- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

TORONTO — Although he hasn’t taken a lot of shots on the ice recently, the Washington Capitals’ Jaromir Jagr seems to be taking a fair share off it.

The reality of the Caps’ four-game losing streak, in which Jagr has gone scoreless, seemed to boil over yesterday. After a practice at Air Canada Centre, the five-time NHL scoring champion conceded he was struggling but openly complained about his playing time and criticized coach Bruce Cassidy.

“Of course, I can do more than I’m doing,” said Jagr, who had four points in the first two games. “I’m part of the reason, but not the whole reason. I’m sick of everyone blaming me.

“I thought I did [play well] early in the season. Then all of a sudden, I started playing 15 minutes [a game]. It started in Montreal [in Game[ThSp]4]. For what reason? I heard I have to earn ice time. I thought I earned it. I haven’t talked to Bruce. He’s in a higher place than me. I don’t have a right to go to the coach and say, ‘Can I talk to you?’ He should go to the players and ask, but maybe he doesn’t need us to know. Maybe he knows everything.”

Cassidy doesn’t solely blame Jagr for the Caps’ scoring deficits, 18-5 during the four-game skid and 24-10 during a six-game winless streak. The coach cites the failure of his top players — including forwards Peter Bondra and Robert Lang, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and goalie Olie Kolzig — to play to their usual standards. All except Lang are at least two-time All-Stars. But unlike Jagr, Lang (five points), Gonchar (three) and Bondra (two) have scored during Washington’s dive.

Jagr has slipped from averages of 22 shifts and 19:15 of ice time during the 1-1-1 start to 20 shifts and 18 minutes during the losing streak, but he also has taken just six of his 21 shots during the those four games.

“Our best players haven’t been our best players, and if they’re not it’s tough to win in this league,” said Cassidy, who declined to fire back at Jagr. “Jags scored on the first shift of the season by firing one from the [faceoff] dot. You’re not going to score from there every time, but he made a quick move, beat a guy off the wall and fired at the net, and we had some traffic in front.

“Jags has great hands. He’s got to get some pucks to the net, hang around the front of the net. I can try to get him away from certain matchups, but I’m not going to say, ‘I think you should be going top shelf more.’ Jags is one of the greatest players in the world when it comes to offense. He has been around this league long enough that he’ll work himself out of [the slump]. As long as he keeps plugging away, I don’t know what else you can do. He’s a guy who tends to look for his own answers.”

Right now Jagr doesn’t seem to be looking too hard. In the absence of usual center Michael Nylander, out with a broken leg since Oct.2, his linemates have kept changing. Tonight in Toronto, the moody 31-year-old Czech likely will skate with Mike Grier and Dainius Zubrus.

“There are a million reasons for not scoring goals,” said Jagr, who has averaged a point a game during his two-plus seasons in Washington compared to 1.3 during his 11 years in Pittsburgh. “It’s hard to score in this league even if you’re playing the way you should play. The chemistry isn’t there when the players don’t play together more than one or two games. … Nothing is happening for anybody right now. You ask questions, but I don’t have answers. Even if I answered, I wouldn’t answer the way I really feel.”

Nor does Kolzig have the answer for his .857 save percentage, worst among the NHL’s 30 starting goalies. However, the 10th-year Cap has a great read on his team, especially in the wake of Wednesday’s unexpected trade of captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado.

“When your captain and good friend is traded six games into the season, it’s a shock,” said Kolzig, now one of four Caps left from the 1998 Stanley Cup finalists. “Kono was the heart and soul of this team for so long, but it’s part of the business. I don’t think he was going to re-sign at the end of the year [when he was to become an unrestricted free agent] … and it was good for him to get a fresh start. He was frustrated here.

“I don’t think any of us feel safe, especially with the early exit in the playoffs last year and the way we’ve started this year. People have to be worried about their jobs. They’ve got to hate losing. They’ve got to be ticked off at what’s going on. That’s the only way that we’re going to get out of this.

“If there are enough guys that care about getting this thing straightened out, then we’re going to be fine. But if people are content with what’s going on and just accept the fact that they’re going to clean house, then it’s going to be a long, long season and a lot of jobs are going to be lost.”

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