Four weeks into their season, all the sellouts and publicity hadn't been able to buy the Washington Capitals a victory at home. Trying too hard in front of the restless natives at Capital Centre, Washington had turned its home grounds into a nice place to visit for the opposition.
Then Al Jensen stepped into the net and suddenly the Capitals had not one, but two victories at home, against Hartford Sunday and the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night. The 3-0 defeat of the Devils was Jensen's first NHL shutout.
Wisely, he has taken no bows for the club's turnabout.
"You don't think of that," he said. "The defense is the difference, clearing rebounds and playing great. I just come and play my game."
His game is to skate out, sometimes way out, to meet the aggressor, instead of waiting for his man to draw close and shoot. That style earned him four wins, including a shutout, and two losses in Hershey, where he opened the season.
"I was doing pretty well. I had a 2.66 (goals-against average) when I left," he said. Jensen was called up by the Capitals Nov. 1, when Dave Parro was sent to Hershey for work. Capitals General Manager David Poile had scouted a game there that weekend and liked the way Jensen had played.
In Hershey's 4-2 win over Moncton, Jensen had stopped all 14 third-period shots, which particularly impressed Poile. The Capitals' goaltending had been up and down, with Parro trying to regain his sharpness of a year ago. A shoulder injury during training camp had stalled his hopes for a fast start.
"When you miss training camp, it takes longer to get started," Poile said. He knew Parro was struggling while Jensen was enjoying a hot streak.
Poile admitted that Jensen had been, based on performance, perhaps "the best one there," in training camp, but because Parro and Pat Riggin (acquired from Calgary) had been No. 1 goalies on their respective clubs last year, he was somewhat reluctant to leave one of them on the farm.
"I knew he (Poile) was there, but had no idea he came to see me," Jensen said. "He did come and talk to me a little after the game. Then on Monday, I was sent up here. I just jumped in my car and here I was."
Jensen played 26 games in a Washington uniform last season, but says his confidence this year, if not exactly soaring, has climbed a few degrees.
"His work habits were always very good, but I do think the experience he's had is the difference," Coach Bryan Murray said.
"Maybe I'm seeing things that weren't there, but it seemed to me last year Al was a very intelligent goaltender who didn't have the quickness, the footwork. He's got that now, and he seems to feel very confident here."
Some of what passes for self-assurance may simply be determination. "When Al started the season in Hershey, after a pretty good training camp, that put a little pressure on him to get here," Murray said.
"There's a reason for everything and maybe beginning there was good," Jensen said. "It made me work harder."
If Jensen has changed a bit since his last Washington stint, his surroundings have, too. "I've only been here for four or five games, but the feeling isn't the same," he said. "The guys have got more of a winning attitude. They -- we -- really believe we can do it."
When Jensen arrived, he was told the Capitals "would make a decision (on him) after two weeks."
"We (he and his wife Judy) are living out of a hotel room," he said. "No complaints, though. We'll stay there all year if it means playing for Washington."