- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. If you know the identity of the last defenseman other than Sergei Gonchar to score a goal for the Washington Capitals, Slapshot, the team's mascot, will come over and shovel your driveway.
Give up? Rick Berry scored the game-winner Dec.19 in a 5-3 victory against Boston. And Berry hasn't played a game for the Caps in more than a month.
Washington has fallen on some tough times since the All-Star break ended Feb.4. It has played eight games and in four of them has been held to one goal or less. None of the 18 goals the Caps have scored since the break has been by a defenseman, including Gonchar.
"Our team has to recognize we need scoring from everyone," coach Bruce Cassidy said after the team worked out yesterday in Tampa, unable to make it back to BWI Airport in wake of the snowstorm. Gonchar has 13 goals this season, but the other defensemen combined have five and three of them came from Calle Johansson.
Goalie Olie Kolzig did not practice yesterday in order to rest his twisted neck, a result of being knocked woozy when he was accidentally kneed in the jaw by Tampa Bay's Ben Clymer with about 90 seconds left in Monday's 3-1 loss to the Lightning. Kolzig said he would resume practice today, and Cassidy said he didn't think the goalie would miss any time.
The Caps are playing mediocre hockey, 4-4 since returning from the break but are staying ahead of the pack because nobody else is turning it on. Tampa Bay, the Caps' closest pursuer in the Southeast Division, is 2-2-2-1 since the All-Star events.
It is not just the defensemen. The frustration that is building was evident yesterday when left wing Peter Bondra came over to the dashers and shattered a stick by hammering it on the boards until it disintegrated. He is not alone but is a microcosm of the problem.
Bondra, who twice has scored more than 52 goals, is struggling this season. He has 22 goals, which projects only to 30. Since returning from a bout with a virus Jan.10, he has just seven goals and only three on the power play, where he has been deadly in the past.
"He's frustrated," Cassidy said. "When he doesn't score, he gets frustrated, but at some point he's got to show the maturity that if he's on [the first power play] unit, he's still got to bring something.
"If he doesn't want to be a part of the five-man unit, then we'll find someone else. But I've always been a believer that you give your best players the opportunity to play through things. Maybe he just needs to be reminded of what his contribution can still be. I'd like to stick with Peter. He's been here a long time, he's a proud guy, he cares. We've just got to try to get him in the right frame of mind."
But Cassidy was particularly upset with the offensive contribution of the defense.
"The blue line was very disappointing," Cassidy said. "They couldn't get any shots on net, they get a few opportunities, they got to get hungry like everybody else. I expect them to play defense first … but when you get a shot from the point, you got to bear down. That's a scoring chance. [Monday] night was the poorest game of the year for our blue line in terms of trying to be opportunistic."
Notes
The Caps are scheduled to practice in Tampa this morning, and it is uncertain when they will return. It depends on the availability of their plane and whether BWI is allowing planes to land. …
Cassidy said he was happy with the defensive play of all six blue-liners and had no plans to insert anybody else into the mix. That means Berry and J.F. Fortin continue to sit during games. … The schedule resumes tomorrow night with Toronto visiting MCI Center.


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