- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Of the seven games the Washington Capitals have lost this season, three or four might have been victories had something not gone wrong at an inopportune time. The record shows how fragile is the makeup of this club.

Yesterday coach Bruce Cassidy said he thought the problem was a loss of focus, sometimes just momentary. But by the time focus was regained, the momentum and the game were lost.

Nowhere was this more evident than midway through the second period of Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss to Anaheim. Washington had just embarrassed itself with an excellent demonstration of how not to run a power play, and just that quickly the Caps went flat, seemingly losing their spirit and desire to compete in a matter of seconds.

And less than 90 seconds after the power play attempt ended, Sergei Fedorov casually put a shot on goal from the right circle behind a slight screen. Caps goalie Olie Kolzig got a piece of the puck as it went under his arm, but it wasn’t enough. There were more than 24 minutes left to play, but for all intents and purposes the game was over.

Asked if it doesn’t take very much to deflate his team, to turn an intense performance into a dismal one, Cassidy replied, “It’s starting to [be that way]. Certainly that goal — and we were playing a decent game, not great but we were right there — they score on a shot that was just thrown at the net and I know what goes through our guys’ heads: ‘How come that doesn’t happen to us?’”

Cassidy and even casual observers could see what was happening, how the team suddenly seemed drained. There were more than four minutes left in the period, and Cassidy couldn’t wait to get into the dressing room.

“I went right in after the period,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, you can’t let that goal beat you. You can’t get down on that goal.’ You could see it. It’s normal. It’s human nature. When you’re not winning, all of a sudden it’s, ‘Here we go again.’ We just can’t have that attitude.”

Yet the Caps haven’t won in 20 days. They are 1-7-1, winless in eight games, their longest such streak since the mid-‘80s. They have lost six in a row, their worst run since 1989-90. They have been outscored 33-19 while descending to the cellar of the 30-team league.

“We really seem to care as a group for 10, 15 minutes at a stretch, and then it’s almost like we drift off,” Cassidy said. “We seem to lose our focus or whatever you want to call it. It’s tough, you’re running the bench and all of a sudden you realize some of your guys are out of it. Part of being a professional is to be able to focus and I think we lose it. It’s an issue, and it happens.”

“We’re not a 7-1 team,” said one player yesterday, “and we’re certainly not a 1-7 team either.”

Notes — Wings Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr, center Robert Lang, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and goalie Olie Kolzig are listed on the ballot to select starters for the All-Star Game on Feb.8 in St. Paul, Minn. It ties the previous high for number of Caps on the ballot. …

Gonchar missed practice yesterday; Cassidy said he could use the rest after playing a team-high 27 minutes a night. … Former Cap Byron Dafoe is scheduled to make his season debut for Atlanta tonight against his old team at MCI Center. He had been unable to pry Pasi Nurminen (5-2-2, 1.95 before last night) out of the nets.

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