- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Coach Bruce Cassidy yesterday assembled what he referred to as his “$2million line” to pump life into the Washington Capitals’ struggling offense. Well, $20.5million line to be exact.

Peter Bondra ($4.5million) is on the left, Robert Lang ($5million) at center and Jaromir Jagr ($11million) on the right.

“We’ve tried different things,” Cassidy explained, running through a list of people the three already have played with this season. “We’ve put different people in there, but we’re trying to put people more where they belong. That’s not a slight on Brian Willsie [one of the players who has tried out on the left side], but we’re looking for a top flight left wing.

“So we’ll try Peter. Peter is listed as our top left wing. There’s been issues before about chemistry, but we’ll try it and see where it goes.”

Considering their early-season struggles, it can only get better for the Caps, who have earned just one point in seven road games this season. They tied Toronto in their first game away from MCI Center and have lost the other six.

Washington has scored 22 goals, an average of two a game. Nine of those goals came in the first two games at home before the long road trek started and the scoring went south. The Caps haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since Oct.11, a 4-3 loss to Atlanta. In fact, the stretch of nine straight games with two or fewer goals ties a club record for futility.

With all that in mind, Cassidy decided the time was right for a change heading into tonight’s game in Tampa, Fla., against the Lightning, who won the Southeast Division last year and bounced Washington from the playoffs after the Caps took a 2-0 lead in the seven-game series.

On paper, the line change should send the Lightning across town to ask the Buccaneers for reinforcements. The linemates have combined to score 70 goals against Tampa Bay, led by Bondra’s 40. Bondra has played against the Lightning 48 times and rarely has been denied at least a point. Until two years ago he averaged more than a goal a game against Tampa Bay.

But times have changed. The Caps’ top line has gotten older, while Tampa Bay’s personnel has become younger and better. The linemates have scored 11 goals this season, half of the team’s total, but only five have come at even strength. Collectively, they are minus-17 defensively, led by Bondra’s minus-8, a horrible figure after just 11 games.

Chemistry almost certainly will be an issue and possibly right from the start. Jagr prefers to play with Kip Miller on his line, but Miller hasn’t even played lately. Bondra and Lang have not made scorekeepers rush to rewrite the record books this season; three of Bondra’s four goals are power-play tallies.

“Let’s see what happens,” Cassidy said. “It might be very short-lived. It’s sort of let’s-look-at-it and see what develops.”

The trio includes three-fifths of the Caps’ first power-play unit, but the power play isn’t even close to the league’s top 10, hitting at just above 17 percent.

“I’m hoping their goalie has to dig it out of the net,” Cassidy said when asked who would do the grunt work for the line along the boards. “Jags is great along the wall. I don’t know if there’s a better player than him along the wall. I’ve got no issues there at all. On his off side he gets that big frame in front of the puck coming around, and he’s got great hands. Very rarely does he miss a puck coming off the wall.”

The new line was made with pieces from the first and second lines as they played Saturday night. The new second unit has Dainius Zubrus between Willsie and rookie Alexander Semin.

Notes — Left wing Matt Pettinger is still suffering from symptoms of a concussion and was ruled out of tonight’s game. That leaves Miller as the only healthy scratch with the club’s roster still at 22, one under the league limit. … Still no word on Michael Nylander or when he will rejoin the team. He broke his right leg Oct.2 and has been rehabbing elsewhere.

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