- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

The Washington Capitals are coming off their biggest victory of the season, a sound 4-1 triumph over Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. The win showed what had been expected all along that there was talent aplenty in the dressing room and a very good team would emerge if the Caps played like a team.
The Caps play host to Atlanta tonight, the only home game for Washington in the middle of seven road games that will take the team from Buffalo to Anaheim and a few spots in between. The last time the Caps played Atlanta, the Thrashers scored in the final 64 seconds to win 5-4.
Washington has won back-to-back games only twice this season, the last time in early November when it posted three straight victories.
"I'm going to show a few clips of the Pittsburgh game to reinforce that this is the way we need to play if we want to win," coach Bruce Cassidy said. He added that revenge should not be a motive against Atlanta, no matter what happened the last time the teams met.
"I don't care if we're playing Philadelphia, Buffalo, Dallas, whatever. We can't be worried about what the opposition is doing," Cassidy said. "We can study the way they do things on the power play, stuff like that, but we have to worry about ourselves, the way we need to play."
Goalie reunion
Tonight will be a return to where it all started for Atlanta goalie Byron Dafoe, an unrestricted free agent who signed with the Thrashers less than two weeks ago. Dafoe played last night in Boston, the team he rejected to test free agency. He was drafted by the Caps one round after they selected Olie Kolzig.
The two toiled together for years in the minors, both becoming stars at that level, each getting occasional cups of coffee with the Caps and becoming best of friends. But they were separated in July 1995, when Dafoe rejected a Washington contract offer and was traded to Los Angeles.
Defenseman on hand
It has been no secret that Caps management has been unhappy with the overall performance of the defense this season, and general manager George McPhee has gone on record saying he is looking to make a trade, not so much to shake things up but to find a defenseman who can protect Olie Kolzig as the goalie deserves.
In fact, such a player already may be on the team. Jason Doig played his first game of the season for the Caps on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. He was plus-2 defensively and assisted on a goal, both of which are positives, but more importantly he used his body to get people out of Kolzig's crease and to punish those who attempted to come calling.
That's what the Caps and Kolzig have been looking for and not getting from the defensive corps this season. The knock against Doig, 25, has been that he has a tendency to turn the puck over at most inopportune times. It's sort of like having a great running back who fumbles.
If Doig can play more responsibly with the puck, there is a place for him. The Caps undoubtedly will make room if he shows he can be the player they want. A roster spot will open soon when rookie Steve Eminger reports to the Canadian national team for the World Junior Championships, and another should be available as the club seems intent on converting Alex Henry into a forward.
Everyone healthy
For the first time since the Thrashers game in Atlanta last Sunday, the Caps have nobody suffering from a mysterious stomach virus that went through the team. Defenseman J.F. Fortin was hit the hardest and will miss at least three games, including tonight's. "He looked white as a ghost, but he made it through practice," Cassidy said of his young defenseman.
Atlanta goalie discarded
Atlanta goalie Milan Hnilicka, who gave the Caps fits every time he faced them (2-2-2 for an expansion team), became the odd man out Wednesday.
With the Thrashers not performing well in front of him, he started the season 0-9-0 with a saves percentage of .882. After Atlanta signed Dafoe, Hnilicka became expendable and was sent to the minors when he went unclaimed on waivers. His record was only part of the problem; he was due to make $1.2million this season, three times what backups get in the NHL.

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