- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

When Jim Schoenfeld coached in Washington, he had the Capitals fill out 4-by-5 cards grading themselves after each game. Sometimes, after the players watched game videos, he had players grade him.

The problem was accountability. The coaches knew what each card contained, but the author’s teammates did not.

Now coach Bruce Cassidy plans to correct that lapse. He plans to affix responsibility for certain errors that cost the team and post that information for all team members to see. Whether it will be available to the public has not been determined.

Cassidy said players told him in season-ending meetings last summer they wanted better accountability within the team and they were tired of vague references assigning blame to groups within the team.

Well the age of accountability has arrived.

Six games into the season, the Caps are 1-4-1 and 0-3-1 so far on a six-game road swing that ends late this week. They are winless in five straight after a near-perfect 6-1 throttling of the New York Islanders on opening night.

“We have identified the three most urgent areas that need work,” Cassidy said yesterday. In order, he listed finishing checks, turnovers all over the ice and execution with the puck so the team can have a transition game.

“Those are the three areas we are going to chart and post so the guys can hold themselves accountable,” he said.

A cynic might wonder why the list ended with three items when it could have included shooting on goal, scoring, forechecking, backchecking, avoiding needless penalties, preventing odd-man rushes, killing penalties, scoring on power plays, better protection of the crease, better goaltending. Cassidy apparently believes if the first three can be solved, the others will fall into line with ease.

“We’re trying to find a balance where everybody can excel at some things and improve at others, raising the standard for our team,” he said.

In this case, “everybody” means everybody, starting with superstar Jaromir Jagr, extending to goalie Olie Kolzig and reaching down to the newest of the new.

Washington opened with the win over the Islanders, as good an all-around game as the Caps have played in years. Against Atlanta two nights later, they beat themselves with blunders that allowed a quick young team unfettered access to Kolzig.

Against Montreal, there was a system-wide meltdown. Against Dallas, the skaters played a strong game but Kolzig did not. Against St. Louis, three of the Blues’ four goals were power play strikes — far too much to overcome.

After scoring a half-dozen against the Islanders in one game, the Caps scored just nine goals over the next five games. Center Robert Lang has five of the 16 scoring points forwards have accumulated in the last five consecutive, and he is the only player with more than one goal (three) over that span.

Jagr? One goal and minus-3 defensively.

Peter Bondra? One goal and minus-5 defensively.

Forwards who have played at least four of the last five games and have not scored include Mike Grier, Jeff Halpern, Steve Konowalchuk and Kip Miller. Dainius Zubrus, Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger have a goal apiece.

In fact, since the winless streak started, forwards who play regularly have eight goals and 16 points and are a combined minus-21 defensively. The five defensemen who take regular shifts are not making a major contribution offensively (one goal, six points), but at least they are holding their own defensively.

Kolzig has been up and down, which his stats reflect. He is 1-3-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average and a horrific save percentage of .873.

The latter reflects on the three areas that have been targeted by Cassidy. Finishing checks at the very least slows the opposition. Eliminating turnovers keeps the puck out of the opposition’s hands. Poor execution with the puck means no transition game, which in turn means the puck is heading in the wrong way and that eliminates forechecking.

Notes — Yesterday’s hurriedly scheduled practice was canceled, a brief meeting replaced ice time. “They didn’t deserve a day off, but I felt they were too fatigued for a practice,” Cassidy said. …

Rookie defenseman Nolan Yonkman returned to the farm team in Portland, Maine, after one game. He played just five minutes Saturday night against the Blues; J.F. Fortin returned last week after playing less than eight minutes in two games. The Yonkman move came in anticipation of the return of John Gruden, out with a groin injury. He was eligible to come off injured reserve yesterday.

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