- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Look at the goal-scoring leaders among the Washington Capitals and one has to wonder where Sergei Gonchar, the hired gun with the powerful, heavy shot, has gone.

“You have to ask yourself how much more we can ask of the guy,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, quickly correcting any assumption that the defenseman had been taking part of the season off.

The only Cap getting more ice time than Gonchar’s 27:35 is goalie Olie Kolzig, who never leaves the ice even when he wants to. Only two skaters in the league, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom (28:15) and Chris Pronger of St. Louis (27:41), spend more time on the ice than Gonchar.

“With the demands we’re putting on him for ice time, it’s asking an awful lot for him to be up and ice and defend his own end,” said Cassidy.

Yet Gonchar, with one goal (not counting the one he scored on Kolzig) and 16 assists, is two points ahead of last season’s pace, good enough to have a three-point lead in the league scoring race among defensemen.

In this season of transition, Gonchar’s game has changed somewhat. His partner of the past few seasons, Ken Klee, is now with Toronto and Gonchar has gone through several candidates before the coaches decided to pair him with the only other veteran, Brendan Witt. That allows him to pinch more, but fatigue becomes a factor.

“We’ve been losing so much, I’m just worried about that, not so much about scoring goals,” Gonchar said. “It’s not that I’m working that much harder, but I’ve been waiting for things to kick in. I think I’m just going to relax and play my game.”

Said Cassidy: “I’d just like to see a little more fire in him, a little more emotion, because when he plays that way he’s harder to play against. But Gonch is Gonch. He’s quiet — he just goes about his business. His personality isn’t fiery. He plays much better when he’s mad at somebody on the other team.”

Back in his native Russia, Gonchar was a budding Donald Brashear before the NHL Draft rescued him.

“I was kind of forced into [fighting]” by his Dynamo Moscow coach, who used that as a means of separating younger players, Gonchar said. Those who fought played; those who didn’t watched.

“I was never interested because I always thought I had pretty good skills,” the defenseman said. “Since I got here, I’ve been playing the way I used to play, developing my skills more and more.”

Notes — A Caps source confirmed that there were “talks” between the team and retired defenseman Calle Johansson about rejoining the club. “He’s not coming back,” the source said, indicating the talks were along the lines of a former player of many years missing the game. “He’s happy doing what he’s doing.” Johansson retired at the end of last season after 16 years in the league and moved back to Sweden with his family. He is the Caps’ amateur scout in Scandinavia. …

Defenseman Jason Doig was not only present when his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child on Tuesday, a son named Jagger, he took part in the delivery. “Awesome, just awesome,” he said. …

Center Brian Sutherby made it through his second straight day of tough practices and may play tonight against Boston. He had been sidelined since Nov.6 with a strained back. … The remainder of the Caps’ injured personnel stays on the sideline: left wing Matt Pettinger (concussion), defenseman John Gruden (groin), goalie Sebastien Charpentier (hip) and center Michael Nylander (broken leg). …

The Bruins are among the leaders in the East, the Caps dead last. Injuries might have something to do with it: Boston has lost 13 man-games to injury this season, the Caps 50.

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