Caps hope homecoming puts pep in weak offense


The Washington Capitals finally will get to use the ice at USAir Arena for their home opener tonight, and three games into this abbreviated 1995 NHL season, the Caps could use a little home cooking.

They are winless after a three-game road trip on which they made a lot of noise but wound up being the most polite of guests in the home openers of the Hartford Whalers (a 1-1 tie), the Quebec Nordiques (a 5-1 loss) and the Montreal Canadiens (a 2-0 loss).

"It's good to be coming home," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "It's an emotional boost, and maybe it's all we need to get over the goal scoring thing."

Tickets have been selling steadily for tonight's game and the Super Bowl Sunday meeting at noon with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Capitals general manager David Poile said the calls coming into the team's offices have been very positive.

"It seems to have come to everyone's attention that the season is on," Poile said. "And fans appear to be renewing their interest. I'd like to see a sellout [tonight], but I don't know. I think a good start would be no less than 16,000 for each game this weekend."

As of yesterday, the Capitals had sold 16,030 for tonight's game in an arena that seats 18,130.

Poile said that although he knows fans got excited about the Capitals at the end of last season when Joe Juneau arrived and they went on a 19-12-6 run to make the playoffs and then upset Pittsburgh in the first round, he "doesn't have a clue" about how the fans will react to the 1995 version of the Capitals.

"I think our fans understand the Kevin Hatcher situation, that he didn't want to come back and that we did the best we could getting Mark Tinordi, who I think is going to work out well for us," Poile said. "I think the goaltending decision we made is risky, but I hope people understand we're risking a dangerous step to get better and that we might have some growing pains."

The season won't be a week old until tomorrow and already rookie goalie Olie Kolzig has started all three Capitals games, because the more veteran Rick Tabaracci suffered a broken finger the day before he was to start in Quebec.

"There is always something that changes," said Poile. "I mean, our best line in training camp was [Pat] Peake, [Keith] Jones and [Steve] Konowalchuk, and if you talked to the coach two weeks ago, that line was going to be together all year. But there we were in our third game and that line was no longer together."

Poile is nervous about the Caps' lack of scoring, as they have only two goals in their three games.

After Washington was shut out 2-0 while outshooting Montreal ++ 33-17 Wednesday, several Capitals -- including Poile -- voiced some worry.

"There were a few times out there when I thought [Montreal goaltender Patrick] Roy was laughing at our guys," Poile told the Montreal Gazette. "The shots were so soft it looked like maybe he was thinking of taking off his glove."

Juneau, who has assisted on both Washington goals this season, understood Poile's frustration.

"We haven't had the bounce," he said. "Nobody has confidence to put the puck in the net right now, so on rebounds everybody is uptight."

Defenseman Calle Johansson agreed.

"The lack of results has created a little frustration," he said. "I think we've got a pretty good crowd of guys up front, but with the way things have been going, instead of looking for an open part of the net, they get like really tight in the hands and shoot right away. They don't try for control, they just want to get it and hit it as quick as they can."

Schoenfeld gave his players yesterday off to clear their heads and rest their bodies.

"The thing is you can't get frustrated, you can't deviate, you can't revamp the whole thing," he said. "It's like a baseball player in a hitting slump. The best way to get out of it is to keep hitting and the best way for our guys to get out of it is to keep shooting."

Perhaps the home ice will help too.


Opponent: New York Islanders

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 8

TV/Radio: HTS/WMAL (630 AM)

Tickets: 2,100 available

Outlook: The Caps come home to friendly ice, but their opponent will be no easy target, as the team searches for its first victory. The Islanders are unbeaten and lead the Atlantic Division. On the injury side, the Islanders report D Bob Beers (multiple facial fractures) will undergo surgery Monday and is out for two months, RW Brad Dalgarno (hernia surgery) is out for up to two weeks, and RW Steve Thomas (sprained thumb and sore back) is day-to-day. The Caps report X-rays have revealed G Rick Tabaracci's bruised pinky finger is broken, but he remains available to play.

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