- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

In an interview with Al Koken on WTEM (AM-980) last week after an embarrassing loss to St. Louis, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said, in so many words, that his players should apologize to the fans for the visible lack of effort in the second half of the game against the Blues.
Leonsis was angry, disappointed and frustrated. He wasn't happy with his team, the winner of just one of its last eight games, standing more than a half-dozen points out of the last playoff spot. During that same span, the disappointing Caps picked up only three of a possible 16 points and got outscored by a 2-to-1 margin.
"Ted's not happy, I'm not happy [and] neither are the coaches or players," said general manager George McPhee, reached yesterday in Atlanta, where he was continuing a league-wide scouting trip.
McPhee has been scouting for the past few months and will continue to do so for some time, refusing to identify his specific mission. But with the trading deadline a little more than a month away, it doesn't take a mind reader to figure one good reason for his mission.
"Performance determines everything," he said, "and people who are not performing are putting their jobs at risk."
The Caps begin a crucial series of games tonight, starting with Minnesota at home, Nashville and Tampa Bay on the road and Tampa Bay at home, followed by the Olympic break. For Washington to have anything other than the longest of long shots at a playoff berth, it has to win all four games against these three teams, all with point totals similar to the Caps' 49. The Caps also need some help.
What's at risk? Jobs, pride, the playoffs and millions of dollars, without which raises will be few this summer.
"We have a lot of talent in this room. If we come together we're going to be hard to beat," wing Ulf Dahlen said. "These four games are really, really, really important."
Others hinted at it, but Dahlen said it: The Caps "hit rock bottom" in the St. Louis game, all but surrendering after the Blues scored two in the second period to break open a close game.
"I don't want it put down that we quit," said center Adam Oates, at 39 not one of the quitters. "I want it put down that we had a tough night."
But Oates was the first to admit that there have been far too many of these "stinkers" this season.
"So I understand what Ted said. It was an awful game," Oates said. "Why? I've thought about it for a long time, and I don't know why."
The numbers the Caps have put up during this 1-6-0-1 run are depressing: The No. 1 power play in the league has connected just twice in 20 tries, the penalty-killers have allowed six goals and the Caps have been outshot in seven of the eight games while getting outscored 28-14.
"I hope the guys are starting to feel a little pressure from friends and family and start playing better and realize we are in dire straits," said goalie Olie Kolzig, who hasn't gone through a season like this since he won the starting job. "We are out of a playoff spot, and not making the playoffs is disastrous. Sometimes you don't get that feeling around here, that not making the playoffs is disastrous."
Kolzig called the second half of the St. Louis game "probably the worst half of hockey we've played all year," and there has been some bad hockey this season, which a record of 20-26-8-1 indicates.
"We need everybody in this room to play with urgency and play with the pride that goes with having a Caps jersey on," Kolzig said. "We didn't make the playoffs a couple years ago, and that was the worst summer I ever had. You have to answer [the same] questions all summer long, and it's not a good feeling.
"When you don't make the playoffs, people lose their jobs, whether it's coaches, players, your best buddy beside you who might not be here next year because changes are going to be made. That's what you have to play for, the guy next to you."
Outside the team dressing room, coach Ron Wilson was trying to come up with a new way to say the same thing he had been saying for months.
"I don't know how many times you can keep saying the next game is the most important game of the season," he said. "That's pretty obvious."
The question is, how many are listening?


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