- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

DETROIT Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson wore a very important piece of jewelry last night, the Stanley Cup ring his late father won as a member of the Detroit Red Wings' 1949-50 championship team. He was hoping it would bring his team some luck against the current Wings.

And the Caps played very well against the top team in the NHL, but very well isn't good enough against the best home team in the league. Detroit pushed across three goals on deflections and won 3-1, sending the undermanned Caps to their second straight loss.

"It was 2-1, right were we wanted to be, going into the third period and we had a bad break on a goal with a double deflection and that sealed our fate," Wilson said. "It was bad luck but our guys competed hard against a lineup that includes nine guys who eventually will be in the Hall of Fame. Now we have to find a way to come back [tonight against Vancouver]."

It lowered Washington's road record to 6-16-3, but this was no embarrassment as some of the other 15 losses have been. The Caps were competitive from the start, but were so worried about not making defensive errors that the offense suffered as a result. Washington has scored just three goals in its last four games, not much support for goalie Olie Kolzig.

Wilson said before the game that Washington had to generate some offense through the power play, but the Caps did not. They had only three, and one of those was cut to 20 seconds by a penalty.

The Caps' roster is starting to look like Gallery Place at rush hour, with players coming and going in different directions and even positions starting to get lost in the shuffle. Only the goalies are assured they won't end up as somebody's left wing.

Last night 11 forwards and seven defensemen dressed, and Wilson went back to a system with normal lines and defensive pairs, the latter usually remaining together but the personnel on the lines changing almost shift to shift. Centers Adam Oates and Andrei Nikolishin were double-shifted among wings that remained paired.

What it is not is a system that can be played successfully for any period of time, short or long term. With schedules already compressed and most teams playing virtually every other day, fatigue is bound to catch up quickly and turn decent teams into non-competitive mobs.

Detroit's Luc Robitaille got his 16th goal of the season in typical fashion, deflecting someone else's work past goalies. In this case, the left wing had his back to Kolzig in a group in front of the goalie, stuck his stick out and deflected a drive by Kirk Maltby just 1:50 into the game.

Near the midway point of the first period, Chris Chelios was called for interference, and the Caps were on a power play. It paid off and in a hurry. Ulf Dahlen passed to Oates, who fed the puck hash mark to hash mark to Peter Bondra, and the wing one-timed it past Dominik Hasek for his 25th of the season and league-leading 13th power play score to tie the game.

It stayed tied until the final minute of the opening period, when Detroit converted off another deflection. This time center Pavel Datsyuk passed out from below the goal line to Brett Hull, who was also guarded in front of Kolzig but nonetheless got the puck redirected and through the goalie.

"We got an excellent effort," Wilson said. "It was 1-1 and we finished a penalty kill but we didn't finish the rest of the [first] period without making a huge mistake. That's one of those where you look back and instead of it being 1-1 it's 2-1. You're fighting from behind for the rest of the game."

Robitaille's goal early in the first period was the 611th of his lengthy career, the most by a left wing in NHL history. He had been tied with the Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, at 610. Later in the same period Hull's son Brett, a right wing, scored the 665th of his career. The senior Hull was at the game.

Meanwhile, the Caps were down to no healthy scratches, every available able body on the ice. Ken Klee and Jaromir Jagr, both sidelined with groin problems, are short-term scratches, while Jeff Halpern (knee) has joined Calle Johansson (rotator cuff) and Steve Konowalchuk (shoulder surgery) as long-term scratches.

Two players returned from injuries last night, defenseman Brendan Witt out seven games with a sprained right thumb, and wing Ulf Dahlen, out 13 of the last 14 games with a bruised instep. Dahlen had an assist on Bondra's score in the first period, the 600th point of the Swede's career.

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