Caps trying to put focus back in picture Concentration is critical against Panthers tonight

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Washington Capitals are taking a long look at themselves going into tonight's game against the high-flying Florida Panthers.

Coming off a 1-2-1 road trip that has dropped the team below .500 for the first time this season, Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld pointed to three problem areas: not scoring, not playing tight defense and not getting the critical save.

"To me, it's mostly focus," said Schoenfeld. "I just want them to focus on the tangibles. I want to fill each player's mind with his present responsibilities.

"The more we do that, the better chance each player has of getting himself back to being the best he can be."

To center Joe Juneau, it's a math problem.

"It's like algebra," Juneau said. "Consider (X+Y) and X+Y. Which is stronger? (X+Y) is stronger. And that's how we are. It doesn't matter how strong X or Y is individually.

"What matters is how much stronger X and Y can be as a group playing and working together."

So far the problem appears to be that the Capitals aren't hitting on all cylinders at the same time.

"The first thing we have to do is just relax," said defenseman Mark Tinordi, who knows it isn't easy when you've gone 2-8-2 over the past 12 games.

"Hockey is a pretty easy game if you just play the puck and do your job; just make the easy plays."

Schoenfeld has started goaltender Jim Carey in 10 straight games, hoping to sharpen his play. The coach said it hasn't worked quite the way he had hoped.

"We need Jimmy to improve his save percentage," he said.

Carey, noting his own disappointment, said he is happy to see a strong team like Florida coming to USAir Arena. The Panthers are in second place in the Atlantic Division with 37 points.

"From my standpoint, I'm glad to see the good teams coming up so we can get out of this thing," said the goalie, 9-9-2 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage.

NTC "Against teams like San Jose, you tense up and do things you normally wouldn't do. Against the good teams, there is no question about motivation.

"There's no question about what we have to do. And guys do what they have to do. They don't try to do the extra thing that's going to get us in trouble."

Capitals tonight

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: The Capitals (11-12-2) again will try to reach .500 tonight against the Panthers (18-7-1), who have had two days off since beating Hartford, 5-3, Saturday. Washington has just returned from a West Coast trip on which it went 1-2-1. The Caps report D Sergei Gonchar (groin) as day-to-day and said Peter Bondra, who missed practice yesterday with the flu, is possible. Panthers D Jason Woolley (fractured thumb) is out and LW Dave Lowry (knee sprain) is day-to-day.

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