Caps' showing against Senators may be telling

December 07, 1992|By Mike Tully | Mike Tully,Contributing Writer

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- If you want to judge where the Washington Capitals are, watch how they react if they manage to take a two-goal lead against the Ottawa Senators tonight.

They insist they have learned their lesson about losing leads, but they still showed signs of carelessness over an otherwise successful weekend. On Friday night, they permitted two goals in 14 seconds at the end of their home blowout of the New York Rangers. Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, they gave up a two-goal lead before escaping with a 5-3 victory against the New York Islanders. One of the Islanders' goals came just 16 seconds after defenseman Al Iafrate made it 3-1.

Now the Capitals test their discipline against a Senators squad that has shown improvement. A flat performance could dilute some of what the Capitals have assembled in winning three straight and taking 13 of their last 16 points.

"I like the way we're playing," said Kelly Miller, whose 100th goal as a Capital broke a 3-3 tie. "We're playing smart.

They also have Iafrate, who is playing as well as any defenseman.

"He's a Norris Trophy candidate right now," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "He's rushing three times a game instead of seven or eight, and getting more done."

Iafrate denies he has upgraded his game or found some kind of zone, even though his streak suggests otherwise. He has scored seven goals and 15 points in his past six games.

"I'm not much for zones," Iafrate said. "I just try to play well. I haven't changed my game. Sometimes you shoot and the puck goes into the corner or the goalie gets a skate on it."

Lately, the pucks have been going in. Iafrate scored on a rocket against the Rangers. He connected twice from the blue line against the Islanders. He also set up Mike Ridley's empty-net goal.

"Three weeks ago, we were building leads and sitting back and (( becoming unaggressive," Ridley said. "I think we've turned the corner."

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