Caps, Cats Clashed for Southeast Crown in '99-00

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

The last time the Florida Panthers made the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs was 1999-00. The Cats finished second in the Southeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference, setting franchise records with 43 wins and 98 points. Washington won the Southeast that season with 102 points. But for most of the campaign, the Caps were chasing the Cats for the catbird’s seat in the Southeast. The Caps opened the season here on Oct. 2, 1999, dropping a 4-3 decision to fall off the pace in the Southeast Division right off the hop. The Caps struggled mightily out of the gate that season, winning just one of their first 11 games (1-5-4-1). Nearly 12 years ago today (Dec. 4, 1999), Washington left Florida on the short end of a 2-1 score. That setback left the Caps sitting at 9-11-5-1, eight points behind the 14-7-2-2 Panthers. On the morning of January 16, the Caps woke to a record of 17-17-7-1 for a total of 42 points. Up at the top of the division, The Panthers owned a 26-11-3-3 mark and a 16-point advantage over Washington with less than half a season left to play. By the time the two teams met on Feb. 23 in Washington, the Caps had closed the gap to just four points. By the time the Cats visited Washington on March 7 for the final meeting of the season between the two teams, it was a dead heat with 80 points each. Washington won that March 7 game to take the division lead, and the Caps cruised the rest of the way. One more note. When the Caps got off to a slow start in 1999-00, the coaching staff huddled up and made a change to the team’s system, a change that paid dividends later in the campaign. “I still think that we have guys who haven’t tapped into their full potential,” then Caps coach Ron Wilson told me at midseason. “We could be a better team offensively. We’re still waiting for consistency out of a lot of guys. I thought in the preseason we did a lot of things really well and the first week of the season—first 10 days or so—I thought we played really well at both ends of the rink. And all of a sudden, everything went out the window. “I think part of it was scoring five goals against the Flyers and beating them 5-4 and being able to score some goals. Because we completely forgot about playing in our end. We were playing run-and-gun hockey and getting blown out of the water. It was trying to find what would be the way to get our players to commit. And what would be the best way to play to make sure that Adam Oates survived until Christmas time. And that was to try to take away the forechecking responsibilities from our center ice men. I couldn’t see relying on Adam Oates to play on the power play, kill penalties, do the job in our end and forecheck at 38 years old. “Now, he’ll debate that, but remember, in those games with the fast teams he was minus a lot. So we put this scheme together where we essentially designated the center back. We had to drive the point home with some individual meetings and team meetings and spending more time in practice doing the mundane, and getting away from practicing the stuff that guys like to practice—which is flow—and the kind of practices that I really enjoy. We just got into hard-working, boring, defensive-minded practices. This isn’t like an overnight turnaround. We changed the way we played at the end of October.” Washington went 30-9-5-1 in its last 45 games. That’s the last time the Caps and Cats were neck and neck for top spot in the Southeast.

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A Tale of Two Wingers

January 14, 2013

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