Outdoor Skate Doesn't Brighten Caps

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the ice was hard and smooth yesterday morning on an outdoor rink in Chevy Chase, where the Washington Capitals practiced.

It was perfect skating weather, but the conditions clashed with the mood of Glen Hanlon and his players, who were stewing over Tuesday's uneven effort against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Look at the teams that are winning all the time," defenseman Jamie Heward said. "They play with that edge, that intensity all the time. The Dallases, the Anaheims, the New Jerseys.

"Obviously you are not going to play great every single night. But it's what you do when you don't feel great that's going to determine the good hockey teams."

The Capitals were anything but great against the Lightning. Through 40 minutes, the Capitals were outshot 29-9, and the Lightning led 5-2 before hanging on for a 5-4 victory.

Some Capitals wondered afterward whether they had become overconfident following a 7-1-1 stretch during which they ascended as high as fifth in the Eastern Conference.

"It's all in our mind," Alex Ovechkin said yesterday, pointing to his helmet with his stick blade. "We must play all periods hard."

Hanlon agreed with his players' assessment.

"You're not going to win every game on emotion," he said. "We have to understand that there are going to be games where we're not great but we still have to adhere to company policy.

"I hate to break the team into two groups, forwards and defense, but [Tuesday] our forwards were just posting up at the far blueline and asking our defense to go back and retrieve pucks," the coach continued. "And, conversely, our defense wasn't getting up and closing gaps. We had very few [instances] where we had five in the neutral zone, five in the offensive zone and five in the defensive zone."

In other words, the Capitals neglected the details that earned them a reputation as one of the NHL's hardest-working teams, the things that were responsible for their recent success.

The team addressed those issues yesterday before gliding out onto the outdoor ice -- which took many of the players and coaches back to their younger days.

The Capitals had accepted an invitation from Chevy Chase Club to hold a practice at its private rink. And although the ice surface was smaller than regulation and the mid-morning sun forced goaltender Olie Kolzig to use eye black, everyone seemed to enjoy the experience, even if it didn't help them forget about the Lightning loss.

"I got more fresh air this morning than I get in a year, that's for sure," Hanlon said. But when a television reporter asked if his players were "digging it," he shot back: "I don't know. I was in too bad a mood to notice if anyone was digging it."

Capitals Notes: Injured players John Erskine (foot), Donald Brashear (undisclosed) and Matt Bradley (hand) did not practice yesterday. All three are listed as day-to-day, although Erskine and Brashear could return tomorrow against the New Jersey Devils. That wouldn't be a moment too soon for Hanlon, who said of their absence: "I honesty believed we missed Erskine and Brashear. It's not than anyone took liberties with us, or that we were afraid. Those are just two big, mature NHL guys who weren't in our room." . . .

Minor league winger Alexandre Giroux was returned to Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League after a one-game recall.

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