Anyone who expected Thursday's housecleaning to work wonders for the Washington Capitals was disapppointed last night. Despite the first appearance of Roger Crozier behind the bench, the emotion generated by Yvon Labre Night and the presence of the usually docile New York Rangers, the Capitals' losing streak was stretched to 12 games.
The fourth-place Rangers pulled 10 points ahead of Washington in the Patrick Division playoff race by coming from behind to win, 3-1. It was only the fourth victory for New York in 15 visits to Capital Centre.
Gaetan Duchesne produced the Washington goal, set up by Wes Jarvis early in the first period, and it held up to the intermission. But Mike Rogers, Eddie Johnstone and Ron Duguay replied for the Rangers, to wreck an excellent 26-save effort by Washington goalie Dave Parro.
"I wish we could have played the whole game like we did the first period," said Crozier, serving as acting general manager and acting coach since Max McNab and Gary Green were fired. "I think it was a pretty honest effort. But we need everybody going and it hurts when some guys are a step too slow, and it hurt to have defensemen injured. We needed six defensemen tonight."
Pat Ribble suffered a bruised arm while dealing out a first-period check and departed for the night. Later, Rick Green missed a few shifts because of problems with his right wrist.
The Rangers' tying goal, at 1:22 of the second period, was typical of the bad luck that has plagued the Capitals. Rogers shot wide, then moved in front of the net and batted down the puck when Dean Talafous sent it out from behind the goal. It caromed off the off-balance Parro, who had been hooked by another Ranger, and went into the net.
"I was going wide and I slipped, then he hooked me," Parro said. "I felt the puck hit me, but I don't know whether it hit his stick or not. If I'd ducked or whatever . . . "
Johnstone took a headman pass from Ron Greschner at the Washington blueline 5 1/2 minutes later and, when Parro came out to challenge, he took a couple of ballet steps around the goalie and slid a backhander into the empty net.
The Capitals had many chances to tie -- Alan Hangsleben and Dennis Maruk probably replayed some in uneasy sleep -- before Duguay benefited from a bouncing puck that landed at his feet and concluded the scoring with 9:26 left in the game.
It did not conclude the Capitals' aggravation, however. Parro had to stop a shot inadvertently fired at him by Ryan Walter (Bengt Gustafsson hit his own post a week ago) and then for a final pratfall Jarvis and Duchesne collided in front of the Washington net.
Bryan Murray, the Hershey coach and Crozier's obvious candidate to replace Green, accompanied his mentor behind the Washington bench.
"It was like a callup from the minors and instead of a player I called up a coach," Crozier said. "I give him a lot of credit for what happened out there tonight."
That might seem like damning with faint praise, but Crozier went on to say that he would not hesitate to bring Murray back on Wednesday, when Pittsburgh visits the Centre, if owner Abe Pollin has not hired anybody by then.
A 15-minute ceremony honoring Labre preceded the start, with both teams massed at the bluelines. Labre donned his No. 7 jersey one last time, while Maruk shouted, "You're too fat."
"I'd like to dedicate this night to the Clydesdales of the game, the muckers, because they won't have the opportunity to have a night like this," said Labre, who stuck with the Capitals for seven years on heart, rather than talent.
Broadcaster Ron Weber read a message about Labre from Pollin, who did not appear. It drew a mixed reception, although the crowd of 12,719 was generally supportive of the team until Duguay's goal made the usual result apparent.
There are always some doubters, though. Some of them posted a big sign that read "Gary and Max Didn't Deserve the Ax." It was torn down before the first period ended.