- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

During the first third of the season there were nights when watching the Washington Capitals' power play was a thing of beauty skilled skaters performing intricate moves while executing difficult pinpoint passes.

What they weren't doing was scoring. They were performing maneuvers that made defenders move a few feet to the left, then a few feet back but not forcing them to exert themselves by defending along the boards or in front of the net.

But pretty and successful are two different things, at least in hockey. And the run of picturesque performances may have ended.

"At the start of the season, we let the offensive guys do their thing," coach Bruce Cassidy said yesterday. "Now we're telling them to get more pucks to the net. It'll open up more ice, and if we can retrieve those rebounds, then we'll have teams running around, and then we have chances to make the so-called prettier plays."

Washington's power play, which was at or very near the top of the league for the first month, is ranked 20th today, below 15 percent and sliding. With the offensive firepower the team has, it is almost inconceivable the Caps cannot connect with more regularity.

But on the just-completed five-game road swing, the Caps went 1-for-24 with the extra man, producing a 1-3-1 record. The one power play score came in the victory.

The Caps are being shut down because they became too predictable and with most teams today employing people just to break down videotapes, that was bound to happen. Washington preferred to carry the puck in instead of dumping; it preferred quick passes along the perimeter instead of mucking along the boards and in the corners; it had nobody who was willing to camp in front of a crease and take the punishment necessary to distract the opposition and create a goal.

Right wing Mike Grier, whose skating has never been confused with Scott Hamilton's, is now on the first unit because he is willing to sacrifice his body to get in position to score. Steve Konowalchuk is doing the same thing on the second power play unit trying to add something that has been missing.

Taking turns at the point are players like Ken Klee and Kip Miller, guys who will shoot instead of thinking of a way to complete a pass through four defenders.

"Now you have to shoot more because teams are so good at defending, they're so well positioned," said Sergei Gonchar, who fires a rocket when he unloads from the point. "If you're not shooting, you're just moving the puck around, killing time for the defense. We have to shoot, shoot, shoot, put pressure on them, create more chances so they have to open up and then we score."

Cassidy couldn't agree more.

"We're not getting teams out of position enough and you do that by shooting and getting rebounds," he said. "Once you get movement, that's where they have to make split-second decisions defensively and that's where mistakes are made."

Actually, Cassidy said things improved toward the end of the road swing, although it may have been hard to tell.

"I know the scores don't bear this out but we're a lot closer to 60-minute hockey," he said. "Our 5-on-5 play is much better than it was at the start of the season, much more committed to defense. It's just special teams right now, if we could improve just a little. We don't have to lead the league in both, but you have to be up there."

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