The Washington Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first 98 seconds tonight, then sat back to enjoy the newspaper clippings. The Minnesota North Stars, winners only twice in their previous 10 games, never paused for breath thereafter and skated away with a 7-3 decision.
The figures on the shot clock adequately described Minnesota's domination. The North Stars fired 56 at Al Jensen, highest figure for a Washington opponent since Philadelphia unloaded 62 on April 1, 1976. The Capitals managed only 20, matching their season low at Los Angeles Oct. 29.
Dennis Maruk became the Capitals' first 100-point man with a pair of goals, giving him 49 and 101 points. It was hardly worth celebrating, however, especially since Washington fell 11 points behind Pittsburgh and faced a postgame charter flight to Winnipeg and a Sunday afternoon date with the rested Jets.
Late arrivals in the sellout crowd of 15,784 were shocked to find the early birds booing, in anger over those early goals by Maruk and Mike Gartner.
It took Maruk, a Minnesota castoff, only 28 seconds to reach the century mark. Randy Holt sent the puck in from the left point and Gartner deflected it to Maruk in the right wing circle. He easily beat Gilles Meloche while defenseman Gordie Roberts stared without moving a few feet away.
With Minnesota's Neal Broten off for hooking, Gartner made it 2-0 at 1:28 with his 26th goal. The North Stars sent two forecheckers against Darren Veitch at the right point, but he slipped a pass to Gartner, who was all alone in the right wing circle and beat Meloche on the short side.
Minnesota took the play away and outshot Washington by 18-2 the rest of the period, but managed only a disputed power play goal by Broten, his 26th. Tom McCarthy kicked the puck in the crease before Broten poked it in and Washington Coach Bryan Murray argued in vain that McCarthy's presence should have nullified the score.
Jensen continued to shine through the first half of the second period, but the relentless Minnesota assault finally wore him down. Craig Hartsburg slid a backhander between Holt's legs past Jensen to tie it and Steve Christoff put the North Stars ahead to stay by converting Tim Young's pass from behind the goal line after Jensen had deflected a blast by Hartsburg.
Jensen was left virtually defenseless in the third period, as the North Stars swarmed all around him and scored four consecutive goals. Bobby Smith netted the last two, for a season total of 37.
Maruk managed one last hurrah by recording his 49th goal with 1:24 left.
It was a rough game from the start, with Minnesota's Anders Hakansson and Washington's Ryan Walter going off for stick violations after just three seconds.
The real violence started late in the second period, as Washington's Lee Norwood hit Dino Ciccarelli over the head with his stick and Torrie Robertson dumped Ciccarelli with a legal check.
Ciccarelli, unaware of his true assailant, cross-checked Robertson in the back of the head and each eventually departed with double minors, following lengthy consultation and argument, since referee Gregg Madill had fallen and missed Norwood's initial foul.
With 11:33 left in the game, Robertson started pounding Ciccarelli and Steve Payne came to his teammate's rescue. The resulting brawl lasted several minutes and involved every player on the ice, except the goalies. Even though Jensen stayed away from the melee, he received a minor for leaving his crease and Washington wound up with a five-minute manpower shortage, which the North Stars exploited for their final goal.
The Capitals were assessed 67 minutes, the North Stars 62 for the brawl, with Robertson, Payne and Ciccarelli departing for the night.
The flow of the game was dramatically different from Washington's last visit, on Nov. 25, when the Capitals outshot the home club by 49-35 and earned one point on a 4-4 tie. The Capitals have won here only once in 16 visits.