The Washington Capitals have had streaks of six losses, six wins and now four losses. They gave up an average of 6.0 goals in their first five games, but have allowed three or fewer over 14 of the past 15.
They have the NHL's hottest goalie, Rick Tabaracci, but 20 games into the season, they're below .500 and fifth in the Atlantic Division.
"We have real skill on our blue line, and we've got three defensemen who set a record last year by scoring 20 goals," said coach Terry Murray. "But what does that mean? It's not going to make it any easier this year because you did it last year. Maybe it makes it tougher, so you've got to break through to another level and get the job done."
Murray called a 7:15 a.m. practice yesterday and saw a lot of what worries him. Because the Capitals are averaging fewer than three goals, the defense is pressing, looking "for the game-breaker." Murray fears such individual efforts that disdain fundamentals.
Tomorrow, the Capitals try to stop the losing at four against St. Louis at the USAir Arena.
"When we play a team game, at an intense level with good focus and are being responsible, we're a good hockey team," Murray said. "When we play like that, we can compete with anybody in the league."
NOTES: Team captain Kevin Hatcher said only, "I made a mistake, that's it," when asked about missing the team plane Sunday in Miami. But Calle Johansson, who rooms with Hatcher on the road and also missed the plane, said the two were at the airport in time to make the flight, "but we went to the wrong gate. We thought the flight was back to BWI, and it turned out to be a flight to National in Washington." . . . D Shawn Anderson, who injured his left hand Saturday, had an X-ray taken but it was negative. Anderson skated 20 minutes yesterday, but couldn't hold a stick.