- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

Most of the steps taken by the young Washington Capitals this season have been baby ones. Coach Glen Hanlon is hoping the club now is ready to take one giant step toward being far more competitive in a league now dominated by specialty teams.

When Washington defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 late Wednesday night, four of the game’s goals were scored on the power play, and the fifth, by the Caps’ Brian Sutherby, was scored short-handed. Washington’s two power-play strikes, including the game-winner with 1:03 left, came from defenseman Jamie Heward.

“It’s easy to see how we’re going to take the next step because there are some huge discrepancies in our play,” coach Glen Hanlon said yesterday. “At 5-on-5 we’re playing very well. We’ve won all those battles in the last 10 games, and we’re doing some really good things. Our home record is around .500, and that’s not bad for where we are but our road record …”

Going into the game against Los Angeles, the Caps’ road record was 2-10-1. The Caps (10-17-2) are in San Jose tonight, facing a Sharks team coached by Ron Wilson, who led Washington to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.

Hanlon feels his team has made huge strides since training camp in September.

“We wanted to come in and establish a foundation of what the Washington Capitals would be all about,” said Hanlon, who has been with the club a full season. “We wanted that foundation to be hard work and to be totally unselfish individuals, to really enjoy the game and have a passion for it. We didn’t know how long that would take, just training camp or maybe all 82 games. But thanks to the guys we have, we’ve accomplished that right away.

“But now we have to take the next step. We’ve established a work ethic; now we have to start executing in a couple different areas.”

One of those areas is doubtless the special teams. Washington allowed the Kings to score two power-play goals but killed seven other chances, and the unit’s success climbed above 80 percent (81.1). The unit remains tied for last place in that department on the road at 77.7 percent.

Wednesday night, eight penalties were called during a span of 7:04 late in the first period, with each team having two-man advantages and each failing to convert those chances.

“We hadn’t had one of those specialty games” in weeks, Hanlon said. “In those games, there’s no flow, no continuity. I guess it played into our hands a little bit because we had talked and worked so hard on specialty teams and we were presented with that situation right off the bat.”

But it kept Hanlon’s best offensive players — like Alex Ovechkin, who assisted on both of Heward’s goals — off the ice while the club was killing penalties. Ovechkin ended with 18 minutes of ice time in a game in which 25 minutes would have been more realistic.

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