"Hey, I think the people in Washington were starting to show some concern over the weekend when we lost two," Capitals Coach Bryan Murray said with a wink tonight. Save the concern, diehards. The Capitals beat the winless Maple Leafs, 5-3, for their second victory in four outings.
The second victory came a month and a day earlier than they reached that milestone last season, when they began the season 1-14-1 before finally garnering victory No. 2 on Nov. 14 in Murray's third game as coach after replacing Gary Green.
"Toronto is one of the teams we have to beat to stay in the standings," Murray said.
The Leafs had opened the scoring on Stewart Gavin's first-period goal, which was deflected off defenseman Scott Stevens. Washington came back with two, including Brian Engblom's power play goal at 7:05. The Leafs tied it twice, the second time early in the third, but Gaetan Duchesne's goal at 1:56 of that period assured a Capitals victory. Stevens' goal increased the margin to 5-3 at 6:40.
Stevens winced when he recalled the Leafs' first score. "The guy (Gavin) sent the puck across the goalmouth," he said. "I stopped the puck with my stick, but then it kept rolling. (Goalie) Dave (Parro) had already made his move and there was nothing I could do."
Parro, playing his first game of the season, said his left shoulder, injured during training camp, did not bother him at all. "I felt real good in spurts," he said later, after making 18 saves. "I still need to work on my footwork, and I did get tired at the end. But it was good to have the full 60 minutes work."
With more than half a dozen Capitals fighting a flu bug that began making the rounds last weekend, Murray has been forced to juggle his lineup further. With Bengt Gustafsson too ill to make the trip, Torrie Robertson was called up from Hershey this afternoon, and arrived just before game time.
Playing on a line with Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner, he gave the Capitals a 3-2 edge at the start of the second period. Converting a two-on-one play close to Michel Larocque's cage, Robertson took a perfect pass from Gartner, just at the faceoff circle, and slid it low past Larocque at the 22-second mark.
That was the only goal scored during that period, but Engblom took a hit of his own when Gavin slammed him into the boards just behind Parro's net. Although Engblom later insisted he was fine, the injury was diagnosed as a concussion and he did not return for the final period.
"He wanted to come in and play, but we told him to get dressed," Murray said.
Toronto's Peter Ihnacak, another in the NHL's list of Czech defectors, lifted the lifeless Leafs into a 3-3 tie at 1:33 of the third period. With Borje Salming skating far off to the right of Parro, Ihnacak took a long pass from him and stepped into the crease with the puck. Stevens, almost screening Parro, had no time to react before the puck hit the twine.
But Duchesne had the puck in Larocque's backyard before the Gardens' public address announcer had finished extolling Ihnacak's score.
Milan Novy had circled the Toronto net with the puck, and sent it to linemate Alan Haworth. But Haworth's shot was bounced out by Larocque, right into the path of Duchesne. He calmly took the rebound, lifted his stick in an easy motion, giving Washington its winning margin.
Stevens, anxious to make up for helping the puck into the wrong net at the start of the game, found his chance at 6:40. Skating into open Toronto territory, Stevens carried the puck as far as the blueline and then let it go.
"It went all the way in," he said later. "I thought at first it went off the glass, because I heard a noise, but I think it just hit the bar." It did, pinging off the crossbar and down past Larocque, who the Capitals beat for the first time ever tonight.