- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Roberto Luongo’s eyes must light up when he sees a trip to MCI Center on the schedule.

Luongo, the goalie who turned aside all 44 shots by the Washington Capitals in a 5-0 Florida Panthers victory last night, has a 4-19 road record this season if his three wins at MCI are subtracted.

And last night might not even be his best performance against the Caps this year. On Dec.18, he rejected 53 of 55 shots in a 3-2 win, also at MCI.

To say the Caps were undermanned would not begin to describe the situation. Six of the 18 skaters were in the minors at some point during the past week as four regulars sat with injuries and two others were benched for ineffective play.

What happened wasn’t pretty — especially for goalie Olie Kolzig, who was after the 250th victory of his career but didn’t come close. He had sporadic or no support in front of him and no offensive backing despite his club taking 44 shots.

It’s the price a team pays when it is rebuilding from scratch.

“We are what we are,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “I mean, it’s not an NHL lineup. We’re playing a lot of prospects. On the positive side some people got to see maybe some future players, but these kids are still a long way away from being ready to wear this sweater for real.”

But it’s not right to blame just the young players who made the trip yesterday from Hershey to get a larger payday by playing in an NHL game. The Caps have now gone 121 minutes, 47 seconds without scoring a goal — a span covering two full games and part of a third.

If anyone is to blame it is 29-year-old Florida forward Jon Sim, who hadn’t been able to find a home with any of the other five NHL teams he has played for. He had hat tricks twice in the preseason against the Caps while playing for Philadelphia and last night had a four-point game — three goals and an assist — to lead the charge against Kolzig.

A few of the goals against Kolzig were fluky but might have been prevented if his defensemen had been better positioned and had used a little force to move opponents out of the way. Luongo had that support.

“The last goal, we had people standing right where they’re supposed to be, but we’re not within a stick length [of the puck]. These are all things that good, veteran players don’t do,” said Hanlon, who made no excuses for last night despite an incomplete lineup.

“I read things where he hasn’t been sharp,” former goalie Hanlon said of Luongo. “He always seems to be in control against us. He doesn’t seem to get himself in too much trouble. I don’t know what else to say for a goalie except they stop the puck. What makes [Dominik] Hasek so good? He stops [the puck], that’s it. The same thing with Luongo, the same with our guy.”

Luongo faced 35 shots through the first two periods before virtually taking the third off with just nine pucks fired in his direction. The issue had long since been settled.

“I think it’s a matter of confidence when you start a game against a team and you know you have their number,” Luongo said. “In the first they took it to us pretty hard, but then we settled down and got some big goals by [Sim]. Then we really had a good third period conserving the lead.”

Notes — The Hershey shuttle is working at full steam. Called up yesterday were forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Jakub Klepis, Louie Robitaille and Joey Tunate, while forwards Eric Fehr and Dave Steckel were returned to the American Hockey League team. Fifteen players who toiled for the Caps this season also played for Hershey during the course of the campaign, with six of them playing at MCI last night.

Medical scratches were Jeff Halpern (groin), Chris Clark (upper body), Matt Bradley (foot) and defenseman Steve Eminger (ankle). Halpern, Bradley and Eminger are all on injured reserve but are eligible to come off as soon they are ready. Defensemen Nolan Yonkman and Mathieu Biron were healthy scratches.

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