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Khristich's return feels like old times for Caps
DECEMBER 14, 2000

Pete Kerzel
Free-lance writer

It will take more than one game to determine whether Dmitri Khristich still has ample goals left in his stick, but his presence was a major factor in a 3-2 win against the Islanders on Dec. 12 that helped the Capitals climb to 11-11-6, their first time at .500 this season.

Khristich, 31, acquired from Toronto on Dec. 9, was inserted onto the team's top line and first power-play unit and paid immediate dividends. He scored a power-play goal that gave the Caps a 1-1 tie late in the second period and assisted on Chris Simon's even-strength game-winner early in the third.

Coach Ron Wilson hopes Khristich will provide a dimension no other player has been able to -- a reliable scoring threat from the right side.

Khristich packs a wallop of a shot but is just as dangerous close to the goal, an element the offense has lacked.

On the first line with center Adam Oates and left winger Simon, Khristich is the kind of sharpshooter who deservedly gets a defense's attention. That should translate into a little more space for Oates to work and a wider area for rebounds.

Wilson is toying with the idea of using Khristich on another line, perhaps as a center. The coach wants to take advantage of the six-time 20-goal scorer's 6-2, 195-pound frame, which could create defensive mismatches. But for now, the top unit will stay intact.

Khristich's arrival immediately enhances the Washington power play, giving Oates something he's been lacking on the first unit. Khristich's right-handed shot makes him particularly dangerous down low and on the mid-wing from the left side.

That was particularly evident on Khristich's first goal in his second stint as a Capital. Oates won a draw back to Peter Bondra at the right point. Bondra whizzed a hard pass cross-ice to Khristich, who one-timed it past goaltender Wade Flaherty . . .

Washington ran its unbeaten string against the Islanders to 16-0-8 with the victory, but the Islanders' Dave Scatchard late in the second period ended an interesting streak. Before Scatchard scored, the Caps had not surrendered an even-strength goal since Nov. 25 in Atlanta, a span of 313:20.

The goal also marked only the sixth time this season -- and the first since Nov. 17 -- that Washington has surrendered a goal in the first or last minute of a period. Of those six goals, two were empty-net tallies in the final minute of the game.

As much as any team, Washington thrives on momentum, and giving up a goal in the first or last 60 seconds of a period is a momentum-killer. Staying out of such situations only helps a team that thrives on positive reinforcement . . .

Left winger Steve Konowalchuk, 28, inked a four-year, $6.15 million contract on Dec. 13. He would have been a restricted free agent at the end of the season . . .

Rookie left winger Matt Pettinger was farmed out to Portland of the AHL and left winger James Black recalled from the Pirates, where he had been on a conditioning assignment.

Glen Metropolit was returned to Portland and defenseman Rob Zettler was recalled. Zettler is insurance on defense for Ken Klee, who sprained his left knee early in the game against the Islanders.

ICE TIME

Assuming Klee is out for Thursday's home game against the Wild, it will be interesting to see who replaces him in the lineup. Sylvain Cote has been a healthy scratch for the past nine games, but Zettler is a favorite of Wilson because of his physicality.

Look for Cote to get the nod, with Zettler assuming the role of seventh defenseman -- unless Cote's defensive deficiencies continue. The way the Caps are playing, they can't afford to have a tentative defenseman in the lineup.

With Khristich on board and Black back, the juggling on the first and fourth lines appears to be over. But the Caps still have a spare forward and left winger Craig Berube has been the odd man out lately. For the time being, Black and Berube will alternate with center Trent Whitfield (who picked up his first NHL point against the Islanders) and right winger Joe Sacco.

But if Black, who scored his first goal of the season on Long Island, can sustain his offense, it will be hard for Berube to get back into the lineup .. . .

The Wild's visit to MCI Center on Thursday should be the perfect opportunity for backup goaltender Craig Billington to get his first start since Nov. 25 in Atlanta. Billington is still searching for his first win of 2000-01.

HARD-CORE HOCKEY

A tap of the stick goes to former Capital defenseman Enrico Ciccone, who gave in to back problems and hung up his skates last week after a nine-year NHL career.

Ciccone had two stints with the Capitals, filling the role of enforcer for 46 games in 1993-94 and 43 games in 1998-99. His first tour ended when he was traded to Tampa Bay in a deal that brought Joe Reekie, and it's sad that many will think that was his biggest contribution to the Caps.

Ciccone, who piled up 277 penalty minutes in what amounted to a full season in Washington, was never confused for an offensive force. But he was also a hard worker, rarely getting attention for anything but his ability to throw a punch.

Granted, Ciccone's pugilistic abilities may have kept him in the game, but his two partial seasons in a Caps sweater also produced three of his 10 career goals and a minus-8 rating, hardly an embarrassment for a guy who wasn't the fastest skater or most gifted defenseman.

INJURY UPDATE

Center Jan Bulis (broken right thumb) should return within a week.

Klee (sprained left knee) will have his injury re-evaluated on Thursday, but could miss up to two weeks.

Defenseman Brendan Witt (stomach virus) missed practice Wednesday, but should play against the Wild.


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