
Only two forwards, Andrei Nikolishin (plus-5) and Dainius Zubrus (plus-3) have positive defensive ratings. Peter Bondra has scored 28 percent of the team's mediocre total of 44 goals. Serious long-term injuries are piling up, and players are shuttling back and forth between Washington and the minors.
Jaromir Jagr, the $78 million hired gun brought in from Pittsburgh, has missed seven of 18 games with a knee injury and has only five goals. It is no secret he is in sort of a no-man's land, searching for compatible linemates while his teammates do a lot of watching, waiting and wondering.
And opponents do a lot of scoring while the Caps stand around.
"We obviously have lost our identity, the thing that carried us the last couple years," center Adam Oates said. "We really have gotten away from it… we've got to find it and get it back. We have to worry about our end, defense. We're asking guys to do a lot of stuff they haven't done before, and it's not going to be easy."
Besides the shock of being shut out by Atlanta, there are the shocks of who is being injured, players who normally play tough, the best defenders the team has. Calle Johansson (shoulder) is done for the year; Steve Konowalchuk (shoulder) is out until nearly spring; Ken Klee and Brendan Witt are out short term, but three of those players are half the Caps' regular defensive corps.
"You're not going to be strong defensively unless everybody contributes," Wilson said. "We call them defensemen, but it's not just them, it's all five guys. You exclude the goalies from any blame in this; it's the five guys who have to compete to get the puck back."
Some of the goals the Senators scored Tuesday night should be textbook cases on how not to play defense, a statement Wilson did not dispute.
"You take away half a defense that's steady and stable and you've got to make adjustments," he said. "We haven't made them. After you get whacked and the other team scores 11 on you at home, if you're not cognizant that we've got to tighten up defensively, then you're brain dead. Good teams will run up the score if you don't get the job done defensively, if you're not working together."


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