- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Coach Bruce Cassidy is asking the Washington Capitals to be tougher to play against down the stretch. In others words, to be a bit nasty.
That's already obvious. If it moves, defenseman Jason Doig will hit it hard. If someone's holding the puck in the corner and suddenly sees something large and fast approaching, it's Mike Grier about to make him feel like a mosquito in July. The same holds true with Brendan Witt and Brian Sutherby.
Cassidy wants to turn Dainius Zubrus into that kind of individual, sort of a linebacker on skates, so that the opposition has physical things to worry about from three of the four lines and the defense, too.
"He's a load," Cassidy said admiringly of Zubrus. "If he ever started punishing guys, now you're talking about that elusive power forward, a Cam Neely-type of player. But I don't know if that's in his makeup, to go out and run people. And people do recognize who's on the ice; for instance, they know when Mike Grier's barreling down on them."
Zubrus scored the critical insurance goal Sunday as Washington beat Carolina 2-0, a goal that made a struggling line feel a lot more secure and confident. The possibility that right wing Zubrus, center Michael Nylander and left wing Peter Bondra would be searching for new partners has been put on hold.
"If we can have a second line that scores and is still real good defensively, then we've got Jeff Halpern's line that can grind it out, Brian Sutherby anchors the fourth line and he's a good, accountable player, and we become a bit of a tough team to play against," Cassidy said. "And that's what we're asking the guys to do."
But a week ago that didn't seem to be in the cards. Nylander's unit did not seem to be creating any chemistry despite weeks of effort. Scoring was sporadic, and the defense seemed to be disorganized. There was talk of starting over with the second line.
But Saturday night in New Jersey, the line came together in a 2-1 overtime defeat. Indeed, it had opportunities to put the game away before it approached the extra period; Nylander even skated away from the net with a rebound hanging, thinking it had gone in.
"They stuck with it," Cassidy said of the unit's performance Sunday. "We were wondering if they were ever going to create some offense, and now they are. And they're as good as anybody in the defensive zone. Bondra's doing a fantastic job away from the puck and that helps.
"I give a lot of credit to Bondra. He's not scoring as much as everyone would like, but he's doing some good things, making good decisions, getting pucks deep. They had the most chances of any [line] against New Jersey; Peter had an open net with four minutes left. If he buries it, it's game over. That's the line that could have made the difference. You'd like to see them put the game away, but they're getting chances, so it looks like they're starting to jell."
Notes The Caps are in Buffalo tonight. … There are four games left before next Tuesday's 3p.m. trading deadline. Publicly, the Caps maintain they don't have any idea what they will do, but sources around the league say the team has been unusually quiet. Pro scouts who have seen the team lately suggest it could use another experienced defenseman and possibly another left wing.

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