Ex-Capital Druce slowly starting to play like a King again in L.A.

ON THE NHL

January 04, 1994|By SANDRA MCKEE

The only time the Washington Capitals made it into the conference finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it was John Druce who got them there.

Today, the 27-year-old is with the Los Angeles Kings, and after months of rehab following surgery on his right wrist last summer, he is finally getting back in the swing.

New Year's Day, Druce produced his first two-goal game since Washington traded him to the Winnipeg Jets for Pat Elynuik on Oct. 1, 1992. He now has five goals and two as- sists in 18 games and the best shooting percentage on the team at 21.7.

The Kings won that game against Toronto, and after a slow start have regained their footing, going 4-1-1 in their past six games to move past the Mighty Ducks into third place in the Pacific Division.

And Druce has found a niche.

"I've been a defensive-type player all my life," said Druce, who signed as a free agent with L.A. "When I signed here, Barry [Melrose, coach] told me my role was to go up and down my wing, play physically and responsibly. We've got a lot of offensive talent on this team -- with Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Jari Kurri. No one is pressing me to score and since spending two weeks re-conditioning in Phoenix, I feel confident playing for the first time in a very long time."

It was an amazing 1990 playoff performance that got Druce's foot in the NHL door. He set or tied 10 Capitals records -- including goals (14), power-play goals (eight), game-winning goals (four) and points (17) -- that still stand.

"I did another interview earlier this morning, and I was asked the same question: 'Do I ever think about it?' " said Druce, who has three goals in his past two games. "I look back at that as the highlight on my career so far. It provided me the opportunity to play and I loved playing with Washington. And now I love playing with L.A. I'm hungry for more success."

The Washington Puffins?

Don't laugh. This is not a bad idea. With the popularity of birds such as Ducks and Penguins in the NHL -- 80 percent of NHL merchandise sold is that of the Mighty Ducks, and the Penguins have proven their worth with two Stanley Cups -- the Puffins would fit right in.

Besides, the Capitals, who have what is likely the most boring logo in the league, could benefit from changing their name to the Puffins, and becoming a little more loveable.

The perfect opportunity for this change could come if team owner Abe Pollin builds a new arena. Puffins are known for their loyalty to their nests.

"I don't know what a Puffin is, but I think I'd like something a little tougher," said Capitals general manager David Poile, a little doubtfully.

"A Puffin?" said Dale Hunter, trying to visualize it. "Is it a pastry?"

No, but given the way the Boston Bruins ate up the Capitals on Sunday, a Capital might be defined that way this week.

Puffins, which grow to 8 inches tall and on a good day weigh a little over 1 pound, are resilient. They were virtually eaten out of existence in this country earlier this century, but since 1973 have been making a comeback off the coast of Maine.

Puffins can be seen at the National Aquarium in Baltimore or in their natural habitat by taking a tour boat out of Portland, Maine -- which happens to be the site of Washington's American Hockey Affiliate.

"People, when they know about them, just love them," said Mary Gunther, the senior aviculturist (or as she translates it, head puffin expert) at the aquarium.

The Portland Pirates (formerly the Baltimore Skipjacks) started 1994 with back-to-back losses to Providence, 3-2, and Cornwall, 4-3. Despite the setbacks, the Pirates remain tied atop the Northern Division with Adirondack.

The Pirates have until Friday, when Springfield comes to town, to get back on the right track. The 603rd fan through the Portland Civic Center doors that night will be the 100,000th to see a Pirates game.

Tugnutt the lug nut

After the Capitals shut out Anaheim, 4-0, last week, Mighty Ducks goalie Ron Tugnutt had a few disparaging words for Washington.

"They're the dirtiest team in the league," he said. "Around the crease, they kick you, slash you and poke you with their sticks . . . They are the absolute worst. Everyone in the league knows they're the dirtiest."

Funny, it sounds an awful lot like the way hockey is supposed to be played.

"You do what you have to do to score, and, in my opinion, we don't do enough of it," said Capitals left wing Craig Berube.

The Blue note

Brett Hull set a team record Sunday night for career goals when the St. Louis Blues beat the Calgary Flames, 4-3, in overtime.

Hull's 24th goal of the season and 353rd of his career tied the game early in the third period. Hull needed 438 games to break the mark set by Bernie Federko, who played in 927 games.

Hull, 29, has 380 total career goals. He believes he can score at least 500 before he is finished, but doesn't expect to catch Gretzky (782) or Gordie Howe (801).

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