The Pittsburgh Penguins can't seem to get off the ground when they play the Washington Capitals. Gerry Meehan scored two goals, Ron Low blocked 37 shots and the Washington defense was most impressive last night as the Capitals ended their 11-game winless streak with a 3-1 victory at Capital Centre.
It was the fifth straight time dating back to spring, that the second-place Penguins failed to assert their superiority in the standings. Of those five, only one was tied, and this latest success enabled the Capitals to clinch the season series, 3-0-1 with two to play.
Meehan connected on a game-typing power-play goal with 38 seconds left in the first period. He produced the game winner on a remarkable shot while on his knees midway through the second. Then Bill Riley wrapped it up on a rebound of a Meehan drive in the third.
Of Washington's six defensemen, four once played for Pittsburgh and Gordie lane was drafted by the Penguins. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has only four healthy defensemen, with none available in the almost non-existent farm system. So the Capitals applied pressure to the four iron men from Steel City, and by game's end they were finding each stride an effort.
"We didn't come out sharp," Meehan said. "We were just going up and down, not putting any real pressure on them. When we came in, (coach) Tommy (McVie) had a little talk with us and we came out more agressive in the second period.
"They just had the four defensemen, so we put more pressure on them in their end. I think they were getting kind of weary late in the game."
The Penguins jumped ahead at 6:30 when Blair Chapman, unguarded in the slot, connected after Ron Schock captured a faceoff from Guy Charron in the faceoff circle at Low's right.
Pittsburgh had other good chances, but Pierre Larouche shot over the net on a breakaway, Low stopped both a Dave Burrows 50-footer and Chapman's midair rebound, and Don Awrey tipped the puck wide on a perfect setup by Larouche.
That last errant shot was no surprise, since Awrey has scored only one goal in four years. Then Awrey tripped Ace Bailey' providing the game's first power play.
Yvon Labra, from the left point, passed to Meehan in the left-wing circle and the 30-year-old center spun and drilled the puck past goalie Denis Herron to tie it up.
"I was coming from the crease," Meehan said. "I went in looking for a tip and it didn't develop, so I came over to set up a play at the side boards. Nobody was near me, so I rolled and shot."
Meehan's second goal, 150th of his NHL career, came on a second effort, after he had been flattened in the slot by Awrey. While on his knees, Meehan batted the puck over Herron.
"I snuck in behind the defenseman and Bob Paraside shot the puck," Meehan said. "I got it and got off a little dribbler and he (Awrey) knocked me down. I just batted at it and got it over the goalie."
The later assist gave Meehan 25 points in the last 17 games, despite being held scoreless the previous three.
Low was starting, although he had yielded 29 goals in his last five appearances, because McVie remembered his incredible performance in Pittsburgh April 3, because he looked sharp in practices this week and because he really hadn't played that badly.
It was a good game for me personally," Low added, "and it was a game the team needed. We were beginning to wonder if we could win again, and I was beginning to wonder if I could win again.
"Through the whole thing I've been staying fairly level, though. I'm confident in my own play. I've been playing pretty well, they've just been beating me. As long as I don't let in bad goals I don't worry about it."
Low made some big saves early, then the defense took over, keeping Pittsburgh's shooters at a distance and clearing the slot so Low could see the puck. It was a fine night for ex-Pittsburgh Bryan Watson, Jack Lynch, Labre and Paradise, and Iane and Gord Smith stood tall.
The Capitals are unbeaten in their last six home games, yet only 7,027 fans turned up on a perfect night. It was the second smallest crowd of the season, 6,378 having watched the 4-2 victory over Vancouver Nov. 9.
For a while it appeared the roof might cae in on the Capitals, as a section of insulation fell among them during the warmup. But after Chapman's goal, they turned in a flawless performance.