- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

A stretch of 28 games that begins tonight against Buffalo at MCI Center and ends Feb.26 against the Sabres at the same locale should define the Washington Capitals' season.
Eighteen of the 28 games are at home, where the Caps have won two-thirds of their games. It is a time for Washington to make up for time spent on the road, which is considerable this season of the 37 games the Caps have played, 22 have been on the road.
MCI Center has been a friendly place for the Caps (21-12-6-2 at home last season), and it is going to have to be in the future. Washington is eighth in the Eastern Conference, the highest it has been since mid-November, but it is a tight race.
It could be parity or just the law of averages evening things out but the wide-open race of just a few weeks back appears to be closing. Ottawa continues to dominate offensively and defensively and is first in the East but other teams that were running strong previously, such as Boston and Philadelphia, have rejoined the pack.
Saturday night the Caps suffered their first overtime loss of the season, 2-1 at New Jersey, but had a weekend that was worth applauding. Washington grabbed three out of a possible four points against the Atlantic Division leader and that allowed it to move into the playoff picture.
"You never want to give up that point within the conference but we got a point out of it," said Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy, who admitted his team got outplayed in New Jersey but was still able to take the game into overtime thanks to another spectacular effort by goalie Olie Kolzig.
"We got our point, we'll move on. We've played better of late but [Saturday] night wasn't one of our better efforts of the last two weeks." Nonetheless, the Caps had won four in a row and were unbeaten in five, both season highs.
Statistically at least, Washington was outplayed by the Devils. New Jersey had 40 shots on Kolzig while Martin Brodeur faced only 15. That didn't seem to bother Cassidy that much.
"Our team always waits for quality chances, we don't waste a lot of time throwing a lot of pucks on net just to throw them on net. So the 15 shots, that doesn't concern me as much as giving up 40," he said.
"Again, we got a point, we're doing some good things and earlier this year we might not have hung around long enough to get that point and that's a good step for our club."
The Caps have to ride Kolzig's back if they are to make the postseason and then advance. He has been nothing short of spectacular since he returned Dec.16 against Colorado in Denver, going 4-1-1 with a goals-against average of 1.63.
"I felt really good in there," he said of his 38-save performance Saturday night. "I was seeing the puck well. The second one [the winner], I don't know who it hit but it was a redirection through my arm. But I really felt good. We got a point and that moves us a point closer to Tampa [Bay].
"There's a better feeling in the dressing room now. We're expecting to win games now right from the start rather than feel things out as the game goes on. We're coming out with a lot more jump at the start now and that sets us up for the rest of the game."


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