The Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, 6-2, with five goals in the opening period of what was less than a classic hockey game but set a franchise record for the Capitals: 11 road victories in a season.
The Capitals, now one point behind the New York Islanders for second place in the NHL's Patrick Division, will meet Pittsburgh, winless in 10 games, again on Friday at Capital Centre.
In the first 15 minutes, the Capitals converted five of their first nine shots on net into goals to lead, 5-0.
Thereafter they went into a virtual sleepwalk that had Coach Bryan Murray grumbling later, "In the first 20 minutes we were skating together, getting good scoring chances, and obviously they were a little loose. But then after that we seemed to lose interest."
Six different Capitals made goals, beginning with Dennis Maruk's at 5:11 and wrapping up on Greg Theberge's power play strike at 40 seconds of the third period.
To start the rout, Mike Gartner moved around Denis Herron's cage and tried to tuck the puck in on the goalie's stick side. When he lost control of it, Rod Langway, just inside the blueline, aimed it back at Gartner's stick. A short pass to Maruk and he popped it into the top of the net from close in.
Twenty-one seconds later, Bobby Carpenter took a feed from Craig Laughlin and put the puck by Herron.
The Penguins put the lie to Murray's pregame fears they would be "dangerous." They lacked even a glimmer of intensity in the opening period, spinning their wheels and watching the Capitals hit Herron with 16 shots. Pittsburgh meanwhile put just six shots at Pat Riggin and tried to ride the Capitals off the puck with little success.
Bengt Gustafsson's goal at 8:03 came while Pittsburgh players were scattered in front of Herron's cage; Alan Haworth's unassisted 20-footer at 13:41 followed a bounce toward his stick off a Penguin skate, and Glen Currie, assisted by Gaetan Duchesne and Langway, smacked the puck high into the cage as Herron went to his knees at 14:43.
The Penguins changed from Herron to Michel Dion starting the second period, but the Capitals weren't as testing, anyway. Dion had to handle only eight shots in that 20 minutes. Washington appeared to have exhausted its energy supply or left it in the dressing room.
"It wasn't a breakdown, just a little bit of a lull," said Gartner. "When you get up 5-0 in the first, it's difficult to keep that (pace) up."
At last, at 17:55, Riggin's shutout in the making was spoiled. Pat Boutette parked in front of the Washington net, took a 10-foot pass from Paul Gardner and slapped it in. Gardner had the other Pittsburgh goal. Both came on power plays.
With just over eight minutes left in the second period, Washington's Brian Engblom left the ice complaining of dizziness and did not return. "He said he was bumped, and can't remember anything about the period," Murray reported after the game. "But he's okay now."
At the end of the second period, defenseman Bennett Wolf, who had been brandishing a stick above Gustafsson through most of the game, sent him to the ice, and both benches emptied. "I assumed Bennett would do that," Murray said. "I had told Gus to just stay away from it. But nothing came of it so it wasn't any big deal."
The Penguins lost right wing Kevin McClelland for the season with a dislocated right shoulder incurred Monday.