- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

There were times this season when Calle Johansson, a defenseman who had good offensive skills when he was younger than his current 36, thought about jumping up from the blue line to help the forwards in the opponents' zone.

“We probably should take more chances but we don't,” he said. “Our main concern is to defend. Maybe we're thinking about defense a little too much and we should jump up more.”

Against Carolina last week, Johansson jumped up when an opening developed. Only nobody dropped back to cover, the Hurricanes got the puck, went the other way on an odd-man rush and scored.

“I felt awful, I let the team down,” Johansson said.

“The one time he decides to jump up they get a 2-on-1 and score,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I know he's got to feel [bad]. It's probably the only time this year he did that and he got caught. I think he's just concentrating on being steady with Brendan Witt. He knows he's playing against the other team's best line every night so he can't get caught.”

The story illustrates what appears to be a problem in either getting the message out or having it received. Cassidy complains that he isn't getting enough offensive help from his blue line corps (19 goals but 13 from one player) while the defensemen appear reluctant to dart in from the points.

“I'm not so concerned about guys jumping up,” Cassidy said yesterday after practice in Tampa, Fla. “I just want more offense out of them in terms of point shots getting through so we can get second chances. I can't remember a whole lot of tip goals we've had this season.”

The coach was particularly critical of the blue line's offensive effort after the team lost 3-1 to Tampa Bay on Monday night.

“We talked about getting pucks back to the point because that's what was open initially but we didn't get pucks through, we didn't hit the net,” he said. “I can't tell you how many times our defense either got a shot blocked or missed the net when they had at least a second and a half [to shoot]. … Our defense had some of our better chances to generate offense for us just by hitting the net. It just shows you have got to take advantage of some of those opportunities and we didn't.”

Cassidy also said the inconsistent scoring pattern that has developed lately is not solely the fault of the defense. He said he is waiting for the relatively new second line of Michael Nylander and wings Peter Bondra and Dainius Zubrus to develop some chemistry and lend some support to the first unit.

“Eventually you hope some chemistry develops because that's got to be your other scoring line,” Cassidy said. “We decided to try it for 20 games going into the stretch but if they don't score for another week or two … Let's face it, that's what they do best, all three of them score. If they don't get anything going then we've got to look at it. But I'm trusting they'll get going eventually and read off each other and do what it takes.”

The Caps are 4-4 since the All-Star break, scoring 18 goals. But 10 of the 18 have come in two games and three came in a third. The power play has connected only once in the last seven games and hasn't been getting that many chances to begin with. Take away the efforts of a stifling penalty-killing unit and the Caps might have even fewer victories.

Notes The Caps finally returned to BWI Airport about 2:15 p.m. yesterday, delayed for two days by the storm. … Goalie Olie Kolzig, knocked woozy by an errant knee to the head late in Monday's loss to Tampa Bay, practiced after taking Tuesday off. How did he feel? “Good enough to play,” he grumbled. Kolzig is expected to start tonight against Toronto at MCI Center; he has a record of 8-10-2 against the Maple Leafs.



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