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10 WASHINGTON Capitals
Pete McEntegart
October 14, 2002
The new coach has talented players, but can he get them playing as a unit?
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October 14, 2002

10 Washington Capitals

The new coach has talented players, but can he get them playing as a unit?

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Addition of solid center Lang should spark Jagr



Gonchar must cut down on defensive-zone mistakes



Expect Kolzig to have a bounce-back season



PP dominates at times; PK needs improvement



G.M. McPhee provided talent for unproven Cassidy

In his first preseason as an NHL coach Bruce Cassidy moved his team off the ice and onto an obstacle course, where the club was tethered together as part of an exercise designed to strengthen the participants' sense of teamwork and trust. For Cassidy the setting was especially fitting. With a star-studded lineup featuring two former 50-goal scorers ( Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra), the leading goal-scoring defenseman over the past three seasons ( Sergei Gonchar) and a netminder two years removed from the Vezina Trophy ( Olie Kolzig), the 37-year-old Cassidy inherited formidable tools for success. Yet the presence of that name-brand talent also means that the NHL's second-youngest coach has more than enough rope with which to hang himself if the Caps finish out of the playoffs again. "Our owner [ Ted Leonsis] has spent the money to make this team very competitive," Cassidy says. "You don't have to spend to win, but when you do spend, you're expected to win."

Cassidy's first priority is restoring team chemistry. To that end Washington's biggest off-season acquisition was free-agent center Robert Lang, who was a teammate of Jagr's in Pittsburgh and on the 1998 Czech Republic gold-medal-winning Olympic team. Lang, a solid two-way forward and face-off man who had 30 goals and 82 points two seasons ago, will center the second line. The Caps hope that his presence will make Jagr feel more at home in Washington; Jagr wasn't comfortable in his first season with the team until after the Olympic break. "There was something wrong in the dressing room last year," Jagr says. "We weren't loose."

The Capitals could stand to be a little less loose in the defensive end. Last season Kolzig faced the most shots in the league—and far too many good ones—as he allowed a career-worst 192 goals. Washington is counting on steady defenseman Calle Johansson to return from the rotator-cuff injury that forced him to miss 71 games last year. Leonsis will also have to open his checkbook again to bring unsigned centers Dainius Zubrus and Andrei Nikolishin back into the fold.

Still, Cassidy went out on the right limb in trying to foster unity within a talented group that failed to mesh a year ago. "We have a lot of stars, but are we a team?" Cassidy wonders. "We have to fix that."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]