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November 16, 2001 - Capitals solve what ails Flyers

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Capitals solve what ails Flyers

Except for the minor detail of watching Brian Boucher limp off the ice with a left hamstring strain in the second period, it was pretty much the perfect evening for the Flyers.

Back home at the First Union Center for the first time since Nov. 3, the Flyers channeled all the frustration from Wednesday's luckless visit with Eric Lindros and the Rangers into a dominant, 5-0 victory over the struggling Washington Capitals last night.

You were worried about Keith Primeau? He busted out with a goal and an assist, and won 11 of 17 faceoffs.

The misfiring power play concerned you? Coach Bill Barber put Jiri Dopita out there, in Dopita's second game back from knee and tibia injuries, and all Dopita did was score one power-play goal and set up another.

Granted, it would have been better if all this stuff had happened one night earlier, at Madison Square Garden. And it would have been a whole lot better if Boucher hadn't sustained an injury that team orthopedist Dr. Peter DeLuca said should sideline the NHL's hottest goalie for two to three weeks.

Still, it was a big night for Primeau, the power play, Dopita, and the overall confidence of a team that hasn't been the offensive juggernaut it was supposed to be this season nearly often enough.

"Keith's really skating," said Primeau linemate Mark Recchi, who also had a goal and an assist. "He seems to be finding the holes to jump into a lot better."

For one thing, Primeau has more help at center now. Several Flyers and Barber marveled over the difference Dopita has made.

"He was a dominant factor in the game," Barber said. "He is very solid on both sides of the puck. He's a great player when he has it and when he doesn't have it - especially in our end, reading plays."

The Flyers have pretty much established that they can beat the Caps, winning all three meetings this season by a combined score of 14-3. And it might be relevant to note the Flyers are 7-0-1 against the Southeast Division, just 2-6-2 against the rest of the league, not to mention the fact they have yet to play Carolina, the only Southeast team with a winning record.

The reeling Caps had just lost at home, 11-5, on Tuesday to Ottawa. Last week, they lost defensive linchpin Calle Johansson for the season to rotator-cuff surgery.

Last night, the Caps also were without regular defensemen Ken Klee (ribs) and Brendan Witt, who missed the game because of a death in his family. Consequently, they dressed three of the least memorable ex-Flyers and/or Phantoms defensemen - Rob Zettler, Frantisek Kucera and Dean Melanson - none of whom is a stranger to minor league bus rides.

"A big topic before the game was, we knew we wanted to jump on them quickly," said Primeau, after the Flyers unleashed a three-goal flurry in the first 3:40. "Defensively, they're hurting."

Caps coach Ron Wilson, presiding over a 6-11-2 team that considered itself a strong Stanley Cup contender when it added Jaromir Jagr in the offseason, put it more dramatically.

"We are under siege, and our defense is under siege," Wilson said. "Right now, it is pretty obvious we are missing guys who can get the job done defensively."

Jagr, minus-three last night, is minus-eight in Washington's last two games.

Primeau got untracked on the very first shift. Eric Desjardins had time and space at the left circle, and he passed across the slot to Primeau for a slam-dunk. Just 44 seconds into the game, Primeau had doubled his output for the season.

The next Flyers' affliction healed by the Caps' overmatched defense was the power play, which ranked 25th in the NHL coming into the game. Then again, Washington's penalty-killing also ranked 25th.

Kim Johnsson passed from the left point down low to Dopita, who deftly deflected the puck through Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig. Dopita's first NHL goal came 2:18 into the game.

With Dopita off for high-sticking, the penalty-killing duo of Primeau and Recchi struck for a shorthanded goal. Primeau drove hard to the net, Kolzig stopped him, but Recchi chugged along in Primeau's wake and had an easy backhand tap-in of Primeau's rebound, 3:40 into the first.

The Flyers lost defenseman Chris Therien to what the Flyers said was a Grade II concussion with 2:01 left in the first.

They made it 4-0 on another power-play goal, 4:53 into the second. Dopita carried the puck into the middle of the ice, high in the slot, then passed sharply to John LeClair, alone low on the right side. LeClair beat Kolzig with his ninth goal of the season.

But the big lead loosened the home team's play considerably, and Boucher began facing some serious rubber. Ultimately, he stretched his left leg as he went to his left to stop a Peter Bondra offering, and Bondra and Johnsson seemed to run over the outstretched leg as they went for the rebound, with 5:08 left in the second.

Boucher hopped about until the Flyers finally iced the puck with 4:18 left in the second and left the game with 13 saves. Roman Cechmanek came in and preserved the shutout, making 11 shots.

Simon Gagne cleaned up behind a Primeau-Recchi rush to make it 5-0 with just 1:59 left in regulation.