- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chicago coach Trent Yawney was talking about his own team when he said this, but he might as well have been talking about the Blackhawks’ opponent at MCI Center tonight, the Washington Capitals:

“Anybody that’s ever been involved in a sporting event knows there is no magic pill you can buy that’s going to change everything,” the first-year coach said. “I’m disappointed for the players because they are working hard and they deserve better. But at the same time, they have to keep forging ahead.”

Yawney’s Blackhawks have lost 10 straight, approaching the franchise record for futility (13 games) that’s more than a century old. The skid left Chicago (13-24-4) with a similar record as Washington (13-23-4) — at this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of the teams gets to pick between Erik Johnson or Phil Kessel on draft day after winning the futility sweepstakes — but there’s a difference.

While no one in the organization will own up to it publicly, the Caps figured to have problems with a young, inexperienced team as they tried to rebuild almost from scratch. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, dipped into the free agent pool and thought they had bettered themselves to the point they could challenge for a playoff spot.

“It’s tough. I’ve never seen luck like we’ve had,” said Blackhawks left wing Mark Bell, who has played less than 300 NHL games. “We have to keep our spirits up. We have a bunch of young guys in here who might start to doubt themselves.”

Chicago wasn’t doing too badly until Dec. 13. The Blackhawks were 12-14-2 and still in contention for a playoff berth. But the Blackhawks have won only once since, a 5-1 victory over hopeless St. Louis on Dec. 16.

The Blackhawks’ only bright spot looked like it would be center Tuomo Ruutu, taken ninth overall in 2001. At 22, he still was learning but averaging better than a point every two games, and Chicago was counting on him this season for increased offense.

Instead, Ruutu developed back problems. He played the first six games in pain, then missed 30 of the next 31. He returned, played three games and departed halfway through the fourth with a severed tendon in his right ankle. He underwent surgery on it yesterday and will be out indefinitely.

“We’re a little snakebit around the net right now,” Yawney told Chicago reporters, echoing what Washington coach Glen Hanlon has been saying about his team all season.

Hanlon heads into this morning’s pregame skate not knowing what to expect. Matt Bradley, the right wing on the Caps’ best line, is out with what is being described as “an upper body injury.” He left the game after a fight Sunday and did not return, meaning the line combinations were mix-and-match the rest of the day.

Hanlon could get center Jeff Halpern back, but that might be a game-time decision. Halpern has been out with a groin problem but said he was feeling better every day after skating and was shooting for tonight after missing three games.

Notes — The Caps returned left wing Boyd Kane to Hershey after the veteran minor leaguer played just two shifts in Sunday’s loss. … The Caps are scheduled to practice briefly tomorrow at Piney Orchard and then depart for Dallas, the first stop on a road trip that includes stops in Phoenix and Anaheim.

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