- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Martin Havlat has two goals this season. So do Jason Spezza, Chris Drury and Rod Brind’Amour.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has tried on several occasions to point out players like them - ones who make far more money and earn far more ice time in offensive situations - to David Steckel, his struggling pupil. Steckel had as many goals as Boudreau in the team’s first 28 games this season, but he finally broke through Saturday night in Philadelphia for his first of the season.

“It was pretty difficult,” Steckel said. “The first five to 10 games were like, ‘OK, it just hasn’t happened yet,’ but then in the next five game segments it went downhill from there. Half the time I was thinking, ‘All right, great, I am going to score this game,’ and the other times I was just focusing on penalty killing and faceoffs because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. It was painful at times.”

Added Boudreau: “You try and build his spirits up, but inside he’s a competitive, competitive guy who wants to play and wants to score. He’s been holding the stick so tight, so I’m really happy for him.”

Steckel is not a player the Caps are leaning on at the offensive end, and they are the highest-scoring team in the league despite his troubles. But this was a year Steckel expected to increase his offensive output.

He had three goals and five points in 14 playoff games last year after establishing career highs in both categories (eight goals and 19 points) during the season.

“Who’s to say I can’t still score 15?” Steckel said. “Obviously I’m not on pace to score that many right now.”

Steckel has a track record in the American Hockey League to back up his expectations. He scored 30 goals in 2006-07 playing for Boudreau and had 16 postseason goals during his two seasons with Hershey.

“There are goals there - listen, he scored 10 goals in the playoffs in Hershey [in 2005-06], and he had [three] last year in 14 games in the playoffs,” Boudreau said. “He’s a big-money player, and when you get those big-money players, you want to keep them.”

While Steckel hasn’t been scoring, he has been successful at his strengths - winning faceoffs and killing penalties. Steckel has become the team’s top faceoff man and one of the mainstays on the penalty kill.

He is second in the league behind Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad in the circle, winning 61.7 percent of his draws. In the last game between the Caps and Sabres, Steckel made their faceoff prowess into personal motivation and won 14 of 15 draws in the game.

“Even though he didn’t score any goals, he does so many things for this team,” Boudreau said. “He’s such an intelligent player, and the type of team we have, he is perfect for us so we need him.”

Added Steckel: “If I’m not scoring and I’m not doing well in the faceoff circle or on the PK, then what is the use of putting me out there? So I have to continue to make sure I am doing those things well. It is kind of a stepping stone - if I do those things well I can gain more confidence and am able to score more goals.”

Even if Steckel hadn’t registered his first goal of the season Saturday, he had Monday’s game at Tampa Bay to look forward to. Steckel has had significant success against the Lightning, scoring six of his 14 career NHL goals against Tampa Bay.

“If history says anything, hopefully I will get some more goals against this team,” Steckel said. “Hopefully it was just a hump I needed to get over. The first one is always the toughest.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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