After playing in Washington for seven seasons, Mike Gartner has
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) _ After playing in Washington for seven seasons, Mike Gartner has picked up the political jargon that pervades the nation’s capital.
″I’m probably just riding the coattails of the team,″ he said after scoring two goals to lead the Capitals to a 6-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.
But modesty, usually in short supply around Washington, will get him nowhere.
Gartner’s nine-game goal-scoring streak, longest in the NHL this season, has been a chief factor in lifting the Caps out of the Patrick Division cellar and into contention for the No. 2 spot behind the runaway Philadelphia Flyers.
″I hope it’s not just one player,″ Coach Bryan Murray said, ″but Mike does have real impact. When he scores, we win most of the time.″
Gartner, who had scored at least 35 goals in each of his seven previous seasons, started the current campaign with an extended slump. Then his problems were compounded by a bone chip in his right elbow.
After sitting out two games with an inflammation, and deciding against immediate surgery, Gartner returned to action on Jan. 1 with the arm taped and strapped to restrict its movement.
Since his return, the Caps are 10-5-2, with Gartner scoring the winning goal in half of the victories. Twelve of his 22 goals have come during his scoring streak.
″I had a lot of chances at the start of the season,″ Gartner said, ″but they were hitting the post or just not going in. I figured, sooner or later, the goals would start to come.″
Gartner admits, however, that he was starting to press.
″It bothered me,″ he said. ″I started to experiment, and question a lot of things. But then I figured since I was still getting my chances, I’d better not change too much.″
When Gartner’s scoring touch returned, so did his confidence.
″At this level,″ he said, ″players are basically the same physically. It comes down to how prepared you are mentally, and when you’re confident, you can do a lot of things. Now when I get the puck, it feels like I have a chance to do something.″
While he was struggling, Gartner not only got his regular shifts, but he also played on the penalty killing team and was the point man on the power play.
He even got a chance to handle faceoffs, when Murray got frustrated during one game and yelled, ″Is there anybody on the bench who thinks he can win a faceoff?″
″I just jumped out on the ice,″ Gartner recalled. ″I thought I might as well give it a try. I won the faceoff, and it’s gone from there.″
A postseason operation on the elbow remains a possibility, but Gartner insists it’s not getting any worse.
″We went over all the options before, and surgery did not seem viable at the time,″ he said. ″I was told it might not help a lot, and that scar tissue might even mean less mobility. We’ll re-evaluate it at the end of the season.″
For the moment, Gartner is more concerned with Washington’s playoff bid in the tight five-way battle behind the Flyers.
″I’m not worried about the streak,″ he said. ″Winning means a lot more. I’m just trying to put the puck in the net.″