Injuries are a way of life in the National Hockey League, and the Washington Capitals have had more than their share this season.
Despite the injuries, which have hit two of their leading scorers and two-thirds of their defense, the Capitals have a 15-14 record in the Patrick Division, nine points behind the first-place New York Rangers. Washington is in fourth place.
High-scoring right wing Dino Ciccarelli and center Peter Zezel have been out nearly two months, and other forwards -- such as center Mike Ridley, right wing Steve Leach and left wings Nick Kypreos, Alan May and Dave Tippett -- have been out for shorter periods.
All three goalies -- Mike Liut, Don Beaupre and Jim Hrivnak -- have missed time because of injuries, and defensemen Neil Sheehy, Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher and Mikhail Tatarinov have been out for varying amounts of time.
Only defensemen Mike Lalor, Calle Johansson and Bob Rouse, right wing John Druce, left wing Kelly Miller and centers Michal Pivonka and Dale Hunter have played in all of Washington's games.
"Injuries obviously affect you," coach Terry Murray said, "but they are something you have to learn to live with. I always say that the only good thing about injuries is that they give some younger guys a chance to step up and show what they can do. We have been very lucky in that we have had enough talented younger guys to take up the slack when our other guys have been hurt." The Capitals currently are without Sheehy (ankle), who started skating again Monday; Ciccarelli (thumb), who practiced Monday and is day-to-day; Tippett (shoulder), also day-to-day; Ridley, who has had the flu but is expected back for tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins); Zezel (ankle), who is about two weeks from returning; Hrivnak, whose knee was examined Monday (the swelling was down, but soreness remains); and Liut, who has had a groin injury but is expected to return tonight.
Washington has been recalling players from the Baltimore Skipjacks to take up the slack. The latest to be recalled were left wing Steve Maltais and center Alfie Turcotte, Baltimore's leading scorers.
"We plan to keep Maltais and Turcotte with the Capitals at least through the game in Pittsburgh, and then a re-evaluation of the situation will be made," Washington general manager David Poile said. "We hope that Liut will be able to play Wednesday [tonight], but if he can't, we'll have to call up one of the Baltimore goaltenders."
Olaf Kolzig and Shawn Simpson, who share the Skipjacks goaltending, were recalled by Washington over the weekend after Liut suffered his injury in practice last week. Both are back with the Jacks.
Pittsburgh center John Cullen has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. He is second in scoring behind the Los Angeles Kings' Wayne Gretzky (16 goals, 33 assists) with 10 goals and 36 assists.
Cullen, signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh in 1988, played at Boston University, and, when he was not signed by an NHL team, signed with the independent Flint Spirit in the International League, with whom he accumulated 48 goals and 109 assists.
His play in the IHL impressed then-Pittsburgh general manager Tony Esposito, who asked his coach, Gene Ubriaco, about Cullen. Ubriaco said he should be invited to the Penguins' training camp.
"I told Tony if you think he can play, go with your gut feeling," Ubriaco said. "Tony signed him, and he came to camp full of fire. He worked extremely hard and made the club. He was the type of kid who would do anything you asked of him. He has more than borne out our faith in him."
Three teams from the Soviet Union -- Moscow Dynamo, Khimik Voskresensk and Central Red Army -- have begun an 80-game schedule against 21 NHL teams. The only team to play in this area will be Moscow Dynamo, which will face Washington at the Capital Centre Jan. 8 .