- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Halfway through practice the other day, the Washington Capitals were bent over, gasping for air. Ron Wilson was having them do wind sprints up and down the ice, enough to make even a finely tuned athlete cry out for oxygen. Hockey players have a term for this type of torture: "body-bagging."
"I don't want us to forget who we are," Wilson explained afterward. "We have to make sure we don't become spectators now that we have Jaromir Jagr and continue to do what we do best."
What the Caps have always done best, of course, is hustle, play tough defense and make the other team earn everything it gets. It's a formula that has won them the last two Southeast Division titles and, in '98, got them to the Stanley Cup finals. But the acquisition of Jagr, the magnificent Jagr, changes their image a little. They're no longer just a nice little blue-collar team. They have star power. They have pizzazz the kind that only a five-time scoring champ can provide.
It's funny the effect this has had on people. Peter Bondra, for instance. Bondra is having as good a training camp as anyone can remember, topping it off with a hat trick in the preseason finale against Carolina. "I might have had a camp like this earlier in my career when I trying to make the team," he said, "but other than that. Let's not get too carried away, though. There are an awful lot of young kids out there on the ice."
What's immediately apparent, however, is that Bonzai is "really excited to play," Wilson said. "He's been energized. He's not going to be playing too much with Jags [except on the power play], but it's going to get him more open ice and allow him to have potentially more success."
More success for a 45-goal scorer is, what, 50 goals? Sixty goals? No wonder his juices are flowing. Heck, a couple of seasons like that and he'll be closing in on 500.
But Bondra is thinking more about the first 11 games on the Caps' schedule. Nine of them are on the road, including three out West. In recent years, the team has started slower than an '85 Nova in winter, but Peter is determined to reverse that trend. And with Jagr on his side, he just might.
"Usually it takes me a few games to get going to get my timing down, my positioning," he said. "Maybe this year it will happen sooner for me. I think the early road trips will be good for us. We'll be able to spend more time together and go out to dinner and talk hockey. And if we can win a few it could really set us off like it did last year when Craig Billington beat Colorado [to launch a 5-0-1trip]."
This has been a pleasantly quiet camp for the Caps. There have been no bitter holdouts only a mini one by Jeff Halpern and everybody has stayed fairly healthy. As a result, Wilson said, the club has been able to "focus on the right things," like establishing chemistry and integrating new players, instead of worrying about who's missing.
Jagr isn't the only major addition, by the way. Trevor Linden and Dainius Zubrus are going through their first camp here, too, after being acquired at the trading deadline last season. They should be a lot more comfortable with their surroundings now, and the team hopes that will translate into increased production.
Most of the increased production, though, figures to come from Jagr. Tack his 52 goals onto the Caps' 233, and Washington would have had the second-highest scoring offense in the league last season. Naturally, all this is hypothetical, but it's sure fun to think about.
"It's like adding a cleanup hitter to an already good team," said Wilson. "In the past, teams have been able to 'pitch around' Peter [because he was the only big-time scoring threat the Caps had], but they're not going to be able to do that with Jagr around. He's going to see better pitches now."
When they drop the puck tomorrow night at MCI Center, we'll begin to see what kind of an impact No. 68 will have. After all, the New Jersey Devils aren't just any club, they're a club that has been to the finals the last two years, the kind of club Jagr was brought in to help the Caps beat. A good showing against the Devils could set the tone for the entire season.
And then the entire town would be breathless just like the Caps were the other morning when Wilson was body-bagging them. Only it wouldn't hurt quite so much. In fact, it would feel pretty good.

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