CHICAGO, OCT. 24 -- For a team that was in defensive disarray two weeks ago, recent events have to be pleasing to the Washington Capitals.
In the last three games, the Capitals have allowed three, zero and two goals. Those performances translated into three straight victories. It's still October and the Capitals are still prone to allowing two-on-ones, but they have improved from their five-goals-a-game pace in the first three games of the season.
The Capitals did not win four in a row in the 1989-90 regular season (although they won four straight to win the Patrick Division finals against the New York Rangers). They will try to accomplish that feat Thursday night when they play the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:35 at Chicago Stadium.
The defense has settled down and the present arrangement likely will remain stable for a spell, barring injury. Kevin Hatcher particularly is playing better, rounding into form. He had two goals and an assist in the Capitals' 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday at The Spectrum.
"He's improving," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "I'd still like him to move up a couple levels to where he was last season."
Soviet defenseman Mikhail Tatarinov is the latest addition to that crew, making his NHL debut against the Flyers.
Tatarinov did not score, but he drew praise from teammates and coaches. Maybe the most encouraging sign was that he stood up to rough play that a Flyer or two directed his way, and he also stepped up to deliver some jarring checks of his own.
That is not to say he's going to be any sort of bully. He's not that big and he can have a greater impact by skating, shooting and creating offensive opportunities. By standing up early to players trying to intimidate him, he will earn respect from teammates and foes quicker. It will mean more room later.
"The bottom line is that he showed what he can do and the other players see that," Murray said. "They will accept him into the family a lot faster. Mikhail Tatarinov is a good player."
Tatarinov started the season with Moscow Dynamo, but then went about 10 days without playing. Tuesday night, he was bothered by the heat at The Spectrum. It may be worse here, so he is looking forward to regaining a higher level of conditioning.
"I wasn't really happy with how I played," Tatarinov said through interpreter John Chapin. "When you don't have the strength, it doesn't happen."
With Michal Pivonka and, more recently, Peter Bondra, the Capitals have seen that Europeans need time to adjust to the NHL style, travel requirements and a new culture and language. For the first game, Murray just wanted Tatarinov to move the puck and play even in the plus-minus category. He did that, while playing more as the game went on, including on power plays.
"What I want to see is him start to feel comfortable in the NHL and around his teammates," Murray said. "As he travels more, he will go out to dinner with the guys and he will fit in.
"On the hockey side, it's getting acclimated to our philosophy and what we're doing. I want him to be as creative as he can, within the guidelines of our system. He's a skilled player and I want to take advantage of that."
Understandably, Tatarinov said he was nervous in the debut. But after today's practice at Chicago Stadium, he seemed a bit more relaxed.
"I feel okay," he said. "It feels right."
John Purves, the leading scorer with the Baltimore Skipjacks, was called up after Tuesday's game. It's partly for insurance. With Alan May and Dino Ciccarelli injured, the Capitals had no extra forwards. If there were a last-minute injury, it would be difficult to get another player to Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver (the next stops on the road trip) in a hurry. . . . NHL Executive Vice President Brian O'Neill said yesterday that he had reviewed the tape of New Jersey's Lauri Boschman slashing Ciccarelli Saturday. However O'Neill would not announce his ruling because he wanted to notify the teams first.