There isn't much doubt in Washington Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt's mind that teams will test his toughness this season. In fact, he's welcoming it, knowing that some clubs believe the Capitals aren't as tough as they were a year ago, especially on the blue line.
Last night, in the Capitals' 3-2 preseason victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, Witt seemed to be getting extra attention from players eager to take shots at him. All he did was play steady, smart defense and lay out a couple of Flyers when things got chippy, which was frequently.
"Maybe last year he didn't play quite as physical as he should have, and he's committed to filling that role this year," Coach Ron Wilson said of Witt. "We need him being physical. Witter has to have an edge to him. He's a very uncomfortable guy to play against."
Witt was a constant presence. He leveled Adam Burt in the second period, battled Burt and bulky forward Brian Wesenberg in the corner, threw a few big rights and drew a retaliatory penalty in the process.
He and Wesenberg dropped the gloves later in the period. Witt ended the fight by knocking his opponent to the ice.
In the third period, he coaxed former teammate Craig Berube into a punch, and a penalty, and was composed enough not to retaliate and head to the box himself. Berube stopped by the Washington dressing room after the game to joke about the incident.
Debut for Halpern
Chances are, no rookie was more nervous last night than Jeff Halpern, a Potomac native who knew his friends and family were watching. After the game, Capitals President Dick Patrick, who coached Halpern in youth hockey, joked about how nervous Halpern's father, Mel, was in the stands.
"I would have loved to seen Mel when you took the four-minute major [penalty]," Patrick said to the young Halpern. "I bet his face went all red."
Halpern, a front-runner to make the team as fourth-line center, started slowly but merited praise from Wilson after the game. Halpern said he tried to find his father in the stands, but couldn't. Mel Halpern decided to sit in the upper bowl because he wanted to be away from the crowd while his stomach churned with nervous energy. . . .
The preseason game between the Capitals and Flyers that was canceled Thursday because of bad weather will be made up Sept. 27 in Philadelphia. . . . Washington sent seven players back to their junior teams Thursday and will make more cuts this weekend. . . . Individual game tickets for the first half of the season will go on sale today at 10 a.m. at the MCI Center box office. Tickets also can be purchased from all TicketMaster locations. . . .
Sources said yesterday's meeting between Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and officials with WBDC-TV-50 went well, and it is likely the station will televise more Capitals games than originally planned. Currently, WBDC and HTS have committed to air 54 games. . . . Power outages caused by Hurricane Floyd caused the ice at the team's Piney Orchard practice facility in Odenton to melt. Officials hope to have the ice restored by Monday.