When Washington Capitals center Jan Bulis arrived for practice yesterday morning he assumed that, like every other day this season, he would be wearing the same color practice jersey as Steve Konowalchuk and Richard Zednik--his linemates since the season's first shift. Then he looked around the dressing room and realized that the other forwards wearing black were Peter Bondra and Ulf Dahlen.
Coach Ron Wilson has switched his top lines, breaking up the second line that had been the team's best this season, and splitting up Adam Oates and Bondra--a duo that spent much of the last few years together. Wilson hopes to add spark to an attack that has struggled to score consistently. The new lines are also comprising the two power-play units--the Capitals rank 20th out of 28 teams, scoring on about 15 percent of their man advantages.
"We're trying to get better offensively and defensively," Wilson said. "Bulis, Kono and Zed have been on the ice for a lot of goals against the last three games they've played. So, in an effort to change the pot up a little bit we changed our lines around."
Bulis and his former linemates have played dominating hockey on many nights but the line has accounted for just four goals over the last nine games and just one power-play goal on the season (Konowalchuk). They regularly create great scoring chances but often have nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
Konowalchuk (five goals) snapped a nine game goal-less drought by scoring against the Islanders Saturday. Bulis (seven goals in 20 games) has missed three games recently with injuries, but has not scored since Nov. 9. Zednik has had the worst luck, playing great along the boards and near the net, but scoring just four goals in 23 games.
"The guy who has got to score more for us is Zed," Wilson said. "And that's what I'm hoping for. It's just an experiment, not anything set in stone."
The Capitals have scored just 15 goals in their last seven games (3-2-2) and have topped the three-goal mark just five times in 23 games. Just two Capitals have scored more than five goals (Bondra and Bulis). Only Atlanta has fewer. The New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Montreal, Nashville, Calgary, Edmonton and New Jersey also have only two players with more than five goals, but New Jersey may be the only one of those six teams to make the postseason.
Sometimes simply swapping centers can keep things from getting stale and get several lines churning. However, adjustments will have to be made. Oates doesn't play the same kind of speed game as Bulis does. Bulis will have to look to feed Bondra more and might not get as many scoring chances himself.
"Maybe this can get us out of a rut," Oates said. "It's not necessarily the guys who are getting moved, but sometimes we're not scoring enough goals, not getting enough production, not enough chances. I think [the coaches] go by that as well--quality chances.
"It will be a change for them and for myself included. Bonzai is used to coming late and with Buli he'll be looking to push the pace a little more. It just takes a while to learn what a guy's instincts are and what his common plays are. . . . It will be a little bit different for Bonzai and Buli because Buli will find that Bonzai is in the same spot sometimes that he is. They'll both have to adapt to it."
Oates tends to create offense along the boards, but that's where Konowalchuk and Zednik thrive. Bulis often heads to the slot and finds himself open for one-timers and quality scoring chances centering those two. Oates is more of a playmaker than a shooter, but could end up taking more shots now. Both centers will be finding their way.
"I don't know how it will work yet," Bulis said. "We only had one practice and I never play with them before, so we have to talk during the game and we'll figure out a way and hopefully get some chances and get some goals. Right now we don't have any chemistry yet, but I think it's going to come."
Capitals Notes: The Capitals won their first meeting with the Bruins, 3-0, on a shutout from backup goalie Craig Billington. . . . The Bruins will have to call-up two players from the minors because of injuries. . . . Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt did not practice with the team yesterday, but Wilson said he will play tonight. Chris Simon also missed practice (strained neck) and will return Saturday at the earliest.
Capitals vs. Boston Bruins
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: MCI Center.
Tickets: Available at $20, $40, $65, $75.
Records: Capitals 9-10-4, 23 points; Bruins 11-8-6, 28 points.
Goalies: Capitals' Olaf Kolzig (6-9-4, 3.06) vs. Bruins' Byron Dafoe (6-3-1, 2.39).
Injuries: Capitals D Joe Reekie (bruised foot) and LW Chris Simon (neck sprain) are out; D Brendan Witt (muscle strain) is probable. Bruins RW Joe Murphy (knee), LW Rob DiMaio (broken foot) and LW Ken Belanger (concussion) are out; D Kyle McLaren (thumb) and D Mattias Timander are questionable; LW Anson Carter (ribs) is probable.