- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

OTTAWA The Washington Capitals ended the first half of the season on a losing note last night, which also cost them still another chance to reached the .500 mark that seems so elusive.

Washington played a pretty decent first period at Corel Centre then slowly melted away as Ottawa trapped the Caps to death, 4-1, the visitors paying too much respect to the Senators' speed and getting burned in the process.

Even worse, the Caps may have lost their top physical defenseman, a determination that won't be known until today. Brendan Witt was at a local hospital last night having his left forearm and hand X-rayed to determine how much additional damage was done when he aggravated a previous injury 15 minutes into the second period.

The loss left the Caps 16-18-7 after the first 41 games of the season, unable to mount any consistent charge toward the front end of the standings, plodding around the breakeven point or a few games under it for the first half.

Even worse is the team's performance away from MCI Center. The Caps finished the first half with a road record of 5-13-3, outscored by 26 goals. Washington has won only two road games since the third week of October.

The Caps were badly outshot from the start last night but were in the hunt until Marian Hossa scored late in the third period to boost Ottawa back into a three-goal lead. But the Senators rarely give up a lead at home and last night was no exception.

Some of the players, wing Chris Simon in particular, called the loss "an embarrassment," a continuation of the lackluster play by the team. Coach Ron Wilson did not go that far.

"It wasn't embarrassing," he said. "We made some simple mistakes against a team that you don't make those mistakes against. You can't turn the puck over in the neutral zone and our defensemen were too respectful of their speed. They didn't tighten up the gap and you give them lots of room through the neutral zone and they're going to make you pay for it."

Magnus Arvedson scored twice, his first goals since October. Daniel Alfredsson, who will also team with Arvedson on the Swedish Olympic team, scored the other Ottawa goal.

Jaromir Jagr had the lone Caps goal, scoring five minutes into the third period off a nifty blind feed from Adam Oates. It was Jagr's 14th of the season, keeping goalie Jani Hurme from recording his third shutout.

Washington plays the Bruins in Boston tomorrow afternoon, not a pleasurable assignment for any team but especially uninviting for the Caps with their road woes piling up.

"You've got to bounce back and play just a tad smarter," Wilson said. "We got to get the puck in deep and forecheck. You can't turn it over in the neutral zone. The first two goals were essentially turnovers and the third goal, we allowed them to come up and gain the zone and didn't really challenge the shooter. … Their speed, we just couldn't handle it."

Everything Wilson said at the end was the same thing his players were saying about themselves, about another embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Wilson used seven defensemen instead of the normal six for the second game in a row. Center Trent Whitfield and right wing Joe Sacco were healthy scratches, wing Ulf Dahlen (bruised foot) the only short-term injury scratch.

It turned out to be a good thing Wilson had the extra defender dressed, considering the injury to Witt.

As promised, Wilson inserted forwards almost by designed whim, doubleshifting the players who you would figure would get extra ice time Jagr, Peter Bondra, Oates while occasionally throwing role players out for extra time.

The Corel Centre sellout crowd was entertained very early in the game when Ottawa's Chris Neil and the Caps' Stephen Peat went toe-to-toe for more than a minute. Peat let Neil get the upper hand shortly after the bout started but then started connecting with a series of left hands that had the Senator hanging on. Officials stopped it before serious damage was done.

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