For a team with a nine-game losing streak, nothing can be so cheering as a contest against the Colorado Rockies. That is the next matchup for the Washington Capitals Saturday night, but instead of anticipation of success the Capitals brought with them a feeling that they would probably find some way to lose here, too.
Steve Bozek's game-winning goal in Los Angeles Thursday night, 16 seconds before the conclusion of an apparent 3-3 tie, left the Capitals with heads down and an attitude of disbelief.
"It almost makes you faint," said Coach Gary Green. "I just don't believe that that happened. But I'd better believe it, because it did happen, and now we have to get on to the next game. I have to get this team ready for Colorado. It's unfortunate. A tie would have been enough to spark us."
"Tough one, Gary; damn, damn," said General Manager Max McNab afterward, his face ashen, and then he walked away, shaking his head.
During the countdown to the tie, the Kings' Marcel Dionne and Washington's Pat Ribble raced for a loose puck along the boards at center ice. Ribble was closer, but he became entangled with linesman Rodger Gilbertson and Dionne reached the puck first.
Ribble tried to take it away, but Dionne slipped past him down the right wing and sent a shot at goalie Dave Parro. The rebound caromed onto the stick of Bozek, a rookie from Northern Michigan, who scored.
Parro disgustedly broke his stick on the ice and several Capitals in their frustration charged after Gilbertson, with Ribble receiving a misconduct penalty for his harsh words. Gilbertson is a part-time linesman, working on the West Coast, and the Capitals were seeing him for only the second time.
"The linesman got in my way when I was going after the puck," Ribble said. "Dionne wasn't anywhere near it. I could have gotten the puck except for that. He (Gilbertson) shouldn't have been out there on top of the puck, that's for sure."
"Rib ran into the linesman; the guy was in his way," said captain Ryan Walter, another plaintiff. "The linesman was in the right spot at the right time; nothing he could do about it. That's the game of hockey."
Or at least the game of hockey the way the Capitals have been enduring it. This loss evoked memories of a 5-4 defeat by Philadelphia two weeks ago, when Brian Propp scored with 25 seconds left.
"It's those pressure situations where we've been falling down," Green said. "That's what the game is all about. It's also about strength. We should have been able to take the man out. I know Dionne is strong, but he's only 5-8."
Although a chunky 5-8 at 185 pounds, Dionne gave away 40 pounds to the 6-3 Ribble.
The Capitals played a disciplined game for two periods, as they did in Vancouver Wednesday, and then struggled in the third, when the Kings had an 18-6 edge in shots. Goals by Dionne and Larry Murphy seemingly put the Kings ahead to stay, but a deflection by Gaetan Duchesne brought Washington even, setting up a far more painful ending.
The Capitals will have one new player for Saturday's game; center Wes Jarvis was recalled from Hershey today. Jarvis, 23, was a regular in Washington most of the last two seasons, scoring 20 goals in 118 games.
"He's tied with (Darren) Veitch for their scoring lead, but, more important, he's a good defensive center and that's where we need help the most right now," McNab said.
If the Capitals, 1-10, and Rockies, 1-7-2, have serious problems, so do the Kings, despite their peppier 6-5 record. Only 7,392 fans watched Thursday's game and Los Angeles has averaged a meager 8,290 over its first seven home contests.
Dionne, who gets $800,000 a year, has not helped matters in a city where hockey needs every bit of publicity it can squeeze into a sports world dominated by football, baseball, basketball and the outdoors. Dionne has refused to discuss hockey with the media since the season began.
"I'm sorry, I'm not giving interviews to the media. I've lost my voice," Dionne replied when asked his version of the Ribble-Gilbertson incident.
"Marc and I are going to sit down at lunch next week and talk about it," said Bob Steiner, No. 1 trouble shooter for owner Jerry Buss. "I think it had its genesis in the Canada Cup. I hope we can find some accommodation."