- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

When the schedule for this season came out, there were moans and groans coming from many an NHL front office. With the All-Star break in place, a two-week hiatus for the Olympics, plans to play the regular 82-game schedule and the TV networks demanding that the playoffs end before the Fourth of July, the schedule was compressed to the point where it almost seemed unworkable.
Few if any teams face a tougher road than Washington, and the Capitals are starting to pay the price. The team has played one game at home and has only two more to play at MCI Center before the end of the month. It is in the closing stages of an 11-day jaunt that started in Boston and ends in Los Angeles tomorrow night and there is a four-game trip to endure before November rolls around.
Part of the reason some teams are having a tough time getting started might be training camp. Like the schedule, it was compressed one week chopped out of the usual month-long period so the regular season would start on time. The coaching time used for repetition drills will have weeks to make up.
So far, the Caps are 2-3-0 with play that has ranged from so-so to a few steps below horrible. Anaheim and Phoenix had little trouble with Washington, and neither is expected to make the playoffs. What happened in Boston should leave the organization embarrassed for years.
Penalty-killing, the team's trademark staple for eons, has disintegrated to the point that retreads hanging on for one more season are zipping around Caps defenders at will. Before yesterday's games, the Caps were ranked 23rd in the 30-team league, allowing a goal every fifth time the opposition had an extra man.
The power play is ranked better, fifth, but that is deceptive. Washington has scored six power play goals on 28 games, a respectable 21.4 percent clip. But there is a catch. Four of those six goals came in one game against a teen-ager making his NHL debut in goal with the New York Rangers' defense in front of him, about as protective as wet toilet paper. Take the Ranger game out of the mix and the Caps are hitting 10 percent.
True, Jaromir Jagr, the player who was going to save the Caps from all this embarrassment, has missed two full games and three-quarters of a third. And he might have made a difference. But the Washington roster is a veteran one that is missing only the lines of Brantt Myhres and Dmitri Mironov from last year's roster, leaving enough talent to get past teams that have been retooling since the Carter administration.
In the 5-2 loss to the Coyotes on Saturday night, coach Ron Wilson did his best imitation of Dolly Levine, the matchmaker of Broadway fame. Trying to find any combination that worked, Wilson had people playing together who hadn't been formally introduced. Fans didn't need scorecards as much as the players did. Things were so bad that Dmitri Khristich almost looked good.
Jagr's injury, a strained knee sustained in the Rangers game Wednesday, is not thought to be serious. However, general manager George McPhee said yesterday he didn't know if "day-to-day" meant the right wing would skate tomorrow or eight days from now. The superstar was working out with therapists and riding the bike, but
Also out since the Rangers game has been Brendan Witt, who surely would have bolstered up a very shaky defensive unit. He is also down with a leg injury, but McPhee thought he might be available to play against the Kings tomorrow night.
McPhee prefaced his remarks yesterday by saying the Caps "were not very good" in Phoenix. But then his warnings in July about what the team faced with the schedule came back.
"There wasn't any gas in the tank [Saturday] night, and even our good players were struggling like hell," he said. "I know when I feel like I've been run over, the players must feel even worse. That being said, our penalty killing has let us down, and we used to be one of the very best in the league. We've got to fix that if we've going to do anything. Special teams have not been good."
Not to worry, there's plenty of time. The team will be home Wednesday and won't be heading back out for almost 48 hours.

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