Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray said he knows the reason for his team's poor showing of late -- a lack of toughness.
To remedy this, the Capitals made deals to get defenseman Al Iafrate and right wing John Kordic from the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Ken Sabourin from the Calgary Flames. Iafrate and Sabourin have played for the Capitals, and Kordic, who has not played in three weeks, is getting in shape. Since Iafrate and Sabourin have been in the lineup, the Capitals have not lost.
"I think all three players will help us. In fact, Iafrate and Sabourin already have," said Murray. "Iafrate scored an important goal for us in the Minnesota game [a 2-2 tie Friday], and Sabourin contributed a goal against the Islanders [a 5-4 overtime win Sunday]. Iafrate is starting to feel more comfortable with his new teammates, and he is responding very well to a lot of ice time. I have been using him on the power play, penalty killing and a regular shift. I think we have a great hockey player.
"Sabourin, who is a fifth-year pro, has played very well. He has made a couple of very good plays both on offense and defense. Defensively, he is big and strong and he did a great job on Pat LaFontaine [the Islanders star].
"Kordic is a big, strong guy who will give us toughness. He hasn't played in a while and needs some work before he'll be ready to play. Hopefully, he'll be ready later in the week."
"I've been playing hard, trying the help the team," said Iafrate. "I like to move the puck, but I don't get out of hand offensively. I try to stay under control because I don't want to hurt the team defensively. I'm very pleased that Washington had an interest in me, and now I want to all I can to help the team."
"I'm not a scorer, but it was nice to score the goal," said Sabourin, who had played mostly at Salt Lake City in the International Hockey League. "But I'm not trying to kid anyone. I know the reason the Capitals brought me here was for my defense, and that's what I want to do. I want to do anything I can to help the team."
Hall of Famer Bill Barber, now a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, said the IHL has improved in the last couple of years and is close to being on a par with the American Hockey League.
"The players are getting better as more NHL teams are using teams in the 'I' as their top farm club," said Barber, who scouts both leagues. "It used to be that players in the 'I' were considered a step slower than those in the AHL and a lot less experienced. But I think that is quickly changing and the hockey in the 'I' is getting better and better."
But several players who performed for the Baltimore Skipjacks and no longer can make it in the AHL are doing well in the IHL.
Bruce Boudreau (25 goals, 43 assists), who played for the Skipjacks in 1985 and with several other AHL teams, is the second-leading scorer in the IHL with the Fort Wayne Komets, and right wing Robin Bawa (12 goals, 15 assists), who played with the Skipjacks for two seasons, is also with the Komets.
Center Alain Lemieux (four goals, 35 assists), brother of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, who played with the Skipjacks and other AHL teams, is the leading scorer for the Albany Choppers.
When Lemieux was with the Skipjacks, he wore sweater No. 33, and many said the reason was that he was only half as good as his illustrious brother, who wears No. 66.
Other former Skipjacks in the IHL are defenseman Carl Mokosak (five goals, 11 assists) with the Indianapolis Ice; left wing Larry DePalma (eight goals, 11 assists) with the Kalamazoo Wings; defenseman Claude Julien (five goals, 12 assists), with the Kansas City Blades; left wing Rod Dallman (an assist), with the San Diego Sea Gulls; goalie Bob Mason (6-9-1, 3.86 goals-against average), with the Milwaukee Admirals; goalie Steve Guenette (14-8-2, 3.48), with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles; defenseman Todd Charlesworth (three goals, 13 assists), right wing Mitch Wilson (three goals, eight assists) and defenseman Dave Goertz (two goals, two assists), all with the Muskegon
Former Skipjacks playing in the East Coast Hockey League include: center Harry Mews (16 goals, 22 assists), left wing Dennis McEwen (12 goals, 18 assists), defenseman David Buckley (five goals, 13 assists) and goalie Olaf Kolzig (3-3-1, 3.82), all with Hampton Roads; defenseman Ken Spangler (six goals, 12 assists), center Jim McGeough (two goals, one assist) , and goalie Alain Raymond (12-9-0, 4.30), with Nashville; defenseman Bob Kennedy (six assists), with Cincinnati; and right wing Ryan Kummu (16 goals, 27 assists) with Erie. Also in the ECHL is Wayne Gretzky's younger brother, Keith (nine goals, 36 assists), with Winston-Salem.
"Our league is really doing well," said commissioner Pat Kelly. "We are averaging 3,900 a game in attendance, and the hockey is better than ever. Our first order of business when we took over three years ago was to get rid of the 'goonism' in our league and replace it with good, solid hockey.