- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

In the Washington Capitals’ locker room before games, small groups of players gather with one player generally doing the talking while the others listen.

This has been going on since about halfway through training camp when the roster reached a manageable size. It’s just another step in the education of a young team.

No matter how good a player was in junior or college hockey before arriving, there’s a lot to learn about the NHL, especially for a team as young as the Caps.

“I just try to tell them how to play in certain situations,” goalie Olie Kolzig said. “It makes my job easier when they’re in the right position. When I’m able to see the puck, my job is easier, and that in turn makes everything easier. When I don’t see the puck, it’s like Atlanta all over again, whole bunch of goals. I just tell them — don’t create a double screen.”

These are lessons that should have been learned at a lower level, but they must be learned anew in the NHL. For example, when a rookie defenseman is going up against a Jaromir Jagr for the first time, it’s unlike facing any other forward in the world.

“We talked before the game, and I can’t tell you how much help he was,” young defender Steve Eminger said of veteran Brendan Witt, who tried to teach the next generation about Jagr’s tendencies.

“The way [Jagr] gets the puck in the corner, he always turns his back to you, so you can’t run at him,” Eminger said. “You have to let him make the first move. Witter and I went over that before the game, and it helped.”

Said Witt: “I told Eminger and the other guys not to run at Jags, because he likes to stick out his butt and roll off. I told them if they had a chance to hit him sideways or when he has his head down, do it but not to run at him. He likes to do spin moves and now with these new rules, you can’t clutch and grab and contain him like you used to be able to do.”

Witt, who has asked to be traded to a team with a better chance of making the playoffs, said he remembers similar tutoring sessions when he was breaking in 10 years ago.

“I remember guys like Mark Tinordi, Joe Reekie, Kevin Hatcher, all those guys, giving me tips on certain guys, their tendencies, how to play them in certain situations, all that good stuff,” Witt said. “You need to tell the younger guys now, pass it along.”

“Olie does it, [Jeff] Halpern does it, [Dainius] Zubrus does it — you hope they all pass stuff along to the younger guys,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “It’s just the subtle little things they add in the room that makes the difference. That’s why all those veterans are here.”

There were lessons imparted during a lengthy practice yesterday, and there will be more today before a 6p.m. game against Tampa Bay at MCI Center.

For instance, you don’t play the Lightning’s Martin St. Louis the same way as Jagr.

“The whole league’s still trying to figure that guy out,” Witt said with a chuckle.

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