- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

The strategy was to slow down the swifter, bigger St. Louis Blues by utilizing Plan B, wherein the Washington Capitals clog the middle of the ice by going with three defensemen instead of three forwards. As Red Auerbach said, the best offense is defense.

It's obvious Red Auerbach never coached hockey.

The Blues forced the Caps out of their prevent defense midway through the second period last night and rode to a routine for them 4-1 victory at MCI Center, snapping a two-game losing streak.

"I thought it couldn't get any worse, but it did tonight," said Jaromir Jagr.

Coach Ron Wilson, sick of what he has been seeing on a regular basis for most of the season, laid the blame for what has been happening at the feet of his players.

"We did play well for 25 minutes or so then it got a little bit embarrassing," he said. "We felt sorry for ourselves, hung our heads. At some point people have to stand up. We try to come up with plans every single night, and we find a way to excuse our ways out of responsibility, especially stepping on the ice and not getting the job done.

"You can work on things all you want in practice and then the game starts and 1-on-1 battles you lose, you don't win the battles in front of the net, you don't clear the puck when you should, you take a bad penalty all of the things that become a loser's mentality is us right now.

"At some point a player has to step on the ice and take charge. You have to wonder how embarrassed can you be? You want to slough off all the responsibility on me, I'll take it, that's fine, but you're a professional athlete, you're paid to perform, you're paid to compete hard and we didn't get that from everybody for the full go. We got it for part of the way until it was convenient to say we don't have it tonight or we're too far behind."

This was a showcase of opposites, teams going in different directions. It was the Blues' 11th win in their last 13 games; it was the Caps' seventh loss (one in overtime) in their last eight.

Even the power play, once the Caps' primary offensive weapon, has abandoned the team. Washington has now scored once in its last 17 chances.

Washington fell further behind in the rapidly fading playoff picture. Carolina defeated Tampa Bay last night 3-1 to move 12 points ahead of the Caps with 27 games left. The loss prevented the Lightning from closing the narrowing gap with Washington, but that barely qualifies as a bright spot.

Washington made a game of it for 30 minutes, staying within a goal of the visitors and matching them shot-for-shot. Then defenseman Sergei Gonchar, playing the rover position in Plan B, was called for holding the stick, a penalty his bench disputed and the crowd roundly booed.

Pavol Demitra scored his second of the game on the following power play, lifting the puck over the crouching Olie Kolzig, and a close contest started taking on the appearance of a rout.

St. Louis scored first, Cory Stillman connecting at 8:51 two seconds after a power play expired when his slap shot from the point hit a skate in the left circle, changed direction and squirted through Kolzig's legs.

Washington drew even at 15:53 while killing a penalty. Defenseman Frantisek Kucera picked off a pass behind his net and routed the puck to Peter Bondra. The wing passed up the boards to Colin Forbes, the puck eluding stellar Blues defenseman Chris Pronger.

Forbes broke in on a clear breakaway, softly deking left then right before lifting a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net. It was the Caps' first short-handed score of the season (they've given up four); Washington was the last team in the league to score shorthanded this season.

Demitra scored twice in the second period, Mike Eastwood scored off a partial breakaway when he blew past the Washington defense and the Caps had no answer.

Washington was awarded a power play at 17:24 of the middle period, something the Caps were beginning to think was no longer part of the game. It marked the first time since halfway through Saturday's game against the New York Rangers that Washington had been on a power play, a span of 128 minutes, 38 seconds. The Caps did not take advantage of the situation, leaving them 2-for-25 since the Florida game Jan. 12.

With Wilson back to using Plan B at least for the start, a system that utilizes eight defensemen, all the healthy scratches last night were forwards. They were left wing Ivan Ciernik and right wings Dmitri Khristich and Joe Sacco.

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