The Washington Capitals are in third place in the Patric Division because of a hot streak that began in late November and continued midway through this month.
On that streak, the Capitals went 10-2-1. But Washington is 2-2-1 during its past five games, including Saturday night's 5-5 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We've had a very busy December," said captain Kevin Hatcher, who helped start Washington's comeback from a 4-0 deficit in the second period Saturday. "We've only had five night [games] at home all month. We're all looking forward to some good practices over the next week."
Washington plays at home tomorrow night against the New York Rangers, who moved into second place last night, one point ahead of the Capitals.
"There are an awful lot of distractions this time of the year," said Caps coach Terry Murray, who said he was pleased with Saturday's tie, since his team had come back for five goals to get it. "But given the way we've played our last 17 games, I think this is one we should've won."
Still, Murray said, there is "a little bit of a tendency league-wide" to struggle at this time of the year.
Saturday, the Capitals and the Flyers struggled early, going scoreless in the first period. But then the Flyers produced four goals in 5 1/2 minutes to end a scoring drought that had stretched over 143 minutes, 33 seconds.
Rod Brind'Amour started things with 10:21 gone in the second period. Then Pelle Eklund scored, followed by back-to-back goals by Eric Lindros.
Lindros completed a hat trick when he scored on a penalty shot with 18.4 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime.
"I was surprised he shot the puck through the legs," said goalie Don Beaupre, who relieved starter Jim Hrivnak with 15:42 gone in the second after he had allowed the Flyers' fourth goal on 13 shots. "But it was disappointing. Whenever you're out there and it comes down to one save to win the game -- well, it's disappointing if you don't make it."
The Capitals began coming back with 2:15 left on a power play in the second period. That's when Hatcher found Dimitri Khristich on the right side of the Flyers goal. Khristich took the puck and as Flyers goalie Tommy Soderstrom committed himself, Khristich passed to Michal Pivonka at the far post for an easy put-away behind Soderstrom's back.
Kelly Miller scored on another power-play opportunity 3:36 into the third, and Hatcher followed a little over a minute later to make it 4-3.
Capitals right wing Pat Elynuik, who celebrated the birth of his first child, a son Campbell Patrick, Christmas night, tied the game at 4 with 10:26 gone and then set up Khristich for the go-ahead goal with 7:17 to play.
"When we were on the hot streak, we played well for 60 minutes," said Miller, who has 11 goals. "Now, we're playing very well at times, but if we want to be a good, solid team, that's not enough. Opposing teams take advantage of every mistake we make. After two days off, both teams looked sloppy out there early on."
The lead held up until, with the clock ticking off the final 20 seconds, a collision occurred in front of the Capitals goal. Eklund was about to shoot and defenseman Al Iafrate slid into the net, knocking it off its moorings. A penalty shot is awarded if the goal is pushed loose in the last two minutes of play.
"I think the tie is a positive thing for us," said Iafrate, who termed the official's call correct and said he had not tried to dislodge the goal. "We came back and we came out with a point. From now on in, it's crunch time. Everyone will be jockeying for playoff position, and I think we should do good."
Murray had his team at practice yesterday, noting: "It's nice to get back here now and get in some good practices. We've only had two good practices in the last 38 days."
Over that time, Washington has played 20 games, 12 on the road. The Capitals have played just more than half of their road games: That's 22 down, 21 to go. That is more than any team in the league except the New York Islanders, who also have played 22 away from home.