The Washington Capitals flew west yesterday, toward a difficult three-game assignment that opens tonight in Edmonton (WDCA-TV-20 at 9:30).
The Stanley Cup champion Oilers and Calgary, Thursday's host, are the two highest-scoring teams in the National Hockey League. Vancouver, which furnishes the concluding test on Sunday, is the NHL's penalty leader, by plenty.
Coach Bryan Murray had set a goal of 12 points in the Capitals' first 10 games. With five in five to date, Washington would need to earn three on the trip, then beat Calgary and New Jersey at home.
"We've put ourselves in a box," Murray said. "But we play tough on the road.
"That will be a difficult game in Edmonton. They're unbeaten and Bob Johnson (Calgary's coach) told (Capitals assistant) Warren Strelow they're actually more offensive-minded than last year. It's almost like they're telling you that nobody can beat them, so they're just going to have a good time winning. We're sure to get some scoring chances. We have to take advantage of what they give us.
"Calgary has great depth and good talent, and I think it's a team that's really coming on."
Center Bengt Gustafsson and defenseman Timo Blomqvist are expected to be ready to face the Oilers. As a result, winger Andre Hidi and defenseman Dave Shand are scheduled to sit out.
Pat Riggin will be in goal, but Murray said he was unsure whether Riggin would play all three games on the trip or Bob Mason would get a start. Mason was most impressive in practice yesterday, making several fine glove saves and whipping his stick around to block a point-blank drive by Darren Veitch that had Veitch shaking his head.
"I think Bob Mason looks very good," Murray said. "A couple of weeks down there (AHL) playing games seems to have made him much sharper. He's playing bigger. I didn't know it was the same guy."
"It gave me a lot of confidence," said Mason, who won three straight road games for Binghamton. "It makes things easier to play well, it's more fun and the game's more fun. I'm ready if they call on me."
Al Jensen was left at home because his sore right knee once again is creating problems.
"It's a frustrating, nagging injury," Jensen said. "I can skate fine and I can stop the wide shots, but it's when I go down that it bothers me. It's not serious; I just have to rest it a while."
Murray's diagnosis of the Capitals' recent penalty-killing problems also emerged as not serious, although the club is tied for 18th in that department after leading the NHL a year ago.
"Maybe there's been a little confusion because of the personnel change (Gary Sampson for Gaetan Duchesne)," Murray said. "But we spent time practicing it Monday and we talked about it, and I think it's straightened out."
The Capitals yielded four power-play goals to the New York Rangers Saturday, three as Alan Haworth served a disputed major penalty.
"It surprised me the way we lost our concentration," said Doug Jarvis, the leader of the penalty killers. "For five minutes we were out of position, almost in a panic situation.
"The Rangers have good puck handlers and offensive types of people. But a lot of it was our doing. It's not in character for us, breaking down and panicking like that."
Murray reviewed the videotapes and noted that on one New York goal, all four of Washington's defenders had retreated within 10 feet of the net.
"I think everybody started looking at the clock," Murray said. "Instead of playing fairly aggressively, the way we normally do, everybody was backing up and they took advantage of it."
Home Team Sports will televise the games from Calgary and Vancouver . . . Defenseman Mike McEwen is in Washington for treatment of a sprained knee. He should be out about 10 days . . . Two of his fellow Capitals farmhands are playing well in Binghamton. Paul Gardner is tied for second in AHL scoring with 10 points; Lou Franceschetti has nine . . . Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky has 21 points, an average of three a game. points; Lou Franceschetti has nine . . . Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky has 21 points, an average of three a game. points; Lou Franceschetti has nine . . . Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky has 21 points, an average of three a game.