Caps, Murray pin future on old-fashioned defense Winless team eyes new game plan


NEW YORK -- The day after a discouraging 6-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils didn't bring any peace to the Washington Capitals, but it did bring a new game plan.

Tonight against the New York Rangers, Washington will go back to playing basic, solid defense, the part of the game it has long exceled at.

A morning workout at Meadowlands Arena was filled with play diagrams, demonstrations, conversations and moments of irritableness.

Coach Terry Murray came off the ice and smashed a hockey stick on the concrete floor.

"We got through it," he said of the 90-minute session. "If we could play the X's and O's the way they're diagrammed, we'd be undefeated."

But after Saturday night's loss to New Jersey, the Capitals are 0-3 and far from perfection.

"I was upset when I was staring at the ceiling in my hotel room at 4 a.m., and I wasn't happy when I went on the ice for practice," Murray said. "And things haven't changed."

He can recite the reasons:

* The Capitals have had to kill 16 penalties in the first and second periods of their first three games, putting pressure on the flow and rhythm of the game. And it isn't the new physical players who are taking the ill-timed penalties. Against New Jersey on Saturday, it was the likes of Al Iafrate and Michal Pivonka.

* The Capitals have given up 18 goals, and at least six have come on the rush. Murray said the team's problem stems from bad defense.

Murray said he needs more from his top four players -- captain Kevin Hatcher, Iafrate, Sylvain Cote and Calle Johansson. Each has found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and watched helplessly as opposing teams have scored.

And each seems equally mystified by his inability to do things right.

"We all seem to be pulling in different directions," Cote said. "We're trying hard. Trying to do good things, but they keep turning out wrong, and it's frustrating."

* The defense, forechecking included, is poor, and the Capitals have given up 111 shots.

"I was prepared for several different scenarios at the start of this season," Murray said.

"I thought we'd play great and be 3-0; we'd play OK and be 3-0; or maybe we'd be 3-0 and not totally deserving to be. I never prepared for this. . . . It's like being blindsided."

The Capitals had played well in preseason, going 5-3-1. They felt good about each other and about the team, and Murray is searching for a way to get it back.

"This is not indicative of things to come," Murray said. "We need a change in style, a change in focus. Let's win, 1-0, let's not give up more than 25 or 30 shots and let's just be much smarter away from the puck."

To do that, Washington will have to play a basic defensive game. Forward Kelly Miller sees it as a building block.

"Right now, we're trying too hard to score, forcing the play, and that is making us vulnerable the other way," he said. "Ever since I've been here, this organization has preached defense first, and I think it's the way we have to go to start getting back in sync."

Washington seems most unsure of itself in the neutral zone. It is there, Murray points out, that his team shows not only a lack of discipline but also a lack of faith that shows as players second-guess themselves.

"We're really caught in between most of the time," Murray said. "We've got to keep the intensity high. We've got to talk our problems out and work through the adversity and learn from it."

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