PITTSBURGH, JAN. 30 -- The topic was scoring, or rather, who wasn't scoring.
"Let's start at one and go through thirty-four," Washington Capitals Coach Terry Murray said sarcastically, referring to numbers currently being worn by his players.
Kelly Miller (No. 10) has four goals in the last two games, including the only two in the 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night. And goalies Don Beaupre (33) and Mike Liut (1) aren't paid to score, though the way things are going, the Capitals aren't opposed to charity from any source.
When Miller scored twice (once shorthanded) for a 2-0 lead with less than four minutes gone, the Capitals seemed on their way toward spoiling Mario Lemieux's first home game in almost a year. But the Capitals couldn't score again on Wendel Young, and Beaupre couldn't overcome two ugly giveaways by his own defensemen Calle Johansson and Al Iafrate. Lemieux assisted on Bob Errey's goal on the first miscue and then scored himself on the second with 5:21 left in regulation. Paul Stanton then won it in overtime with a slap shot.
"We're not that offensive-oriented a team to begin with," said Mike Ridley, who had both assists and has been at better than a point-a-game pace for the last 20 or so. "The game . . . was where we want it to be. If we have a lead on the road against Pittsburgh with six minutes left, we're in good shape. But one mistake and they tied it up. We had quite a few chances to go up 3-1, which probably would have put the game away. It's a game we should have won or at least tied."
In the last eight games, only once have the Capitals scored more than four goals. That was Sunday, when they came from behind to beat the New York Islanders, 5-4, in overtime.
The Islanders will be the opponent Thursday night at 7:30 at Nassau Coliseum (WDCA-TV-20). The Capitals are five points behind fourth-place New Jersey and are just seven up on the Islanders, who scored a season-high eight goals in an 8-1 victory over Hartford Tuesday night.
The Capitals, who practiced here this morning before flying to New York, last played on Long Island on Dec. 1.
In that game, John Druce scored an empty-net goal to complete a 3-1 victory. It was his 15th goal of the season and his 30th point, both career highs.
That was two months and 24 games ago. In that time, Druce has just three goals and three assists. Obviously, his pace has dropped off. But his 18 goals are still the most on the team and his 36 points are the fourth-highest figure.
"The name of the game is to score and when it's not going in, it's frustrating for everybody," Druce said. "I'm not getting the opportunities that I was. I'm not creating as many opportunities as I was before."
Druce scored goals by hanging around the net and by being in position for a rebound when it came.
"Now it seems like I'm chasing the puck more," he said.
In the first two months, 30 goals for Druce looked conservative. Now it looks optimistic. What about in the last two months?
"You've got to be realistic and honest," Murray said. "If he can get to 25 or 27, that would be good. If you don't re-adjust, the frustration only gets worse and people tighten up."
Druce is hardly alone. Only defenseman Kevin Hatcher is having a superior offensive season and on a point-a-game pace for every game.
Mikhail Tatarinov does not have a point in the last 11 games. Eight goals is not quite what was expected of Steve Leach. Peter Bondra was rookie of month in November, but hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 7.
"It's been a tremendous dropoff from early in the season when we thought we discovered a real top player," Murray said of Bondra. "For him to continue to stay in the lineup and stay with the Capitals, that's got to pick up."
If Bondra and Druce are relatively new to the league or the role of scorer, Dino Ciccarelli is neither. But he too has struggled. The best unfulfilled scoring chance of the Pittsburgh game came when Dimitri Khristich sent Ciccarelli in for a clear breakaway, which Young thwarted with a glove save.
"The people getting chances are the people we want to have the puck," Murray said. "In that position, there is pressure to perform. If that pressure is a problem, then we have to continue to talk about doing other things."
Capitals Notes: Ridley didn't practice today because of a tight back, a somewhat chronic situation.
"It's from bad beds in hotels," Ridley said. "The mattresses are too soft. Bad mattress and long flights do it."