Bryan Murray, the Washington Capitals' coach, insisted last night that he had not reminded his players that the Hershey farm club was departing Monday for five games in six nights in Canada's weather-battered Maritime Provinces. Nevertheless, they seemed aware of it.
The Capitals played one of their better games this season in holding the New York Islanders to a 2-2 tie at Capital Centre, an effort that elicited frequent cheers from a crowd of 13,613. It also ended a streak of seven straight losses to the Stanley Cup champions.
The principal hero was goalie Al Jensen, who has no fears of going anywhere, even if his name is still spelled "Jenson" above his locker. Making only his second start in the last five weeks, Jensen blocked 34 shots and kept Washington in the game during some low moments in the second period.
There was a strong supporting cast on the Washington defense, as Paul MacKinnon, Terry Murray, Darren Veitch and Jim McTaggart were forced to go every other shift during the last 31 minutes, after Randy Holt damaged a knuckle on his left hand in a fight with Bob Nystrom.
Rick Green, the usual mainstay of the backline, watched this game from the stands, after aggravating an injury to his right shoulder in Saturday's 5-5 tie in Detroit.
Washington dominated the scoreless third period, outshooting New York, 12-6, despite coming off that tough game Saturday while the Islanders were idle. Besides, New York could tell by the message board that it needed a victory to hold a share of the Patrick Division lead, with Philadelphia winning, but instead it dropped into second place.
"We weren't willing to settle for a tie; we wanted to go for it," said New York Coach Al Arbour. "We had a lot of chances, particularly in the second period, but when you can't find the handle and the kid is making those stops . . . Give the Capitals credit. They're a good hockey club."
Jensen made four saves in the first two minutes, as the Islanders came out flying. Then some fancy passing by Ryan Walter and Dennis Maruk left Chris Valentine open in front and the Capitals' 10th-round draft choice of last spring scored his 10th goal.
New York tied on its 15th shot, after Jensen had been saluted with chants of "Jen-sen, Jen-sen" for some remarkable stops. Bryan Trottier, foiled five times by Jensen earlier, passed out from behind the net to Clark Gillies, who hit the puck in midair and sent it off Jensen's glove into the net.
The Islanders took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, as Duane Sutter skated down the right wing and sent a perfect centering pass to John Tonelli, who scored despite the close attention of Bengt Gustafsson.
The Swede got his revenge, completing the scoring with 1:14 left in the second period. Paul MacKinnon dumped the puck into the Islanders' end and it took a crazy carom off the glass in the left-wing corner. The puck was headed toward Gaetan Duchesne, but he was pulled down by the Islanders' Ken Morrow and it slid onward to Gustafsson in the slot. He whipped it under the crossbar for his 11th goal.
The Capitals hit three posts, two a mere second apart while Nystrom served an extra minor for starting the Holt fracas. They also were off target on some close-range chances, besides lining shots into goalie Roland Melanson.