- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

To classically trained European centers, the very thought of scoring a goal is repugnant. Their job is to lug the puck into the zone and put wings in scoring position. For some of them, scoring 10 goals is considered a decent career.

Washington Capitals center Robert Lang was trained in the Czech Republic and won an IIHF World Championship and Olympic gold for the Czechs, but lately he’s looked a lot more, shall we say, American.

After scoring five goals and eight points in four games last week, Lang was named the NHL offensive player of the week. He not only leads the Caps with 10 goals and 23 points in 18 games, he also ranks second in the league in points.

“It’s going in, I don’t have any other explanation,” said the 32-year-old who was surprised anyone wanted to even talk about it. “It’s just one of those things. Whatever you touch, it’s been happening.”

And it’s been happening with amazing regularity — Lang has at least one point in 16 of Washington’s 18 games.

“He’s shooting the puck more,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s become more assertive. Last year he was new, [Michael] Nylander was here, he didn’t have any regular linemates [because] I was slipping guys in all over the place. That was my fault.

“Now, he’s the No.1 center. When [the injured] Nylander was here it was always 1a and 1b, and whoever played with Jaromir Jagr was always considered the top center. I think he sort of knows he’s the guy now and he’s running with it.”

Running? Try streaking. Lang has points in nine straight games, the league high for the season and a career high for him. He has seven goals and 15 points since the streak started Oct.31.

It’s obvious since the season started something was different with Lang. Last season he had a respectable 22 goals and 69 points but he’s on pace for 46 goals and 105 points this year.

He always has paced himself, in the same way former Caps center Bengt Gustafsson did. Each appeared to loaf on the ice and infuriate fans. The reality was both conserved energy and were ready to suddenly burst into the opposing end as defenders tired.

“I think that’s very unfair,” Cassidy said of fans who get on Lang. “Maybe he could push a little harder here or there but he plays with his head. Some guys work very hard but not very smart; Robert is smart. Could he move his feet a little more? Yes but he plays smart, relies on his head, his hockey sense, his play away from the puck. The puck is following him right now, face it.”

Cassidy believes Lang’s unorthodox skating style causes him to draw criticism. Lang takes strides while virtually standing straight up and it gives the appearance he is not working hard.

“He has deceptive speed,” Cassidy said, “and he’s really a very efficient skater. He plays between the circles. Bernie Nicholls used to look like that — two strides and he goes from one end to the other.”

Lang isn’t concerned with how people judge him.

“The difference is confidence,” he said. “You get on a roll, you’re confident, you believe in yourself a little bit more. This just comes from playing a little more than last year. You play for pride, for your teammates. I hope it’s going to be like this for a while, hopefully the whole season. But the main thing is to win. If you get some goals and you win, it’s that much better.”

Notes — The Caps had an off-ice conditioning workout yesterday. The original plan was to have a little fun with a workout on an outdoor rink in Chevy Chase but the weather failed to cooperate, high temperatures turned the ice to mush. Cassidy admits he got the idea from this Saturday’s outdoor NHL game between the Oilers and Montreal in Edmonton. The game is expected to draw at least 55,000. Nonetheless, the walking wounded were able to get a day of rest before practice resumed this morning. “We’ve got a bunch of guys with bumps and bruises and some others are sick, me included,” Cassidy said. … Right wing Owen Fussey, called up in case he was needed for the Carolina game Saturday night, went back to Portland, Maine, Sunday morning. He did not play against the Hurricanes.

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