- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

ST. LOUIS — The Washington Capitals left home last Saturday with a 1-1 record and feeling OK about themselves despite having lost to Atlanta for the first time in 11 games at MCI Center.

The Caps flew back to BWI Airport after last night’s 4-1 drubbing by St. Louis with a three-game losing streak, a five-game winless skid and enough self-doubt to keep Lucy Van Pelt’s psychiatrist booth open for years.

“We’ve tried switching lines. We’ve tried more aggressive forechecking. We’re trying things. But at some point, the players have to look in the mirror,” coach Bruce Cassidy said angrily. “We have to decide if we’re going to be an average team, a [horrible] team or a good team.

“I’d like to start with a good team because that’s what we were last year. We’ve just deteriorated since opening night [a 6-1 rout of the New York Islanders]. The schedule, it’s a tough hand we’ve been dealt, but if we play like this in Ottawa [on Thursday] and Toronto [Saturday], we’re going to get waxed.”

If the Caps (1-4-1) don’t beat the Senators, who came within a game of the Stanley Cup final last spring, they’ll be in the midst of their longest losing and winless streaks during Cassidy’s two seasons.

Washington was outscored 13-4 in its losses in Montreal, Dallas and St. Louis after rallying for a 2-2 tie in Toronto on Monday. Goalie Olie Kolzig said the Caps can’t pin their troubles solely on their inexperienced defensive corps.

“Sure we’re green on the back end, but we have a lot of great players on this team,” Kolzig said. “But if we keep playing like this every night, it’s going to be a long season.”

It was a long night against a St. Louis team that had scored four goals in its first three games and was missing seven regulars. Kolzig, who allowed four goals on the first nine shots he faced during Friday’s 4-2 loss in Dallas, was a lot sharper, saving all seven Blues shots in the first 10 minutes. But teammates Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang and Sergei Gonchar went scoreless with five shots among them. Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champion, has topped his season-long three-game point drought of 2002-03.

While Washington’s top guns were silent as St. Louis’ second power play — courtesy of an interference call on defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski — wound down, the Caps’ usually stalwart penalty-killers all wound up on the left side of the ice. That allowed Keith Tkachuk to pass to wide-open Pavol Demitra, who beat the helpless Kolzig from the right slot at 12:28 of the first period.

A little more than two minutes later with Bondra and Steve Eminger both in the box, Chris Pronger slapped the puck past Kolzig from the right point for a 2-0 lead at 14:36. The Caps finally earned their own power play at 16:21 but couldn’t put the puck past Blues goalie Chris Osgood en route to being outshot 14-5 for the period.

With partner Gonchar caught up ice, Kwiatkowski was on the wrong end of a 2-on-1 early in the second period. When Kwiatkowski slid to cover Demitra, the Blues’ standout slid the puck to Peter Cajanek for an easy goal that made it 3-0 at 3:57.

Then with teammate Jeff Halpern headed for the box with a holding penalty, Washington enforcer Stephen Peat made matters worse by punching Reed Low and leaving the Caps two men down for the second time. It took the Blues 40 seconds to take advantage of this 5-on-3 as Tkachuk, left alone in the slot, pounded his fourth goal of the season past Kolzig at 6:22.

“We got in a hole again, and it was too much to overcome,” Halpern said. “We can’t take that many penalties. We’ve got to take better care of our own end.”

Dainius Zubrus got the Caps on the board at 13:27, fending off the check of Doug Weight and beating Osgood high glove-side for his first goal of the year.

Note — Cassidy tinkered last night by replacing defenseman Josef Boumedienne with rookie Nolan Yonkman, although Brendan Witt took much of Yonkman’s shifts. Rookie Alexander Semin replaced Kip Miller on the top line with Peat taking Semin’s fourth-line spot.

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