- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

A reporter yesterday started to ask Washington Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy a question about how tough a start to the season it had been and what the standings reflected.

“I don’t look at the standings,” Cassidy said with a slight chuckle, cutting the reporter off in mid-question. Who could argue with his choice of reading material? The Caps (4-11-1, nine points) are at the bottom of the 30-team NHL this morning, and he doesn’t need to be reminded.

Nonetheless, one victory like Wednesday night’s 7-1 throttling of Carolina and suddenly thoughts are rekindled of Washington starting its patented November rush from oblivion to mediocrity.

The signs are there. Olie Kolzig missed a significant amount of time in training camp, and his early play reflected that. But he has been solid for the past two weeks or more as his saves percentage shows, climbing from .857 to .896.

Center Robert Lang did not score on Oct.18 or 29, but otherwise he has at least one point in every game. He has 10 goals and 21 points — third in the league in goals and points, third in power play points with 11 and sixth in assists. He also has points in seven straight games.

Even Jaromir Jagr is emerging from his shell. In his first 11 games, he had three goals, five points and was minus-5 defensively. In his last five, he has one goal and seven points and is plus-3.

“If we have a good weekend, we can wake up Monday morning and start to look at the standings again,” Cassidy said. “[The victory] was just one game, but it’s good because the guys are in a much better mood.”

Washington plays host tonight to Tampa Bay, the Southeast Division leader all season, usually by a wide margin. It is the fourth game in a four-game homestand for the Caps, and they need a win for a split to salvage some respectability. Washington beat the Lightning 5-1 on Nov.4, Tampa Bay’s first loss of the season. And Washington is in Raleigh, N.C., tomorrow night for a rematch against the Hurricanes.

“Tampa [Bay] and Carolina, we know we’re capable of beating both of them because we have, but it’s got to translate on the ice into some consistency … I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

Not including the playoffs, the Caps are 11-0 against Tampa Bay at MCI Center since the 1998-99 season but only 2-2-1 at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Washington was beaten three straight at home by Tampa Bay during postseason last April while going 2-1 in Florida.

“We’ve always played well against our division, and I think confidence is a factor in the room,” Cassidy said. “We have a great chance to do it this weekend, a great chance. We could really sort of jump-start ourselves. We’d still be below .500 and no one would be afraid of the Caps, but one of the benefits would be that we’d have three days [before the next game] to enjoy it.”

Tampa Bay was on cruise control earlier, the hottest team in the league at 7-0-1-0. Washington started what can only be seen as a downward trend, followed by an overtime loss to Los Angeles, a tie with the Hurricanes and being shut out by cross-state rival Florida. The Lightning had two goals in those four games.

Carolina defeated Atlanta 5-1 last night and almost certainly will be waiting for the Caps. The Hurricanes were manhandled fairly well by Washington, with Eric Cole drawing a lot of attention and Jeff O’Neill coming to his aid.

“I know the Lightning are in a bad mood right now because of the last couple games, and Carolina’s not going to be too happy either because of what happened,” Cassidy said, acknowledging the reality of the situation. The Caps would have to win seven straight to reach .500, outscoring the opposition by eight to break-even in that regard.

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