Just two weeks ago, the Washington Capitals were worrying about even-strength scoring, and the team's leading scorer, Peter Bondra, was talking about how the Capitals needed to acquire a go-to forward who could produce goals in critical situations.
Last night, the Capitals returned from a four-game road trip having amazed even themselves.
"It gets harder and harder to earn points in games this late in the season," Capitals coach Terry Murray said. "Any time you go on a four-game trip and come back with eight points, you know you're playing some pretty good hockey."
Indeed. Consider this:
* This is the first time in club history the Capitals have gone 4-0 on a road trip.
* When the Capitals won, 10-6, in St. Louis and followed with a 10-3 win in Los Angeles, it was the first time in team history the Caps had scored in double figures in back-to-back games.
* Of the 27 goals scored in four games, 19 of them were while the team was at even strength. The line of Dimitri Khristich (six goals, five assists), Michal Pivonka (three goals, three assists) and Bondra (four goals, four assists) have led the way with 12 goals, 13 assists.
* The Caps tied a club record with seven goals in the second period in Los Angeles.
* The Caps are averaging an NHL-high 4.51 goals in the past 37 games. Their 22-10-5 record also has produced a league-high 49 points since Nov. 20.
The bottom line is that the Caps, at 29-22-6, have been able to open a five-point gap on the third-place New York Rangers in the Patrick Division, but are still 15 points behind Pittsburgh. We are not looking over our shoulders," Bondra said. "We are looking straight ahead.
"We can catch Pittsburgh. Why not? We play great at home, and we are home almost all of March, so we will see."
The Capitals, who face Los Angeles and St. Louis here Saturday and Sunday in afternoon games, are 9-1-4 at home since Thanksgiving and have only seven more road games this season. Washington is trying to unload left wing Bob Carpenter (six goals, 12 assists in 52 games). Carpenter did not play on the four-game road trip and is 12th in scoring. General manager David Poile told the Washington Post Tuesday: "If he's not going to play, then I'd like to move him." Carpenter is making $525,000
Could be worse department
The Philadelphia Flyers are 1-6-3 in their past 10 games, but it could have been worse. Goaltender Tommy Soderstrom came off the bench Tuesday for the final two periods and stopped all 29 Calgary shots he faced to help the Flyers to a 4-4 tie.
About to get healthy?
The New York Rangers, 0-4-1 in their past five road games and 1-10-2 in their past 13, face a five-game Smythe Division trip. The Rangers are 2-0-0 on the road against Smythe teams, having won in Winnipeg and Los Angeles. This trip includes two games against San Jose and one each in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
The Capitals have reached agreement with center Stefan Ustorf, their third choice in the 1992 Entry Draft. The two sides have signed a two-year agreement with an option year to begin in 1994-95. Ustorf, 19, has one year remaining on his contract with Kaufbeuren in the German League, which he will honor, and then probably will be a member of the German Olympic Team at the Lillehammer Games next February.
Around the rinks
New York Islander Benoit Hogue scored his 26th goal on a penalty shot against Edmonton's Ron Tugnutt in New York's 7-2 win Tuesday. . . . The Capitals were 0-for-8 on the power play at San Jose. . . . Goalie Rick Knickle, who is 32 and has played 14 years in 12 cities, has made it to the NHL, signing with the Los Angeles Kings. Knickle had the best record for goalies in the IHL, 33-4-4, and a 2.17 goals-against average with San Diego. . . . Mario Lemieux has been out of the Pittsburgh lineup almost five weeks and is still tied for the league lead in points with Buffalo's Pat Lafontaine. Both have 104. . . . Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who wears No. 34, made 34 saves Monday in his 34th game of the season. His next appearance will be a big one. According to the NHL Players Association, Vanbiesbrouck gets a $50,000 bonus for his 35th game.