The Washington Capitals probably lead the league in team meetings this season, but they might want to consider holding at least one more. The Capitals' dressing room would be the perfect spot for the inaugural chapter meeting of Goal Scorers Anonymous.
"Yeah, I could picture that," Coach Ron Wilson said. " 'Hello, my name is Niko and I haven't scored a goal.' "
In fact, the Capitals have nine regular players who have yet to score this season. Some of them--Andrei Nikolishin, Adam Oates, Sergei Gonchar, Dmitri Mironov and James Black--are players expected to carry a heavy share of the scoring load, while others such as Joe Reekie, Brendan Witt, Ken Klee and Joe Sacco aren't.
Wilson isn't discouraged, based on the chances the Capitals have been getting, particularly in the last two games, both victories.
"I can't ask for more out of the team," he said. "There are certain guys I don't expect to score all year, and eventually they will. So I'm not really too concerned with that. I don't know where people get off thinking they're going to score, because I don't really plan on them scoring a lot. But the fact that Gonch hasn't scored is a surprise and that Niko hasn't chipped in a couple and Richard Zednik's only got one. But I think it's just a matter of time."
Regardless, having more than a third of a 23-player roster still looking for its first goal after 12 games is hardly ideal. While the team continues to improve game after game, a group of players just can't seem to find any luck around the net. However, many of them are playing their best hockey of the season and showing signs of an offensive resurgence, none more so than Oates.
"He's been much better," Wilson said. "I think our system allows him to catch a breather at the right time."
Oates, 37, who is second only to Wayne Gretzky in assists this decade, seems closest to breaking through. The last two games have been his best, coinciding with the addition of Glen Metropolit and Peter Bondra as his wingers. Oates has been clinging to the puck and feeding teammates for scoring chances. He also has been strong defensively and nearly scored on a short-handed breakaway Friday night against the Maple Leafs.
"I've felt better lately," Oates said. "Our line is getting a lot more chances. Metropolit's really helped me. Bonzai is more of a sniper-type player and having Metro really makes a big difference for me. He's got some poise with the biscuit and likes to move the puck."
Others are playing better as well. Mironov is distributing the puck and picking up assists. Witt has increased his physical play and is making smarter decisions with the puck. Black and Nikolishin, meanwhile, are still struggling to improve their defensive play.
Gonchar's goal-scoring drought is by far the most puzzling. His play has been spotty, marked by mistakes that seem to be primarily mental. He has had trouble making smooth breakout passes and has turned the puck over around Washington's net.
However, Gonchar is a notorious slow starter. Last season he didn't score until his 14th game (the Capitals' 27th game), on Dec. 12, then went on a tear, scoring 21 times in his final 39 games and finishing second in the league in goals by a defenseman.
"We just keep throwing guys out there. What can you do?" Wilson said. "One thing that always drives me nuts is when guys say they don't have any confidence--I mean, they're playing 26 minutes a game.
"I don't know how you can get it without getting out there and playing. Some people don't understand the way to build confidence is to make a five-foot pass, not try a 50-foot pass and miss it every time."