- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The NHL yesterday announced the names that will appear on the ballot when fans choose the starters for this season's All-Star Game. Five members of the Washington Capitals are up for consideration on the Eastern Conference side, which begs the question: With five potential All-Stars, what is this team doing in fourth place in the Southeast Division?
Why, with enough firepower to sink the Bismarck all over again, is this team 13th in scoring in the 15-team conference?
And how can a team with this much offensive talent be averaging just 1.78 goals a game over the last nine games? How can this team be winless in four, outscored 14-7?
Lousy defense, that's how.
"Yes," said defenseman Calle Johansson yesterday. "Every team in the league has to think that way. Defense, that's why great offensive teams win."
Johansson's opinion has to be given much credence because he has been in the league since the days of sticks with straight blades. He pointed out, accurately, that the Detroit teams of the '80s and early '90s were very good teams but not great ones, not champions, until they learned to play a little defense.
"They started thinking defense first, and look what happened," Johansson said. "[They became] a great team instead of a good team. We have to do that, too. We have all the offensive tools there are. If we just think defense, protect our own end first, goals are going to happen for us."
Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar and Jaromir Jagr are the skaters on the ballot for the Caps, along with goalie Olie Kolzig. Among them, they have 13 of Washington's 21 goals and all four goaltending victories.
The dressing room was almost normal yesterday after practice, nobody really wanting to bring up the Boston massacre of the previous night. But coach Bruce Cassidy finally did.
"Our play away from the puck has started to stray in terms of protecting the scoring area," he said, mentioning only one of a multitude of sins the Caps committed in the 7-2 drubbing. "We allowed goals that I think are preventable. "
Part of the Caps' current problem is that they are integrating Cassidy's system into the remnants of former coach Ron Wilson's system while some players are trying to forget what they were taught to do elsewhere in certain situations.
"It's sort of mixing the new with the old and blending everything," said Lang, the Pittsburgh Penguins refugee. "It's a transition. Right now we have to get into our minds that even if we get behind by a couple goals, it's no big deal. We can definitely score two in one period or two in 10 minutes, maybe five minutes. We've had plenty of chances and opportunities to score, we just have to loosen up a bit, go out and do it."
But, Cassidy said, that has been the problem. The Caps have been getting down by two and have been unable to come back. Games they have lost have been winnable, but the team at the moment is snakebit. There was a shooting game in practice yesterday and backup goalie Sebastien Charpentier won, stopping eight of the 12 shooters.
"[Wednesday night] wasn't as bad from watching the tape as every one makes it out to be," said Cassidy. "We had 27 scoring chances but we're really struggling to find the back of the net, and that affects our defense. You don't score and you start cheating [defensively], getting away from what you're supposed to do. It's our starts, turnovers, lack of urgency, that stuff."
Washington gets a chance immediately to see if anything was learned, playing three division leaders in a row. Tampa Bay is at MCI Center tonight, with Washington at Philadelphia tomorrow and at Columbus on Tuesday.

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