The Washington Capitals gathered for practice at noon yesterday. It would be nearly an hour before they touched a puck. First, the coaching staff walked them through a series of fundamentals, pointing out many of the glaring mistakes made Tuesday night when they were whacked, 7-1, by Anaheim. Then Coach Ron Wilson began a stern lecture on their most recent performance.
The defensemen came under fire for allowing Anaheim's speedy forwards far too much room to operate. The forwards were scolded for failing to back-check aggressively. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig was already well aware that he can not allow soft goals like the one that began the barrage about three minutes in. Wilson didn't pick on any individuals, but criticized the club for it's collective problem--failing to play as a team.
"It was ugly, just plain ugly," Wilson said. "There are things we talk about that people take for granted and then it adds up in one game and you get embarrassed like that. . . . [The speech] was all about caring for one another. When it's not going well you have to hunker down together and if you're going to lose a game, lose it together, don't allow someone to get embarrassed."
The Capitals never came close to rallying. Wilson, who coached Anaheim for four seasons and left under less than ideal circumstances, reached his boiling point in the third period. Backup goalie Craig Billington was called on for his first action of the season, and rather than tighten up defensively--as most teams would in that situation--the Capitals immediately allowed a two-on-one and made countless defensive lapses throughout the period.
"[Billington] works hard in practice and stays out after practice and actually becomes a target to help other people get better," Wilson said. "And you hope he would be rewarded with a little bit of caring. That was what disturbed me--he was left out to dry and that can't happen."
For the sixth straight game, the Capitals conceded the first goal in the opening minutes through sloppy play. They left Kolzig alone to make huge saves, and when he couldn't make them, no one picked up the slack. None of forwards was intent on slowing down the Ducks' dynamic duo of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and they had free reign of the ice as their line combined for nine points.
"We've got to come out quicker," Kolzig said. "The first goal I allowed really deflated us and that was my fault. I can't allow goals like that again, but at the same time we have to pick ourselves up and get back in the game. We didn't do that. We've got to care for each other out there."
When the Capitals finally did begin skating yesterday, most of the drills were aimed at eliminating such problems. Defensemen were forced to stand up rushing forwards near the blue line, rather than give up the offensive zone. Forwards were forced to sprint back up ice to help the defenseman and had to do push-ups when they failed. Wilson's whistle was chirping away as he screamed sentiments such as "Don't lollygag" from the bench.
"Everybody is upset about that game, especially because it's the team your coach used to coach," center Andrei Nikolishin said. "He explained to everybody what we did wrong, and he gave it to us for it. This is our job, and when you don't do your job, you should get it from the coach or owner. I agree with that. Now he tried to bring the team together and put this behind us."
Wilson wants to see things improve on the upcoming road trip, when the Capitals play four games in 11 days against quality opposition. They visit Anaheim on Oct. 29, and a repeat performance doesn't seem possible. There's no place to go but up.
Capitals Notes: The Capitals are likely to recall winger Alexandre Volchkov for the road trip. Volchkov, who had floundered since being taken fourth overall in the 1996 draft, had a great preseason and has points in six straight games for Portland. With defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Jamie Huscroft both battling flu and Brendan Witt out at least another week with a knee injury, the team might also recall a defensemen for the trip, most likely Alexei Tezikov . . .
Center Mike Eagles will make his season debut Saturday in Phoenix. . . . Center Adam Oates is now skating with Chris Simon and Jeff Halpern. . . .
The team named Andy McGowan its new vice president of communications. McGowan is highly respected for his work as the NHL's director of public relations.