- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the Washington Capitals needed some leadership on the ice to break out of their seven-game winless and five-game losing streaks.

Yesterday he got it. The team named six alternate captains for the rest of the season, all filling the role of captain Steve Konowalchuk, who was traded to Colorado last Wednesday.

Wing Peter Bondra and defensemen Brendan Witt and Sergei Gonchar will wear the “A” for Washington’s remaining home games. Center Robert Lang, wing Mike Grier and right wing Jaromir Jagr will fill the leadership roles on the road.

“Dividing leadership responsibilities amongst several players is what we believe is in the best interest of the team,” general manager George McPhee said.

Lang, who is off to an excellent start, is new to the rotation. The others have worn an “A” for the Caps, and Witt and Konowalchuk alternated wearing the captain’s “C” three years ago.

“I think teams in the past have done it with rotating [alternate] captains when somebody has been traded,” Cassidy said. “To me, two ‘Cs’ or two ‘As,’ what you’re doing is spreading leadership out. We did that last year. Maybe somebody evolves from that room a little later on that we feel is the best fit.”

Washington returns home tonight for its first game at MCI Center since Oct.11. The six-game road swing was a disaster, opening with a tie in Toronto followed by five defeats, some of them ugly. Washington played reasonably well in Ottawa on Thursday night before collapsing in the third period and played very well in Toronto on Saturday night before a passing error by a forward set up a goal that turned the game in the Maple Leafs’ favor.

What was missing in some of those games was an on-ice figure to rally the troops.

“It’s very important right now — on-ice leadership where we need our go-to guys to go out and show the rest of the group they’re tired of losing by the way they play,” Cassidy said. “You need guys in the room to say the right thing to get the guys to stick together, but right now we need a win. We need to win a game to feel good about ourselves.

“So that to me means leadership on the ice [from] the big guys because they’re able to do it; they’ve shown in the past that they can. A guy like [goalie Olie] Kolzig, obviously we need the big save, the big goal from a guy like Jagr or Lang and Bondra on the power play. Those are the things that will put us over the top.”

Meanwhile, a lot of eyes will be watching to see how many seats are occupied. Washington is 1-6-1, at the bottom of the NHL feeding chain at the start of a season when it appears many teams are playing in half-empty arenas.

On the importance of the Caps making a favorable impression tonight, Cassidy said, “It’s crucial right now. I hope the guys realize we’re close, and sometimes being at home is the difference. We scored … more goals in two games at home [nine] than we did on the whole six-game road trip [eight]. I hope that in itself gets us motivated to play.”

Notes — Konowalchuk was the fourth straight Washington captain to be traded. Dale Hunter also went to Colorado, Adam Oates to Philadelphia and Kevin Hatcher to Dallas. … Gonchar is the latest subject of trade rumors, with sources in Toronto claiming the Leafs are watching him closely. … Right wing Stephen Peat has been inserted into the lineup as a reward for the way he competed in Ottawa and Toronto, Cassidy said.

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