- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

At the end of the first period Thursday night, the Washington Capitals led the New York Islanders by a pair, and school already was out. For the New Yorkers, who have never won at MCI Center, it was a night that would only get worse.

For the Caps, it hardly was a time for celebration any more than it was time for the Islanders to call the season a loss after one game. The Caps took 26 shots at veteran goalie Garth Snow, and he waved at five of them while watching a sixth enter the cage while he was far out of position.

Washington is a team that could take 26 shots against another goalie of equal ability on a different night and come away empty, which is one of the first things the players pointed out after winning their home and season opener, even though it was done in record fashion.

The Caps entertain Atlanta tonight before departing for six in a row on the road while the Washington International Horse Show takes over MCI Center.

“Our guys were skating well, our forwards were getting available, our defense kept it simple, we put pucks to [empty] space and that sort of backs them off,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “The forwards were skating, they created turnovers and the defense was able to execute. Some nights we’re going to do that; some nights we’re going to struggle. Last night I thought we did a real good job with the puck; we had very few turnovers, very few high-risk plays.

“I thought the other thing was, I give our forwards a lot of credit [because] for the first 10 minutes of the game, everything got deep. We were smart, put pucks behind them and made them work in their own end. They’ve got four great defensemen but you force them to play defense and turn them away from the pucks and taking hits and they become ordinary.”

It was a night where the Islanders couldn’t make a single move that paid off. When they did manage to get the puck out of the zone and try for a line change, the Caps had already rebounded and the transition game was well in hand.

“If our team is able to play in the other team’s end, we’re going to do some damage,” Cassidy said. “We know we got scorers. We’re able to do it if we play a smart game.”

The goals came from the usual suspects — Peter Bondra had two and Jaromir Jagr one — plus Mike Grier and Jeff Halpern. The Caps also got one from defenseman John Gruden, who was playing his first game with Washington, a player who had never scored in his previous 81 NHL games with Boston and Detroit. Washington signed him as a free agent over the summer after he spent last season playing in the German elite league.

Gruden scored the second goal of the game, the game-winner as it turned out. He used his head as much as his stick to get the goal, watching what was happening nearly a zone in front of him where Snow was touring behind the cage, pouncing on a puck squirting around the offensive zone and blasting it into an empty cage.

It wasn’t that easy for everybody. Grier, who is on the ice as a physical force as much as anything else in some circumstances, kept whacking away at excellent chances but not having anything go in the net.

“You can’t really worry about it,” he said. “It’s frustrating at the time, but luckily the first intermission came up so I could kind of get my head back together. It’s frustrating at the time because it’s a one-goal game [when his best chances came], and you don’t know if you’re going to need that goal. But Bondra scored right after that, and that took some of the pressure off.”

Notes — Gruden didn’t skate yesterday, a precautionary move. He has been bothered by a sore groin during camp, and it flared up again during Thursday’s game. — Right wing Stephen Peat (foot) did take the full practice, but there was no indication if he would play tonight against the Thrashers.

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