The Washington Capitals are on a hot streak. They have won five of their last six games, outscoring the opposition by 30-18, and in the process, they have achieved some of the scoring balance Coach Bryan Murray has been seeking for four seasons.
Alan Haworth has scored at least one goal in seven straight games, longest such streak in the NHL this season. Both Bengt Gustafsson and Greg Adams have recorded at least one point in the last six games. Dave Christian has a point in seven straight, a goal in each of the last five.
For Christian, who produced the game winner in Wednesday's 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh, the sudden scoring splurge has been most welcome. He did not have a goal in Washington's first seven games.
"The way things started, it's nice to finally see some pucks going in the net," Christian said. "The funny thing is, I was probably getting better chances when I wasn't scoring. After a while, I didn't think I'd ever get one in."
Much of Christian's success -- five of his six goals -- has come on the power play. The Capitals' extra-man unit, so often maligned by impatient Capital Centre fans, has clicked six times in the last two games and ranks seventh in the NHL at 26.1 percent. Along with the third-ranked penalty killers, that makes for some very special teams.
"We go out on the ice and we know what we want to try to do," Christian said of the power play members. "And we don't get excited if things don't go well the first time. We just go back and do it again.
"The things we're trying to do are working. But when that stops, we'll do something else. These days everybody is watching films and prescouting, so they figure ways to neutralize you pretty quick."
A lack of scoring in early games and a succession of injuries of varying magnitude have prompted Murray to juggle his lines, so Christian has centered different combinations and the last two games started out at right wing on a line with Bob Carpenter and Bob Gould. Carpenter suffered a bruised right hand Wednesday, but is expected to play Saturday at home against Calgary. Obviously, the switches have not been harmful.
"When you're with different people, there is more communication," Christian said. "You don't just sit back and figure everybody knows what will happen. When you're with the same people, you expect them to know what you're going to do.
"I've played right wing before, but there is an adjustment. It calls for a little more stopping and starting. You don't have the puck as much, and you have to show a little more patience. You go up and down, take care of your own end and wait for the chances.
"The injuries are something we haven't had to deal with before. We've had some important people miss a lot of games, and it says something for the guys who've stepped in and carried a bigger load. But we all hope that four months from now there won't be any injuries."
Defenseman Scott Stevens is the Capitals' latest casualty. He suffered a bruised right knee Wednesday and is listed as doubtful against Calgary. Defenseman Yves Beaudoin, who went back to Binghamton on Wednesday, was recalled yesterday and will play in Stevens' place if he is unavailable for the Flames.
Christian would like to top 30 goals this season. He has come close in five full NHL seasons, scoring 28 as a rookie at Winnipeg in 1980-81 and 29 for Washington in 1983-84.
"There's no reason I can't or shouldn't score 30," Christian said. "The more important thing is that the team wins, but if I score 30, I'll be helping the team win."
Christian was the team joker when he came here in 1983. Last season, however, his sense of humor disappeared as his point production dipped. He and his wife were in the process of divorce, and he says it hurt him at the workplace.
"It was tough last year," he said. "As much as you try not to let it affect your play, there's no doubt it did. Now that it's settled, it's easier to keep my mind on the games. When I come to the rink, it's a lot easier to think about hockey. If you ask any of the guys, I think they'll agree I'm back to the way I used to be."
The horror story of the week features minor-leaguer Mike Siltala, who scored for Binghamton Wednesday while suffering a broken jaw. He shot the puck off the rear boards, it flew back and struck him, then dropped into the net.