- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

The lowly Washington Capitals weren’t supposed to belong on the same ice as the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia Flyers last night. But the Caps, mired in last place in the Southeast Division, received power play goals from Jeff Halpern and Anson Carter in the first two periods en route to a shocking 2-1 victory at MCI Center.

Before the second home sellout crowd this season, goalie Olie Kolzig stopped all 24 Flyers shots until Michal Handzus beat him shorthanded with 26 seconds remaining.

“We’ve lost a lot of talent the last few weeks, and we’re replacing that with heart and desire and sometimes that can take you further,” said Kolzig, referring to departed big guns Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander. “This is what we used to be like. [Coach Glen Hanlon] said a couple of weeks ago that if we can really limit the scoring chances, he likes our odds of winning. Tonight we did that.”

Playing on ESPN for the first time since last April’s playoffs, the rebuilding Caps had seven players in the lineup who skated in that series with Tampa Bay.

Dainius Zubrus and Jason Doig were out after being injured in Friday’s loss to the New York Rangers. Defensemen Brad Norton and Shaone Morrisonn and left wing Craig Johnson had all joined the team since Washington’s last home game five days earlier. And yet the Caps, outscored 13-3 by the Flyers in losing all three previous meetings, controlled the game.

Washington’s power play has been decimated by all the deals, but its current members passed the puck as prettily as their superstar predecessors ever had with Philadelphia tough guy Donald Brashear in the box for roughing Darcy Verot. Rookie Alexander Semin, near the top of the left circle, spotted Kip Miller open to the right of Flyers goalie Sean Burke, and Miller quickly fed the onrushing Halpern for the easy tap-in at the left post at 13:15.

“Sasha and Kippy made great passes, but the biggest thing was that Darcy drew the penalty,” Halpern said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to put up the numbers of a Robert Lang, but when you’re on the power play you’re going to get some points.”

Washington headed to the dressing room to a rare ovation. Then, at 4:27 of the second period, the penalty-killers — including newcomers Morrisonn and Johnson — drew a similar response from the crowd after skating off Matt Pettinger’s slash of Sami Kapanen without allowing a shot.

The Caps went on the power play for the second time when Alexei Zhamnov high-sticked Semin at 9:04. Halpern worked the puck free down low. Miller jumped on the loose puck and passed across to Carter, whose one-timer slipped through traffic in front and past Burke at 10:12. Halpern has six points in six games and a team-high 31.

“A lot of people have struggled through some adverse times, but Halpy has excelled at it,” Hanlon said. “The only way you can is … to feel like you are going to put your footprint on what’s going to happen here in the future. He’s playing like a real leader.”

Halpern played 23:03, more than any other Washington skater, and 12 seconds more than Witt, the longtime blueline mainstay who teamed nicely with 6-foot-4, 240-pound newcomer Norton to shut down Philadelphia’s top line and give Kolzig a relatively easy night. Led by Witt’s physical presence, the Caps limited the Flyers to three shots in the first 13 minutes of the third period and then killed off Carter’s hooking penalty at 16:12.

“Brendan’s the anchor,” Halpern said. “It’s great having him back there. But who knows where he’ll be in two or three days.”

Witt, like seventh-year starter Kolzig and veteran forwards Carter and Mike Grier, could become the latest ex-Caps before Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline.

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