When Geoff Courtnall was dealt to St. Louis some months ago, the Washington Capitals were counting on Mike Ridley and Dino Ciccarelli to pick up some of the slack on the 35 goals Courtnall scored last season.

It hasn't happened. Neither seems likely to match his figures of last season, much less add any to the pot.

Ciccarelli, who missed 21 games with a fractured thumb, has only eight, after topping 40 each of the previous five years. Ridley, bothered by a sinus infection much of the season, has 11, after recording 30 last season and 41 the season before.

Coach Terry Murray expects big things from both in the second half of the season, now that they are healthy. He knows he had better get big efforts from everyone because the Capitals are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Ciccarelli's absence was part of the problem for Ridley, who had prospered while centering Ciccarelli and Kelly Miller. He will have them on his wings tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Capital Centre (HTS, 8:05), and all concerned are hoping to see the old magic.

"Offensively, I'm not doing as well as I can," Ridley said. "Making plays, I'm not bad, but scoring-wise I'm not doing enough. I don't know whether it's my shooting, or not getting chances, or not being in the right place sometimes. Hopefully, it will all come together."

Ridley does not like to make excuses, but there is no question a big reason for his meager yield was the sinus infection that sapped his energy in November and much of December.

"I got sick on our first road swing, then I felt better. But we had a tough schedule with a lot of travel and I got it again," Ridley said. "When you're physically not doing well, you start to question yourself, you lose confidence and it has a snowball effect.

"I had a tough 15 or 20 games that put me behind the eight ball. We've had some changes and the last bit hasn't been pleasant, but until the last {eight-game winless} streak the team was doing pretty good. You can't be unhappy about your own play when the team's doing well."

Compounding the problem for Ridley was a persistent trade rumor that had him heading west, to Edmonton or Winnipeg. Although General Manager David Poile denied anything was afoot, Ridley found the questions presented at every stop.

"I don't know what their plans are," Ridley said. "I know I've heard things, and you're never safe from being traded. Everybody says it's part of the job, but that doesn't mean you have to like it.

"I certainly don't like it. You don't know how those things start, whether a manager actually says something or whether a writer puts some names together. They forget there are people behind the names.

"But you have to put up with it. The worst part is you get people from home phoning and asking about it. It can be a distraction. I've been through it once before and that's enough. I want to stay here. I want to play here."

Murray spent some time talking with Ridley near the end of yesterday's practice at Mount Vernon and he admitted Ridley's lack of production was a concern.

"Absolutely," Murray said. "He's proven he's a top scorer. He's applied himself and shown it. There have been games where he's shown he's the Mike Ridley of the past, but we want to see more of them. It's frustrating for him and he's aware of it.

"I've continually played him against the top lines and he's acquitted himself well. But sometimes a player can be a little unsure of himself and what I want from him. Just because he's doing one thing doesn't mean he should forget another.

"I'm sure Mike will bounce back."