- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said yesterday there is more than enough blame for poor play to be shared by all parties on the team. To make sure the point wasn't missed, McPhee called up three players from the minors who will immediately replace veterans in the lineup.
Scheduled to play tonight at home against Columbus are center Colin Forbes and defensemen J.F. Fortin and Todd Rohloff. All three were recalled yesterday from the Portland (Maine) Pirates of the American Hockey League.
Washington has lost three in a row and six of its last nine while slipping four games under .500 (16-20-7). Poor defensive play and the inability of goaltending to steal a game for the struggling team have contributed to the club's record, along with a dismal 5-14-3 mark on the road.
But McPhee refused to put the blame solely on the defense or the goaltending, saying the loss of four key players and the inability of their replacements to get the job done have resulted in the Caps trailing Southeast Division leader Carolina by 11 points.
"Every player has to be good on both sides of the puck and our defense isn't totally to blame here," McPhee said. "We have forwards who have missed assignments and turned the puck over, we have defensemen who have struggled and our goaltending hasn't been where we want it. To point fingers at the blueliners only is wrong. Some have struggled, clearly …
"My disappointment is with the players who have been in the lineup. We were expecting more from some other people. There's been more ice time opportunities for people and they haven't done a good enough job to fill these holes."
Missing long term are the team's top two defensive players, Calle Johansson and Steve Konowalchuk; missing short term are Brendan Witt and Ulf Dahlen.
"The fact is, we're banged up," McPhee answered when asked why the team has slumped so badly. "We have four very good players out of our lineup and the difference between where we are this year and where we were last year is nine points. Those four players, if they were healthy all the way through, make up those nine points and then some."
What is indisputable is the defense has become very slow because of age (the average age of the six who played against Florida is 32.3), and the opposition is taking advantage. Veterans Joe Reekie and Rob Zettler are scheduled to sit tonight so Rohloff and Fortin can step in. Forbes will center the fourth line in an effort to gain more speed there.
"We're trying to get a little bit more mobile on the blue line," said coach Ron Wilson. "It's been a problem. It's hurt our offense at times and it's certainly hurt us defensively. Giving a couple guys an opportunity who have done well in the minors is something that is inevitable when you're not putting points up on the board. That's part of the game at some point you have to move on. If these guys can get the job done, then it's better for our team. If not, then we have to look at … other people. And maybe in some instances it's a wakeup call."
Fortin was drafted high (35th overall) by the Caps in 1997 but has developed slowly as a pro until the last year. Rohloff was signed as a free agent two years ago and figured to make a strong impression in training camp but broke a leg and tore ankle ligaments when a skate got caught in a rut while he was getting in shape for the season.
This will be Forbes' fifth NHL team. He was out of hockey early in the season until he was picked up by Portland and was signed to an NHL contract yesterday. He has been a wing most of his career but the Caps are trying to convert him into a center because he is an excellent skater.
Wilson also said yesterday that Olie Kolzig is still experiencing trouble with an ankle he injured in December and the team is trying to give him some extra time off to allow the injury to heal. He also has some statistics that are foreign to him a goals-against of 3.00 and a saves percentage of .897.
"Olie's kind of bothered a little bit by that earlier problem," Wilson said. "If it's bothering him, then it's a problem. This might be just what he needed, a couple days to not feel the heat of playing and to get reorganized. I'd like to see him be ready to play but intellectually you've got to help him get a break so that he can do the job when [the injury is] not on his mind."


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