- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

For a long time during yesterday's practice the Washington Capitals' first and second power play units drilled, doing both 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 routines. There hasn't been much punch to the power play lately.
Yesterday was more of the same as goalie Olie Kolzig was pretty close to perfect during the drill. Hard work didn't have much to do with it; bad shooting coupled with good defense did.
Practice went on for a little more than an hour, but it was what followed that was significant.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, animated as he tried to make his points, and right wing Jaromir Jagr, who was just as adamant, were locked in a conversation that saw the two men shift to different spots on the Piney Orchard ice surface as various points were discussed.
The discussion focused on how to get into the offensive zone in order to put the power play to work. Washington has struggled since the season started trying to get set up. There have been nights when half the advantage is wasted before the team even can get to the red line.
"We're not scoring a lot from [the first] line, our top offensive line, so we're just looking for ideas to try to get it going a bit," Cassidy said of his conversation with Jagr.
The power play unit worked more smoothly earlier in the season and led the league in efficiency. It slowly faded as a force and has dropped to 14th in the 30-team league as other teams found ways to thwart the Caps before they could get started.
What Cassidy did early on was give the team's more skilled players a high degree of freedom to operate as they pleased. Not wanting to stifle creativity, he allowed them to improvise. Jagr, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Robert Lang, Michael Nylander it's a scary unit that should strike fear into opposing team's penalty killers.
Yet it wasn't operating as a unit. It was having trouble working its way down the ice to get into position. It was efficient once it gained the zone but getting there was the problem.
"We're just trying to get them on the same page," Cassidy said. "When things aren't going well, guys get frustrated. We're just trying to correct that. Sometimes you talk it out with each guy, different guys, all together, try different ways until you come to a resolution."
Said Jagr: "We're having a tough time getting in the zone. If we have a good breakout, then we can spend a lot more time in the [offensive] zone and you don't spend that much energy chasing the puck. When we get there, we're OK, but we got to get there first."
Cassidy indicated he might have to rein in some of his offensive stars, at least on the power play, in order to get it to work cohesively.
"Instead of saying, 'Because they're highly skilled guys, let them do their own thing,' let's put a plan in place and then if there's an adjustment we need to make, we'll do it," Cassidy said. "I still think creative players need to have freedom to be creative, and that will never change. But "
The power play isn't the only time the units have had trouble coming together. The first line currently Dainius Zubrus with Lang and Jagr has not been a major force as a unit, nor has the second line (Bondra, Nylander and Andreas Salomonsson). The Caps have 35 goals this season, but only 19 have come at even strength a paltry sum from a team that figured to be an offensive powerhouse.
"We've got to find one way that will work for everybody," Jagr said. "If everybody feels comfortable, then we'll do it. But nothing is guaranteed; other teams watch tapes and when they see something they adjust, too."

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