- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

The Washington Capitals will make a few more cuts today, bringing the training camp roster to about 55. Coach Bruce Cassidy wants to be at about 30 by the time the team leaves for Dallas and a week of intense drills on the road.

The team leaves Sunday afternoon for Texas, meaning those on the bubble have about 72 hours to change impressions and improve their positioning, or play themselves off the roster.

There are three exhibition games between now and the time the club departs for Dallas, starting with the Philadelphia Flyers at MCI Center tonight. The Caps play the Boston Bruins in Manchester, N.H., tomorrow night and play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Cassidy won't let any individual Cap play in all three games.

There are some spots that have been locked up since April. Stars Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Witt and Olie Kolzig have no worries, but there are plenty of positions where no decision has been made, where nobody has jumped out, where no pecking order has been established.

"I just want to see where we're at as a team," Cassidy said of tonight's encounter with the Flyers. "We want to see how the chemistry develops; we'll have Peter Bondra with Robert Lang. We'll want to evaluate a few guys for sure who are on the bubble. There are some young guys competing on defense."

That's where the openings are at the moment. Rookie Steve Eminger has unexpectedly jumped ahead of some of the competition to establish himself as a contender to make the team at age 18, but others, players with more experience, appear to be holding back.

"Right now we just have a collective group where no one has separated themselves from the pack, which is a little odd this far into camp," Cassidy said. "To me the one guy who has jumped out is Eminger, but that's probably more because of his age and we didn't expect it. Hopefully after this weekend we can say, 'Yeah, this guy's a little more ready.'"

Three veterans are gone from last season's defense Joe Reekie, Rob Zettler and Frank Kucera and a fourth, Calle Johansson, may not be medically fit to start the season because of rehab following shoulder surgery. Sergei Gonchar, Ken Klee, Witt and Sylvain Cote will be there at the end, but who fills out the other spots on defense is unknown.

"Whoever it is who plays is going to be young and he's going to have to keep it simple," Cassidy said. "You don't just jump in and start doing things that put your team at risk. [The veterans] know what they can get away with but the other guys don't want to screw up as much as anything. That's normal, that's nerves and that's OK because at some point we'll get the point across to just relax and play."

The makings of the club's projected top two lines are scheduled to be in action tonight. Kip Miller will center Chris Simon and Jagr while Lang will center Bondra and Ivan Ciernik.

Notes A source said there was no contact again yesterday between the club and agents for Andrei Nikolishin and Dainius Zubrus. The two center-wings have been holding out since camp opened. There had been slight progress between the team and Zubrus earlier, but nothing in the past few days. Tickets are still available for the game tonight and Saturday.

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