With point man Greg Theberge providing the proper guidance system, the Washington Capitals' power play connected three times last night and furnished the impetus for a 5-3 victory over the Calgary Flames before 10,705 at Capital Centre.
As the Capitals' unbeaten streak reached five games, Washington hit the .500 mark and took over undisputed possession of third place in the Patrick Division, two points ahead of the New York Rangers.
"The New York Rangers and people like that had better be concerned about us, instead of just New Jersey," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray, pleased despite a somewhat loose performance over the last two periods. "If we can play like that and win a hockey game, we're getting somewhere. Before, if we played like that, we would have been blown out."
The Flames were held scoreless over the last 10 minutes despite the absence of Washington captain Rod Langway, who departed when he was struck just above the left eye by the stick of Calgary's Lanny McDonald. Langway needed 12 stitches to close the wound, which extended down to the eyelid, but he would have been ready for a fourth period had there been one.
Theberge was on the ice for all five Washington goals, none by Calgary, in his finest effort as a Capital. He scored his first goal of the season, assisted on two others and ran the power play like a quarterback.
"Some nights everything seems to go your way," said Theberge, who began the season in Hershey and was summoned to put some life in the power play. "Bryan has stressed team unity and we don't care who scores the goals as long as we get two points."
Langway, occasionally wiping blood away from his eye, expounded the same theme.
"I was minus two tonight, but I don't care," Langway said. "We got the two points and as a team we're playing solid, confident hockey. We're not afraid to make any moves out there, because we know our goaltenders will come up with the big saves."
Goalie Pat Riggin had some early problems last night and admitted he was tight, both because he was facing his old team for the first time and because Al Jensen had recently gotten the home folks accustomed to low-goal performances.
Riggin won over the crowd late in the game, while the Flames enjoyed a man advantage. First he moved quickly to his left to stop Kent Nilsson, then he blocked two rebounds as he lay across the goal mouth.
Although dominating the first period, the Capitals did not score until only 24 seconds remained, Dennis Maruk converting Brian Engblom's power-play setup for his ninth goal. Washington led the rest of the way.
Bobby Carpenter scored the first of his two goals at 6:36 of the second period, converting a beautiful behind-the-net feed by Mike Gartner.
After Doug Risebrough put his 11th goal over Riggin's right shoulder, Theberge sent a 50-footer past a screened Don Edwards, who was losing to Washington for only the second time in 15 decisions (10-2-3).
When Steve Christoff again brought the Flames within one, Gaetan Duchesne responded with his third goal of the season -- and, as it developed -- his third game winner. Duchesne skated in from the left-wing boards, retrieved the puck after Edwards made the initial save and lifted the rebound into the net.
Guy Chouinard connected on Calgary's first power play, early in the third period. When Brian Engblom was chased for slashing a couple of minutes later, it appeared that the Capitals were in deep trouble. Then McDonald whacked Langway in the corner and received a five-minute major penalty.
On Washington's ensuing extra-man play, Carpenter deflected a shot by Milan Novy to make it 5-3 and -- thanks to some fine work by Riggin -- conclude the scoring for the night.
Although Langway and McDonald had been sniping at each other most of the night, there was no question but that the carving of Langway's face was accidental.
"We're both competitors," Langway said. "He's got 16 goals and I thought if jawing at him would get him off his game, it would be a plus. Any time I can give him a shot, I'll do it. I'm sure he feels the same way."