- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

The frustration is evident on the players’ faces as they curl away from the net, another shot wide of its mark or high or blocked. Anything and everything except a goal.

“I’ve had more than enough chances,” said Washington Capitals forward Mike Grier, who had a goal on opening night and hasn’t scored since, a long dry spell for a man who has had 15 or more goals four times. “I’ve probably missed on three or four breakaways, so it’s been a little frustrating coming up short, and we’ve been losing games by one goal.”

True. Four of Washington’s last six losses have come by one goal; the Caps have not scored more than two goals in six of their last seven games, more entries in the data bank for a season dominated by negative statistics.

Washington enters tonight’s game at home against Florida last in the NHL with 11 points in 19 games. In their history, starting in 1982-83, the Caps have never finished the first 20-game portion of a season with less than 15 points. It is a figure they will not match this season, no matter what happens tonight.

“We’re in a big hole compared to the past when we’ve had slow starts,” said Peter Bondra, a Cap since the start of the 1990-91 season. “We didn’t fall that deep in the hole [before], but now we’re pretty deep.”

Bondra, the team’s all-time goal-scoring and points leader, does not let himself off the hook even though he is one of four players who have scored nearly two-thirds of Washington’s 46 goals. The others are Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr and Dainius Zubrus.

“I definitely don’t feel good about the way I’ve played,” he said. “I have had some opportunities to shoot, and I tried to pass, and it wasn’t the right decision. But I think the goals will come, and we will start winning. Definitely, I have to produce more.”

Bondra, who has six goals and nine points but is minus-8, is not alone. Several players have not gotten their names on scoring sheets or are barely there this season.

Grier had his opening night goal but has added two assists since. Center Jeff Halpern had two points in the opener and only two points since and is also minus-8. Bates Battaglia has gone 13 games without a point and also is minus-8. Two of Brian Willsie’s three points also came on opening night, and Bondra has just five points in his last 11 games.

“Those guys are hard-working individuals,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, defending the muckers and grinders. “They just got to work their way out of it — there are no easy answers. Going too hard to defend areas, playing in traffic. We have guys who are willing to work; we just got to get them in the right areas. The other guys, we sort of encourage them to get into traffic, the guys who want to play on the perimeter.”

Grier admits his extended drought does enter his mind at times when he tries to line up a shot.

“I think I just need to get an ugly goal, and I get a lot of those usually,” he said. “I just need one or a deflection or a lucky bounce, and I’ll get my confidence back.”

Agreed Cassidy: “Score some ugly ones — that’s usually how you get out of it. Mike Grier does not have a problem [playing in traffic]; he’ll get in there all day. Right now it’s just not happening for him.”

Bondra, the shooter, offered his own solution: “If you don’t shoot, you’re never going to score. And we definitely don’t shoot enough.”

Notes — Tonight will be the Caps’ fifth year of participation in the Warm Hearts Coat Drive. Fans are asked to bring a clean winter coat to the game, with all contributions donated to community shelters. More than 10,000 items of clothing have been donated in the previous four years. Collection bins will be at the F Street entrance at MCI Center. … Tonight will be Kolzig’s 500th NHL game, an number less than 50 goalies have reached in the history of the league.

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