- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

NEW YORK — Even against another team shedding all of its stars, the Washington Capitals couldn’t come out on top.

The New York Rangers — who have traded away almost as much talent as Washington since they acquired Jaromir Jagr from the Caps in January — edged Washington 3-2 on Bobby Holik’s backhanded power-play goal with 9:16 remaining last night at Madison Square Garden.

Holik’s goal, on an assist from Jagr, came after Washington killed its first five short-handed situations. The Caps had to play the final two periods with 16 skaters after losing defenseman Jason Doig and center Dainius Zubrus to injuries.

“I’m worried about both of them,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said of Doig’s sprained wrist and Zubrus’ strained chest muscle. “They both chew up a lot of minutes. You cannot afford to lose people like that.”

Since springing a 2-1 upset Jan.28 on their last visit to Madison Square Garden — right after the Jagr trade — the Caps have accelerated their fire sale during their worst season in 22 years by trading all-time scoring leader Peter Bondra, NHL scoring leader Robert Lang, All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar and No.2 center Michael Nylander.

The Rangers, who will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record seventh straight year, have nearly followed suit by dealing Alex Kovalev and Petr Nedved and all-time scoring leader Brian Leetch.

“It was a different feeling, especially from the last time we played them because the Jags deal was so close,” said center Jeff Halpern, who assisted on both Washington goals to take the team scoring lead with 29 points. “[But] this is our team. It’s an honest group of guys. We competed hard, but we threw moral victories out a long time ago.”

The first period featured only nine shots despite four power plays. Ex-Cap Chris Simon beat Sebastien Charpentier on one of the Rangers’ three pucks on net, playing it off the left boards, skating in with defenseman Todd Rohloff all over him and sliding his 14th goal past the backup goalie at 16:10.

Washington’s Bates Battaglia, who has two goals since Dec.17, had a breakaway at 1:45 of the second period but fired wide. Short-handed for having too many men on the ice at 7:32, the Caps killed the penalty before Halpern threaded a pass to Trent Whitfield, who fended off the checking of Vladimir Malakhov and beat rookie goalie Jason LaBarbera from point-blank range at 9:27.

It was Whitfield’s first goal in the 16 games since the Caps were last here and Washington’s third short-handed score.

Then, with Simon off for interference, another pretty Halpern assist set up Kip Miller’s snap shot from the slot at 11:48 that put the Caps ahead 2-1. It was Miller’s second goal in four games after a 19-game drought. However, the lead lasted only 1:45 before 43-year-old Mark Messier one-timed a shot from the left circle past Charpentier.

“We’re playing our butts off considering all the guys we’ve lost,” Charpentier said. “It would have been nice to come up with the big save.”

Notes — Doig, who gave star-crossed Rangers center Eric Lindros a concussion in the Jan.28 game, left after playing 1:57 following a collision with Simon and another Ranger. Zubrus aggravated the injury that kept him out for spans of two and four games during the previous three weeks and doesn’t expect to play tonight against Philadelphia at MCI Center. … Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, acquired from Boston on Wednesday for Gonchar, was scratched because he was sick, not because of the shoulder injury that kept him out of his last game with the Bruins. … Defenseman Brad Norton, claimed off waivers from Los Angeles on Thursday, played 14:48 in his Washington debut. … Olie Kolzig will be back in goal tonight for the Caps.

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