- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

Their star player owes more than $3million in back taxes, and a report surfaces that he once owed $500,000 in gambling debts to a computer geek bookie, of all things.
Then another story comes out this week that their coach was named in a paternity suit last year.
If the Washington Capitals were the New York Yankees, you might say they are playoff-ready, given the recent spate of negative off-ice publicity.
But the Caps have not been the old Bronx Zoo Yankees, not even close. The Caps haven't registered even a blip on the bad boy meter in recent years. Either they have been Boy Scouts or at least have been discreet about their indiscretions.
Do Caps fans care? Probably not. Jaromir Jagr could bet on yak races in Ecuador if he can come back from his sore wrist and get the Caps safely into the playoffs and beyond. And if Bruce Cassidy somehow can steer this team in the right direction in the final weeks, the MCI Center faithful couldn't care less about his personal life.
As Derek Jeter said of the turmoil surrounding the Yankees this spring, "The only way to stop it is to win. That's it. That's the bottom line."
For the Caps, though, last night's 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at MCI won't help. The defeat, coupled with Tampa Bay's victory over Buffalo, dropped the Caps out of first place in the Southeast Division and reinforced the possibility of their missing the playoffs for the second straight season. And if this team is not playing in the postseason, the Web site of choice in the organization may be hockeyjobs.com.
That is not likely. The Caps, with a record of 33-26-8 and 79 points with 10 games remaining, don't have to win the division to make the playoffs. But it would sure help make their lives easier.
Even if they do make the playoffs, the Caps are a team that has to find something soon to make the postseason trip worthwhile. They have to find a way to beat Philadelphia 2-1 in overtime one game and then not lose to the Kings at home in the next one.
"I think at times we are playoff-ready," said team captain Steve Konowalchuk. "I think what we need to work on is consistency. There are times when I think we're ready but other times when we're not very sharp.
"But we still have time to get that consistency, to be able to do it every shift and every period," he said. "Right now we've got a tough road trip ahead of us [six road games at Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto after tomorrow night's MCI date with Colorado], and I think that is on everybody's mind now before we even start thinking about the playoffs. It was tough to miss them last year."
It's tough to miss them, and it's tough to play in them as well, because in the playoffs, everything is magnified particularly defense. Before last night's game, Cassidy said he has been leaning on the players to step up defensively in these final weeks.
"We have turned the screws tighter the last few weeks on our defensive play, and that is mostly in the neutral zone," he said. "We have become more of a 1-2-2 type of team and become a little more structured, for lack of a better term, and tried to get the guys to buy into that.
"We have been selling it every day," Cassidy said. "We mention it in periods. We mention it in pregame meetings. I think our guys understand that is the type of hockey we are going to see in April, and I hope they understand what it takes for us to be in every game and to win games structure away from the puck and not as many easy chances as we have given up in the past."
They had the screws turned up for stretches of last night's game defensively but then couldn't find their offensive game. "It didn't look like we tried to create enough," Cassidy said after the game. "We were flat."
It had better come together quickly, or else people will lose interest in what is happening on the ice, and before you know it, they'll be calling this team the "National Zoo."

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