Capitals planning to press Penguins

Washington wants to kick-start offense for tonight's Game 3

April 16, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

As their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals move to Game 3 tonight, the Washington Capitals are determined to make the Pittsburgh Penguins just a little more miserable.

The Penguins evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1 on Saturday by mirroring the Capitals' defense and work ethic. Tonight, the Caps will try to return the compliment by replicating the Penguins' offensive game of creating a little more traffic in front of the net and shooting the puck more often at Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg.

In Game 2 on Saturday, there were a lack of Washington players in the Pittsburgh slot and around the crease. Centering passes went to those prime areas and rebounds materialized, but seldom was a Capital present to take a shot.

"We have to shoot more, put the puck in their zone more and pressure them better," said Caps right wing Dmitri Khristich, who, like teammates Adam Oates and Jeff Halpern, is still looking for his first shot on goal.

The Capitals, of course, will continue their defense-first philosophy. They know if games go their way, the final scores will be like Game 1, a 1-0 Caps win, and Game 2, a 2-1 Penguins win.

This is not a surprise, given that six straight Washington-Pittsburgh playoff games have been decided by one goal. In the regular season, it has been the same way, with nine of the past 10 games one-goal affairs.

"We're going to have to play uglier hockey," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig, who means Washington is going to have to make the front of the Pittsburgh net a crowded place to play. "Look at how they've scored their two goals. The first one went in as a deflection, and the second one went in after bouncing around off people's skates in front of the net until Mario [Lemieux] got his stick on it and knocked it in."

Capitals coach Ron Wilson said after Game 2 that "when you have great hockey players, the puck follows them around. It doesn't necessarily follow our guys around."

Wilson wants his players to work harder in the offensive zone and be more assertive when they win draws there. One of Washington's strengths is its ability to win faceoffs. During the regular season, it capitalized regularly from winning draws in the opponent's zone.

Even in this series, the Caps' first goal came when Oates won a faceoff in the Pittsburgh zone and two quick passes opened the door for Peter Bondra's power-play goal.

Another thing Wilson wants his team to concentrate on in Game 3 is the way the Caps get the puck into the offensive part of the ice.

"I really didn't like our dumping it in," he said. "I want us to carry it in with more control."

So far, the only two goals the Caps scored were on the power play. Bondra, whose goal in Game 2 made him Washington's all-time postseason goal scorer with 26, has both of the Caps' goals. Pittsburgh isn't doing much better, with only one goal at even strength.

"Yeah, but we're on the defensive," said Wilson. "And the great skill people can make things happen out of nothing."

So here is what the Caps want to do tonight: They want one of their forwards to go to the net, while another carries the puck to the outside and a third forward stays high, where he is joined by the Caps defensemen - when the time is right.

"It will give us a little more depth," said Caps assistant coach Tim Army. "All we need is some subtle changes: a higher volume of shots, continue to capitalize on our power play - we're already hitting 25 percent, and that's higher than the regular season - and not lose sight that we need to play solid team defense. If we do that, we'll be in every game."

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