The St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have much in common. Both are struggling, on the ice and at the box office, and both are depending on young players to provide escape from mediocrity.
"St. Louis Blues Youth on Ice" was the label Susie Mathieu, the NHL's only female public relations director, pinned on her club, which averages only 24 years. The Capitals are trying to shed labels, most of them demeaning, but they could claim prior rights to the "Youth on Ice" tag, because their lineup chekcs in at 24.
Each team is drooling at the prospects for advancement over the next two days, because the Blues and Capitals meet tonight at the CHeckerdome (WTOP-1500 at 9 p.m) and tomorrow night at Capital Centre at 7:30.
"(We), along with three or others, are at the point where we can go one way or the other," said Capital Coach Danny Belisle. "We can't worry about what the other clubs are doing, but this is our chance to help ourselves.
While the Blues have lost four in a row with a sieve-like defense, the Capitals have won two of their last three and Belisle siad he would settle for the demonstrated level of play the rest of the season.
"The other night against the Islanders we played three good periods of hockey, even though we lost," Belisle said. "We've gotten to the point in the last three games where we've played hockey I'm pleased with.
"My biggest concern now is keeping it at that point. If we maintain this level, I'll be satisfied. But there's always something to worry about. It's like a guy who becomes rich - not that we're rich. He has a new problem, trying to hold onto his money.
"I think we've made a big move in the last week. The players are working together making our system go the way it's supposed to. Beofre, there was effort, but there was also a lot of wasted work. Now we have good signs of players working intelligently."
Washington rookie left wing Paul Mulvey, who scored a game-typing goal in Chicago by eluding the check of brother Grant, has another familiar face to work on tonight. Wayne Babych, the right wing on Mulvey's junior line at Portland last year, is the BLues' high scorer with 24 points, on nine goals and 15 assists.
The two put together some remarkably consistent statistics in their last two seasons at Portland, Babych netting 500 goals and Mulvey 43 each year. Babych was the third pick in the June amateur draft, while Mulvey went 20th. Their center, Brent Peterson, was chosen 12th by Detroit.
"Wayne has good wheels and a good shot," Mulvey said. "He's a hard worker and a great skater. That's his best asset."
Mulvey matched Babych's NHL, apce briefly, with two goals in his first three games. However, he has seen limited fourth-line duty recently and his statistics disclose a meager total of three goals and two assists.
"It" a huge step for me and I'm working hard to improve," said Mulvey, who spent several minutes discussing a play with Belisle during the Capitals' workout at the Naval Academy Sunday. "It's hard to adjust to the speed of the games. But I'm gaining confidence every game, as I see what I do wrong and look at the starters and see what they do right.
"The biggest thing with me has been lack of confidence with the puck. Every time I get it I freeze. In junior I wah very confident with it."
When Mulvey gets the puck tonight, he would be wise to fire it at the St. Louis net. The Blues have yielded 101 goals in 19 games, for a 5.32 average that is by far the worst in the NHL. The Capitals, while more solid defensively, are last in scoring, with 47 goals in 18 games.