- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. It was bad at the beginning, bad in the middle and bad at the end.

The Washington Capitals apparently did not pay attention to the NHL standings that showed that Tampa Bay was the last undefeated team in the league. They apparently did not read the press clipping that told how teams had better get to the Lightning early or they might not do it at all.

The Caps played loosely and without much discipline last night, allowing the Lightning to do pretty much as they desired while defeating Washington 3-2 at St. Pete Times Forum.

Tampa Bay moved its record to 5-0-2, the club's best start ever. The Lightning also broke a nine-game winless streak (0-8-1) against the Caps that dated back to Nov.5, 2000. It was just Tampa Bay's second win against Washington in their last 16 games.

Washington fell to 4-3 and 3-3 on the road with two stops to go before the team finally returns to MCI Center.

How did it happen? Washington gave the Lightning five power-play opportunities in the first period, and twice Tampa Bay had two-man advantages (converting on one of them). The Caps missed defensive assignments en masse and for the fourth time in six games allowed the opposition to get more than 16 first-period shots against the goalie.

How did it happen? Washington had a two-man advantage of its own in the first period for 59 seconds and forced Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to make just two stops. The Caps took only nine shots, none in the first five minutes.

It was a game in which Tampa Bay was trying to prove something to itself, its fans and observers around the league that it belonged, that it was no longer the laughingstock franchise that once played its games in a baseball stadium. It was a game the Lightning apparently wanted a lot more than the Caps.

"I don't know what's the matter with the guys in the room when they can't get fired up to play for first place," said Caps coach Bruce Cassidy, obviously losing patience with a lot of the sloppy play. "I don't know if guys are not used to it or if they think it's no big deal or what. To come out like that playing for first place, we've been on the road for a long time making a pretty good showing of ourselves. It's unbelievable. I don't have the answer right now."

The damage started midway through the first period when Vincent Lecavalier glanced a shot off Chris Dingman's skate and past Olie Kolzig.

Inside the next minute, Sylvain Cote, playing his first game of the season for Washington, and Brendan Witt both took penalties, giving Tampa Bay a 93-second 5-on-3 advantage. It took Dave Andreychuk only seven seconds to put the puck behind Kolzig after Kip Miller missed him standing at the back door.

The backbreaker came just 1:21 into the second when Miller turned the puck over and the Lightning wasted no time converting. Miller had tried to pass behind him, but only one Cap was there. Tampa Bay had Kolzig turning somersaults trying to stay in position before Fredrik Modin beat him for a 3-0 lead.

Jaromir Jagr, playing his best hockey as a Cap, got one back halfway through the second when he took a nice feed from Miller and chipped a shot over Khabibulin's glove for his sixth of the season. Miller scored with 37 seconds left to make the final score 3-2, but it was too little, too late.

"[Jagr] wants it," Cassidy said. "He's out there trying to be a leader on the ice. I think Olie's done that since Day1, but some other guys have got to start cranking it up in the first period. They can't rely on those two guys to go out every night and carry the team. They're certainly expected to be our leaders on the ice, but we need some other guys to get going.

"These penalties, these turnovers and all that other stuff, it's got to stop if we're going to be any good," the coach continued. "We're going to be mediocre if we don't come ready to play and if we take selfish and lazy penalties. That's what we'll be. It might be good enough to make the playoffs, I don't know. We're not going to be a good club if we don't rectify the situation."

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