- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette compiles and lists the NHL Power Rankings every Sunday and in yesterday’s paper the hometown Penguins were ranked 29th, a little better than expected.

One spot behind Pittsburgh was the Washington Capitals with this written next to the team name: “At least the Penguins try.”

So the rest of the league is noticing what Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis and many of their fans have come to realize this season.

“The issues are manifold,” Leonsis said yesterday with customary bluntness. “We can’t score goals, we can’t stop goals, we aren’t hitting, we can’t play on special teams. No one should be pointing fingers at anyone on this team — we all stink.”

Leonsis looks down nightly from Box101 at MCI Center and sees a building half full, a payroll of about $50million and a franchise that is running on empty.

It’s obvious the Caps are in a world of trouble. They are dead last in the league and have been for weeks. It’s a quarter of the way through the season and Washington has yet to win back-to-back games. The team has scored two or fewer goals in 16 of its last 18 games. Just four players have scored 31 of the team’s 48 goals.

“We can try to improve but to do so we will need to make trades,” said Leonsis, who then got to the heart of the matter. “And who would want our players that are underachieving? We have been looking for defensemen [but] they don’t grow on trees. So stop worrying about trades.”

It’s been speculated goalie Olie Kolzig and defenseman Sergei Gonchar are the two most valuable assets the Caps have for a trade. However, that may have changed.

“Colorado is looking for a goalie and Olie was thought to be their No.1 choice but he’s playing himself out of the picture,” said one pro scout who is familiar with the Avalanche situation. “The way things are shaking down right now, Colorado may go for [Curtis Joseph of Detroit] because he’s come back pretty well from [an ankle] injury. Olie should be able to steal a game here and there but he hasn’t been able to do it.”

Colorado landed free agents Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya in the offseason and has since added Steve Konowalchuk — three key players joining an already explosive roster. What the Avalanche don’t have is a veteran goalie to replace the retired Patrick Roy.

Dallas is struggling in the Pacific Division, which it figured to win easily. It allowed defenseman Derian Hatcher to escape to Detroit via free agency and that left a hole in the lineup and an even bigger one in the dressing room.

Gonchar to the rescue? Word is the Caps would demand far too much for one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and would like to retain him (at a reasonable $3.65million) for the rebuilding process next season or after the lockout ends, which ever comes first.

The Stars have scouted the Caps regularly both at home and on the road and reportedly their target is Brendan Witt, who has no offensive tendencies but loves to hit. And he comes at an even more reasonable $1.75million price.

“There are 62 games left, no better time to start playing like a team than now,” Leonsis said. “We have to stop pointing fingers at everybody and join together in a band.”

Washington has three quarters of the season left, but it seems that much of it will be played on the road. The Caps have eight games in the next 17 days, of which only one is at home.

Notes — Forward Peter Bondra did not participate in yesterday’s hour-plus drill because of the flu. He is expected to be ready for the Red Wings tonight but in the past when Bondra was hit by the flu he’s missed more time than expected. … None of the Caps’ wounded are expected to see action during the two-game road swing, which ends Wednesday night in Buffalo. Left wing Matt Pettinger (concussion), the only one that’s close, has been skating for a few days but needs more work to get his timing back. Center Michael Nylander (broken leg) isn’t even on skates yet; defenseman John Gruden (groin) hasn’t skated in more than a week, and backup goalie Sebastien Charpentier (hip) is also several games away.


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