- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

The Washington Capitals are coming off a pair of nasty losses. One was in overtime after blowing a two-goal lead late in the third period, while the second was a blowout when a lot of things went wrong. In both cases the Caps were outworked badly, something that doesn’t happen often.

“It’s been two games,” coach Glen Hanlon said softly. “I don’t want it to be three. I didn’t want it to be two. … But if you think a team is going to outwork other teams 82 games a year, I don’t think that’s realistic. There are just going to be times when you don’t.”

This afternoon the Caps play host to Philadelphia, an opponent that has defeated Washington more than any other in its 31-year history. The Flyers are unbeaten in their last 10 on the road and are within reach of Ottawa for the Eastern Conference lead. The Caps could not have picked a tougher opponent.

“With the exception of the last two games, we’ve been on a pretty good run for the last 16 games where we’ve outworked teams,” Hanlon said. The Caps are 6-8-2 but were outscored by just three goals during the stretch. “But in the last two games since the holidays we’ve been derailed. We’re addressing it, taking measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

But there are no guarantees. Yesterday the mood was better at practice and Hanlon acknowledged it has “taken us a couple days to get over the we’re-not-happy-with-us mood. We have a real tough contest coming up, we’re well aware of a team coming in that will match our work ethic and our competitiveness.”

The Flyers also have something the Caps only dream of — an excess of talent that allows them to remain competitive even with five regulars out with injuries.

The losses to Boston (4-3 in overtime on Tuesday) and New Jersey (7-2 on Wednesday) exposed the Caps’ personnel shortcomings. With an extraordinarily talented left wing such as Alex Ovechkin, the club desperately needs a slick, play-making center who can take advantage of the rookie’s uncanny ability to see the whole ice surface and break through defenses either with speed or bruising force.

Hanlon and his assistants have spent the season playing mix-and-match — inserting one center then another, adding a right wing then subtracting one or the other to see if there was any lasting chemistry, only to find little or none. The only player who has lasted since day one on the top line is the person the club must be built around — Ovechkin.

Because of the offensive deficiencies, the Caps must outwork opponents to create scoring chances.

“Right now we don’t have a lot of different ways [of winning] if we’re not at our maximum level of energy and if our work ethic isn’t at the same level,” Hanlon said. “That is, unless Olie Kolzig — as he tried to do the other night against Boston — just totally steals a game for us. He’s like our second weapon but that’s the problem — we don’t have a lot of others. We are what we are.”

Backup goalie Brent Johnson is out with a groin injury and Maxime Daigneault is expected to be called up this morning from South Carolina of the ECHL to back up Kolzig.

Johnson missed the last two days of practice. Team captain Jeff Halpern, a Montgomery County native, spotted a friend from his local playing days who was a goalie and asked if he had his equipment handy. The Caps needed a second goalie for practice Thursday and yesterday at Bowie Ice Arena. For Derek Rabold, a 30-year-old full-time employee at the rink, it was the chance of a lifetime.

“It was the first time I’ve skated or practiced with them,” said Rabold, a Towson State graduate. “I had a blast. It was a wonderful experience. They’re quick. It took a while to get my timing down, but I think I did OK. The guys were very nice. They came up and talked to me, asked who I was and how I knew Jeff. They were very pleasant to be around.”

Did anyone take advantage of him?

“Yeah, my buddy Jeff — but just one time.”

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