Just a hockey season ago, Dennis Maruk was earning a place in the record books, with 60 goals and a total of 136 points, the most ever for a member of the Washington Capitals.
This spring, heading into the final week of the regular season, Maruk prefers to talk about team achievements rather than personal ones. "It's our year, what we're doing as a team," he said. "This year, my goals are down, sure, but we're going to the playoffs."
Going into Wednesday's game with the New York Islanders, Maruk has 31 goals and 47 assists, a significant drop from a year ago.
"It's down, yeah, and in past years I've pushed so hard, maybe I should have pushed more this time, " he said. "People look at that and unless you've got 50 goals in 60 games, they think something's wrong. But this year, we are playing a different style of game."
And for much of the season, Maruk has played out of his normal spot at center. Early in the year, Coach Bryan Murray shifted Maruk to left wing, where he had never taken a turn before. "Not in junior, not at all," he said. "I think it's good to play another (position), to give you an idea of something different. It was an area we were weak at, and I said I didn't mind trying it."
The move reduced Maruk's offensive opportunties. "I talked to Dennis about it before we made the move, and knowing it would cut down his goals," Murray said. "But he's told me, he wants to be on a winning hockey team, and he'll sacrifice whatever he has to for it."
Adjusting to life in the left lane, Maruk worked with Doug Jarvis at center and Ken Houston on the other side. "At first it felt strange," he said. "But when I got used to it, and then came back to play center, I was a little rusty. Of the 80 games this season, it'll probably end up that I was at left wing for about 60."
Maruk smiled, peering a week into the future at the Capitals' first playoff appearance. "But if they need me to play left wing again, I'll do it to help the situation," he said.
David Poile, Capitals general manger, is pleased with Maruk's performance even if he's not in the running for the Art Ross Trophy for scoring.
"I think there's no question that early in the year Dennis was not playing as well as he is now," he said. "When we moved him to left wing, we took away his biggest asset: goal scoring. Now that he's back at center (between Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner) he's got a whole new attitude, is playing with a lot of enthusiasm, and I think he'll come up with some key goals against the Islanders (Washington's first-round playoff opponent)."
Gartner, who serves as an alternate captain along with Maruk, said, "I think Dennis can be a leader for us on ice. You look to him for a bit of self-confidence. He might not be as productive this season, in goals, as he was, but I think he will be, during the playoffs. I think he knows he can be."
Murray, planning for the playoffs, said, "When you play the Islanders, you've got to have one line, a key line. The (Bobby) Carpenter line is playing pretty well, but I hope this line (Gustafsson, Maruk and Gartner) would be the one."
Besides working on his play, Maruk is busy trying to get a handle on the playoffs.
"I ask guys like Roddy (Langway), 'Well, what's it like? What should I expect?' " he said. "And they'll say, 'Oh, it's luck, a bounce, a guy falling down, that type of game. Intense.'
"I want to know what it's going to feel like. I can't wait to find out for myself."