- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

By the time the Washington Capitals finish their eight-game road trip, they will have a much better idea of their postseason chances and will know for sure what their roster will be for the rest of the season.
Washington plays at San Jose tonight with some players vying for jobs. The trading deadline is 3 p.m. Tuesday, and whether the Caps are buyers or sellers might well depend on the next two days.
The Caps are in a tight race for the lower Eastern Conference playoff berths. Although the next few days probably won't determine the postseason picture, it could give management an idea of which direction the team is going in.
There are three possibilities. If the Caps look like they will make a legitimate push for the playoffs, the front office may try to plug some of the holes, such as at center and on defense. If it appears the team is heading for the tank, management may try to trade some of the senior citizens and cut payroll at the same time. If the picture is as murky Tuesday as it is now, the club may play a pat hand.
Posing questions in that vein irritated players and coach Ron Wilson yesterday, but, as all admit, the current situation has come about because of less than responsible play for a good portion of the season.
Asked whether his team is playing for jobs, Wilson replied, "No, I don't look at it that way. We're playing to try to make the playoffs that's what this is all about. We're not thinking about what could happen or what the possibilities are or whether somebody is retiring if they don't play well. Our focus is on winning the next game and doing what we have to do to make the playoffs."
That might depends on what other teams New Jersey, the New York Rangers, Montreal, Buffalo and Pittsburgh do. It appears the Caps will have to win 10 of their remaining 15 games, but that still might not be enough. Among those teams only the Caps and Devils have winning records in their last 10 games.
"You can't say if we don't win these next two games that my best buddy is going to be gone," said goalie Olie Kolzig, arguing that there is enough pressure on everybody in the room already. "You've got to go out and concentrate on doing your job as best you can. Playoff hockey is just elevating your game a little more, limiting mistakes. That's the way we need to play."
Washington does have one plus going for it: Everybody who is going to be available for the rest of the season is healthy. But even that didn't put Wilson is a good mood for long.
"At this point in the season, you've played a lot of games, you haven't had much time off, and especially going on a road trip you have to make sure you get the right rest," he said. "When you get a little bit tired, injuries have a way of cropping up. You want everybody to give 110 percent when you play, but injuries are inevitable. We're as healthy as we're going to be starting the road trip, but you can almost guarantee there will be casualties along the way."

Notes The last time the Caps took off for eight straight road games, the club went 2-6 but was outscored only 14-11. The Caps hit the road for six straight last season and went 5-0-1. … Wilson said he hadn't made his mind up on the rotation but backup goalie Craig Billington would see some action during the trip. There are two back-to-back series, including tonight in San Jose and tomorrow night in Edmonton, and Billington might be used to spell Kolzig.


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