The Pittsburgh Penguins scored two goals last night before the Washington Capitals managed a shot on goal. That deflating start contributed mightily to the eventual result, a 6-2 Pittsburgh victory that extended the Capitals' losing streak to four games and dropped them below .500 for the first time since Nov. 20.
The bad news from the medical room continued. Goalie Mike Palmateer departed with Washington behind, 2-0, the victim of a Randy Carlyle shot that struck just above the knee and took away his mobility. In the second period, defenseman Pierre Bouchard was also forced out, with a twisted left knee.
"We got beat early in the game," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "To get down by that many goals, when we're a little thin and trying to get out of a bad period of three games, makes it difficult."
Each time Washington scored, with Greg Theberge reducing the deficit to 2-1 and Wes Jarvis to 4-2. Pittsburgh was able to come back with another goal in less than a minute. It effectively prevented the home side from gaining any momentum.
Goalie Rob Holland, who entered the game with a 0-4-3 record and 4.86 goals-against mark, stopped 30 shots to record his first victory. He was particularly masterful from the midpoint of the first period to five minutes-plus of the second, when Washington had a 16-1 advantage in shots and could not alter the 3-1 score.
Rick Green and Yvon Labre came off the disabled list to reinforce the Capitals' back line and Theberge was called up from Hershey, with No. 1 draft choice Darren Veitch and Howard Walker joining the Bears. Both Green and Labre showed the need for improvement in timing and Theberge appeared to be in some sort of Coventry, the way his partners left him to be devoured on two-on-one breaks.
Peter Lee drilled a shot off Palmateer's stock at 3:10 for the first goal and Gary McAdam escaped Labre to circle the net and feed Pat Hughes for No. 2 at 5:39. Palmateer hobbled by Carlyle's drive in between, called a halt at 7:02 and Wayne Stephenson came in.
Theberge created some hope for the 9,852 fans when he cut off Greg Malone's around-the-boards pass at the right point and fired a shot past the screened Holland at 7:34. It was the first NHL goal for Theberge, 21, who had only an assist to show for 12 games here a year ago.
"It was almost like I couldn't believe it," Theberge said. "The red light went on and I finally had one. But after that goal, their wingers were keying in on the points. I had plenty of time on that one, but never again."
Thirty-two seconds after Theberge scored, partner Bouchard fell and Malone skated in with Rod Schutt, two on one against Theberge. Theberge moved to cover Schutt and Malone held the puck, to score on the first shot against Stephenson.
Despite a lot of Washington pressure, the next goal came from Pittsburgh, with McAdam netting a deflected shot from the left-wing boards at 9:33 of the second period.
Jarvis scored his seventh goal on a fine feed from Alan Hangsleben, once again skating at left wing. A Telscreen plea to "Wave Those Caps" brought thousands of fans to their feet, waving the white painter's caps that were given out as premature Christmas presents. They were still waving them 16 seconds later when Nick Libett scored from the left-wing circle.
Telscreen struck again during the second intermission, displaying a commercial in which Mike Gartner implored the fans to "come to the Pittsburgh game Dec. 12 and receive a free painter's cap."
Then, after a Paul Gardner goal made it 6-2 in the third period, a whistle blower in the stands instigated the final farcical touch. Public-address announcer Dave Foxx told the user to cease his interference, because it "could cause serious injury and could affect the outcome of the game." With 11 minutes left, the flood of fans out the doors showed how much doubt remained about the outcome of this one.
Bouchard is scheduled to be examined this morning, with a preliminary diagnosis of stretched ligaments likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks.
It is likely that Hangsleben will be moved back on defense if Bouchard cannot play against Detroit Sunday, because Gary Green and General Manager Max McNab seem determined to keep Veitch and Walker down on the farm for a while.
"We felt Howard and Darren were at a critical stage and lowering them any more would be damaging the future of the franchise," Green said.