Calling the Capitals "a much improved hockey team," owner Abe Pollin says the club is "right on the edge" of playing solid, consistent hockey.

Pollin had hoped that his team, which plays the Blues in St. Louis tonight, would get off to a smoother start than its 2-6-1 record, but says all the Capitals need is time.

"Part of the problem may be that we have so many gifted athletes who just aren't used to (working with) each other yet," he said.

Pollin admits he is disappointed in the less-than-capacity crowds at Capital Centre. "Even though companies are underwriting the games, I'm disappointed we haven't sold the place out," he said. "Dollars are important, but I'd rather see the people there. But the crowds will come. It'll change. A couple of wins will do it."

After a summer-long campaign for financial stability, expectations for the team to do well are inevitable. "It (pressure) starts with me on down," Pollin said, "to the general manager, coaches, players. We just want so much to do well and maybe we're trying too hard."

"There is frustration here right now," said General Manager David Poile. "We're four points short of where we want to be. Initially, in the first two or three months of the season, I'd like to be around the .500 mark. I was hoping we would would have a consistent level (of play). But this is a team that's never been at .500."

"When I made the trade (with Montreal) I was thinking of how well we would perform in the playoffs. Not just that we'd be there," he said. "I realize there isn't going to be any daylight between us and Pittsburgh and New Jersey (in the Patrick Division). It could all come down to the last game of the season against the New York Rangers."

Poile, like Pollin, believes the Capitals' efforts have been good. "We don't get blown out of any games, but we've still lost," he said. "But we will still beat Pittsburgh and New Jersey out (for a playoff slot)."

Poile is disturbed by the Capitals' short-handed play. "We're using virtually three-fourths of the penalty killing Montreal had (last season)," he said, referring to Doug Jarvis, Rod Langway and Brian Engblom. "Those guys didn't lose it coming here. Yet our penalty killing is the worst in the NHL."

Not quite. The Capitals are 19th of the league's 21 teams in short-handed situations, allowing goals 63.2 percent of the time. On power plays, Washington ranks 13th, with 25 percent.

"We have taken stupid penalties in every game when we've had a power play advantage," said Poile. "Those and other team-damaging ones when we've been within striking range of winning have cost us dearly."

The Capitals have yet to win at home this season, and have scored just eight goals in their four home games. Although unhappy with that statistic, Poile still contends that three of those games were "entertaining."

"I'm not trying to be Barnum and Bailey, but those were great games," he said. "As for crowds, attendance and interest are determined by the won-loss record."

St. Louis (5-6-1) skated through training camp with no injuries, but has plenty now: goalie Mike Liut, hit in the face with a shot Wednesday, broke blood vessels in his nose; Guy Lapointe has a pulled hamstring; Larry Patey a shoulder injury; Rik Wilson an ankle problem.

Blake Dunlop, who suffered a contusion of the retina (left eye) in a collision, will be out at least a week.