- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

MONTREAL For whatever reason, the Washington Capitals played tentatively in the first period last night, and the struggling Montreal Canadiens sensed it. By the time the Caps started playing the way they can, they were down and unable to come back.

Thus, Washington's season-high unbeaten streak (a modest 3-0-1) and goalie Olie Kolzig's more impressive shutout streak of 164 minutes, 24 seconds came to an end. So, at least for the moment, did the four-game experiment with Plan B, wherein the Caps hope to smother the opposition and win 1-0 or 2-1.

As it was, Montreal scored twice in the second period for a 2-0 victory, giving the Caps a lesson in how the team from Washington must play on a nightly basis if it wants to win consistently.

"We played a passive road game in the first half, and I don't know why," said coach Ron Wilson. "I hope our guys don't have the impression that systems win games and hard work and skating doesn't. If you don't skate, no matter how you're playing, if the other team is winning battles and is first to the puck, you're going to struggle to get anything done."

And the Caps' struggle to stay healthy took another hit last night when Ken Klee, one of the key people who made Plan B click, sustained a muscular injury and his status for tonight is unknown. He and Sergei Gonchar were the "rovers" in Plan B, the mobile defensemen who moved into the high slot and played where centers formerly did.

On the positive side, defenseman Brendan Witt, who has missed seven games with a sprained thumb, may be ready to step back into the lineup. But Witt and Klee are not interchangeable when it comes to playing the rover position, so Wilson may be forced to find someone else to step into Klee's shoes if he can't go tomorrow night in Detroit.

After falling behind 1-0 early in the second, the Caps went back to more normal lines, but even that was hindered because Washington had only 10 forwards dressed and 12 are needed to play four lines. Matt Pettinger may also be ready to play tonight after missing two games with the flu, giving the team at least one more forward.

"We had to make do with the players we had," Wilson said. "We can't be playing conservative, we had to crank it up. We got a lot of opportunities but we weren't getting to the net, so you have to credit Montreal with boxing out and getting the job done."

The only goal that counted came when a Cap missed a defensive assignment in front and it was a very costly mistake. Andrei Markov tried to backhand a shot through Kolzig, and the big goalie turned it aside. But no one was covering former Cap Jan Bulis, and the quick little center scooped up the rebound and lifted it over the prone goaltender.

Defenseman Patrice Brisebois scored the second goal with three minutes to go in the second on a power play with a huge slap shot from the blue line that Kolzig was screened on and never picked up until it was on top of him. It was more than the Canadiens needed, as it turned out.

After the game, Chris Simon took care of some personal work and from all appearances, he enjoyed every minute of it. A shot by Simon caught a youngster on the left side of the face, blackening his left eye and opening a gash that required seven stitches to close.

The Caps gave the boy a jersey, a puck and cap and let him meet some of the players, notably Peter Bondra. The 7-year-old was at the game with his twin brother and some other friends who made the journey from Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

Simon and Bondra appeared to be having as much fun as the youngsters.

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