- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

The Washington Capitals had an optional practice yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Arena and every player showed up. Under the circumstances, that usually means some players are worried about their jobs.

Not only did everybody show up, the mood was upbeat. Players who were rolling around on the ice fighting Saturday night in Atlanta were poking fun at each other, calling into question dressing habits, eating habits, the whole gamut.

And all of this came after the Thrashers, without two of their best players, dominated the Caps on Friday night (7-3) and did the same Saturday night (8-1). The second game was worse as Atlanta rolled up the score and made fun of Washington in the process.

“To have a team score goals like that and then continue to celebrate like they did, jumping up and down after their seventh and eighth goals, that’s something that hopefully we’ll keep in the back of our heads,” said center Jeff Halpern, the team captain and one of those fighting at the end.

“We see them six more times this year, we’ll have our chances. I think the whole weekend was embarrassing, but I can’t imagine that would mean we’d sulk and feel sorry for ourselves for the next game.”

The next game is this afternoon, a Columbus Day matinee against the New York Rangers at MCI Center. Mark Messier has retired, but Jaromir Jagr hasn’t and leads the Rangers in scoring with two goals and four points.

While coach Glen Hanlon and staff lectured the team on not wallowing in self-pity after being humbled twice during the weekend, he did not let the reality of the situation escape. There were personnel shifts within the lines and among the defensive pairs but no callups or transfer of bodies.

“We’re not trying to create an environment where when we have a game or weekend like this everyone’s looking over their shoulder,” Hanlon said. “It’s important that we create stability from within.”

Nonetheless, Halpern was shifted back to center from the right side and Dainius Zubrus, who had been centering the first line, was moved to a unit that includes Brian Sutherby and Chris Clark — three people who enjoy sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

Brian Willsie moves to the right side on the first unit with Halpern and Alexander Ovechkin, while the second line is back to its original makeup — Jeff Friesen, Andrew Cassels and Petr Sykora. And Ben Clymer’s shot at defense has ended — at least for now — with him moving back to left wing with Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley.

“We’re trying to be cognizant of the fact that change is disruptive,” Hanlon said. “By trying to create a stable environment, you want to have stability in the lines but you also want to be aware of the amount of goals we had scored against us [an average of six a game]. But I don’t believe in change for the sake of change.”

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