Mike Gartner, the Washington Capitals' 36-goal scorer of last season, did not get any in the club's first three games. He made up for it, with interest, last night by scoring four-times in an 8-2 rout of the New York Rangers at Capital Centre.
"The first few games our line played very sound hockey and the team played very sound hockey," Gartner said."We kept working hard and we knew the goals would come."
They started coming at the midpoint of the first period, as Gartner lifted a close-up backhander over goalie Doug Soetaert on a power play. Dennis Maruk scored twice before the period ended for a 3-1 Washington lead and Gartner connected three times in the second period, the third time he has recorded a one-period hat trick as a Capital.
Gartner reached the four-goal mark for the first time in the NHL as he took a Ryan Walter pass, motored down the right wing and drilled the puck into the corner above Soetaert's left shoulder. He unloaded a moment before he was slashed by trailing Ranger Dave Maloney, a typical New York tactic last night.
The Capitals concluded a four-game, season-opening home stand with five points and the best defensive record in the NHL, 2.00 goals per game. Tonight they make their first road appearance in an 8:30 contest at Chicago (WTOP-1500).
"We were due to explode offensively tonight," said Coach Gary Green. "Offensively, we're far stronger than we've been showing. I hope we have some left tomorrow night. But as much as I'm happy about the offense, I'm glad we were able to play disciplined hockey in the third period and keep our two-goals-against average. That means something."
The Rangers inexplicably were favored in the pregame odds, although bringing a 1-3 record to a building where they had won only three of 12 games while other clubs were feasting on the Capitals. Without Barry Beck, Don Maloney and Dean Talafous, New York resembled the 1974-75 Capitals more than a team just 17 months away from the Stanley Cup finals.
Washington started slowly, managing only two shots to New York's five while line-change maneuvers dominated the first eight minutes. Once Gartner found the range, however, the Capitals never let up.
Maruk rebounded a Jean Pronovost shot for a 2-0 lead while the Capitals were shorthanded, then Ron Duguay halved the margin on the same power play. Maruk then broke it open by stealing the puck from Carol Vadnais in front of the New York net and beating Soetaert as Vadnais knocked him to the ice.
Maruk scored four goals in a game against the Rangers early last season, before a knee injury put him out for 62 games, and the prospect of his hat trick was a major topic of discussion among the 13,790 fans during the first intermission.
Instead, they tossed hats on the ice in honor of Garrtner, who hit on three of five shots during a second period in which Washington enjoyed a 13-3 advantage in shots.
Gartner netted his second goal from the right-wing circle on a power play, then hit his third off a faceoff in New York ice, as Walter outdrew Phil Esposito.
John Davidson replaced Soetaert in the third period and yielded goals to Bengt Gustafsson and Guy Charron.