- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

MONTREAL The Washington Capitals didn't skate yesterday and that's the good news. No telling what sort of damage they might have inflicted on themselves had they gone through a routine practice.

The Caps yesterday journeyed from Vancouver, site of what virtually amounted to a surrender Sunday night, to Montreal for a game tonight that is crucial to the Canadiens' postseason plans and almost that important to Washington. Montreal is hanging onto its playoff hopes by a thread that has all but unraveled.

Washington not only lost to the Canucks 6-0, with five of the goals coming on the power play, the team also lost arguably its best defensive defenseman this season. Ken Klee stopped a shot with his right foot or ankle late in the second period, fell to the ice but was able to hobble to the bench later. He was taken to the training room and did not return.

"He blocked a shot, he's day-to-day," general manager George McPhee said, trying to put the best spin on the situation. But the Caps may not even know how bad the injury is because physicians are not readily available to athletes in Canada because of a conflict involving malpractice insurance.

Klee could barely make it off the team bus from the airport yesterday at the club's hotel, and the Caps may be forced to return him to Washington for a thorough medical checkup today. It appeared obvious he would not be ready for tonight's game barring a miracle, meaning one of the two healthy scratches in Vancouver, either Rick Berry or J.F. Fortin, will be pressed into service.

The good news is that Washington might regain the services of right wing Jaromir Jagr, out since March 8 with a broken bone in a wrist. He and the team have been eyeing tonight as the day to test the wrist in game action but that will depend on how he feels after practice this morning.

"I would say he's closer," coach Bruce Cassidy said last night. "He handled the puck better in Vancouver during the morning skate and shot it better than he had previously. But the big concern is whether he can battle for pucks, whether he has enough strength in that regard."

But it may take more than Jagr to erase the memory of what took place Sunday night. Washington allowed four power-play goals in a 6-2 loss to Toronto on Feb. 20 but hadn't allowed five in a game since Jan. 4, 1975, in a 10-0 loss to Montreal. And the only Canucks goal that came at even strength was scored just eight seconds after Brendan Witt left the penalty box in the second period.

The Caps took 10 noncoincidental penalties, some after the game had been decided but others while there was still a glimmer of hope. But a team like Vancouver, which relishes opportunities like what was dished out by the Caps, was more than happy to spend the evening practicing their power play.

"We knew going in what they wanted to do; we tried to pressure them and it didn't work," Cassidy said. "They were better than us, they executed better than us. What else can you say?"

But it wasn't just the defense, or lack of it. Washington mustered just 14 shots on a rookie goalie who was summoned from the minors at the last minute. Alexander Auld wasn't forced to make one tough save during the course of the evening.

"It was a 1-0 game with eight minutes to go in the second period and we were in the game but I don't think we recognized that," Cassidy said.

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