It was a fun time at Capital Centre last night, for all except the visiting Winnipeg Jets. The Washington Capitals bottled up the Jets, 4-1, to open their seventh season on a successful note and instill hopes of even better things to come.
The old hands produced all the goals, Dennis Maruk netting a pair and Bengt Gustafsson and Ryan Walter collecting one apiece. But newcomers played a key role, too, with Bob Kelly and Dennis Ververgaert recording two assists each and goalie Mike Palmateer coming within 72 seconds of the Capitals' first shutout in 33 months.
Rookie David Babych got the puck past Palmateer, but it was hardly an upsetting factor for the 5-foot-8 goalie, who earned his 100th NHL victory while prompting the 12,984 fans to chant, "Pal-ma-teer" in appreciation of his brilliance.
"That's okay, I'll get it next time," Palmateer said.
The crowd not only enjoyed the victory but also the antics of the San Diego Chicken, who waved an eye chart in front of referee Dave Newell and dangled a noose over the Jets' bench.
Winnipeg Coach Tom McVie, the Capitals' boss the other two times they won their home opener, in 1976 and 1977, praised the Washington team but added, "They ought to make me a troubleshooter, going around the league putting teams on their feet so somebody else can enjoy it."
Washington's relentless forechecking created a 16-3 shooting advantage in the first period, but the excellent play of the Jets' Finnish goalie, Markus Mattsson, limited the Capitals to a 1-0 advantage.
Gustafsson scored it while Babych was off for holding, but only after Mike Gartner hit the crossbar and Mattsson blocked a rebound by Ververgaert.
The game broke open in the second period, when a 12-5 edge in shots was rewarded with three more goals and a 4-0 lead. Walter netted the eventual game winner at 2:34 on a Ververgaert setup after defenseman Pierre Bouchard had pinched deep into the left-wing corner to jar the puck loose from Winnipeg defender Barry Melrose.
Maruk had been stopped by Mattsson's glove on a breakaway, then hit the goalpost with a backhander. But luck finally turned in his direction as he converted a pass from Kelly, who accepted a thudding check from Melrose to get the puck to his center.
Maruk hit again on a cross-ice pass from Jean Pronovost in the final minute of the second period, then was foiled in several attempts to get a hat trick.
"I just hope I can play 80 games," said Maruk, who scored eight goals in eight games last season before a knee injury forced him to miss the next 62. "We know we're there, we know we can win. The guys all work well together. The whole team is patting each other on the back. That's a big plus this year."
Another big plus is working between Kelly and Pronovost, who provide skating room and accurate passes. Kelly came close to sitting this one out, but his three-game suspension for leaving the bench to fight against Philadelphia's Gary Morrison in an Oct. 3 exhibition was rescinded yesterday by Brian O'Neill, executive vice president of the NHL.
O'Neill ruled that there was "too much uncertainty as to whether there was an altercation on ice when Kelly left the bench." But he said Kelly's game misconduct and $100 fine would stand.
Vergergaert, like Kelly, came here from the Flyers during the summer and was warmly received, as he played a sound, steady game.
"The crowd was lively, but of course we were winning," Ververgaert said. "It might be different the next time. But I think the crowd is going to be lively all year, because we're going to win. We'll help each other."
The fans also saluted old favorites Yvon Labre and Guy Charron. Labre gave his rehabilitated right knee a good test and came up smiling, while Charron drew as much applause for a dive to clear the puck while killing a penalty as he ever did scoring goals.
Paul Mulvey bruised ribs delivering such a solid -- but legal -- check on Scott Campbell that he knocked open the door that leads to the Washington dressing room. Characteristically, Mulvey said it was "nothing."
Winnipeg's Peter Marsh had to be the most frustrated individual at the Centre when, during one shift, he was flattened by both Alan Hangsleben and Rolf Edberg. But that was the way it was for the young Jets all night. a
"We played a good three points of solid, disciplined hockey," said Coach Gary Green. "We were forechecking well. Winnipeg has relatively young defensemen and we wanted to get on them early. Mike Palmateer played a hell of a game in the nets and our defense stood up very well in the neutral zone. That's one. Only 79 more to go."
Sobering thought: the Jets tied for last place a year ago; the Capitals' next opponent, the New York Islanders, won the Stanley Cup.