Steckel shoots, but hasn't scored

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

MONTREAL -- David Steckel has fond memories of his overtime goal in Game 6 of the Capitals-Penguins semifinal series last spring. But there's something about it he wishes he could forget: That goal remains his most recent one.

Since his redirection of a Brooks Laich shot at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on May 11, Steckel has gone one playoff game, four preseason games and 26 contests this season without a goal. He's the only healthy Capitals forward who has not scored -- and his frustration, Steckel said, deepens with each game that passes without his name appearing on the score sheet.

"It's frustrating, especially when guys are getting called up [from the minor leagues] and scoring in front of you," he said. "It's not for a lack of effort of shooting pucks on net. It's just a bounce here or there."

Steckel's next chance to end the longest drought of his career comes Monday at RBC Center, where the NHL-worst Carolina Hurricanes play host to the Capitals, who are tied with the Penguins atop the Eastern Conference standings.

But while Steckel, 27, has struggled in the offensive zone, the Wisconsin native has been arguably the team's most valuable forward on defense.

Steckel ranks second in the league in faceoff success rate, winning 62.5 percent of his draws. His dominance was underscored during Wednesday's 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres when he won 14 of his 15 faceoffs, including 10 of 11 in the third period as the Capitals clung to the lead.

"David was dominant," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And every win was straight back. It wasn't in the feet and then get control."

Steckel, who also leads all Washington forwards in short-handed time on ice, added: "You have to. If I'm not scoring, what's the use in putting me out there? Guys [need to] see that even though Stecks isn't contributing on the score sheet, he's doing the little things. That's what I need to do right now."

But no matter how many faceoffs he wins, when you're a forward and you haven't celebrated a goal in almost seven months, it's tough to smile.

"He's holding that stick really tight," Boudreau said. "Internally it's really bothering him. So we tell him to try and relax. Because I know he can score goals. But it's like anything else, once it gets beyond that point everything is magnified."

Steckel notched 30 goals in 2006-07 with Hershey of the American Hockey League by taking advantage of short-handed opportunities, empty-net chances and putting his shot to good use. Last season, in his second full NHL campaign, Steckel scored eight goals -- two short-handed -- in the regular season and three more in the playoffs.

Steckel, who ranks ninth on the team in shots on goal with 37, said he's making an effort to go to the net with more determination, that he's spending more time loitering in front of the net hunting for tip-ins and rebounds.

"I've been trying everything," he said. "I just can't buy a bounce. It's frustrating, but the thing is if I worry about that instead of penalty killing or faceoffs, it's going to get worse."

An example of his futility came Saturday in Montreal, where he had at least three chances to score. The best came in the second period, when, after Canadiens goaltender Carey Price turned away Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle, Steckel whiffed on a rebound.

Steckel conceded that it's sometimes hard to block out his drought.

"I don't want to think too much about it," he said. "I've gone through games where I've thought so much about scoring that it's taken away from everything else."

But as much as his offensive struggles are haunting him, Steckel has managed to keep his sense of humor.

"Everyone loves scoring goals, and I wish I would," he said. "But right now I have to settle for getting the other things done. If it happens it happens, and if it doesn't, well, it can't get any worse."

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