After all the shots on goal and penalty minutes an plus-minus ratings of another game had been filtered through his brain, Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray still was able to recall how many Patrick Division games are included in his team's regular season.
"When you start the season, you always think you can go 37-0," he said.
That is how important those games can be. The Capitals, who are 10-13-2, cannot ignore their 2-8 record in the Patrick Division.
"The reality is, the division is a tough one," Murray said. "We've played well against the Patrick Division, but we've ended up being 4-2 losers in a lot of the games. It hasn't been as bad as the record indicates, although that's all that matters."
The Capitals' 22 points give them only a fourth-place tie in the Patrick Division. The Capitals still are missing defenseman Rod Langway, who is out the next month or so to recover from knee and shoulder surgery and then may choose retirement over a part-time role. Only of late have they begun to look more like themselves, with defenseman Sylvain Cote, wing Dimitri Khristich and center Michal Pivonka active again.
RTC Those three missed a combined 40 games because of injuries. Cote has been back for a month, but Pivonka and Khristich returned less than two weeks ago. Closer to full strength, the Capitals produced a four-game unbeaten streak that ended with Saturday's 5-3 loss against the first-place Penguins in Pittsburgh.
"We're getting all our guys back, and things are starting to come together for us," goaltender Don Beaupre said. "We've lost some close games -- 2-1, 4-3, right on down the line -- but we've got
some guys back who can carry the puck, who are threats to set up plays."
Beaupre, who is 2-11-1, was the goaltender in all but two of the team's losses. "He's working his way out of it," Murray said. "You've got to say the team didn't play that well in front of him early in the season."
Beaupre was in goal -- for a while, anyway -- in the loss at Pittsburgh. The Capitals, who had won the season's first meeting between the teams Friday at the Capital Centre, blew a 2-0 first-period lead. Beaupre was pulled after taking two second-period penalties, including a tripping call that led to Mario Lemieux's power-play goal and a lead the Penguins did not surrender.
This was another game in which Beaupre could have used more support. The Capitals went through a 12-minute stretch at the start of the second period during which they took just one shot.
"We're not a team with the kind of talent that gets lucky and can score," defenseman Al Iafrate said. "We have to scratch for every goal we get. When we don't, our chances of winning are going to be pretty slim."
Opponent: Detroit Red Wings
Site: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
TV: Channel 20
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: The Capitals, though losing in Pittsburgh on Saturday, 5-3, are much improved from the team that played Detroit (14-10-1) at the Capital Centre on Nov. 20. That team blew a 5-3 lead with 8:47 gone in the third period. The one that plays the Red Wings tonight has shown it can protect leads and overcome deficits. But the Caps (10-13-2) need to get Don Beaupre, who began the season as the recognized No. 1 goalie, untracked. Saturday, he lost his composure in Pittsburgh and allowed the Penguins to get back into the game. Will coach Terry Murray give the struggling All-Star the start, or go with Jim Hrivnak, who has been hot of late?