The Washington Capitals visit St. Louis tonight, where unkind history records four defeats in four games, by a combined score of 28-7.
Coach Tom McVie will no doubt emphasize those statistics to his players before they skate out to face the Blues, but for public consumption he has a stock riposte: "We've done a lot of things this year we never did before."
One of the things was to beat the Blues, anywhere. Entering the campaign with an overall 0-8 mark against St. Louis, the Capitals have taken two straight at Capital Centre, by 2-1 and 6-3 scores.
The 6-3 contest was played as recently as Sunday, when the Capitals scored four goals in less than three minutes to wipe out a 3-2 deficit.
Key figures in that reversal, as well as in Thursday's, 4-1 success over Detroit, were the No. 2 line of Gerry Meechan, Bob Sirois and Bill Riley.
Meehan has recorded goals in each of his last four games; no Capital has connected in five straight. Meehan has eight, points over that stretch, Sirois seven and Riley six.
Like Meehan, Riley is shooting for a Capital first tonight. His seasonal mark in those important plus-minus ratings is plus-four. No Capital has attained five.
The Capitals, as a team, also reached a modest milestone: a 500 record at home. They are 10-10-5 at Capital Centre this season.
Washington, now a comfortable fourth in the Norris Division, five points up on Detroit, is looking ahead to the third-place Los Angeles Kings. The West Coast club, seven-points in front, visits the New York Islanders tonight and will be in Buffalo Sunday, while the Capitals are entertaining Philadelphia.
Wednesday night the Capitals and Kings will cross paths at the Los Angeles Forum, in what suddenly looms as the biggest game the Capitals have played.
The Capitals' defensive work and penalty killing continue to rank with the NHL's best. Washington has allowed just 21 goals in nine games. Only the Islanders, with 19, have been playing better defense.
Washington has permitted only two power-play goals during its 14 January games. The Capitals' season yield of 28 has beenbettered only by Montreal, Buffalo and Boston.
The team flew to St. Louis last night, following a Ft. Dupont workout that emphasized passing, one of the club's less-skilled areas.
"We have been passing the puck a little better," McVie said, "but not the way we should. We've been spending half our practice time on passing and shooting drills."
Tonight's 9 p.m. game will be joined in progess by WTOP-1500 radio after the Bullets' game is concluded. That should be about 10 p.m., but announcer Ron Weber has not forgotten his last visit to St. Louis, when the Bullets required three overtimes amd Weber's broadcast was restricted to the final 10 minutes.