- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Mike Grier had his first three-point outing in 15 months last night at MCI Center.

That should have been reason for joy in the Washington Capitals dressing room, where Grier had been one of the leaders through a tortuous season. However, Grier registered that goal and two assists in a 6-0 victory for the Buffalo Sabres to whom he was traded Tuesday in the last of the rebuilding Caps’ eight future-oriented deals.

“It was a tough night [emotionally] and I’m glad it’s over with,” said Grier, who was cheered by the crowd and said goodbye to his former teammates after the game.

Washington’s fifth loss in six games dropped its record to 21-39-8-2. The Caps, who are one point from being officially eliminated from playoff contention, need 11 points in their final 12 games to avoid their worst season since 1977-1978, when they were a fifth-year franchise. Buffalo, winning for the third time in four games, closed within five games of the New York Islanders for the last Eastern Conference playoff berth with 13 games left.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon doesn’t have a player with more than 31 points, after his lineup was stripped of Robert Lang, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra and Michael Nylander, who had combined for 205 points. And if centers Jeff Halpern and Dainius Zubrus hadn’t overcome injuries in recent games to skate last night, the leading scorer in Hanlon’s lineup would have been Kip Miller, who has 21 points and was a healthy scratch in 10 of 12 games from Jan.28 to Feb.23.

Given that dearth of potent point-producers, it’s no surprise that the Caps have scored seven goals in six games. Nine of Washington’s 18 skaters — including five claimed since training camp — have been on waivers during their careers. Last night’s loss equaled the worst of the season, a 7-1 New Year’s Eve rout in Buffalo.

“We don’t have a lot of offense, but we can all play defense and we didn’t do a very good job tonight,” said Brendan Witt, the Caps’ only remaining veteran defenseman.

Added goalie Olie Kolzig: “We know we’re going to be in for some growing pains. Guys were working hard, but we weren’t working smart. We gave them too many freebie goals.”

Kolzig did foil Miroslav Satan’s short-handed breakaway on Washington’s early power play, but at 4:27 of the first period, Satan skated behind the net and fed Dmitri Kalinin for the one-timer from the left circle, 19 seconds into Buffalo’s first power play.

Grier paid his first offensive dividend for Buffalo 5:24 into the second period feeding Chris Drury for a rush at the left post. The puck bounced off Kolzig and into the slot, from where Jochen Hecht tossed it in the net before the goalie could recover.

Then at 11:39, Grier beat Washington’s latest waiver wire pickup, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, to the puck in the left circle and passed to Hecht, who gave it right back. Again, Grier outmuscled Grand-Pierre and with Kolzig having gone down to thwart an expected shot by Hecht, the former Cap had an open net into which he deposited his ninth goal.

“We hadn’t seen those hands in years,” Kolzig said jokingly of Grier, who also assisted on Hecht’s goal at 3:38 of the third period that made it 4-0. “There’s no better way to get accepted by your teammates than to have a game like he had.”

Adam Mair beat the screened Kolzig at 6:29, and Daniel Briere followed at 14:10.

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