During each of their seven sorry seasons, the Washington Capitals have been subjected to a double-figure winless streak. This was the year such sordid statistics were to be terminated, and following a nine-game stretch without a victory in the injury-plagued days of late October and early November, there was relief that the slide had gone no farther.
Now, however, as the Calgary Flames come to Capital Centre tonight for a 7:30 contest, the Capitals are struggling desperately to escape an 11-game winless string, one that threatens to wipe them out of playoff contention unless it can be halted.
Just as victories feed on one another through added injections of confidence, so does the absence of success diminish confidence. For the last few games the Capitals have appeared mentally tired, making careless mistakes and by their actions displaying a lack of confidence in themselves and their teammates. They seem to be tight, afraid of making a costly error, and thereby become mistake-prone by their hesitancy to do anything.
"As we said when we had that nine-game streak with a bunch of ties earlier, we have to get this bloody monkey off our backs," Coach Gary Green said yesterday after a prolonged workout at Capital Centre. "We have a tough game Tuesday, because Calgary has been going very well, but if we can't do it in our building, where can we do it? I'm confident we can play well enough to win, but nobody expects anything on a golden platter."
Dave Parro, troubled by a sore left shoulder that has twice been dislocated in the past six months, will be in goal tonight, his first start since Feb. 14 at Montreal, when shoulder problems forced him to leave 31 minutes. Parro played 17 flawless minutes in St. Louis Saturday, after Mike Palmateer had given up seven goals.
"We've been waiting for Davy to let the shoulder solidify," Green said. "He looked sharp in St. Louis, he's strong and he seems to be confident."
Green stayed up all night following Saturday's 7-4 loss in St. Louis, breaking down the videotape of the game so that he could point out crucial errors at a team meeting before yesterday's practice.It was a long meeting, 45 minutes, and the drill that followed consumed two hours.
"At the meeting, we discussed specifically the goals scored against us in St. Louis, why and how," Green said. "Then we went over our own end zone play. We have to be more aggressive. The forwards played well in St. Louis and the scoring opportunities were even, but the problems in our end zone were critical. We have to do better.
"We've backed up off the blueline and there's no reason to. They're losing confidence, not in the goaltender, but in themselves. Sometimes it's just out of tightness."
Watching from a perch high behind one goal was General Manager Max McNab, who reported that the players here and in Hershey would probably have to turn it around, because a major trade seemed unlikely before the March 10 deadline.
"We have been investigating things the last couple of weeks," McNab said. "Sometimes a standoff is good, just to make a change, but anything proposed to this point is not even a standoff. There is a possibility on a minor scale.
"We're healthy and we have a favorable schedule compared to other clubs.But we've been making a lot of individual mental errors coming out of our end. We're swimming in our end.
"The key is having the total confidence that everybody's going to do their job. We had it once. We have to recapture it.
"Tightness is a factor, particularly when it come to handling the puck in a danger zone within 25 feet of our net. We have conscientious players, and that increases the tightness factor."
With Edmonton a mere two points back in 17th place, there is tightness in the standings as well as in the mind.If the Capitals cannot loosen up tonight and topple that monkey, this season of so much promise will very likely be going up in Flames.