Timing, as they say, is everything, and lately, the Washington Capitals have not been asked to do any Rolex commercials.
With 2:42 to play Saturday, the Capitals gave up the winning goal to the Florida Panthers on a two-on-none breakaway. It was the team's fourth straight loss.
At 9:30 the next morning, Washington team captain Kevin Hatcher and teammate Calle Johansson missed the team bus to the airport because they overslept.
Yesterday, Capitals coach Terry Murray called a 7:15 a.m. practice.
"The message is, 'Let's get to work,' " said Murray. "I don't think that we've worked hard enough for the 60 minutes in the last few games. You get up in the morning and see everybody else in their cars driving to work, and hopefully there's a message there."
Getting a message through to a professional athlete isn't easy. What can you do to them? NHL contracts allow Hatcher and Johansson to be fined $300 each and decree they had to pay their own way home after missing the team flight.
But how do you discipline a pro team for failing to perform during a game? Fine them for losing? Sometimes, it may seem appropriate, but it's not allowed.
So a coach has only a few options. He can cut a player's ice time or make him get up before sunrise to practice.
Murray chose the early-morning wake-up call.
"You've got to keep the screws tightened down all the time, no matter how much talent you have," said Murray, whose team rebounded from an 0-6 start with a 9-2 tear, before again lapsing in its work ethic. "You relax a little, take it a little easier and the level of play drops."
Generally, the Capitals have it pretty good. Practice begins at 11 a.m. and is over by 12:30. Sometimes, it is followed by a light workout with weights; then the players are free for the rest of the day.
In yesterday's schedule, the Caps were on the ice for an intense, 2 1/2 -hour session. It began with 20 minutes of hard skating, followed by scrimmages. Once off the ice, there were mandatory weight sessions, followed by mandatory meetings. And then, after a midday break, they were recalled for another mandatory meeting at 4:30.
It was almost an eight-hour day.
Strike drags on
A 2 1/2 -hour meeting between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the union for the striking NHL officials yesterday yielded little toward ending the walkout that is now in its ninth day.
"We'd like to get a deal done, but we can't yet," Bettman said after the meeting in a Buffalo Airport hotel. "We'd like these guys back, but they're not ready to lower their expectations."
Bettman said differences still exist over money, length of contract and "retroactivity."
No meetings are planned for today.
A learning experience
Throughout his 21-game suspension, which ends Friday when Washington plays its 22nd game of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins at USAir Arena, Capitals center Dale Hunter has been learning about other walks of life. For instance:
He now knows how much work it is to take care of three children and how impossible it is to concentrate on watching a hockey game if you have a 3-year-old along.
"I took Tucker to a couple games, and I didn't see any of them," Hunter said. "I think we'll be getting a baby-sitter Friday, so Karynka [his wife] can watch me play."
He sat in the press box during last Friday's Pittsburgh game and learned "you guys are writing the whole game. I thought you just made a few notes here and there."
And in Miami, he decided to go to dinner with Caps assistant trainer and equipment manager Doug Shearer and his assistant, Craig Leydig, and then go to the Miami Arena and help them unload the team's equipment for Saturday's game.
Because there was an NBA game in the building Friday night, the Caps' contingent wasn't allowed in the locker rooms until midnight.
"It is not an easy job," Hunter said. "There are all these big, heavy bags of equipment that they have to get into the building and into the locker rooms and unpack. It takes a lot of strength and a lot of time. I couldn't believe we couldn't get in the building early and that we didn't get finished until 3:30 a.m. -- and then we all had to get up for the morning skate."
The Portland Pirates, Washington's farm team, remained othe longest American Hockey League unbeaten streak of the season, stretching the numbers to 8-0-1. The Pirates, 14-4-2 overall, hold a two-point lead in the Northern Division. . . . Last Saturday, the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game in Maine -- 7,102 -- assembled to watch the Pirates' 5-4 victory over Albany. . . . Portland, led in scoring by LW Randy Pearce (10 goals, six assists), has scored first in 13 games this season and won every one. . . . The best news for the Pirates over two games last weekend was they finally got their power play working. Portland was last in the AHL's rankings, but has moved up three spots to 12th after hitting four of eight.
Around the ice
Washington's Rick Tabaracci continues to lead all NHL goaltenders with a 2.13 goals-against-average. Montreal's Patrick Roy is right behind with a 2.16 GAA. . . . Boston College's Scott Gordon, who kicked the 41-yard field goal that beat Notre Dame, 41-39, Saturday, is the son of Hartford Whalers managing general partner Richard Gordon. . . . Calgary's Theo Fleury is obviously unhappy with the replacement officials. "At least with nTC the other guys, they give you a chance to win or tie the game," he said, and then he offered to help the league with its offer, "Give them 50 grand from me," he said.