- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon is one of those people who views the glass as half full.

Hanlon won’t acknowledge his team’s four-game winless streak. In Hanlon’s mind, Washington is on the upswing after ending a three-game losing skid with Thursday’s 2-2 tie against New Jersey.

Never mind that the Caps have scored only five goals in their past four games and that offensive threats Peter Bondra and Dainius Zubrus won’t play this weekend in Ottawa or Montreal, places where Washington was whipped by 5-1 scores in October.

For a day anyway, life was good for the last-place Caps (11-23-4-1), so good that Hanlon gave goalie Olie Kolzig, defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt and forwards Mike Grier, Jeff Halpern, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang and Kip Miller the day off after the team’s third game in four nights.

Hanlon had reason to be upbeat because the Caps had no business getting a point against the Devils. The defending champions were better rested, had not played since Monday and arrived in Washington before the Caps returned from their 7-1 New Year’s Eve shellacking in Buffalo. Plus, New Jersey’s lineup included 11 players with at least two Stanley Cup rings. In contrast, only nine of Hanlon’s 20 players had been in the NHL for all of the last two seasons. Six had spent part of this season in the minors.

Deepening Washington’s difficulties, New Jersey had eight power plays, including a pair of two-man advantages, to Washington’s two as the Caps were outshot for the 15th consecutive game.

But Grier and defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski, who had combined for only four goals in the first 37 games, each beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, and that was enough to make the Caps 3-5-3 under Hanlon and make yesterday’s brief practice a carefree experience.

Bates Battaglia, who set up Grier’s goal, said the Caps are a different team from the one that was hammered in Ottawa on Oct.23 under former coach Bruce Cassidy.

“It’s like night and day,” Battaglia said. “The whole attitude has changed. You can see it in our play. We still have some things to fix, but we’re getting there.”

Hanlon isn’t ignoring the reality of back-to-back games against the red-hot Senators (7-2-1 in their past 10 games) and Canadiens (5-2-3), who pounded the visiting Caps on Oct.14. However, the coach said Washington is facing powerful Ottawa at the right time because the Senators and the Devils play a similar defensive-based style.

“This is likely a good time to play them after playing New Jersey,” Hanlon said. “Last night, we gave up [only] eight even-strength scoring chances. Our defensive structure was as good as it has been. We said, ‘We’re playing against a patient team. We’re going to be patient,’ which isn’t always one of our strongest attributes. Last night, we were.”

Notes — Steve Eminger, out two games with a bruised thigh, made the trip, but the rookie defenseman doubted he would be ready to play. The Caps are playing it safe with Bondra’s pulled groin, keeping him home this weekend so he might be ready for Wednesday’s game with Phoenix. … Forward Brian Sutherby, recalled on Thursday, was kept off the ice to strengthen a chronic but minor groin injury. … Forward Brian Willsie, out four games with a concussion, could resume skating this weekend at Piney Orchard.

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