In three games against the Atlanta Flames, the Washington Capitals have yielded 18 goals. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect the Capitals to concentrate on tightening their defense when the Flames visit Capital Centre tonight at 7:30.
Chances of success in such an endeavor are heightened by the recent play of veteran backline partners Bryan Watson and Bob Paradise, neither of whom has faced the Flames this season.
Watson, obtained from Detroit Nov. 30, was a Red Wing while the Capitals, were beating Atlanta, 6-5, and losing by 7-0 and 6-2. He sat out Detroit's lone early-season meeting with the Flames while serving that 10-game suspension for breaking the jaw of Chicago's Keith Magnuson.
Watson, at 34 the NHL's all-time penalty king, has virtually eliminated the foolish violations that made him a regular sin-bin resident at Detroit. He has been surprisingly steady on defense, too, and in the last five games has reduced his plus-minus rating from minus 12 to minus four.
His left-side partner, the 32-year-old Paradise, boasts a plus-four mark. Watson and Paradise were on the ice for five of the Capitals' goals in that 7-4 victory over Chicago and an excellent move by Paradise in Washington's end was instrumental in an eventual score by Guy Charron.
For the first half of the season, it seemed unlikely that Paradise would make any contribution to the Capitals. He was idled by stomach muscles torn in the final game of last season, against Montreal, and aggravated any time he attempted to skate.
Feeling better in late January, he accepted demotion to Springfield, where he received a further setback when an ankle bone was chipped.
"I was really disappointed then," Paradise said. "I talked with (general manager) Max (McNab) and he said he did have plans to bring me back, but that obviously set them back. I'm just glad it wasn't broken. I certainly didn't need to sit around three more months. I was in Springfield longer than I wanted, but I think it was good for me."
Called up on Feb. 14, Paradise played his first NHL game in more than 10 months against Minnesota. His off-target pass, intercepted by the North Stars' Ernie Hicke, was turned into Minnesota's third goal in 3-3 tie. It was hardly an auspicious return.
"When I came back I wasn't confident," Paradise said. "I didn't want to make a mistake, because the team was in a playoff drive, and I was playing too cautiously. After about the fourth game I wasn't as cautious. I feel pretty comfortable right now. In the last two games Bryan and I have been getting the puck out of our own end quickly. We're starting to get used to each other. The whole thing is confidence.
Coach Tom McVie has belabored both men on the importance of utilizing the Capitals' system to get the puck out of their zone and down the ice. He has noted improvement, but expects a lot more.
"I'm satisfied with their conditioning and the way they're trying to make the system work," McVie said. "On a percentage basis, I'd say that three-quarters of the time they're doing it right. I'll be satisfied when it's done right.I'll be satisfied when it's done right 100 per cent of the time."
"I think I can play better," Paradise agreed. "Actually, the system we have going here will make me a better player. I play a good positional game, but I'm not that strong a puck carrier. It's not my style and I recognize it's not one of my strong points. I'm better off getting the puck to the open man."
While he works on improving his passing, Paradise has not neglected his detensive play. He hits hard and is not often caught out of position.
"When the other team has the puck, he has been playing very well," McVie said. "I'm really satisfied with his intensity, with his total effort, the way he blocks shots, clears the front of the net and takes the man."
When he and the rest of the Capitals master that system, McVie will truly be living in Paradise.