It was the Washington Capitals' turn to trash a birthday party last night. Toronto Coach Mike Nykoluk turned 47 -- and purple -- as the Capitals rolled up the highest score in their history in defeating the Maple Leafs, 11-2.
In a coincidence worthy of Ripley, just six nights ago Toronto had defeated the Capitals, 9-4, as Washington Coach Bryan Murray marked his 39th birthday.
Besides setting a club record for goals, the Capitals added marks with 53 shots on goal, nine unanswered goals, 30 scoring points and 19 assists. They tied team standards with 22 shots in one period, six goals in a period, six straight home triumphs and seven games without a loss at home.
Bobby Carpenter, Ryan Walter and Dennis Maruk each scored two goals for Washington. Carpenter, who lifted the Capitals into double figures for the first time in that 10-4 rout of Philadelphia Nov. 21, produced No. 11 this time. Incredibly, it came with almost 23 minutes left to play, but a combination of a natural letdown and some fine stops by Toronto goalie Bunny Larocque kept the score from mounting.
The triumph lifted Washington within three points of the fourth-place New York Rangers in the Patrick Division. The Capitals have a chance to creep closer tonight when they visit third-place Pittsburgh (WTOP-1500 at 8).
While Nykoluk lectured his players for the embarrassing performance, Murray was not 100 percent pleased, either. He kept recalling that 9-4 loss and wondering how it got away against the NHL's only sixth-place team.
"It's frustrating to think back to that game, playing against the same guys, and know we were so bad," Murray said. "We're playing consistently at home, but we want it to carry over on the road. That's a big game in Pittsburgh. I hope we can keep this going."
Carpenter opened the scoring at 5:21, on a setup by Tim Tookey, and at that point the shots were 7-0. Tookey then hit a power-play goal at 9:02 to make it 2-0. Darryl Sittler pulled the Leafs within a goal 15 seconds later, but Washington scored the next nine, in the space of 26 minutes 10 seconds.
"The only stage we were in the game was when it was 2-1," Nykoluk said. "We were never in it after that. To me only about five guys really tried, and two of them were goaltenders. That doesn't leave much to choose from. No one wanted to do anything to get involved."
While the Leafs joined the crowd of 13,172 in watching the Capitals perform, Gaetan Duchesne, Bengt Gustafsson and Walter boosted Washington's margin to 5-1. The shots were 22-6 at period's end and Maruk made it 6-1 on Washington's first shot of the second period. When Rick Green turned quickly at the left-wing boards and sent a long shot past starting goalie Vince Tremblay, Nykoluk summoned Larocque to the rescue.
At that point the shot clock read 27-9 and Nykoluk said, "There was no point making Tremblay suffer any longer, just because the rest of the guys weren't playing."
Maruk's waist-high deflection of a pass by Chris Valentine less than two minutes later raised the rout to 8-1 and Valentine, Walter and Carpenter had it up to 11 by 17:08 of the period. Some folks were wondering if Montreal's 61-year-old record of 16 goals in a game would fall, but the Capitals could not maintain the pace.
The first whistle of the third period came 7 1/2 minutes after the opening faceoff, as neither team did much to delay the inevitable.
"We didn't want to play poorly in the third period, because we wanted to carry this play over to tomorrow," Murray said. "I think we skated pretty well, but Larocque made some good saves. We didn't need any more goals anyway."
Washington scored four extra-man goals in nine attempts, as the Leafs repeatedly took foolish penalties. The power-play record under Murray is 25 for 92, after a 10-for-60 mark before he arrived.
"We wanted to be organized on the power play and we wanted to be aggressive forechecking," Murray said. "We thought the weakness of their hockey team was their blueline corps and we worked on it."
"Most of the penalties we took were stupidity," Nykoluk said. "You can't check from behind."
Walter now has scored goals in five straight games and points in eight. Valentine, with a goal and three assists, has 17 points in nine NHL games. He repeatedly set up Maruk and Walter for hat-trick attempts in the third period, without receiving further statistical recognition.
"I looked up there in the second period and we had 40 shots," Valentine said. "Not many goaltenders won't get worn out from that. We had so much momentum going. We'd just go down and score, go down and score. It just keeps building up."
Most of the Capitals have friends and relatives in Ontario and Murray felt the debacle last week was attributable, at least in part, to a tendency by everyone to try to do too much to impress them.
"Maybe we did try to work extra hard up there and when you do that, you get out of Bryan's system," Wes Jarvis said. "We worked up there, but nothing happened. After the last two losses, we had to have a win tonight. It shook us up and we had our noses to the grindstone."
Al Jensen played a superb game in goal for Washington, with 29 saves . . . Mike Palmateer skated in the morning workout, but had difficulty moving with his sore right knee . . . Jensen will play until Dave Parro feels his shoulder is fit, then Parro will become the No. 1 man. . . Paul MacKinnon was back on defense, after a month in Hershey. Timo Blomqvist was sent to the farm team . . . The club also announced it was sending forward Harvie Pocza to Hershey and calling up defenseman Howard Walker.