- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

ATLANTA Olie Kolzig took time last night to salute the Atlanta Thrashers a young and rapidly improving team, but after only 2 1/2 years of existence, still one going through the pains all expansion teams do.

As a result, the Washington Capitals defeated the Thrashers 3-0 last night, a victory that was not as easy as the score might indicate. The Caps were in a back-alley battle all night and only experience and Kolzig provided the difference.

The goalie made 27 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and the 25th of his career, statistics that he seemed to pay little heed to last night. He was more worried about what lay ahead for his struggling team, which is still three games below .500 (20-23-8).

"I've been feeling heat since Christmas time," Kolzig said, referring to the Caps being out of the playoffs if the season ended today. "Technically we're not that far behind Carolina in terms of points [56-48] compared to what we did against Florida a few years ago [when they trailed by 16 points and won].

"But we really haven't gotten on any kind of roll to give us that momentum. We come in and win three games then we lose three games. We need to start playing consistent hockey and start winning at least 60 percent of our games … if we want to get back into this. But it was a big win tonight."

Kolzig got goals from Ulf Dahlen (15th), Brendan Witt (1st) and Jaromir Jagr (16th) to take the victory. The Thrashers buzzed and competed all night, not surrendering anything. They were fighting for pride and they got it.

"We are so much better than we were before," Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said. "The guys competed hard. We had enough chances we just have to bury one of them. Tonight we had trouble moving the puck, it looked like we were stuck in sand for a while. But we have to give Washington some credit."

Jagr played his first game since he was injured Jan. 9 against Columbus and he played very well. He scored off a breakaway very late in the third period, slashing some of his old moves before burying the puck behind goalie Milan Hnilicka, who played a very strong game. Jagr gave no impression that his groin injury was still bothering him.

"My goal was to be somehow effective and not get injured," Jagr said. "I know the more games I'm going to play, my groin is going to feel stronger. Because of the long break and not skating, I just didn't want to make a bad move and pull it again. That would be the worst thing that would happen."

Also appearing strong was Dahlen, who got the game-winner 16:30 into the first period on a power play. Peter Bondra fired from the right point and Hnilicka seemed set to stop the drive, but Dahlen got the blade of his stick on it at the last second and it whizzed past the goalie.

Witt, also returning from injury, got his first of the season on a powerful drive from the left point early in the third period, with Adam Oates notching career assist 1,002.

The win gives the Caps a road record of 7-16-3, not much to brag about but ever so slowly improving. The Caps also shut the Thrashers down on all five of their power play attempts, moving Washington to 20th place in the league in penalty-killing. While that may sound dreadful, a month ago Washington was 29th and sinking.

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