- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Washington Capitals are the living embodiment of the motto of Roseanne Roseannadanna, the character played by the late Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live.” As Roseanne would say, “It’s always something.”

Washington could score under former coach Bruce Cassidy but couldn’t stop the opposition. And now that the Caps have responded somewhat to new coach Glen Hanlon’s emphasis on defense, they’ve stopped scoring. After scoring 12 goals in Hanlon’s first three games, the Caps have produced just 13 in the last six including one apiece in the losses to Buffalo and Boston that just closed a disappointing 1-3-1 homestand.

“How you do get out of a slump like this?” answered wing Peter Bondra, who has two of Washington’s three goals in the last 135 minutes of play. “Shoot the puck. It’s as simple as that. We have to shoot the puck and create some traffic in front.”

Despite a potent lineup that includes Bondra, Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Dainius Zubrus and Sergei Gonchar, the Caps have yet to put 30 shots on goal under Hanlon. Lang, the NHL’s Offensive Player of the Month for November, is in a season-worst three-game scoring drought and the second-ranked power play had just five opportunities during those three games.

“It’s not just not having power plays,” said Zubrus, who has just three points in eight games after scoring that many in Hanlon’s Dec.13 debut. “I had three chances to put the puck on net [Monday] night but I didn’t shoot. And I don’t think that we’re not scoring because Glen has us thinking more about defense. Offense comes from defense. You play better defense and you have the puck more.”

True, but take away their 35 power-play goals and their one short-handed score and the Caps have just 59 goals in their 37 games. Their opponents have 86 at even-strength, a gap of nearly one a game that goes a long way in explaining why Washington remains in last place in the Eastern Conference heading into games in Buffalo tonight and at home against New Jersey tomorrow. Include Saturday’s game at Ottawa and the Caps are 0-4 against their next three opponents, having been outscored 16-4.

“Our five-on-five play has to pick up,” Hanlon said. “We’ve been very structured defensively [recently]. I’m happy with that. I still think you can have that structure with [offensive creativity]. You have to remain committed to what you believe works. I wish we were better than 3-4-2, but I like the way we’re playing. It’s how we played in Portland [where he was 110-101-29 in three years before joining Cassidy’s staff last season].”

Notes — Rookie goalie Maxime Ouellet will make his first start tonight since he stopped 57 of 59 shots in beating Atlanta and tying Florida on Dec.16 and 17, respectively.

“I’m always nervous before I’m going to play so I won’t be any more than usual tomorrow because I haven’t played in two weeks,” said Ouellet, who was playing regularly with Portland of the American Hockey League before his Dec.14 recall.

Rookie defenseman Steve Eminger missed practice with a badly bruised thigh he suffered in the Dec.23 victory over Montreal. With Eminger doubtful for tonight’s game and tomorrow’s home date with New Jersey, the Caps recalled Chris Hajt from Portland.

Tonight’s game is the Caps’ first on New Year’s Eve in 15 years. That 1988-1989 season also was the last time they didn’t play on New Year’s Day. They’ve never played on both days as they will this week.

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