The Washington Capitals, blessed with a power play for the final 1 minute 22 seconds, failed to fire a shot on goal and dropped a 2-1 decision to hockey's Stanley Cup champions, the New York Islanders, last night before 11,196 at Capital Centre.
Trailing, 2-0, the Capitals halved the margin on a successful extraman maneuver with 11:26 to play. Guy Charron raced down the left wing, circled behind the New York net and fed Dennis Ververgaert, who tapped the puck in from just outside the crease.
The Capitals had many chances thereafter, but they could not beat New York goalie Chico Resch one more time. Resch stopped Dennis Maruk on a Jean Pronovost setup with 4:45 remaining, then foiled Provonost on a three-on-two break with 4:10 left. As Provonost unloaded, he received a six-stitch slash in the face from Denis Potvin's stick and Washington Coach Gary Green was unhappy that refere Bruce Hood chose not to call a penalty.
When Maruk gathered in a long pass from Rick Green and seemed poised for a breakaway with 1:22 to play, Islander Bob Lorimar cut Maruk down and was chased to the penalty box by Hood.
Gary green called a timeout to set up the power play, but declined to pull goalie Wayne Stephenson for a sixth forward, even though the faceoff was deep in Islander ice. When Stephenson finally came off with 40 seconds left, New York took advantage of the shorthanded situation to ice the puck without a whistle.
Then as Washington mounted one last rush, Byran Trottier cleverly knocked Pronovost offside to complete an evening of frustration for the Capitals, who were trying to win the first two games of the season for the first time in their seven-year history.
"We didn't pull Wayne right away, because we were waiting to get possession," Green said. "We didn't want to give the game away. If we lost the faceoff, it could have been over right there."
Washington had been scoring early in its successful exhibition campaign, so it was a bit of reverse shock when Wayne Merrick sent New York ahead on the Islanders' second shot after just 67 seconds.
Dave Langevin was pinned behind the Islander new and waited a seemingly interminable time before breaking left and firing a long pass to Merrick. The puck slipped under the stick of Washington's Bengt Gustafsson en route; Merrick picked it up, skated down the left wing and beat Stepheson from a sharp angle.
"He made a perfect shot," Stepehenson said. "It hit the inside of the far post and it was just a pad width off the ice."
That was all the scoring for 40 minutes as these swift-skating, hard-checking teams neutralized each other. Then Washington ran afoul of a new NHL fighting rule.
As the second period ended, Islander John Tonelli whacked Washington's Yvon Labre with his stick. Labre objected and the two fought. Bob Nystrom came to Tonelli's aid and was ejected as the third man in the altercation. Captial Bob Kelly, trying to even the odds, received a 10-minute misconduct for not proceeding to a neutral corner.
As an addendum of these misguided rules, each club was given a bench penalty, so the third period began with both shorthanded. New York sent out Trottier and Mike Bossy, the best offensive pair in the NHL, and they capitalized when Trottier threaded a pass through the Capital defense to Bossy, who beat Stephenson with a backhander.
"I hit his stick," Stephenson said. "I guess he got the shot off just before I hit him."
Stephenson also said it was the only time in the game he was conscious of Bossy's presence, which says a lot for a goaltender's concentration. Bossy recorded eight shots on goal and Stephenson made some remarkable saves against him, including a second-period breakaway in which Stepehnson came out, retreated grudgingly and stood his ice to block Bossy's shot.
A one-goal loss to the Stanley Cup champions is hardly grounds for despair, but there was plenty of that in the Capital's locker room. This team believes it is better than anyone else and evidence to the contrary is most unwelcome.
"It was a good hockey game, but we got the best of the play and we wanted to get at least one point," Pronovost said. "We blew some chances. You can't do that against the New York Islanders."
Potvin, playing his 500th NHL game with his left thigh tapes as a precautionary measure, gave the Capitals full credit for effort. He also noted the Islanders' current status as the team to beat.
"Good goaltending saved us tonight," Potvin said. "They're a hell of a skating team and they skated all night. They made us work every inch of the way. We're not allowed to mediocre night. Everybody wants to beat us."
One who especially wanted to beat the Capitals was New York defenseman Gord Lane, long a target of Washington fans who used to call him "Lois."
"I was awfully nervous the whole hockey game," said the newly shaven bridegroom. "I didn't really hear the fans tonight. I've accomplished something the fans haven't and maybe they realize it. It was a good hockey game, with lots of action at both ends and lots of hits. I enjoyed it."