- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 12, 2003

The wakeup call came early this season for the Washington Capitals, midway through the first period of their second game.

Atlanta, brushing aside its overwhelming grief after burying a teammate just 24 hours earlier in Canada, took advantage of an inexperienced Caps defense that got little or no help from the forwards and cruised to a 4-3 victory at MCI Center that was not anywhere near as close as the score.

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Atlanta fell behind by one, then scored four of the next five goals by creating odd-man opportunities, beating the Caps to loose pucks and winning battles at mid-ice and along the boards. It was hardly the sendoff Washington envisioned as it departs today for a six-game road swing.

The game turned, according to Caps coach Bruce Cassidy, nine minutes into the first period with Washington leading 1-0. Defenseman Brendan Witt, one of two defenders with considerable NHL experience, went into the rear boards headfirst, sustained a head injury and did not return. The team did not have a complete determination of his injury last night.

“The whole game turned around there,” Cassidy said. “Whether it was Witt’s injury or whether the other defensemen had to play too much, I don’t know. Up to that point, we had been in command, but after that we had some guys under pressure, and they didn’t handle it well.”

There were vague references in the dressing room after the game to taking the Thrashers too lightly. On Friday, Atlanta laid to rest forward Dan Snyder, who died last Sunday as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident Sept.29. The driver, star forward Dany Heatley, is out with various injuries.

But it was the Caps who did not seem ready to handle the pressure once there was a little adversity. The defense was inexperienced to begin with, but it had been hoped the far more experienced corps of forwards would help out. That didn’t happen, at least not to the extent needed to win.

“We had bad turnovers in the neutral zone,” said Jaromir Jagr, who narrowed the final deficit to 4-3 with a goal in the last three minutes of the game. “That haunted us last year, [but] we didn’t do that Thursday [in a win over the New York Islanders]. That was the best game I can remember us playing as a Cap.”

Boyd Gordon’s first NHL goal, 3:11 into the game, put the Caps up but only temporarily. Jagr charged the net but couldn’t get the puck past goalie Pasi Nurminen. Gordon picked up the loose puck, slid around the mass of bodies and slipped it past the goalie.

At 11:25, Atlanta’s Ronald Petrovicky grabbed a rebound off goalie Olie Kolzig’s left pad and ripped it into the net, tying the score 1-1. Three minutes later, Randy Robitaille blasted an unscreened shot over Kolzig’s right shoulder, and Washington was behind for the first time this season.

Sergei Gonchar, playing in his 600th league game, got one back for the Caps in the opening minute of the second period when his 55-footer snaked between bodies and found the net. Kolzig got a rare assist.

But the Atlanta lead grew back to two a little more than a minute later when Petrovicky got his second of the night as the inexperienced defense started to show. The Thrashers forward banged away repeatedly at a loose puck at the left side of the cage, finally jamming it through. Nobody challenged Petrovicky, leaving him free to hammer away.

Five minutes into the second period, Ilya Kovalchuk once again displayed his superior talent to Washington fans and players. Kovalchuk broke loose on a breakaway just outside his own blue line. The Russian advanced down the ice alone, coming within a dozen feet of Kolzig before whipping a wrist shot between the pads. In 11 games against Washington, Kovalchuk has seven goals and five assists.

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