Caps' real streak is one of futility vs. decent teams

Phil Jackman

February 03, 1993|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals got lucky last night. Yeah, they got beat by the Calgary Flames, 6-4, and maybe now someone will take a close look at what has been happening with this club lately.

Buried under the hubbub of the Caps not having lost on home ice in nearly nine weeks is the fact they've won only eight of their last 20 games.

As a result, instead of grabbing some breathing space on NHL Patrick Division foes, the second-place Caps actually have lost ground and are just four points up on the fifth-place New York Islanders.

During the past two months, they're 3-3-1 in the division, which is little more than marking time. What should be regarded as embarrassing and doesn't seem to be is, outside the Patrick, Washington has played eight games against teams with winning records and failed to win any of them, going 0-6-2.

In other words, it's a good thing Tampa Bay and Ottawa were taken into the league the past two years and Edmonton and Hartford are playing like expansion teams, because they've been the only lambs the Capitals have been silencing of late.

With last night's stinging defeat on a breakaway score by Bob Reichel in the last 80 seconds, the Caps fell to an overall record of 25-22-6, three games over .500. Again, they can thank their lucky stars for the shameful Senators of Ottawa, over whom they hold a 4-0 advantage, but don't have the luxury of playing anymore.

Long and glorious stories have been written about how potent Washington's defensemen have been on offense, and it is impressive that Kevin Hatcher has scored 20 goals already and Al Iafrate and Sylvain Cote are close behind with 18 and 15, respectively. But playing solid defense is the initial charge to these players and Cote has seemingly been the only one cognizant of this.

As exciting as Iafrate can be with his blinding charges down ice and rocket-like slap shots from 30 feet -- they play "Wild Thing" when Big Al scores and the fans go wild -- the guy gives as much as he takes.

Last night, for instance, Iafrate was on the ice for seven of the 10 goals in the game, three for and four against. On another occasion, it was shortly after he was sent to the penalty box for hooking that the Flames scored the first of their two power-play goals.

Still, Al owns a plus-five rating, meaning he has been on the ice when his team scored five more times than when the opposition has, which is a number Hatcher would love to own. The guy

many suggest should have been named to this weekend's All-Star Game in Montreal off his scoring prowess currently is operating with a minus-17.

Time was when defense was the watchword of the Capitals and, although it made for less-than-exciting games when the team would go into its clutch-and-grab style to protect a lead, it achieved the desired goal of victory more often than not.

In the gambling, free-lance style that has existed most of this season, the Caps have become expert at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In the last five games alone, Washington has blown two-goal leads in losses to Pittsburgh and Buffalo, and been tied by Quebec and the Penguins after leading 3-0 and 2-1. Last night, they led Calgary 4-3 before the late fade.

While coach Terry Murray looked at the bright side and cited "the many shots [42] and excellent opportunities [12] to score" his team created, center Mike Ridley looked at it a little differently.

"We're playing well and executing well," he said. "All those shots says we're doing things right [offensively]. But we don't have the scorers we did last year, and we can't plan on scoring six or seven goals every night."

Translation: let's get to work making sure it's not necessary to have to score half-a-dozen goals to win.

With Hatcher in absentia due to a one-game suspension for incurring two stick-related game misconduct penalties (in just three days), the Caps were hurting for defensemen and were no doubt a little rubber-legged when the moment of truth arrived last night.

Paul Cavallini was carrying the puck in the Calgary end when, according to Murray, "maybe we over-handled the puck at the blue line. Cavallini looked like he tripped."

The puck went to Ronnie Stern, who immediately shot it ahead to a breaking Reichel and he did the rest, beating goalie Don Beaupre down at the other end. "As luck would have it," said Murray with a sigh, "they had the fastest guy on their team going up the middle and he was gone."

Although no one can fault the effort the Caps have been putting forward, it is getting to the point where their approach certainly is worth discussing.

Last year, while finishing with the second-best record in the NHL, Washington was second only to Pittsburgh in goals scored and the Pens, remember, came close to outscoring a couple of teams in the NBA. This time, the Caps are 11th in scoring and only 11 of the league's 24 teams has allowed more goals.

But then Washington knows a lot about deficit spending, right?

The team gets back into action following the All-Star break next Tuesday, heading out west for four games.

"We've got to get some good rest and regroup after the break," says Murray.

Make sure the regrouping takes place immediately in front of your goaltender, coach.

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