The Edmonton Oilers fired away at goalie Mike Palmateer and the Washington Capitals tonight, with results satisfactory to neither team.
Palmateer blocked 34 of the shots and earned No. 1 star honors in a 2-2 tie that marked Edmonton's third straight deadlock, the Capital's third in four games.
More significant, to a Washington team that already had lost defenseman Paul MacKinnon for the season with three knee ligaments, a couple of other shots struck the ankle of defenseman Pat Ribble and the knee of swing man Alan Hangsleben.
Ribble, hit by a Paul Coffey drive late in the second period, could put no pressure on the ankle and was whisked to a hospital for X-rays early in the third. Hangsleben finished the game, wrapped a giant ice pack around his right knee and insisted that he would be ready to play Sunday night in Winnipeg (WTOP-1500 at 8:30 p.m.).
For the fifth straight game, the Capitals jumped on top, Rick Green and Dennis Maruk collecting first-period scores for a 2-0 lead. For the fifth straight time, the Capitals failed to win, Edmonton catching up on second-period goals by Matti Hagman and Stan Weir and dominating play to the finish.
"We had really good chances, but Palmy was just terrific out there," said Edmonton Coach Bryan Watson, feeling some heat from those of the 17,308 ticket buyers who actually showed up (about 3,500 seats were empty) because his club has won only one of seven home games.
The other key factor in the Capitals escaping with a tie was center Ryan Walter, who shadowed Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky and held him pointless, a most creditable achievement since Gretzky had tied an NHL record with seven assists in their last meeting.
"We never before tried keeping our wingers together and rotating the centers," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "But it was the only way to cover one man on the road, and I think not only Ryan did a fine job, but the wingers kept their heads pretty good out there, too."
"Ryan certainly kept Wayne off the board," Watson said, "but they had to break up two of their lines to do it and I thought they were confused all night. If our other lines were scoring like they should, we win the game."
There was a nine-minute stretch in which Walter watched from the penalty box, because Oiler bully boy Dave Semenko knocked Palmateer down and referee Ron Harris chose to ignore it. Ironically, following the Walter-Semonko bout, Harris talked to the linemen and handed Semenko the interference minor he deserved, while Walter received a double minor for starting the fight. Each also was assessed a fighting major.
Ex-Capitol Ron Low, although suffering from strep throat, was the starting goalie for Edmonton. He was screeened by Bob Kelly on Green's power-play goal from the point, then was left defenseless as Bengt Gustafsson outfought Pat Price in the corner and set up Maruk for his seventh goal.
Low had to leave after the first period and was replaced by Eddie Mio, who must have carried a horseshoe in his pads. In the second period, Guy Charron lined one that hit Mio, flipped onto the top of the cage and fell behind Mio, who sat on it. Late in the game, a routine shot by Dennis Ververgaert caromed off Mio's glove and struck a goal post.
Palmateer was brilliant all night and had no chance against either Hagman, who beat Hangleben to a loose puck in the slot, or Wier, who deflected a drive by Lee Fogolin 80 seconds later.
Edmonton poured it on in the third period and, after Palmateer made two stops at the left of the goal, defenseman Pierre Bouchard filled the net to foil Mark Messier's rebound from the right-wing circle.
A long Edmonton shot at the buzzer produced a last thrill for the fans as Palmateer, skating far out in front, kicked up his leg to knock it away.
"I thought the sucker was over," Palmateer said. "Oh, well, things are going good and they can't put them in. You have to keep the excitement going."
Howard Walker replaced MacKinnon, whose successful surgery was performed today by Dr. Pat Palumbo at Arlington Hospital, and sore-kneed Yvon Labre was also absent from the Capital's defense. Torrie Robertson filled in for Paul Mulvey, held out for fear of internal injury resulting from a cross check in Denver Thursday.
"Howard Walker played a hell of a game and Torrie Robertson played a hell of a game," Gary Green said. "I've got a smile on my face because of the job those two guys did.