- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

When the Washington Capitals complain that the opposition is getting away with too much behind the officials' backs, it is not really a cry about the other teams' conduct. It is, in fact, a complaint that the Caps' offense is being stifled.
The Caps' power play has accounted for much of that offense this season and ranks third in the league at 19.9 percent, rebounding after a brief slump. How it remains so high is still somewhat of a mystery.
Two of the key reasons the power-play unit has worked so well are Adam Oates and Sergei Gonchar. Oates was the director of the production and is ranked third in the league in power-play assists with 25. Gonchar owns a shot from the point that even heavily protected goalies fear and has seven goals with the man-advantage.
But one is gone, and the other might as well be lately. Oates was traded to Philadelphia on March19, and Gonchar suffered a concussion two days later and hasn't been back since. Those developments have meant redesigning the unit and then trying to find the personnel to replace two key parts.
"We spend a lot of time every day practicing it. That's why it stayed where it is," coach Ron Wilson said yesterday. "We've had to simplify it without Gonchar in there. It's a little different without Oates because we can flip it to the other side and still have some weapons. But it's been a lot more difficult without Gonchar because he started to distribute the puck and he has that extra shot at the point that we don't have."
When Oates was still a Cap, the gifted playmaker directed the operation from the left side of the rink with a pair of cannons on the points, Gonchar on the left side and Peter Bondra on the right. The unit now operates from the right side, with the point shots switching sides to maximize their effectiveness under the direction of Jaromir Jagr.
How good has it been? It accounts for more than a quarter of the Caps' 211 goals. Among the leaders in the power-play category, only Los Angeles has a more significant percentage; extra-man scoring accounts for more than one-third of the Kings' 196 goals.
Of Washington's 57 power-play scores this season, Bondra (17) and Jagr (10) are the leaders, with Gonchar and Ulf Dahlen accounting for seven apiece. Bondra leads the league and has 116 in his career.
Bondra maintains that there is little different other than "there's no Oatsie, and he was capable of making things happen on the power play with his skills. We still have five guys who work hard together and work as a unit."
But Bondra pointed out that the departure of Oates might have had a beneficial side. The club has become closer, much more of a team.
"It's good that we're playing well, but if you look at who's carrying us, it's pretty much everybody," Bondra said. "Every line has stepped up at different times in different games, everybody contributing to the wins, and that's why we've been playing well as a team. And it's been a lot of fun lately. We're working hard, but we're not forcing things like we were before, trying to create chances from nothing. We're a more disciplined team now."
Notes Gonchar said he probably will play tonight against Tampa Bay "if there are no headaches." He practiced for the second straight day and even took some physical contact to test his condition. He suffered a concussion March21. … Defensemen Ken Klee (broken toe) and Frantisek Kucera (concussion-like symptoms) will not play tonight. In fact, Kucera hasn't been seen for the past few days. … The Portland (Maine) Pirates were eliminated from playoff consideration Monday night, so spare players may be filtering down soon.



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