The Washington Capitals paid another visit to never-never land tonight. In their 23rd meeting with the Boston Bruins, the Capitals dropped a 5-2 decision to maintain their winless record against Don Cherry's hustlers.
John Wensink, the reformed goon who struggled to 16 goals last season, scored two tonight to raise his 27-game total to 19. Twice in the closing minutes, he was foiled on excellent saves by Washington goalie Jim Bedard, thereby missing his second straight hat trick.
"Wensink sees net and he smells that goal," Cherry said. "Everytime he's out there he has the puck all the time, so he doesn't have to fight."
Peter McNab, the Bruin whose father manages the Capitals' fortunes, collected his 19th goal, too. He was scoring in his fifth straight game, a feat no Capital ever has achieved.
The victory boosted Boston's lead to 12 points in the Adams Division and enabled the Bruins to match Montreal's 44-point total as the best in the NHL. Still, it was no balm for Cherry, who replied to a suggestion that all these victories must be fun, "It's never fun. It's a war. If we're up by 12 points, I want 14."
The Capitals will settle for two at any time and the next opportunity comes Friday night at Capital Centre, where their record is an illogical 2-9-2. The Minnesota North Stars provide the opposition at 7:30 and the Capitals enter the contest with the knowledge that they played a sound; if unproductive, game tonight.
They also enter the Minnesota battle without right wing Tom Rowe, who will be completing his two-game suspension, and with some question about the condition of center Ryan Walter.
Walter suffered a torn muscle of the bottom of the rib cage when Boston's Mike Milbury fell on him to climax a series of confrontations between the two. Still, Walter played some in the third period, and it probably will take a straitjacket to keep him off the ice tonight.
The Capitals scored first, on Bob Sirois' 13th goal, and had a good chance to make it 2-0 when Michel Bergeron and Bob Girard sailed down the ice on a two-on-one. Boston's Gerry Cheevers stopped Bergeron's shot, however, and after a hooking penalty to Washington's Gord Smith, the Bruins took over.
Jean Ratelle deflected Brad Park's slap shot for a power-play score and then Tom Songin took McNab's pass 18 seconds later to convert a two-on-one Boston's way. Wensink then skated away from Bergeron, cut past defenseman Gord Lane and flipped a shot off the post into the net as he fell to the ice.
Wensink's 40-footer from the left-See CAPITALS, D2, Col. 5 CAPITALS, From D1 wing circle made it 4-1 early in the second period and it seemed the score might be heading for double figures. However, the Bruins showed upm, to the jeers of many among the season's smallest crowd of 9,002, and the Capitals regrouped.
Bergeron scored after he accepted a deflected Lane pass off the stick of Boston's Rick Smith. Then Girard stole a Dennis O'Brien pass and swept in on a breakaway. Cheevers came out and smothered Girard's shot, preventing even a rebound to hovering Guy Charron. Play moved to the other end, where Bill Bennett escaped defenseman Pete Scamurra's grasp sufficiently to shove the puck to McNab in front for a 5-2 finale.
"They should put in the rule book when you miss a breakaway, they should give the other team a goal," said Washington Coach Danny Belisle. "That breakaway by Girard-he had Charron behind and lots of times the puck gets loose. Not this time. If we scored there, I think we could have gotten a point."
"I kind of lost the puck at the blue line and I thought I had to rush," Girard said. "I saw him move at the last second and I tried to put it between his legs.He made a good save. If I could have got that sucker, we could have tied them. And that chance we had to make it 2-0. After that, Cheevers stopped everything. We had them flat. We could have won it."
This was a big test for Bedard, making his first start after returning from Hershey, and Belisle was sufficiently satisfied to use Bedard again Friday.
"He was challenging the shooters and playing with a lot more confidence," Belisle said. "The main thing, win or lose, was that he had to prove to himself he could play a decent game."
"I played all right," Bedard said. "I don't think you can play all right in this leagve, through. You have to be like Cheevers and play better than all right. I'm satisfied that I was challenging them, moving in and moving out. I left the post too soon on Wensink's shot, but he couldn't have had more than just enough room to thread a needle."