The Washington Capitals, a shambles just two weeks ago, might have turned the corner and discovered prosperity.
"With the way things have been going in the first three games of this road trip, everyone is feeling the confidence rise," said Washington coach Terry Murray. "We've just continued improving the play we showed from our last three home games, and we're now playing with a lot of energy and enthusiasm."
After an 0-6 start, the Capitals are 4-1 in their past five games, the latest Wednesday night's 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, co-leaders of the Pacific Division with a 7-2 record and 14 points. Washington got even-strength goals from Keith Jones, Brian Curran, Todd Krygier and Mike Ridley.
It was also the first victory of the season for goaltender Rick Tabaracci, who returned to the Capitals this week after tearing knee ligaments in training camp. In his first game back, Tabaracci lost to Calgary, 3-2, on a deflection in overtime.
"Tabaracci had a real good game in Calgary and played well early against Vancouver," said Murray, who was in San Jose last night to watch the Sharks play the Mighty Ducks. "I like what I see. The way he's come back, there is no hesitancy on his part, no problem for him to make the plays.
"I feel much better about our goaltending. [Don] Beaupre has won his last three games, and now Tabaracci has played well and won."
Murray said he isn't sure who will be in goal tonight, but that Beaupre and Tabaracci will each play one of the remaining two road games.
The biggest problem facing the Capitals is the lack of scoring from the front line. In 11 games, Michal Pivonka (one goal, five assists), Peter Bondra (three goals, five assists), Dimitri Khristich (five goals, two assists), Mike Ridley (three goals, six assists) and Kelly Miller (three goals, two assists) have each shown some flash, as has Randy Burridge, who has four goals and two assists. But no one has demonstrated any consistency, and of the group, Pivonka may be the most worrisome.
He has just two assists in the past three games.
"When you get the ice time he does, you have to see results," said Murray. "He's not at the level I know he can reach, but he is tired at the end of the game. His equipment is wet. Now we have to coordinate it with his linemen. He knows there is a great need for him to get going."
Washington general manager David Poile, who continues to make trade calls but says he has nothing pressing, is as aware of the scoring needs as anyone.
"It's true we have lots of guys who have shown good offensive stats in the past who aren't doing it for us yet, and I don't have a magic formula," Poile said. "The good news is we've narrowed our problems down to one thing."
Murray said he is hoping that the team's improvement will help his slow starters feel better about themselves, and ultimately help to get their games untracked.
"I don't get nervous about it," Murray said. "But I wonder why and I'm spending more time analyzing the offensive part. I still think if we would just shoot the puck more on net, we'd get better results, but we keep trying to make that extra perfect pass."
NOTES: Poile also was in San Jose last night. . . . Center Dave Poulin, who got hit in the mouth in Calgary, had to spend near
ly all of Wednesday in a dentist's chair in Vancouver undergoing two root canals. He was scratched from Wednesday's game and sent back to the hotel. Poulin is expected to play tonight. . . . Rookie goaltender Byron Dafoe returned to Portland of the American Hockey League yesterday.
Opponent: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Arena
Radio: WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: The Mighty Ducks are returning from a five-game road trip that concluded last night in San Jose. Although they carried a three-game losing streak into their game with the Sharks, the trip wasn't all bad. The Ducks won the franchise's first road game, 4-2, over the New York Rangers. They are led by centers Terry Yake and Bob Corkum and goaltenders Ron Tugnutt (2.94 GAA) and Guy Hebert (3.43 GAA), who have been alternating the job over the past four games. The Ducks are averaging crowds of 16,301 -- 94.9 percent capacity -- and expect another large turnout tonight. Washington is coming off Wednesday's 4-2 victory in Vancouver and has won two of three on its five-game road trip. Washington is without G Olie Kolzig (kneecap). The Ducks report no injuries.