- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

HERSHEY, Pa. — The New Jersey Devils play an ugly type of hockey designed to lull the opposition to sleep, then take advantage of mistakes. It is a trap that forces teams wide, where their options are limited.

As a result, individuals trying to make a statement to management about their potential have almost no chance to display their talents while they are being boxed against the wall with precious little skating or shooting room open.

That was the case last night for the Washington Capitals, who lost a 3-1 exhibition game to the Devils at Giant Center. Washington’s goal was at even strength from defenseman Ben Clymer.

All three Devils goals came via special teams, two power-play strikes and one short-handed. Washington has allowed 10 goals in losing two of three preseason games — two at even strength, two short-handed and six on the power play.

In one of the fifth-level private boxes, a spectator fell asleep in the second period and finally was awoken by a friend five minutes into the third. That is precisely what the New Jersey game plan is designed to do.

“It’s a patient game,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said of the Devils’ strategy. “I admire New Jersey because they have a system, and they play it. They play it well, they’ve played it for years and they’ll likely play it forever. You could see players who aren’t used to it trying to throw pucks through the middle, trying to beat people in the neutral zone, and we had zero success in doing that.”

There were few standout performances by the Caps last night, and that is precisely what the Devils’ system is designed to do — shut the opposition down before it can get started. Clymer’s goal came with less than three minutes left, long after the issue had been settled.

Olie Kolzig looked good in goal. He stopped the initial drive on all three goals but had no help clearing rebounds. The short-handed goal was caused when a defenseman changed before the puck was safely in Washington’s possession; it was soon behind the Caps goalie.

Right wing Chris Clark, playing his first game after abdominal surgery last summer, looked like the Clark of old — feisty and aggressive. There was no hint of rust.

But others who needed last night to strengthen, brighten or keep alive chances to make the team were denied that opportunity. Players like Jakub Klepis and Tomas Fleischmann, who were standouts in Pittsburgh on Friday, were average at best against New Jersey, just like most of their teammates. Brian Pothier, the veteran defenseman picked up from Ottawa, looked good, as was expected.

Alexandre Giroux, Chad Wiseman, Jeff Schultz and the other bubble players never had a chance to shine. There are three more preseason games left, but additional cuts may come as soon as today. The Caps stand at 29 and have to be down to 23 by opening day.

Notes — The Giant Center public address announcer took pains to list Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin as scratched “due to injury.” Nonetheless, fans were not pleased the Caps’ top draw did not play. The Ovechkin injury is described as minor, and he might have played had it been a regular-season game. …

The Caps train in Hershey today (10 a.m.) and tomorrow before heading to Philadelphia for a game against the Flyers. Washington has only two preseason games left after that, both at home this weekend. …

The Devils are well above the $44 million salary cap, and it is expected they will have to peddle a hefty salary or two to get under. That’s how Washington got Jeff Friesen at the end of camp last year, a pickup that didn’t work out. …

Bad news for opposing teams: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur looked exceptionally sharp.

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