- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

Fans at MCI Center last night got their first glimpse of what could be an ugly future for the Washington Capitals.

Playing without the traded Jaromir Jagr, the injured Sergei Gonchar and the resting Olie Kolzig, the Caps fell behind by two goals just 8:24 into the game and barely troubled the powerful Philadelphia Flyers in losing 4-1.

It was a depressing first home game for the Caps since Friday’s financially driven deal of Jagr to the New York Rangers for the much cheaper Anson Carter. Making the Washington lineup even less star-spangled was the absence of Gonchar, the scoring leader among NHL defensemen, who is out at least two weeks after separating his left shoulder in Friday’s 4-1 loss to Florida. And coach Glen Hanlon sat Kolzig, the 2000 Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, for the first time in nine games dating to Jan.4.

Rookie Rastislav Stana was between NHL pipes for the first time since Dec.6 and made his first NHL start since Nov.26. Kolzig had been in the Washington net in all 24 previous games at MCI this season.

Kolzig, Gonchar, Caps all-time scoring leader Peter Bondra — who overcame the back spasms he suffered in Florida to play last night — and All-Star center Robert Lang could all be dealt before the March9 trade deadline because of salaries of more than $3.5million.

The Caps last night managed just 13 shots, their fewest at home this season. That total included just five with the extra skater as they came up empty on all five power plays and five overall during the final two periods.

“It will take some time to get some chemistry on the power play,” right wing Mike Grier said of the once formidable unit that’s now without Jagr and Gonchar. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting the puck to Bonzai at the point and getting some traffic in front so we can get some of those ugly goals.”

The Atlantic Division-leading Flyers used the big bodies of John LeClair and Michal Handzus in front and the good hands of linemate Mark Recchi for all their goals. LeClair and Recchi picked up four points apiece and Handzus three.

It didn’t help that the Caps were short-handed on the blue line in losing their third straight game to sink to 14-29-5-2. Josef Boumedienne, Washington’s only puck-moving defenseman in Gonchar’s absence, was a late scratch with an apparent case of food poisoning. That left the Caps with just five defensemen, including Todd Rohloff, who had played an average of only 8:19 in four games and had been scratched three times since being claimed off waivers from Columbus on Jan.9.

And defensemen took all three of Washington’s penalties in the first period, leaving Hanlon on the verge of using Stephen Peat on defense for the first time this year. While surprisingly outhitting the always physical Flyers early, the Caps, the NHL’s second-worst defensive team, had no answers in their own end. After a collision at the Washington blue line caused the puck to squirt free to LeClair along the left boards, he passed to Recchi, who beat Stana from the left circle at 5:30.

Witt, the Caps’ only true experienced defenseman, went off for cross-checking 53 seconds later, and just as the penalty expired, Recchi passed from the right circle to Handzus standing to Stana’s right. Handzus threw the puck out front, and LeClair redirected it into the net.

Grier, who has been in a season-long scoring slump, provided the Caps’ only highlight at 17:56, stealing the puck from Kim Johnsson at the Washington blue line, outracing two Flyers the length of the ice and beating Robert Esche with a rising shot from the left circle to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Handzus made it 3-1 at 6:23 of the second period, bouncing up from a check by Witt at center ice and beating Stana stick-side on assists from LeClair and Recchi. The latter pair also set up Johnsson’s goal with 9:24 remaining.

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