If Washington Capitals Coach Ron Wilson could put his players in a trance and instill one subliminal message, his choice would be easy: Shoot high, shoot high, shoot high.
Despite his urgings, the Capitals don't seem to be playing much attention. It's often difficult to think about where to play a shot when instinct takes over and split-second decisions are the norm.
The game plan was never more in order than Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with rookie Jean-Sebastien Aubin in goal. Like most of the goalies of this era, Aubin plays the butterfly style, meaning he drops low and spreads his legs to eliminate the bottom of the net, leaving the areas around the shoulders vulnerable. Aubin rarely had to make a glove save, stopping 24 shots as the Capitals were shut out for the first time this season and the Penguins earned their first shutout.
"Ron said it before the game and he said it between every period," team captain Adam Oates said of the coach's mantra. "He's talked to us about it for the last few days now and we don't really seem to be doing it. I agree with him. I definitely agree with him."
Wilson has added new practice drills, having players aim for certain areas of the net. But no drill alone can teach players to score goals. General Manager George McPhee has contacted several team in hopes of landing more scoring but, "there just isn't a good fit--either it's a contract issue or a free agency thing or expansion," McPhee said. "It's harder than ever to make a trade in this league."
The Capitals have surpassed two goals in just one of the past 11 games--and that four-goal effort came against the New York Islanders, the worst team in the NHL. The Capitals have just 15 goals in their last eight games and only 25 goals in 13 road games this season--two goals over their past three games away from MCI Center. They have been outscored 39-25 on the road this season. Five of their next six games are on the road, where they are 3-9-1.
Unfortunately for the Capitals (10-12-5, 26 points), their scoring woes are overshadowing their outstanding play in other areas of the game. The penalty killing is on a tremendous run, negating 85 of 88 chances over the last 22 games; they have risen from worst in the NHL to third out of 28 teams. Their overall defensive game is also much improved. The Capitals allowed teams to score four or more goals five times in their first 10 games; they have yielded that many goals just twice in the past 17 games. Washington has held opponents to two goals or fewer in five of the last nine games and eight of the last 14.
They are also thriving in less tangible facets. Center Adam Oates and Andrei Nikolishin both rank among the top five in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage, and the Capitals have the highest overall percentage in the NHL. But again, that doesn't tell the whole story.
"We're still a long way from being where we've got to be," Wilson said. "Our team is so good on faceoffs, yet we don't create as much offense as we should from winning draws. Instead of worrying about making mistakes and worrying about getting shots blocked, I'm trying to get us thinking in a more positive and aggressive way. It's going to take some time."
Capitals Notes: The Capitals sent struggling rookie defenseman Alexei Tezikov to their minor league affiliate in Portland, Maine, where he will get a lot of playing time this weekend and return for Monday's game against Montreal. McPhee said Tezikov will spend the entire season in Washington but will return to the minors when the Capitals' schedule permits to get more playing time. . . . Goaltender Olaf Kolzig has won consecutive starts just once this season--Nov. 3 and 5--despite starting 23 of 27 games and playing solidly.