- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

MONTREAL — The Washington Capitals have a game plan for this season and coach Glen Hanlon is sticking to it. It should be noted, however, that his red hair has picked up a few hints of gray in the last few months.

The Caps conclude the first quarter of the 2005-06 season tonight against the Canadiens in Montreal’s Bell Centre with a few things assured, none of them pleasant. They will not be at .500 or any where near it, and their goal differential, a league-worst minus-32, will be huge.

The current Caps team, however, has a better first-quarter record than the most recent one. Washington is 7-12-0, good for 14 points, two points ahead of the 2003-04 team that finished the quarter at 5-13-1-1.

In 1981-82, Gary Green was fired as coach after opening with a 1-12-0 mark. The late Roger Crozier, acting general manager and coach, was charged with one loss for a game he coached before Bryan Murray arrived from Hershey and righted the ship. After 20 games, that team was 5-14-1.

Three of the expansion franchise’s early teams didn’t reach double digits in points during the first 20 games of the season. The first two clubs (1974-75 and 1975-76) had just a pair of wins and two ties to show for 20 games while another (1977-78) had two wins and four ties.

“Today was a teaching day,” Hanlon said after arriving in frigid Montreal, not much of an improvement over Buffalo where it was not only cold but also snowing. “We have our monthly plan, our yearly plan on what we need to do. Today we just needed to keep working on defensive zone coverage, not that that was the primary weakness [Thursday] night. We held Buffalo to 27 shots, our penalty-kill was good again and we got a goal off it, and we got a goal off our power play so that seems to be improving.”

But Hanlon did not mention the obvious, that while it was an improvement for the Washington offense to score five goals, the club gave up eight, the sixth time in 19 games the Caps have surrendered six or more goals.

Hanlon would not speculate on possible changes, but from the looks of practice yesterday in Buffalo, there will be some. Barring last-minute complications, Olie Kolzig will return to his starter’s role after missing three games with Brent Johnson assuming his usual duties at the end of the bench. There also appeared to be some movement among the defensive pairs and it may be that Ivan Majesky, who has only played four games since returning from a knee injury, is put back on the shelf.

Hanlon reconfigured his forward lines for the third period against Buffalo and it appears they will stay as they finished that game. The main beneficiary there would be Andrew Cassels, who has played two strong games since being benched for five. After scoring once and setting up three others in two contests, he has been elevated to center the first line with Alex Ovechkin on the left and Chris Clark on the right.

Dropping a notch to where he may be best suited will be center Brooks Laich, now between rookie wings Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis. Brian Willsie, who had been on the first line with Ovechkin and Laich, moves to the right side on the Jeff Halpern line.

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