- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

It was a year ago, a little later on the calendar but about the same point in the season. The Washington Capitals were on a road trip, they had just lost three straight and the season was crumbling.
There was a team gathering, players only, in a Denver restaurant. One thing led to another and dinner turned into a lengthy clear-the-air meeting to discuss the urgent business of seeing if the season could be salvaged.
"We pretty much said, 'Everybody's counting us out, let's prove everybody wrong,'" remembered goalie Olie Kolzig. "We obviously weren't playing as well as we should have been."
The Caps closed 9-2-1-1 and missed the playoffs by two points.
The Caps had another closed-door, players-only meeting last Saturday night after being trampled 5-1 by Detroit. It was much shorter because there wasn't a lot to discuss. The standings, three straight losses and rapidly closing Tampa Bay said it all.
"We addressed the fact that we had to come back and play defensive hockey, and whenever we play that way we have our most success," Kolzig related. "I don't know why we wander off; maybe we pick up bad habits and don't rectify them in practice. And when we end up playing good teams, it really magnifies how far our game has slipped."
The Caps are 1-0 after their latest meeting and face Buffalo at home tonight. It is the final game in a four-game home stand but it won't be easy. The Sabres are on a rampage and appear to want to make people pay for the fact they are last in the standings after a season of frustration, at the bank and on the ice.
Washington's play this season has been all over the place. It has been very good, it has occasionally been a few steps the other side of awful. At the moment it hasn't won back-to-back games in nearly a month but has managed to stay atop the Southeast Division standings.
"We addressed the situation after the game then we had a good defensive practice the next day," Kolzig said, "and played a pretty solid game. We still had some areas where we were running around but for the most part, compared to the two to three games before that, we played pretty solid."
"When you look at our games before [beating Montreal, 4-1]," said defenseman Sergei Gonchar, "obviously there was no urgency. When you're playing against Tampa [Bay] and you're losing, you've got to recognize there is no urgency. That's what we were talking about, everybody has to play hard for 60 minutes. It doesn't matter what your role is, do your job."
The meeting Saturday night didn't last long because everybody knew what had to be said, it's just that nobody stood up to say it before.
"There was no finger-pointing because it's everybody, all of us," Gonchar said. "It's not like one person is letting us down, it's the whole team not playing hard for 60 minutes, the whole team not coming out hard. This is a team sport; there are no individual players who can win the games by himself."
There was another team meeting Sunday morning, called by coach Bruce Cassidy, but that was short, also. What had to be said was said the night before.
"The one they organized, I didn't go into the room but I know there were some unhappy people in there," Cassidy said. "That's good. It shows they're taking the initiative. Our meeting wasn't very long but I guess our ideas were similar to theirs."
"We just have to realize what makes us play good and that's what we talked about," said defenseman Calle Johansson, who has been a Cap longer than any other player in team history, traded here by Buffalo. "We know we have a good team, we just have to play a solid game."
Notes Left wing Kip Miller was scheduled to see a hand specialist yesterday to see if playing would cause further injury to where he was slashed during the Detroit game. … Defenseman Ken Klee (back spasms) went through the whole practice but appears very doubtful for tonight.

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