- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Robert Lang scored two goals against the New York Islanders on Sunday night that are hard to believe even when viewed on slow-motion replays.

The first was deflected by a defenseman and the goaltender before it finally found net. The second appeared to bounce off the backs of two Islanders before falling into the cage.

Blind luck? No, just a player on a hot streak, and nobody is much hotter in the NHL this season than Lang, the Washington Capitals’ first-line center.

“When it’s going in, you’ll take anything,” Lang said yesterday. “I had a couple other good chances and they didn’t go in, so you can call it even. You don’t ever count on those going in but once you’re getting the good bounces — I don’t want to jinx anything — anything can happen.”

Lang yesterday was named NHL Offensive Player of the Week for scoring four goals and eight points in four games. The honor comes after he was named the league’s best player for November, when he had 11 goals and 22 points in 14 games. Lang also was named Offensive Player of the Week once in November after scoring five goals and eight points in four games.

The 33-year-old native of the Czech Republic has been explosive all season, failing to record a point in just five of 34 games. He had one 16-game scoring streak when he put 25 points on the board; he has yet to have pointless games back-to-back.

This is Lang’s 11th NHL season, and he is off to by far his best start. His best previous season was 32-48-80 with Pittsburgh in 2000-01. He is on a pace to register more than 100 points this season, breaking his personal records for goals and assists.

He is the league’s leading scorer with 19 goals and 44 points, two points ahead of Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk. Teammate Jaromir Jagr fell into a tie for 10th place after missing several games with an injury.

“It’s something that personally I find interesting to keep track of,” Lang said of the daily statistical updates, which he admits reading. “You keep in touch, it keeps you pushing. You keep up with the leaders, anything’s possible. It’s kind of a nice little personal kind of contest.”

Lang has no theories on why he is suddenly on fire, nor do his teammates or coaches. One theory put forth was that previously he was overshadowed by a dominating center, such as Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh. This season he was clearly the No.1 center from the start of the season.

“It’s pretty hard to be the front guy when they’ve had players like they had in Pittsburgh,” said Caps coach Glen Hanlon. “The other thing is that Robert is a lot better player now than he was when he played earlier in his career. He has continually improved.”

Lang has played most of the season with Jagr on the right and Kip Miller, who jokingly takes all credit for his center’s success, on the left.

As for impossible shots finding pay dirt, Hanlon feels the puck follows players on a streak.

“When you are on a roll, you certainly want the puck, you seem to play with a little more confidence and that breeds success,” the coach said.

Notes — The Caps should catch a tired Montreal team tonight at MCI. The Canadiens played Pittsburgh last night at home, then flew to Washington. … Caps center Michael Nylander, out all season with a broken leg, skated before practice. One team official said he could be back as soon as two weeks. Hanlon said he already revamped lines charted out in his head but refused to disclose the makeup. …

Defenseman Brendan Witt, out since Dec.8 with a shoulder injury, rejoined practice yesterday with plenty of spark and jump; it was obvious he missed being out with the boys on the ice. “It got to the point where I had to tell him to take it easy,” Hanlon said. Witt is expected to be out until Saturday night’s home game against Buffalo.

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