For three straight games in mid-November, the goals came like water from a tap and all was wonderful with Mikhail Tatarinov. Maybe they came too easily or maybe they were an aberration. Whatever, they soon stopped.

"It's never happened that I have gone 20 or 25 games without scoring a goal," Tatarinov said Thursday morning through interpreter John Chapin. "But I will just keep trying. Hopefully, they will come, sooner rather than later."

As it happened, Tatarinov's streak of 27 games without a goal ended that night. His first goal since Nov. 17 sent the game into overtime and Dale Hunter then scored for a 4-3 victory over the Islanders.

Tatarinov's goal, which also ended his streak of 11 games without a point, relieved a bit of the pressure, but it was just one step forward. And the NHL regular season is a long one. It's six months of games, practices, hotels, airplanes and airports.

General Manager David Poile and Coach Terry Murray had wondered if Tatarinov thought it would be easy to succeed in the NHL, especially after he was named the top defenseman in last spring's world championships.

"Virtually every European player has taken time to adjust," Poile said. "They are learning something new every day. Every city, every game, every rink and every team's style is different."

Tatarinov said he thought he had adjusted to the schedule, which has twice the games of the top Soviet league, and so the scoring drought was a source of frustration.

"You think about it a lot and compare yourself to other players," said Tatarinov, who has four goals and 13 assists in 41 games heading into tonight's 7:35 contest against Winnipeg at Capital Centre.

There is still considerable adjustment off the ice for Tatarinov, whose teammates have taken to calling him "Tar-Tar" or "Tay-Ter." For a few days in early January, Tatarinov and his wife, Natasha, were worried that their son, Vladimir, might have a heart murmur, although further tests proved that not to be the case.

Both of them, along with Dimitri Khristich, last night began taking 2 1/2-hour English lessons with a tutor. The sessions will continue for the next 10 days while the team is home. Tatarinov said he understands most of the English he hears, but isn't yet confident to respond in the language. Chapin has tried to encourage Tatarinov and Khristich to not rely on him as much.

"That's the only way they will learn," Chapin said. "I'm paid by the team and I'm there to help acclimatize and make sure there is no language barrier. But certain things a guy has to work out himself and do on his own."

On the ice, certain things were clear early. Tatarinov's passes are right on the stick and he has gears; you can see him shift into a higher one when he needs speed to get himself out of trouble. He has a great shot and can throw a mean body check.

But in recent weeks, it seemed his shots were fewer, the passes not as crisp or precise or timely, at both ends of the rink. But against the Islanders, he kept pushing and finally was rewarded with a key goal.

"We had a conversation the other day," said Murray. "The physical aspect and the intensity level had dropped off. To show everybody that he's determined to be a top player in the NHL, he had to pick that up. {Thursday} night he made a couple of great hits, he moved the puck more and was more involved in the play. Still, there're some things he must continue to focus on and improve."

Capitals Notes: Rod Langway was due to visit a team doctor yesterday to have his back reexamined, but Poile said late in the afternoon that he hadn't yet heard anything. Murray said that if Langway, who has missed 10 games, is cleared today, he could probably could be ready to play next Friday when Edmonton visits. . . . John Kordic played in his first game as a Capital against the Islanders. He might not play tonight, though. It would be partly because Murray wants to get the speedier Peter Bondra back into the lineup -- hoping Bondra will get going offensively -- partly because Kordic hurt his hand in his fight with Mick Vukota and partly because the Jets are a faster, finesse-oriented team.