The last two times Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky faced the Washington Capitals, he was held pointless. Gretzky is both the National Hockey League's most valuable player and Canada's athlete of the year. No team can shut him down forever.
Tonight Gretzky had two goals and two assists to lead the Oilers to a 6-3 victory over the Capitals, giving Edmonton its first three-game winning streak of the season and sending Washington to its third straight defeat.
The Capitals move on to Calgary Thursday and their prospects are not bright. Defenseman Yvon Labre skated only one shift tonight after his right knee tightened up in the warmup, defenseman Rick Green was playing despite an upset stomach that obviously hampered him and center Glen Currie, recalled from Hershey on Monday, took a shot on the ring finger of his left hand and it may be broken.
Dave Parro started his first NHL game in the Washington goal and managed to halt two of three Gretzky breakaways. Parro, however, was undone by a stretch late in the first period when four of five Edmonton shots got past him. Rollie Boutin, despite some problems from a lingering thumb injury, will make his first start of this season in Calgary.
The usual mediocre Washington power play was a key to the Capitals' demise. They failed on seven man-advantage situations. On two of those Capital power plays, Edmonton scored.
Gretzky, who will be 20 on Jan. 26, reached the 200-point plateau in the NHL with a short-handed score late in the second period. So disdainful was he of the Capitals' extra-man strength that he dawdled at the Washington blueline, took Dave Hunter's pass and beat Parro with a backhander on the ensuing breakaway.
Gretzky has been on the ice for 15 of the Oiler's 17 goals during their three-game streak. He has scored 16 points in the last seven games and his season total of 64 points put him 38 ahead of his nearest teammate. In the Oilers' 11 victories this season, he has recorded 28 points. The teams's record in the eight games in which he has failed to score is 0-6-2.
"Wayne took advantage of inexperience," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "He knew he could play tricks tonight. A veteran defenseman might have been wise to his hanging at the blueline, but Howie Walker had never seen that before."
In the past two games, Green had used either Ryan Walter or Walter's line to shadow Gretzky. This time Gretzky found himself opposite Dennis Maruk most of the time and he had more skating room than usual. Still, most of the damage came with one of the teams short-handed. Edmonton clicked twice on the power play as well as hitting the short-handed goals.
"We couldn't afford to put a man on Wayne, because we had to have Walter for offense tonight," Gary Green said. "The Walter line was the one that had things going for it tonight."
Paul Mulvey, reunited with Walter and Mike Gartner, scored his sixth goal to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Gartner, who had eight shots at Edmonton's Eddie Mio, scored his 23rd for the Capitals' last goal. In between, Wes Jarvis scored his eighth, with Currie assisting -- his first.
At the five-minute mark, the Capitals had a 6-1 lead in shots as well as a 1-0 lead. They could not maintain the effort, however, and Edmonton scored four times while outshooting Washington, 11-2, the rest of the period.
"It was good to get a chance, but I'd like to have had a better first period," said Parro, finally given an NHL shot because of injuries to Mike Palmateer and Wayne Stephenson. "I was nervous and I gave up a couple of soft goals. I got my composure back after that and I felt pretty good the last couple of periods. I wish I could have stopped Gretzky again, it might have given the club a lift."
Both Walter and Walker were involved in fights, Walter exchanging punches in a scrap with Kevin Lowe and Walker pounding Curt Brackenbury.