After failing to score a goal in his first seven games, Alan Haworth suddenly has become the center of attention for the Washington Capitals.
Haworth has at least one goal in five straight games, for a total of six. The streak includes the tying goal in a 7-7 deadlock at Winnipeg and the game winners over Chicago (4-2) and St. Louis (6-3).
The turnabout in Haworth's production coincided with his shift to center between Greg Adams and Craig Laughlin, after skating up and down the wings during five previous NHL seasons, two at Buffalo and three here.
"I haven't played center for a long time, but I'm a centerman," Haworth said. "I played center in junior, then when I went up to Buffalo, Scotty Bowman had so many centermen -- (Gil) Perreault, (Don) Luce and (Craig) Ramsay were there -- that he played me on right wing.
"I could skate fast and I had a good shot, so he figured I was a born right wing. But my play was limited. I knew I could show them I was a center if I ever had the chance.
"Now I'm glad that after five or six years I could come back to center and create more things, be more involved in the overall play and help the team."
Washington Coach Bryan Murray admits that he had Haworth cast as a right wing, after watching him play alongside J.F. Sauve with the Sabres' Rochester farm team, before Haworth was peddled to Washington in 1982 for little more than a promise not to draft Phil Housley. "He was a dominant player in the American League," Murray said. "He'd use his great speed to bust off the wing and shoot. But he didn't do that here.
"We insulted him and patted him on the back, tried everything we could to get him to shoot more. We figured he ought to be able to use his speed and let someone get the puck to him in shooting position. But he'd get the puck and he wouldn't shoot. He'd swing the net or pass it away or turn the puck over along the boards. If a guy was on him, he'd have a tough time beating him individually."
Murray wondered whether the problem was the fact that he had used Haworth, a right-hand shot, on the left side more often than the right, because of the club's obvious weakness at left wing. So this season he determined to give Haworth a good chance to stay on the right side.
"We had always looked at Alan Haworth as a potential 35-goal scorer and it wasn't happening," Murray said. "So this year I was determined to gave him a solid chance to play right wing. But he still wasn't shooting the puck.
"When I moved him to center, I was just trying to put a couple of people together. Gus (Bengt Gustafsson) was hurting and we needed to fill the hole, and I wanted Alan to play an offensive role rather than Doug Jarvis.
"When you look at a center iceman, you're looking for fairly creative people who help their linemates. We hadn't thought of Alan in that area. But playing with Greg and Locker, when the puck goes to a winger at our blueline, they're not as quick as Alan, so they're giving him the puck.
"He's able to attack from the neutral zone and if he can just beat one guy, he usually has a pretty good chance to shoot the puck. He's been a big surprise over the last five games, both in scoring and in overall intensity.
"He's not the best defensive center we have, but he's not bad. He gets back, he tries and he takes the body strong, particularly the puck handler. That line had constant pressure on the Islanders when they were on the ice."
Over the five games, Haworth has posted a remarkable plus-seven rating, on the ice for 10 equal-strength Washington goals and only three against.
Haworth seems to thrive on pain. Two years ago, he enjoyed a 24-goal and 55-point campaign, his best in the NHL, despite a season-long struggle with pinched knee cartilage that forced him out of five games and limited his ice time in others.
That problem was cured by postseason surgery, but this season he has been plagued by a tender left wrist, no doubt related to a break that occurred when he was playing junior hockey.
Haworth has taken cortisone shots and plays with a wrist support. He often yields the faceoff spot to a winger as a result, but the injury has not affected his shot, second-hardest on the team after Mike Gartner.
"It's been bothering me since training camp and sometimes I can hardly hold my stick," Haworth said. "But there's no way I'm going to stay out of there. Not when things are finally going my way."