Capitals need Pivonka to make a point of scoring Center of Washington's offense suddenly is lacking for goals

November 05, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

When Washington Capitals center Michal Pivonka defected from Czechoslovakia in 1986, that was pressure. He was 20 years old and coming to a strange country to try to play hockey for what he called "the greatest hockey league in the world."

"There I was," he said. "I showed up here, an illegal defector. For me, the biggest worry was leaving my family behind and all the questions about the future. What if I'm not good enough to make PTC it here? What then? Am I stuck in a strange place knowing no one and knowing nothing else to do? What else can I do?"

That was something to worry about. Now, seven years later, he is being asked if he is worried about his lack of scoring. Pivonka, who has scored more than 20 goals each of the past four seasons and produced 74 points in 69 games last season, is looked on as a key element in Washington's offense.

But the 6-foot-2 center has only one goal and four assists in 13 games. He is on a pace to score seven goals in this 84-game season.

His one goal, on Oct. 8 against the New Jersey Devils, is his only goal in the past 22 games, dating to April 12, 1993.

"Worry isn't the right word," Pivonka said. "I know I've got to score. I would say there is some pressure to produce and get over whatever it is right now. I'm not going to call it a slump, because I don't think that is what it is.

"Some games I just didn't get the puck into the net, and then a couple games after that I kind of let myself down. I think it is little things, like the one extra pass or burying the chance or going to the net or whatever. I feel pretty good physically. I know it is going to happen. This isn't going to last.

"If I have only one goal at Christmas, then I will worry. Last season, I wasn't even playing yet, but I wound up with 79 points. Right now I have only five points, but our leading scorer has only nine points, so I'm just four off the pace."

But when will the scoring come? Capitals coach Terry Murray is beginning to ask himself that question.

"Right now, this is going on too long," Murray said.

"I need Pivo to get those stats, that's where we look for his big contribution -- to get goals and set up plays. He's working very hard. But with only one goal after these many games, I don't want to say I'm concerned about it, but I do want to start getting some results."

This season, Pivonka has played on lines with Peter Bondra, Randy Burridge and Pat Peake.

After Peake was forced to sit out with pain in his ankle and a charley horse during the last road trip, Pivonka played on a line with leading scorer Dimitri Khristich and Keith Jones.

The Pivonka-Khristich-Jones line has played well in the past two games, but has few results to show for it.

"I don't have a reason for why he hasn't been able to get going," Murray said.

"But it is absolutely mental. The guy has a lot of talent. When you start pressing, things could go for a long time, unfortunately.

"We were watching the movie 'Rookie of the Year' on the flight back from the West Coast. There's a big guy up at the plate, and he starts squeezing the bat and sand starts falling out from under his hands. I think that's where Pivo is right now. He's really gripping the stick hard. He's not relaxed. He's not taking the puck on the fly and making the creative plays I know he can."

And though Pivonka won't admit to worry, he does admit to feeling slightly different on the ice.

"I think it is only natural when things are not going the way you want them to, you probably won't try to do as many things as you normally would with the puck," Pivonka said.

"You're missing a little of your confidence. You feel you don't skate as well. You don't feel you handle the puck as well. I don't think I have my legs moving the way I should. I'm not afraid of making a mistake, it's just, I think, a mental thing that stops you.

"I think I let myself down a little too much on the ice. When you don't score, you can't help but think about it."

This week he is looking at videotapes of games this season and last, searching for ways to change his luck.

Murray says he hopes putting Pivonka on a line with Khristich, who has played well all season, will help Pivonka relax and break free of the mental tension.

"He needs to believe in himself, that he can set up a few big plays," Murray said.

"When things start falling into place, that will create a lot of confidence. I'm aware of where his stats are because at the end of [last season] that's what we were talking about -- that a lot of games before the end of the season his production dropped off."

In fact, Pivonka was singled out by general manager David Poile for letting his team down in the postseason. Pivonka shrugs and says Poile has a point, but adds he has been doing the best he can.

"For me, the goal is just to score a goal," he said.

Pivonka says all he needs is a couple of lucky games to get a point-scoring streak going.

Murray hopes the streak comes soon.

"I need him to get going for us right away." Murray said.

l,2 "This is a big time for us. We've got 11 games this month, eight are in the conference and five are in the Atlantic Division, and we need everybody playing good hockey. This is a good opportunity for him to start turning it on."

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