The lethargic, last-place Los Angeles Kings will face the Washington Capitals here Saturday night, and an old familiar face -- Bryan Erickson -- will be on the ice trying to stir up the home team.
Erickson, the former Capital, was called up from New Haven of the American Hockey League Dec. 5 and has scored three goals in five games, including the winner in a 3-2 victory in Winnipeg Saturday.
"He's doing a pretty good job, much more than what we expected," said Coach Pat Quinn. "He's a good little competitor, one of our few bright spots.
"I hope it keeps going. He faces the typical small guy's battle. Some people tend to forget that there have been some great small players. Hockey doesn't classify people by size, like football."
Erickson, 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, knows all about the small guy's battle. As a Capital, he scored 27 goals in 102 games and was considered a regular by one and all. Suddenly, at the trading deadline in March, he was shipped to Binghamton of the AHL, because Washington wanted to enter the playoffs against the Islanders with more size.
"Obviously, I was disappointed and I didn't understand the move," Erickson said. "I didn't feel my play had justified it. I don't really want to comment, because otherwise the Capitals were good to me, but that particular move I still don't understand."
Consigned to Binghamton again this fall, Erickson was pleased when the Capitals dealt him to the Kings for Bruce Shoebottom on Oct. 31, even though he stayed in the AHL, at New Haven.
"I was kind of hoping for it," Erickson said. "There was an indication at training camp that I wouldn't play much unless there were injuries, so I wanted to go to a team I could play for.
"Things were going good in New Haven and I was waiting for a chance to come up here. I thought it would come pretty soon, so I wasn't surprised when they called.
"Things are going pretty well here and I just have to keep it going. They play a more wide-open style out here, which helps me, and playing with Bernie (Nicholls) and Tiger (Williams) has been a ball."
Naturally, Erickson would like to score a goal or two against Washington Saturday. However, he insists that he harbors no animosity.
"I'd like to show Washington they made a mistake, but more than anything I want to prove to the Los Angeles organization that I belong in this league," Erickson said. "I want them to know that I'm not just a castoff, that I can play in this league."
Two other former Capitals, Brian Engblom and Glen Currie, have been finding things considerably less sunny out here.
Because of injuries to key defensemen -- Mark Hardy missed 25 games with a bad wrist and Gary Galley is out for 10 weeks after his knee was torn up by a goalpost in Winnipeg Sunday -- much of the pressure has fallen on Engblom. As a result, his minus-17 rating ranks among the NHL's worst.
Currie, beset by back pains, has not played a game since he was obtained from Washington Sept. 6 for Daryl Evans.
Quinn is perplexed about his team's dreadful record at the Forum, an inconceivable 2-10-2. While yielding 83 goals in the 14 games, the Kings have lost by scores of 9-2 to Calgary, 7-2 to Detroit and 9-0 to Hartford.
With a mere 18 points in 29 games, the Kings are surviving in the playoff race simply because Winnipeg (23) and Vancouver (21) cannot win the close ones.
"I wish I could tell you what it is," said Quinn, who lifted the Kings above .500 with a 23-point jump last season. "It's worse than it's ever been here. It's a situation for which there's no excuse.
"I think it's a lack of preparation -- mental preparation. But the organization has been willing since way back when to accept any excuse for lack of performance and we can't change it."
What Quinn will change, and quickly, is a power play that has slipped to 19th in the NHL at 15.8 percent. Longtime mainstays Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, who along with former King Charlie Simmer made opponents pay dearly for past fouls, now are scaring only Quinn and their teammates.
"We've got guys who simply aren't working," Quinn said. "We've gone a third of the season with the regulars who last year did a heck of a job and we've had very little success. I'm going to put some young kids in there, instead." Oilers 6, Jets 3:
In Winnipeg, Raimo Summanen scored on a rebound to break a 3-3 tie and Wayne Gretzky had two unassisted goals as Edmonton scored four times in the third period to beat the Jets. Whalers 6, Sabres 4
Paul Lawless scored three goals, his final one breaking a tie with just over two minutes remaining, to help Hartford win at Buffalo.