- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Eight months ago the Carolina Hurricanes were the toasts of the NHL until the Detroit Red Wings dispatched the upstarts in the Stanley Cup finals. A lot has changed for Carolina since then and not for the better.
The Hurricanes come to MCI Center to face Washington tonight, and the Capitals can hand the struggling visitors their eighth straight loss, one short of the franchise record. The situations are pretty much a reverse from a season ago, when Carolina was on its way to the Southeast Division title while the Caps were trying unsuccessfully to claw their way into the postseason.
The Hurricanes will get no sympathy from coach Bruce Cassidy, who wasn't here last season but has quickly picked up on the rivalry.
"I would say they're desperate" was the description Cassidy used for the Hurricanes, who are nine points behind front-running Washington, six games below .500 and yesterday lost their leading scorer, center Rod Brind'Amour, to hand surgery.
"They're at a point now where if we're able to beat them, that's double digits to make up for the division and probably close to double digits for the last playoff spot," the coach said. "I have to believe they're going to be hungry coming in here, and at the same time they can't be all that confident when they haven't won a whole lot lately."
Cassidy said yesterday he would be making a conscious effort in the future to play the three defensive pairs a little more evenly, something that started in Ottawa on Saturday night and continued Monday afternoon in Boston. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar is not part of the equation because he logs almost as much or more time on the power play as some players do in entire games.
"We thought maybe for the next stretch here when we play a lot of games we'd try to get the minutes a little more in line so we're not relying on Calle [Johansson] to play 26 minutes," Cassidy said. "We've made a conscious effort to roll [three units] a little more to help us in the long run and see how it turns out."
Questions arose yesterday because of the pair that was on the ice late in the game against the Bruins when they scored the tying goal. The Bruins had been applying heavy pressure, and Washington was unable to clear.
Jason Doig, who has played well in 21 games and bumped others out of a position, was on the ice with Joel Kwiatkowski, who was playing just his second Caps game. They had the least experience of the Washington defenders dressed for the game.
"When you're young like that and haven't proven yourself, your mistakes get noticed more and inexperience comes through sometimes, but we're going to give them the opportunity," Cassidy said. "We want them to play minutes. We'd like them to be @ 12 to 15 minutes. They both kill penalties well. It will allow Calle a little break."
Both Doig and Kwiatkowski have been averaging between 12 and 13 minutes a game, as has Rick Berry, though lately he has been a healthy scratch. Gonchar averages 27 minutes, while the other experienced defenders, Johansson, Ken Klee and Brendan Witt, average 21 minutes or more.
Notes Jaromir Jagr left practice early yesterday, apparently still fighting the effects of being slammed into the open doorway to the bench Friday night against Toronto. He played the entire game against Boston, even occasionally double-shifting.
Dainius Zubrus was back on skates yesterday for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Leafs. "I feel good," he said. "I had concussions before, and I feel much better." He needs medical clearance to return.
Kip Miller missed practice because of the flu, which has been running through the team one player at a time.



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