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Capitals Notebook

This Season Was the Worst Since 1977-78

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2004; Page D07

Washington's 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday at Mellon Arena left the Capitals with a 23-46-10-3 record, 28th of the 30 NHL teams at the end of the regular season. As the third-worst team, Washington has a 14.2 percent chance of winning Tuesday's lottery for the top overall pick in the June draft and the chance to select Russian Alexander Ovechkin (Pittsburgh has a 48.2 chance of winning the lottery as the NHL's worst team, and Chicago has an 18.8 percent chance).

This season, during which the Capitals traded eight top players, drastically slashed their payroll and utilized 51 players (a franchise record), stands as one of the most futile in the organization's 30-year history. The Capitals finished with 59 points, their lowest total since producing 48 points in 1977-78 (excluding the lockout shortened 1994-95 season).

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Washington has not finished as low as third worst in the league since 1977-78, when it posted a 17-49-14 mark. The Capitals won only 13 times at home -- its lowest total since 1977-78 -- and had not lost more than 45 games or finished 23 games under .500 in a season since 1977-78, the team's fourth season in the NHL.

For the first time in franchise history, no player on the final roster had as many as 20 goals (several players had reached that total before being traded from Washington). Jeff Halpern led the club with 19 goals and 46 points (a career high), also the lowest total to lead the Capitals in a full season. Washington also allowed the third-most goals in the NHL this season.

Semin Misses Flight

Alexander Semin, 20, had a troubling end to a productive rookie season. He failed to show up for the team flight to Pittsburgh after Saturday's home finale. Semin was then booked on a 9:45 flight yesterday morning, which, after a lengthy delay, was ultimately canceled, and the next departure was not until 3:15 (yesterday's game began at 3 p.m.).

Semin, who came over from Russia in September speaking no English, has been slow to learn the language and his work ethic and maturity have raised the ire of the coaching staff on more than one occasion. Semin was benched for much of Saturday's game, playing just four minutes, and finished the season with 10 goals in 52 games. Washington had to play with just 17 available skaters yesterday because of Semin's unexcused absence.

"This may be the first time this has ever happened within our organization," General Manager George McPhee said, clearly upset with Semin. "The player is subject to a fine and had to find his own way to Pittsburgh. We expect our players to adhere to a certain level of professionalism." McPhee declined to indicate the amount of Semin's fine and any other disciplinary actions, calling it an internal matter.

Looking Ahead

McPhee returned from a lengthy scouting trip last week and will head back out after the team's final meetings today. McPhee watched several of the prospects Washington acquired during its purge of high-salaried veterans for the first time and said he will begin an effort to sign them after returning from the upcoming world championships in the Czech Republic.

Washington must sign forwards Jonas Johansson and Tomas Fleischmann -- who came over for Steve Konowalchuk and Robert Lang, respectively -- by June 1 or they will reenter the draft. McPhee said he also hopes to sign winger Jakub Klepis, acquired for Mike Grier, although that deadline does not apply to him.

McPhee also plans to scout winger Petr Sykora during the world championships. Sykora is a top European free agent who agreed to terms with Washington last summer but failed to file his contract by the deadline necessary to play in the 2003-04 season. Washington also has six of its own 2002 draftees who must be signed by June or allowed to reenter the draft.

Injury Report

The Capitals finished the season with five injured players, as centers Dainius Zubrus and Trent Whitfield, goalie Sebastien Charpentier, and defensemen Jason Doig and John Gruden all missed the final game.

Charpentier's career has been cast in doubt by the recurrence of his arthritic hip condition. He missed four months after suffering a setback in October, played a few games, and now has not skated in over three weeks.

Charpentier, who is unlikely to be re-signed by Washington given its abundance of goalie prospects, said he will continue resting until May, then attempt an arduous comeback.

"I really want to keep playing," Charpentier said. "I definitely want to play somewhere next year."


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