The players' parking lot outside the Washington Capitals' practice facility is filled with gleaming luxury cars and sport utility vehicles. And then there's Bryan Muir's car, a dusty old Volkswagen that looks like it came from a used-car lot near MCI Center.
"Hey, it gets me around from Point A to Point B," the defenseman said yesterday. "Yeah, I've caught some slack. You look out in that parking lot and see all of those nice cars with big rims, then I come driving in with my Volkswagen and 14-inch, pizza-cutter rims. It's kind of funny."
Muir's teammates laugh at him, but recently, they've done just as much congratulating.
A 32-year-old journeyman, Muir has scored in each of the past two games to help the Capitals (6-8-0) string together consecutive victories -- over the Thrashers and Maple Leafs -- for the first time this season. His second-period goal against Atlanta tied Friday's game at 1 and was his first NHL goal since 2002. Muir's goal Sunday gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead, and was the first power-play goal of his NHL career.
When Muir was acquired from Los Angeles in August for future considerations it was unclear what role he would play in the Capitals' organization. It was even possible he would spend the season playing in Hershey of the American Hockey League, according to the placement of his biography in the media guide, where he is pictured along with the prospects.
That uncertainty is part of the reason he drove the Volkswagen down from Toronto. The pay scale in the American Hockey League is a fraction of the $500,000 Muir is due to earn if he spends the entire season in the NHL, which seems likely.
"That car was kicking around with my parents, so I asked my dad, 'If I put new brakes on it, could I have it?' " Muir said. "He said, 'Sure.' I'm just paying insurance."
And for repairs. It has broken down twice, according to teammates. The black 1997 Cabriolet once refused to start after going through a carwash. So he left it there overnight. In the morning, defenseman Jamie Heward drove Muir back to the carwash, where he spent the better part of the day trying to fix it. Muir eventually ran across the street to Wal-Mart, bought some rope, which the players used to tow the car to a repair shop across the street.
"That was priceless," Heward said. "I don't think it's been washed since. And if he puts his foot down too hard on the brakes, the pedal sticks and the battery dies because the taillights stay on."
Ben Clymer has never seen an NHL player drive a Volkswagen.
"It's the worst car in the NHL, hands down," Clymer said. "It might be the worst car in pro hockey, even [the minor leaguers in Hershey, Pa.] have better cars."
What matters most to Muir, however, is that he continues to prove to the Capitals' coaches he belongs in the NHL. Muir spent the entire 2003-04 season in the minor leagues. He played in Sweden and Finland during the lockout and feared his days in the NHL were over. But the rule changes have created a demand for big, mobile defensemen like Muir, who has two goals and three assists (tied for second among defensemen) in eight games. He missed five games with a strained groin muscle.
"There are guys who got hurt by the new rules and there are guys that benefited," Muir said. "I'm one of the guys who benefited."
In more way than one. A luxury sport utility vehicle is on the way, he said. "Hopefully, you won't see the Volkswagen that much anymore," Muir said. "You got to laugh about it. But when gas was $3.50 a gallon, no one was laughing then."
Capitals Notes: Left wing Jeff Friesen (groin) and defenseman Nolan Yonkman (hip) did not skate yesterday. Center Dainius Zubrus (groin) and Heward (muscle strain) are expected to return to the lineup. Right wing Petr Sykora did practice, but his status for tonight's game in Toronto is unclear.