When disaster strikes the Washington Capitals, it does a thorough job. The Capitals skidded to their 11th straight defeat last night and in the process they lost winger Todd Bidner with a broken left leg and winger Bengt Gustafsson with a strained right knee.
Neal Broten and Bobby Smith each scored twice for the Minnesota North Stars, who skated to a 6-1 success that extended their winning streak to five. The one-sided contest prompted exhibitionists in the Capital Centre crowd of 7,567 to taunt the losers verbally and with signs like the one that read "Handi-Caps."
"It was certainly humiliating," said Coach Gary Green. "Talentwise, Minnesota is a good, fast team and you either have to skate with them or take the body."
The Capitals obviously could not match the North Stars in speed and they did precious little hitting.
"You have to catch them to hit them," Green said. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to beat them, but you have to be able to carry the game plan out."
Asked whether the present Washington team, on that basis, was incapable of beating Minnesota, Green said, "It certainly was that way tonight."
The Capitals' officials were meeting long after the game ended, and one could only presume that Green was telling General Manager Max McNab to get him some players -- and fast.
The North Stars scored on three of their first five shots, connecting at even strength, on a power play and while short-handed. Then, over the last 16 minutes of the second period, they outshot Washington, 14-2, while scoring three more times.
After Smith and Washington's Mike Gartner matched early goals, Olympic hero Broten took over. With Ryan Walter serving the game's first penalty, Broten followed up his own rebound for an unassisted score at 8:44.
Moments later, Minnesota's Steve Payne checked Bidner into the boards, away from the puck, and Bidner went off with a fractured fibula. It was a clean break and Bidner will be back in four to six weeks, but somehow the two-minute penalty for interference did not seem equal to the crime.
While most rules pertaining to penalties provide majors for injury, there is no such specification in Rule 62 governing interference. It probably would not have helped Washington if Payne had been barred for the rest of the game, because on the ensuing powerless play Broten enjoyed two breakaways.
On the first, Broten took the puck away from Bobby Carpenter in center ice and easily beat goalie Mike Palmateer, who flopped too soon. On the second, as he bid for the purest of all hat tricks -- three unassisted goals in a row -- Broten was cut down from behind by Pat Ribble, without a penalty call by referee Andy Van Hellemond.
Before the period ended, Gustafsson hobbled to the dressing room. His right knee will be examined today.
"I was trying to go around somebody and his stick was on the ice," Gustafsson said. "The stick caught my skate and the rest of me was still going."
"Nothing seems to go our way," Green said. "Here we lose two players right in the first period. Talking about having to juggle lines. And having our No. 1 defenseman on the skids, that makes things difficult, too."
That worthy is Rick Green, the man coveted by so many teams preying on the poor, poor Capitals. Green was playing last night with a jammed right wrist and it was obvious from the start that he was not up to fulfilling his usual role of playing 35 minutes as the bulwark of the backline.
For further frustration, the Capitals twice put the puck in the net without result. Gartner followed his own shot by dumping the rebound behind goalie Gilles Meloche with a high stick early in the third period. In the closing minutes, after Meloche stopped a Darren Veitch drive, Carpenter batted the rebound into the net with his glove.
Veitch, in his first start since being recalled from Hershey on Tuesday, turned in a creditable performance. Few others could be considered in that category, although Palmateer, making his first start since Oct. 23, had some sparkling saves and could be faulted on few of the North Star scores.