- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

Ken Klee is having a career season for the Washington Capitals as one of their top four defensemen, paired with Sergei Gonchar. Klee leads the team by a wide margin with a plus-19 defensive rating and is playing 21 minutes a game.
But he has missed two games with back spasms, breaking up the delicate chemistry that exists between partners who know by instinct where their other half will be when a blind pass has to be sent across the ice.
That missing chemistry led to a breakdown in the third quarter Wednesday night as the Caps watched a once-safe three-goal lead shrink to one, with defensive mistakes the leading contributor to a near disaster.
As a result, coach Bruce Cassidy is seriously considering giving rookie Joel Kwiatkowski a seat so he can assess his game and inserting J.F. Fortin into the rotation. No definite decision has been made; among other things there are roster considerations. If Fortin, on injured reserve with back spasms, returns, another player has to be removed from the active roster.
Kwiatkowski had been moved from the third defensive pair to the first, replacing Klee until the veteran was able to return. But Kwiatkowski's game disintegrated in the third period against the Sabres Cassidy termed the errors "inexcusable" afterward and two Buffalo goals resulted.
A secure game became a desperate fight to keep the two points that at one point were in the bank.
"You're frustrated after games," Cassidy said. "I've always been a believer in letting guys play their way out of things but … We're looking to get J.F. into the lineup. I think Kwiatkowski can play, but I'm disappointed. But that was two days ago; tomorrow's a new day. I don't know if he needs to sit in the stands for a while. I just think his game's slipped. He's taking for granted he's going to be in there every night. I know he loses focus from time to time; he's got to regain that."
Kwiatkowski has been paired with Jason Doig on the third pair since being obtained from Ottawa. Both played well for Cassidy in the minors. But there are times when the transition to the NHL is difficult to make.
"I thought in my mind they were the two best for the job out of the four," Cassidy said. "Now Kwiatkowski's showing signs of being a young guy who's struggling with consistency, and that's something we want out of the last pair. We just want them to play 10, 12 minutes, Doig be physical, Kwiatkowski move the puck and play safe. He wasn't safe the other night on simple decisions. At some point, there's got to be accountability there."
Fortin was called up from the minors last season and had a stellar rookie campaign. But he hasn't been the same strong player this season, spent time in the minors and hasn't played in the NHL since Dec.30. He said yesterday his ailing back was better.
"It's been tough [sitting out]," he said. "I won't lie. Everything went quite well last year. This year it's been totally different."
Doig was recalled from the minors this season and has played well in his role as the tough, physical defenseman. Doig, Kwiatkowski, Fortin and Rick Berry were battling for ice time, with the first two getting most of it since the middle of January.
It is also possible Klee will rejoin the lineup tonight against the Devils in New Jersey. He skated the full practice yesterday but reserved judgment on whether he would be ready tonight.

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