Gilles Meloche has played more than 30,000 minutes as a National Hockey League goaltender. If the Washington Capitals test him for another 30,000, they might find his weaknesses.
Meloche was sensational last night at Capital Centre, stopping 34 shots as the Minnesota North Stars utilized two goals by Ken Solheim to earn a 3-1 victory.
This was the 12th straight time Meloche had faced Washington without a defeat. It was also his 19th career success against the Capitals--along with five defeats and four ties -- deadlocking him with Ken Dryden and Rogie Vachon for all-time honors.
The Capitals had countless chances from close range, but only Mike Gartner got one past the 32-year-old acrobat. Gartner created a 1-1 tie on a power play at 4:24 of the second period, hitting from the slot an instant after Doug Jarvis won a faceoff from Minnesota's Tim Young in the right wing circle.
The Capitals immediately pressed for a go-ahead score, but with Meloche in peak form they accomplished nothing but increased frustration.
Alan Haworth, Bobby Carpenter and Dennis Maruk found themselves alone in front with the puck, but Meloche foiled each of them. When Craig Laughlin was left unguarded to await Milan Novy's pass, Meloche dove out and knocked him down.
Solheim started the tie-breaking play, cutting over the Washington blueline and dishing the puck to Brian Bellows on the left wing. Solheim then skated down the slot to take a return pass and beat Dave Parro with 1:54 left in the second period.
It was Solheim's first goal of the season and his second, at 10:23 of the third period, assured that the Capitals would remain winless on home ice. On that goal, he deflected a long shot by Bobby Smith, the man who connected from 50 feet for the game's first score.
"Meloche stoned us," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Mike Gartner was in alone four times and Bobby Carpenter two or three. They had point-blank chances, but Meloche was just incredible.
"I only hope people understand we put out a heck of an effort tonight. This wasn't Buffalo. We played one of the better teams in the league and played very well. I'm discouraged that we don't score, but I'm not disappointed with the effort."
There were boos from the crowd of 12,768, however, particularly during the seven Washington power plays, when there was some erratic passing.
"There's nothing to our power play now," Murray said. "We're just giving the puck away. We get into their zone and then we make a brutal pass."
There were many heads down in the Washington dressing room. The players have been told that it is important to win the early games at home, before large crowds lured by sponsors of the so-called guaranteed sellouts.
"He (Meloche) stoned me five times," Gartner said. "It is frustrating. You start to press after he makes a couple of big saves and it makes it worse for the shooter."
Carpenter, playing with Gaetan Duchesne and Haworth as Murray revamped his lines, said, "Our line was moving, but we didn't put any in the net. We missed too many open-net chances. The goalie was good, though. Sure, that had something to do with it."
"That was a typical game for Meloche," said Maruk, a teammate of Meloche at Oakland and Cleveland. "He doesn't give you much and what he gives you, he covers up well. It's tough to beat him. It's important for him to stop the first shot. If he misses a couple early, it can upset him."
Meloche did not miss any early. After eight minutes, the Capitals had a 12-5 edge in shots, but the game was scoreless.
At least Parro gave the Capitals some solid goaltending for a change. In the first period, he forced Neal Broten so wide on a breakaway that Broten missed the net. On two other occasions, after Broten lifted the puck from Brian Engblom and Darren Veitch, Parro came up with big saves.
"We got good goaltending tonight," Murray said. "Unfortunately, their was better."