Scoring goals has been difficult for the Washington Capitals, and it might get even harder.
After Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Hartford, Dimitri Khristich's knee began to hurt. Khristich, who leads the team with 13 goals, did not practice yesterday, though the Caps hope he will be able to play tonight in Philadelphia.
The Caps also are counting on center Mike Ridley, who did practice yesterday even though his arm was bruised badly in Tuesday's loss.
The Capitals are already without Peter Bondra, second in goals with 11 and two weeks away from returning from a broken hand; and Dale Hunter, whose knee injury will keep him out until at least early January.
Yesterday, Washington called up rookies Jeff Nelson and John Slaney from the Portland Pirates. Both have been scoring goals in the American Hockey League, but coach Terry Murray is looking for more production from his veterans.
"The number of shots are there, the scoring chances are there," said Murray, "but the bottom line is finishing. About 40 percent of our shots miss the net and that says something isn't right. We've got to relax, play sound and execute the fundamentals."
Fundamentals were missing Tuesday, when Washington embarrassed itself against the Whalers. Murray criticized his players yesterday for lacking execution, intensity and mental preparation, and for wasting scoring chances.
"When you're not winning enough, you're always looking for more goals and you're never happy," said Capitals forward Randy Burridge.
Burridge, who missed most of last season because of knee surgery, is the Caps' third-leading goal scorer with nine.
hTC "Some guys are natural scorers, 5 or 10 percent," he said. "Others have to make things happen for themselves. You can't just expect to score or expect to be in the right spot for the puck to bounce in off you.
"You've got to drive with your legs, fight off other players for position. And you've got to remember to take that extra fraction of a second to make sure where you want that shot to go."
Murray said he thinks lack of patience also is a factor.
"It's almost scary that when we score first we win .850 of those games," he said. "But the crucial time is when we're down 1-0 or 2-1. It's at that time that we have to show patience, instead of taking on the mentality of having to go right now and get it back immediately. Our patience runs out and then, when we rush in, we shoot ourselves in the foot."
Scoring is down 21 goals from last season, 46 from two years ago, when the Capitals produced 330 goals, second only to Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh's 343.
"Did it [scoring ability] just go away?" Murray said. "I have a tough time saying it goes like that, that there are just some seasons when it isn't going to come.
"I see our talent. We have players who can take control of a game -- Khristich, Bondra, Ridley. But so much of it is mental. You have to come prepared to learn and improve every day. And when you have your opportunity, you've got to finish it."
But Washington's forwards are struggling to relax.
"It's a fine line," said Burridge. "When a goal scorer's confidence is hurt, to a certain extent, he can lose it."
Rookie Pat Peake, a scoring sensation in juniors last season, has four goals in 20 games.
"I've been a natural goal scorer my entire career," Peake said, "but it's a hundred little things that add up to scoring and I'm finding I have to adjust every part of my game."
Kelly Miller has averaged 18.6 goals and 26.8 assists in the past five seasons. He has three goals after 27 games.
"We need to be more creative and work better together as lines," Miller said. "But we sometimes have five guys going to the net. Scoring doesn't mean gambling, and that's what we've done at times this season. It all comes down to the little things."
The absence of Dale Hunter and a lack of production from Michal Pivonka have been among the reasons that the Capitals' goal total is down this season. A look at the Capitals' team and selected individual goal scoring through 27 games this season and the previous two (*-totals reflect individuals who played fewer than 27 games in that season):
:. ..... ..... ..... 93-94 .. 92-93 .. 91-92
Team ........ ....... 80 .... 101 ..... 126
Peter Bondra ........ *11 ..... 14 ...... 14
Kevin Hatcher ......... 5 ...... 7 ....... 6
Dale Hunter .......... *0 ...... 6 ....... 5
Khristich ......... 14 ..... *2 ...... 14
Kelly Miller .......... 3 ...... 5 ...... *2
Michal Pivonka ........ 2 ..... *1 ...... 10
Mike Ridley ........... 8 ...... 9 ...... 11