- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Coach Ron Wilson had a message for his Washington Capitals yesterday: work hard or get lost. The message got through clearly; the effect won't be known until tomorrow afternoon against the Rangers in New York.
Following Wednesday's mind-numbing 5-3 loss to Montreal in which the Canadiens rallied three times from deficits, Wilson didn't even attempt to disguise yesterday's practice as a conditioning drill. This was a message skate, pure and simple.
"We didn't finish the game [Wednesday] night, so we'll practice hard," he said. "If we're not going to get the job done on the ice when it really counts, we'll skate hard."
And they did for an hour, after which an angry Wilson was in an unusually frank mood, pinpointing the reasons Washington was beaten by a team it is supposedly trying to knock aside to gain a playoff berth.
"The defense has to clear the front of the net, the team has to clear the puck out of our zone, we have to play smarter, not get caught deep, know how to forecheck, not get trapped up the ice, not look up in the third period and say, 'We've got the lead; the game is over.' No excuses," he said.
Wilson zeroed in specifically on players who come out of games almost nightly with minus defensive ratings, players he said are not performing well enough defensively for their team to win games. Against the Canadiens, 11 of the 18 skaters were minus defensively, with three Sergei Gonchar, Jaromir Jagr and Dmitri Khristich on the ice for at least two goals against.
He was critical of the defensive corps, which has been unable to keep the crease free of the opposition all season. Sylvain Cote (minus-20), Gonchar (minus-8) and Brendan Witt (minus-8) are the veterans with the worst defensive ratings. Joe Reekie, traded last week, was minus-7, while Rob Zettler, Frank Kucera and Ken Klee are all plus defensively.
"If you come out of a game and you're a minus that night, you didn't get the job done it's that simple," Wilson said. "If you score two goals and you're minus-1, something's wrong, and until we get that through our heads, we're not going to be consistent. We have to be sure if we come out of a game individually even. But if you come out of a game and our top people are minus, we're losing the game."
Wilson reiterated that scoring is not the problem; stopping the opposition is the obstacle preventing the Caps from advancing.
"You have to be brain-dead not to see we've got important people out of the lineup, so we can't do certain things," he said. "We can't expose ourselves, we can all work a little harder and get the job done defensively. In professional sports, playing defense is a test of your character. Anybody can play defense; not everybody can play offense. That's all we ask: batten down the hatches when people are missing and get the job done defensively. You don't deserve to play if you can't do that."
Notes Center/wing Dainius Zubrus (bruised foot) skated freely yesterday and may be back for the Rangers game. He said he was surprised how good his foot felt after staying off it for one game. … Klee's strained groin "hasn't improved as rapidly as we hoped," Wilson said, but he will try to skate today. … Center Adam Oates was given the day off to rest.
"It's nice to get those [injured] guys back, but we still have to get the job done defensively," Wilson said. "There needs to be a little more peer pressure about getting the job done. You should look to each other for accountability."

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