- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

They are questions that have troubled every Washington Capitals coach for the past 29 seasons and this one. Why won’t the Caps shoot at the net? Why won’t the power play work? Why don’t the penalty-killers kill penalties?

The Caps return home tonight looking for answers. They face the San Jose Sharks, coached by a man who might be able to provide some of them: Ron Wilson, who had a record of 192-159-51-8 in five seasons with the Caps and is the only coach to take Washington to the Stanley Cup finals.

More than anybody else, Wilson knows the predicament faced by successor Bruce Cassidy. Over a three-year period, Wilson’s Caps went to the finals in 1998, missed the playoffs completely the following season and had 102 points the year after that.

Cassidy’s problems are varied and in some aspects appear to be getting worse. His team can’t score on the road — it has two or fewer goals in 10 of the last 11 away games — and as a result has a 3-9-1 record.

Washington plays four straight at home but then hits the road for nine of the following 11 games.

Washington’s performance in Thursday night’s 4-2 loss in Philadelphia was typical of its road results this season. The Flyers jumped to a 3-0 lead with some Washington players acting as interested observers and little more. Then the Caps tried to win the game in the final 20 minutes.

“Going into Philly, we’ve never really had a spirited game in there, so until that changes, until the team shows it just wants to go in there and really match Philly’s intensity, there will always be disappointment,” Cassidy said yesterday after marching the club through 50 minutes of shooting drills — one-on-none, two-on-none, three-on-none, anything to build some confidence.

The game might have been won or lost on rookie defenseman Steve Eminger’s first shift. Just 33 seconds after the 20-year-old hit the ice, Eminger was checked cleanly but brutally into the rear boards by Flyers enforcer Donald Brashear.

To ensure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again, hockey etiquette dictates the hitter be challenged on the spot to indicate the message was received and was being returned in kind. That didn’t happen, and the Flyers played the Caps like pingpong balls for the first two periods.

To make matters worse, the Flyers were outshooting the Caps by a nearly 4-1 ratio, scoring on three plays that any responsible team would have prevented by clearing the slot. That didn’t happen either.

Cassidy and his staff have been preaching for weeks that the team has to go for second shots, that anything can happen off a rebound. Wilson preached the same thing to a lot of deaf ears.

“Sometimes when you don’t even attempt a shot, even though you may be far out, it really takes away from anybody wanting to go to the net if there’s never any rebounds,” Cassidy said. “Maybe they feel they’re not going to score from out there, and they may be right, but the guy going to the net might.”

Notes — Eminger played only the one shift Thursday night and is out indefinitely with that dreaded “upper body injury.” To take his place, Rick Berry was recalled from Portland of the American Hockey League, leaving the Pirates desperately short of defensemen. Nolan Yonkman (knee), J.F. Fortin (back spasms), Josef Boumedienne (high ankle sprain) are already out, and Berry is here.

To make room on the roster for Berry, the Caps placed left wing Matt Pettinger on injured reserve, backdated to Oct.31, meaning he is already eligible to be activated. However, Pettinger is suffering from a concussion that does not appear to be improving as quickly as the Caps had hoped. …

Sergei Gonchar, who is averaging a league-high 27 minutes a game, was rested yesterday, a practice that is becoming more common.

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