- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

The Washington Capitals practiced together yesterday for the last time this season. For some, it was the last time they will practice as Caps.

Washington plays host to Buffalo in a matinee today, with the swift Sabres already having clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship. It is fan appreciation day, with players giving away their jerseys and dozens of other prizes available. As of late yesterday, the game was close to a sellout.

Win or lose, the final game will mark the end of a disappointing season for the Caps, who had hoped to at least challenge for a playoff spot as they continue a rebuilding process under way since 2003-04. Instead, Washington was 20 points out of playoff contention last night and was vying with four other teams for positioning in the draft lottery.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” said goalie Olie Kolzig, who turned 37 yesterday. He lamented the fact the team didn’t have the depth to compete evenly even with poorer clubs on the schedule.

“Right up until about Christmas we were in a playoff spot,” the goalie said. “To a lot of people it’s not surprising, but to us in the room there’s an empty feeling. I think we felt better about ourselves last year [when nothing was expected], the amount of points we put up, the way we finished after the Olympic break. But for the last month and a half wins have been hard to come by.”

If there was one day when the season turned on its tail, it was Dec. 11. Pittsburgh came to Verizon Center and at one point trailed 4-0, but the Penguins won the game 5-4 in a shootout, and Washington seemingly was never the same. From that point on, the playoff-bound Penguins went 33-13-6 through yesterday, while Washington went 15-29-7, a difference of 35 points.

“The next year or so hopefully we’ll have depth where guys can come in and the guys who are hurt won’t necessarily be missed as much so we’re able to continue winning instead of going on long losing streaks,” Kolzig said. “In my opinion, that’s what really killed us this year, the lack of depth. If we had had a full lineup — and it never happens; every team goes through it — but when you’re a team like us that isn’t as deep and the injuries happen, the consequences aren’t as severe. Had we had a full lineup for the whole season, I don’t know if we would have made it, but we could have been right up there until the last week or so.”

Few players yesterday agreed on how many new faces would be required to turn the team around — one said at least eight or nine good free agents, while another maintained two or three excellent quality players might get the job done. What they all agreed on was that changes in the roster were needed.

Note — Right wing Alexander Semin, who missed the Caps’ last game with a foot injury, is scheduled to play today hoping to build on his 38 goals. Jakub Klepis was returned to Hershey.

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