The Washington Capitals are not panicking, but they're not breaking out the champagne yet, either.
One week into training camp, the Capitals have lost two of their three preseason games, struggling offensively throughout. "The fact is, we just haven't done anything (work) on the offensive part of our game," said Coach Bryan Murray between practice sessions today. "We've played a lot of different people to see what they can do, and that, in turn, has restricted any kind of cohesive play."
By mixing and testing new line combinations, Murray saw all of the available personnel in game situations, which made breaking the camp into Washington and Hershey divisions simpler.
"Certainly there were a couple young players, and I don't need to mention any names, that I had hoped would be competing for jobs with Washington," he said. "But they're just not ready."
Murray says he is basically satisfied with the players at hand. "From a conditioning point of view, looking at effort and attitude, yes, we're all pleased," he said. "As an overall team, when we get ready to put a final lineup together, we'll have three very good lines and a fourth checking line. By having the guys work with different partners, we've been able to see who could and couldn't play together."
Defense, long a weakness of the Capitals, has improved, thanks largely to the addition of former Montreal all-stars Rod Langway and Brian Engblom. Murray is happy with the play of first-round draft pick Scott Stevens, too.
"Terry (Murray, assistant coach) and I have taken him aside and talked with him about position and using his partner, and he's responded so well," Murray said. "He's thrown three of the best checks I've seen in a couple years. There's no doubt in my mind he can step right in."
Murray is concerned with one statistic. Through Sunday's loss to Hartford, Washington had not scored in a five-on-five situation. Part of that problem may be officiating. "The refs make sure it's nice and balanced, so one team gets one (penalty) then the other," Murray said. "But it ends up with about 36 minutes of the game being a man short. There's no way to see any flow of the game. I know I'd like 'em to clean up the sport, but not to take it away from the guys playing."
Camp last week was conducted tournament style, with four squads playing games daily; this week is being devoted more to instruction. "The entire group will work together mornings, and afternoons we'll have the special teams practice," he said. "Working with penalty killing, power plays, all defense, for an hour or so. "
So far, Washington has taken advantage of four out of 27 power plays, a ratio Murray wants improved. "It'll take practice," he said.
Murray is likely to spend time working with Milan Novy, too. Novy, looking tired today, blamed the bus ride to Hartford Saturday (five hours each way) for his lackluster play.
"He's like a rookie, trying hard to communicate," Murray said. "He hasn't played with any set of linemates long enough to establish anything. But he'll get it back."
In spite of the 1-2 record, Murray says he is not disappointed. "Maybe in one or two individuals," he said. "But overall, no. Now it's just a matter of taking the next step and becoming a hockey team."
Goalie Dave Parro, who has not played a game, skated today without pads after doctors examined a contusion on his left shoulder. Parro was hit with a puck in practice last week . . . Scott Stevens suffered a hip pointer against Hartford Sunday and will miss several days skating .. . . Capitals camp here will end Sept. 27 and the team will then skate at Fort Dupont in Washington.