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10 Washington Capitals The new coach has talented players, but can he get them playing as a unit?

In his first preseason as an NHL coach Bruce Cassidy moved his
team off the ice and onto an obstacle course, where the club was
tethered together as part of an exercise designed to strengthen
the participants' sense of teamwork and trust. For Cassidy the
setting was especially fitting. With a star-studded lineup
featuring two former 50-goal scorers (Jaromir Jagr and Peter
Bondra), the leading goal-scoring defenseman over the past three
seasons (Sergei Gonchar) and a netminder two years removed from
the Vezina Trophy (Olie Kolzig), the 37-year-old Cassidy
inherited formidable tools for success. Yet the presence of that
name-brand talent also means that the NHL's second-youngest coach
has more than enough rope with which to hang himself if the Caps
finish out of the playoffs again. "Our owner [Ted Leonsis] has
spent the money to make this team very competitive," Cassidy
says. "You don't have to spend to win, but when you do spend,
you're expected to win."

Cassidy's first priority is restoring team chemistry. To that end
Washington's biggest off-season acquisition was free-agent center
Robert Lang, who was a teammate of Jagr's in Pittsburgh and on
the 1998 Czech Republic gold-medal-winning Olympic team. Lang, a
solid two-way forward and face-off man who had 30 goals and 82
points two seasons ago, will center the second line. The Caps
hope that his presence will make Jagr feel more at home in
Washington; Jagr wasn't comfortable in his first season with the
team until after the Olympic break. "There was something wrong in
the dressing room last year," Jagr says. "We weren't loose."

The Capitals could stand to be a little less loose in the
defensive end. Last season Kolzig faced the most shots in the
league--and far too many good ones--as he allowed a career-worst
192 goals. Washington is counting on steady defenseman Calle
Johansson to return from the rotator-cuff injury that forced him
to miss 71 games last year. Leonsis will also have to open his
checkbook again to bring unsigned centers Dainius Zubrus and
Andrei Nikolishin back into the fold.

Still, Cassidy went out on the right limb in trying to foster
unity within a talented group that failed to mesh a year ago. "We
have a lot of stars, but are we a team?" Cassidy wonders. "We
have to fix that." --P.M.


Sergei Gonchar's 26 goals last season were the most by a
defenseman since Al MacInnis scored 28 for Calgary in 1993-94.



OFFENSE 11 Addition of solid center Lang should
spark Jagr
DEFENSE 18 Gonchar must cut down on defensive-zone
GOALTENDING 6 Expect Kolzig to have a bounce-back
SPECIAL TEAMS 15 PP dominates at times; PK needs
MANAGEMENT 15 G.M. McPhee provided talent for unproven