Maybe we have to get used to being on the road," Mike Gartner said after the Washington Capitals played a so-so hockey game to tie the Winnipeg Jets, 3-3, Friday night.
They have another chance to adjust to the road Sunday in Vancouver, where they will play the Canucks for the first time this season. The tie with Winnipeg kept Washington's unbeaten streak alive at six games. However, the Capitals (7-7-4) fell a point behind the New York Rangers for third place in the National Hockey League's Patrick Division when the latter beat Toronto tonight.
Coach Bryan Murray, who anticipates at least "a couple wins" out of his team's four-city trip, was at a loss to explain Washington's lackluster play against Winnipeg.
"They were like this in practice yesterday (Thursday)," he said. "Maybe a little too casual, just skating through it. I really don't know what it is, but we were lucky to get out of that first period only down, 2-1. It could have been lights out."
The Capitals, who had begun to look like a disciplined, organized hockey club during the last two weeks, skated into Winnipeg looking flatter than the Canadian prairie. During the first period, while the Jets were putting two quick goals past Al Jensen, Washington found itself struggling just to get a shot.
Murray said it was not travel weariness -- although a trip to Manitoba is not exactly a bus ride to Philadelphia -- or staleness (Washington last played on Tuesday against Calgary) that caused the letup.
"We did do a lot of mental preparation for this game, working with Terry (Murray, assistant coach), and maybe they thought that by doing that, they could just get by without the efforts."
But after the first period, with only Ken Houston's goal and three shots on the Winnipeg net to show for 20 minutes of play, Murray reminded the team in no uncertain terms that "being casual about it wasn't going to win."
"They're the kind of group that responds to a bit of cussing," he said. "And I told them after that kind of performance, we'll call the damned things (preparation sessions) off rather than see you do that. They began to get in gear."
Still, it was hardly a night of textbook hockey by the Capitals. Even the ever-dependable Rod Langway had an off game until the last period.
Fortunately for Washington, Jensen did not have an off night, despite looking a little shaky on the first two Winnipeg goals, which came less than three minutes into the game.
"He saved it for us so many times," Dennis Maruk said. "He kept us in there." Indeed, without Jensen getting into the play several times to break up a Winnipeg break, Washington might not have escaped this cold, drizzly city with a point.