- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

Robert Lang was so superstitious about the possibility he didn’t want to discuss it in advance.

Jaromir Jagr derided the chance it could happen for him again.

And it’s a good thing Sergei Gonchar said he would be just as happy with a weekend in Florida with his wife as being honored along with his Washington Capitals teammates.

That’s because Lang, who was tied for the NHL scoring lead before last night, and five-time scoring champion Jagr were chosen yesterday as reserves for the Eastern Conference for the All-Star Game on Feb. 8 in St. Paul, Minn. Gonchar, the league’s top-scoring defenseman, wasn’t.

The selection is the first for Lang in his 10 NHL seasons. Lang leads the league in points (57) and power-play points (29), and his 16-game scoring streak is the best this year. Lang, who leads the Caps with 23 goals, is on pace to erase career-highs of 32 goals, 48 assists and 80 points he set in 2001 with Pittsburgh, two seasons before signing a five-year, $25million contract with Washington.

“It’s a great honor,” Lang said. “I’m very excited and proud. I guess I’m a late bloomer. I don’t worry about proving people wrong, but I can say I’ve lived up to my contract.”

Caps coach Glen Hanlon had nothing but raves for his All-Star center.

“Robert has fulfilled all expectations, which a small percentage of players do,” Hanlon said. “He has played extremely well. I like his ability to score and his consistency. His percentage of games with a point [37 of 48] is likely as high as any player’s.”

Although he was tied for 11th in scoring before last night with 45 points in 46 games, Jagr said he shouldn’t have been chosen for his 12th All-Star Game.

“I’ve got a million things on my mind right now, trades, and we’re almost in last place,” said Jagr, the subject of intensifying trade rumors because of his league-high $11million salary and Washington’s poor season on the ice and at the gate.

“Being in the All-Star Game is the last thing that I’m going to think about. I think 90 percent of people [would say he’s not a worthy choice]. They should pick people who deserve to be there and are having good years.”

Hanlon said while Jagr’s candor is refreshing, he disagrees with his biggest star.

“Jags likely doesn’t factor in that the All-Star Game is a showcase for our top players, and he’s still one of the top players in the world,” Hanlon said. “I’m happy with his season. He has likely worked as hard as anybody and likely as hard as he ever has. What more do you want? Is he going to win the scoring race? He and Robert might be 1-2.”

Gonchar was left off the team for the first time in four years despite leading the NHL in ice time (28:06), ranking second in assists (38) and power-play points (28) and being the only defenseman with 40 points (43).

“We’re so far out of the playoffs, so it wouldn’t be as nice to go to the All-Star Game as usual,” Gonchar said. “You go, have some fun and see some friends, but I already made plans with my wife. It’s a win-win situation.”

Lang and Hanlon said Gonchar should have been recognized despite a minus-22 defensive rating.

“I don’t think that’s enough to take away from playing in the All-Star Game,” Hanlon said. “If our whole group was plus and Gonch was minus-22, then you have an issue. But our whole group is minus, and he plays the most. If we thought Gonch was a defensive liability, he wouldn’t be out there in the last minute of periods, the last minute of games.”

Notes — Center Dainius Zubrus likely will be back in the lineup tonight at Florida, 23 days after injuring his foot while blocking a shot in Buffalo. Zubrus will take the place of right wing Stephen Peat, who missed practice yesterday and didn’t make the trip south with what was termed “non-diagnosed chest pains.”

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