- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

Last night wasn't a game that was going to be halted when time expired it was going to be decided when the officials' whistles wore out.
Washington stumbled and bumbled and Nashville matched every misstep until the Predators finally committed one bad move too many, and it cost them the game.
The Capitals opened the season by defeating Nashville 5-4 before an announced crowd of 17,101. The crowd at MCI Center actually seemed slightly smaller, but some fans may have been frightened away by the sniper attacks.
The Pittsburgh connection Robert Lang, Kip Miller and Jaromir Jagr scored with a two-man advantage at 18:56 of the third period, boosting Washington to the victory. It was a game in which neither team led by more than a goal despite dozens of opportunities.
Perhaps it was simply a case of opening night jitters for both clubs. The penalty boxes were rarely empty, with parades from both teams; Nashville was called for 11 infractions, the Caps 10. The Predators scored two power-play goals, Washington three, and the last one was the difference.
It nearly didn't end there. Nashville challenged the legality of Jagr's stick after the Caps' final goal went in, and the challenge was upheld. But all that did was even the sides, with Nashville still down a man after Lang poked home the goal.
"It's too long a season to dwell on things we could do better," said Caps coach Bruce Cassidy, who got his first NHL win. "I'll talk to the guys about that, but that's what I told them after the game [wins] are just too hard to come by.
"It didn't look great early, then we got going, then we're in the lead, then we're not. Ultimately, we won the game, and I'm never disappointed when we win a game."
Neither was the crowd. The game might have been a typically sloppy opening night performance, but it certainly was exciting nonetheless. The teams jockeyed back and forth for the lead, then took turns failing to convert on great opportunities.
"I watched a bit of games this week, and you see a lot of penalties called, so we know it was coming," Cassidy said. "We talked about [how] you just have to have better discipline, and you're going to have to use body position better. That's just the way it's going to be. Teaching old dogs new tricks is never easy and players will adjust. They will."
Three Washington players had three-point nights. Peter Bondra had two goals and an assist, Jagr had a goal and two assists and Miller had three assists.
The Predators were a typical Barry Trotz-coached team: honest, hard-working and never giving an inch without a struggle. What the Predators lack in talent they make up for in desire.
For instance, midway through the opening period while on a power play, Nashville spread the Caps' defense wider than it prefers. The penalty-killing is designed to be a mobile but tight box, one that can slide side to side as a unit to thwart advances and close off things like back-door plays.
But if the defense abandons the box, openings pop up. That happened when right wing Vladimir Orszagh found defenseman Andy Delmore open as he came in from the left point. Kolzig made a valiant dive to block the side, but it was too late to prevent the only score of the first period.
Less than a minute into the second period Jagr anticipated a rebound while the Caps were on a power play and scooted in from the right boards. He got there just in time to belt Bondra's rebound past Mike Dunham to tie the game.
Four minutes later Orszagh was back on Kolzig's doorstep on another Predators power play. This time he hammered a rebound through the goalie's legs, and it appeared Kolzig got it. But the puck trickled through and just made it over the line, putting Nashville in front.
Bondra's first was a backdoor play with the puck glancing off Dunham's arm, a 5-on-3 power play that knotted the score at 2-2.
Notes David Poile, the Caps' general manager for 15 seasons and now the Predators' GM, spent yesterday and last night visiting with friends in the area. Last night was the only time this season the two teams will meet. The Caps play the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y., tonight, the first of eight straight road games.



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