Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray needed only an instant to state the problem.
"We're not scoring," he said while waiting for the team's flight to Calgary, Alberta, for tonight's game against the Flames. "We're not finishing anywhere near the way we did last year. We've shown that loud and clear."
The Capitals are in the middle of a four-game western road trip that Murray had hoped would relax his team, relieve some pressure and get his scorers going. So far, with a 6-2 loss in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Monday and a 4-3 loss in Vancouver on Wednesday, none of those hopes is being fulfilled.
In fact, things are getting worse. During the loss to the Canucks, Mark Hunter took a stick across the face and suffered a concussion. He will be out three to four days, forcing Murray to call up two members of the Skipjacks -- center Steve Konowalchuk and right wing Keith Jones.
Earlier Wednesday, Michal Pivonka -- who skipped the trip to allow his groin injury to heal -- further irritated it during practice with the Jacks. Pivonka was the Caps' leading point scorer last season.
"It's just all coming at once," Murray said. "Last year, through the entire year, we were relatively injury free. Now this, [the injuries] have been coming one after another since our last game of training camp."
The one positive Murray could find is his team's good attitude.
"When I can stand here and tell you that we were the better team [Wednesday] and that we did everything we needed to do to win -- but score -- that says we had a darn good hard-nosed performance," he said. "I don't think our problems are the kind that can be fixed with practice. I think the team is playing better.
Now, it's a matter of sitting down with individuals and talking to them and getting them to speak out and tell me exactly what they're feeling. And I need to tell them what each needs to do individually."
But when Murray looks at what is wrong with his team, he sees three variables.
* The new rules, forcing players to keep their sticks low, are still a problem. Monday in Winnipeg, the Caps committed 13 penalties. Wednesday in Vancouver, they committed eight, including a costly five-minute major against Kevin Miller for high-sticking in the third period that resulted in two Vancouver goals.
"That was the difference in the game," Murray said. "In Winnipeg, those 13 penalties were the difference. When your opponent gets 13 and you're getting just six, it makes it very tough . . . The rules are good, but it takes time to change habits."
* The injuries that have sidelined three of his leading scorers from last season -- Pivonka, Dimitri Khristich and Randy Burridge.
* And several new players have yet to produce. Among them, Pat Elynuik, Bob Carpenter and Miller.
"All of it goes into the equation," Murray said. "I think some of these guys are pressing a little bit and I want them to relax. . . . But we don't want to go on like this. It is true that it is a long season, but we don't want to fall too far behind because the parity in the Patrick Division makes it very difficult. The clubs in our division are capable of continuing to play well. The bottom line is we've got to get going."
Opponent: Calgary Flames
Site: Olympic Saddledome
TV: Channel 20
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: The Caps, in last place in the Patrick Division, carry a four-game losing streak into Calgary tonight. This will be the first meeting between the teams this season and begins a string of three games in four days for Washington. The Flames lead the Smythe Division. They have a two-game winning streak thanks to a 7-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. Peter Bondra's nine goals leads the Caps. The Flames feature a xTC balanced attack with Gary Roberts (six goals, five assists), Al Macinnis (four goals, six assists) and Sergei Makarov (one goal, nine assists).