For the 21st straight time, the Washington Capitals have made a pointless visit to the Montreal Forum. Not only did the Capitals drop a 6-3 decision to the Canadiens tonight, they also lost the services of defenseman Rick Green, who suffered a first-degree separation of the right shoulder in the first period.
Although a first-degree separation is not considered as serious as a second-degree injury, it is equally painful, according to trainer Bill Bozak, and will keep Green out of action indefinitely, probably for several weeks. That was a far more disastrous blow to the Capitals than their fifth straight road defeat, because Green has been the defensive leader all season.
While Washington was losing here, the New York Rangers were beating Pittsburgh and extending their hold on fourth place in the Patrick Division to seven points.
Doug Wickenheiser, who played for Washington Coach Bryan Murray at Regina two years ago, scored two goals as Montreal avenged a 5-2 setback at Capital Centre 17 days ago. Contributing two assists and earning No. 3 star honors was former Capital Robert Picard, who has at least one assist in the last six games.
The Capitals came out flying, took a 2-1 lead and had three more excellent chances to score before Green was hurt and the Canadiens produced three goals in the last three minutes of the first period.
Rookie Craig Laughlin, a Clarkson College product, sent Montreal in front by putting a second rebound past goalie Dave Parro, Laughlin's fifth goal in six NHL games.
Bengt Gustafsson was unable to lift the puck over Montreal goalie Richard Sevigny on a clean breakaway before rookie Mike Siltala made his NHL debut a memorable one with a waist-high deflection of a shot by Paul MacKinnon. Siltala, 18, had been summoned Sunday from Kingston of the Ontario Junior League, where he had 24 goals and had been averaging almost four points a game over the last three weeks.
Mike Gartner's shot went off a post, then Dennis Maruk converted a Chris Valentine setup for his 25th goal. After only 30 games, Maruk is halfway to his 50-goal figure of a year ago. Ryan Walter assisted to extend his point streak to 10 games, although his goal-scoring streak was stopped at six.
Gustafsson came around from behind and hit another post as the Capitals pressed to add to their lead. Then Green was bumped into the boards by Chris Nilan and everything fell apart.
"I was along the right-hand boards in our end zone and I was in a race for the puck," Green said, holding his right arm at waist level to reduce the pressure on the shoulder. "I picked up the puck and I saw Nilan coming and turned into him. When he hit me, I jammed it into the boards."
With Green gone, the Capitals quickly ran into serious problems. Parro, who made some sensational stops, allowed a routine 45-foot shot by Keith Acton to go through his pads at 17:02 and the game was tied.
It was Acton's 16th goal -- he had only 15 all last season -- and he quickly helped untie things by winning two key faceoffs in the Washington end.
First Acton outscrambled Wes Jarvis for a faceoff, with Guy Lafleur getting the puck back to Gil Delorme at the right point. Wickenheiser deflected Delorme's shot at 18:34 and Montreal was ahead to stay.
With five seconds left in the period, Acton won a faceoff from Bobby Carpenter and Lafleur rifled the puck past Parro for his 13th goal and a 4-2 lead.
"Losing Rick Green is a major loss for us and it may have been a key factor in the result tonight, although I don't know he'd have made any difference in the faceoffs, which cost us the game," said Coach Bryan Murray.
After Walter hit another post early in the second period, Wickenheiser deflected a Picard shot to make it 5-2. A power-play goal by Larry Robinson boosted it to 6-2 before Gustafsson finally put one past Sevigny with two minutes left. If it was a disaster for the Capitals, it was an unforgettable thrill for Siltala, a fifth-round draft choice who never had stepped on the Forum ice until the morning practice.