- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It was clear that change was coming; the only question was where. In effect, all four Washington Capitals lines have been revamped or, in some cases, put back together.

Coach Bruce Cassidy’s changes come with the Caps in the midst of a six-game road trip which has produced no wins, one tie and three losses. In nearly 13 periods, Washington has scored six goals.

Kip Miller, often the catalyst for getting Jaromir Jagr on track, has been moved back to the left side on the first line. Dainius Zubrus, who centered the top unit portions of last season when Michael Nylander wasn’t, will pivot between Miller and Jagr.

Peter Bondra stays at right wing but moves from the third to the second line, with energized Robert Lang at center. Hard-nosed Michael Grier continues as Lang’s left wing but he and Bondra can swap sides on a whim.

The third line is new, with rookie Boyd Gordon in the middle, Matt Pettinger on the left and Brian Sutherby on the right. Gordon and Sutherby also are interchangeable.

Steve Konowalchuk and Jeff Halpern comprise two-thirds of the fourth line with Brian Willsie on the right. Enforcer Stephen Peat and Russian rookie Alexander Semin are the spares for now.

“We didn’t score much on the road,” Cassidy said yesterday. “Maybe this will put a little more emphasis on our veteran guys to kind of get us going.

“Instead of better balance from three lines, let’s get balance with two.”

The precise roles of the third and fourth lines presumably will depend on the situation while the front two will get the lion’s share of the ice time.

The key appears to be the second line. Lang has been the Caps’ best forward this season and Cassidy is hoping he and Grier can provide some spark for Bondra, who did not appear to be the right mix on a checking line. If Bondra gets hot and Lang stays that way, Jagr may find some open ice as defensive pressure is shifted.

“I just said, ‘Robert, listen, you’re a good offensive player, so is Peter,’” Cassidy said. “‘You’ve got Mike Grier, who’s a good fit with you guys. You got to make it work.’ Zubie and Jags, same thing. Two skilled guys, they both like to have the puck coming through the neutral zone.”

Lang has been the offensive surprise of the young season for Washington. He is getting more involved and his strong desire and drive is paying off.

“I feel good, I’m in good shape and the coach he lets me play a little bit in the first five games,” Lang said. “That lets you get into a rhythm and you feel confident. In sports, that’s 90 percent of everything, how you feel mentally. Physically, obviously you have to be prepared but I don’t think that’s ever been a concern. If you let a guy play and give him good freedom, you’re going to get good results in return.”

Bondra and Grier now have played both sides of the ice but neither seems concerned by where they play, as long as they play.

“It’s good that we both play both sides, that way we won’t worry about coming back in our own end if one of us ends up on the other side,” said Bondra, who has 114 goals in his past three seasons.

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