- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

CHICAGO The Washington Capitals are 16 games into the season and the one thing that figured never to be a problem is killing them.
The Caps, with more offense than some countries, are averaging barely two goals a game. They have scored 36 goals, getting more than two only four times. Championships are not won in such a manner.
Dainius Zubrus, who originally had been projected as the first-line center then became the left wing with the first unit, was demoted to the fourth line Wednesday night during Washington's embarrassing 6-1 loss to Dallas. His place was taken by Kip Miller, the opportunistic and versatile forward who seems to survive in the NHL on pure smarts.
But it is not right to blame Washington's offensive problems on the hulking Zubrus. Only six players have more than one goal, while Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra have 17 between them, almost half the team's total.
"It's game 17 in Chicago [tonight], he [was] on our top line and he hasn't scored, so it's time to give someone else a chance," coach Bruce Cassidy said of Zubrus after practice. "We need more out of him, plain and simple. I think your confidence is kind of diminished when you don't score for that long and you're a forward, and I think it's affected the rest of his game.
"We need to get something out of him, whether it's penalty-kill or more physical play. So we'll change his role a little bit, put him where there's less pressure and see if that helps."
The Zubrus move might be just the first in an effort to get things moving at a faster clip. The nine defensemen who have played show a combined one goal and 16 assists. Take away Sergei Gonchar's contribution and the other eight have no goals and six assists.
"You always have to work on your puck skills," said Cassidy. "It was just a little something different, and I happened to get involved today. We worked on moving the puck quicker, getting it to the net, just handling it. Teams with a defense that handles the puck tend to limit [opponents] shots on goal, so this will be a yearlong project. We've got some young guys back there, and we have to work on their puck skills."
Without Gonchar's offensive tendencies in the mix, the Caps' defenders have taken only 55 shots on goal, less than Bondra (62) or Jagr (79).
"You can't get on our defensemen for not scoring goals," said Cassidy, a former offensive defenseman. "That's tough, especially guys who historically aren't good scorers. Even Calle [Johansson] doesn't score much now. He did years ago, but he's more of a playmaker now, moves the puck well."
One player who won't be scoring or defending tonight in Chicago and tomorrow night in St. Paul, Minn., is defenseman Brendan Witt. He had another examination yesterday on his bruised shoulder, and it was determined he would not be available until next week at the earliest.
"The MRI didn't show anything we didn't know was already there," said general manager George McPhee, who wouldn't say much about what the problem was except that nothing was broken.
Notes Cassidy said a team meeting was held yesterday morning but nothing out of the ordinary. "It was our weekly video session. We looked at some things we didn't do right against Dallas and some things we didn't do right against Philadelphia," he said. … Gonchar missed practice yesterday, Cassidy saying the defenseman was sore but would be ready for the Blackhawks tonight. …
The coach said he wasn't sure where or if Alex Henry would play. The Caps are trying to convert the mammoth (6-foot-6, 225) player from a defenseman to a wing, as they have done with others. He took shifts both as a defenseman and wing against Dallas and did not disgrace himself in his old position. He certainly was ready to stand up for teammates and become physically involved.


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