If the Washington Capitals had to shoot their own turkeys for Thanksgiving, most of them probably would go hungry.
Next to the disastrous decline in penalty-killing competence, a major reason for the Capitals' current level of mediocrity is their inability to put the puck in the net.
Although they have outshot 14 of 18 opponents, they are below .500 where it counts, with a record of six victories, seven losses and five ties. While recording 620 shots on goal to the opposition's 500, the Capitals have one less goal to show for it, 64 to 65. That gives them a 10.3 percent ratio of success, the opposition 13 percent.
It is not a new problem. Last season, the Capitals were able to win despite such inept shooting, because they had the NHL's best penalty-killing unit and they made fewer mistakes in their end of the ice. But lack of shooting accuracy made most games a struggle even then, and now, without compensations in other areas, the frustrations are multiplying.
A year ago, the Capitals scored on only 11.6 percent of their shots. The New York Islanders, although taking 257 fewer shots, scored 49 more goals with 14.9 percent accuracy.
Tonight at Capital Centre, Washington fans can watch one of the great pure shooters in hockey history, the Islanders' Mike Bossy. Bossy has surpassed 50 goals in each of his seven NHL seasons and he is well on his way to that figure again, with 22 in 19 games.
Bossy has collected those goals on 82 shots, for a 26.8 percent success rate. Teammate Brent Sutter is almost matching that mark, with 16 goals in 61 shots for 26.2 percent accuracy.
Washington's best shooter, on a percentage basis, is Gary Sampson, at 21.7 percent with five goals in 23 shots. Bob Carpenter is at 20 percent, with 14 in 70. After that, it goes down -- way down.
"If the other team gets a two-on-one, they frequently score," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "If we get a two-on-one, we usually don't score. It's almost as if some of our guys freeze when they get near the net.
"There's no question, we get all kinds of chances, but we still struggle to score. Because of that, we have to work hard within our defensive system and we can't give up many goals. This season, each mistake seems to cost us."
It is almost cruel to mention Bossy to Murray, because it is obvious the difference such a shooter would make to the Capitals. And Murray is well aware that Washington could have drafted Bossy in 1977, when it chose Robert Picard instead.
At that time the Capitals felt Bossy, despite scoring 308 goals in four junior seasons, was too much of a one-way player. "He's the best player in Canada from the blueline in" said Washington scout Billy Taylor's evaluation.
"What Mike Bossy has done is shoot the puck millions of times," Murray said. "When he was young, I'm sure he spent a lot of time on it. But that particular talent is like a great shooter in basketball. It's God-given.
"Other guys couldn't score like that with a million years of practice. Also, he's got a free rein to shoot whenever he touches the puck. The big scorers in this league are the guys who shoot when the puck touches their stick. The quickness of the game is such a big factor."
One Capital who knows Bossy well is the current resident of Murray's doghouse, Glen Currie. During Bossy's final junior season at Laval, Currie was his center. While Bossy collected 75 goals, Currie earned 51 assists. Currie also tried to learn from Bossy and, the following year, with Bossy gone, Currie scored 63 goals.
A few junior scorers maintain their pace in the NHL. Bossy certainly did. Currie did not, hitting a high of 12 last season and currently is searching for No. 1, despite some good two-on-one chances.
"Boss used to take a lot of angle shots in practice," Currie recalled. "He was always trying to improve his accuracy. He's very quick from a standing point.
"It's just natural, though. He has big calves and that helps him open things up on the right side. I asked him why he was such a good shooter, and he said it was just 'natural.'
"Where I'd been feeding him, the next year I tried to do more myself. I had two good wingers, Richard Pepin and Patrick Daley, who helped me a lot. But the Quebec League has always been easier to score, and I guess I lost the knack somewhere.
"A lot of it is the fact that everything is quicker in the NHL. That was the hardest thing for me to adjust to. And now, of course, everybody has a role and mine obviously isn't scoring. You have to stay within certain boundaries. If you go out of them, you hurt the team."
Currie sat out his first game since the 1982-83 season Wednesday in Pittsburgh, because Murray felt "he's not playing nearly what he's capable of. I don't think he's as hard-working as he was and he's made mistakes killing penalties. It was a one-shot thing; I wanted to impress on him that he's got to be more demanding of himself."
If Murray needed any further proof of the value of accurate shooting, it was provided by the Penguins' Warren Young, whose two third-period goals gave his team a 3-3 tie. Young, 28, a rookie first drafted by California in 1975, has 16 goals on 36 shots this season.