No doubt, the Edmonton Oilers will lose a few before the 80-game schedule runs its course. No matter when the first defeat occurs, they have jumped from the gate faster than any other team in National Hockey League history.
The Oilers extended their unbeaten streak to 15 games last night with an 8-5 victory over the Washington Capitals, as Jari Kurri scored three goals and Wayne Gretzky got two goals and four assists in his best performance at Capital Centre.
Gretzky leads the NHL with 43 points, getting at least one in each game. He has scored in 67 straight road games dating to Dec. 9, 1982.
Washington Coach Bryan Murray had looked forward to this game as a potential playoff preview, with the Oilers going full throttle in a bid to erase Montreal's 41-year-old record and the Capitals attempting to stop them.
"They won it easily," Murray said. "We're down, one-oh, but that isn't going to count in the finals."
The Capitals had a 47-34 edge in shots, remarkably close to the 47-33 margin they had in a 3-3 tie in Edmonton Oct. 24. But the Oilers proved far more opportunistic, taking advantage of Washington's defensive breakdowns every time the Capitals closed the gap.
"We've been outshot a lot, but we'll give them shots from the sides all night long," Gretzky said. "Tonight we finally did what we do best: skate, move and shoot. We haven't been doing it."
The Oilers (12-0-3) had scored only 12 goals in their last four games.
"Tonight we wanted to go out and play a little offense," Gretzky said. "It turned out to be the first game of the season we broke down defensively, but Washington is a good hockey club and there was a lot of excitement in the building.
"That's 15 down; now we have to try for 16. Every game is a big game for us. It's nice that we got it, but we've got to keep going. We can't live in the past."
A sellout crowd of 18,130 saw Gretzky attempt nine shots on goal and Kurri eight, or one-half of the Oilers' total.
"Gretzky does an awful lot, but Kurri does an awful lot with him," said Edmonton Coach Glen Sather. "Gretz is just one of those guys who's special.
"This is one of the oldest records in the league and it's great to have it. It means a lot for the players, because it's something they got together."
The Capitals came up with a number of milestones during the game. Bob Carpenter scored his 100th NHL goal, Alan Haworth got his 100th assist and Dave Christian earned his 300th point. But it was a game most of them preferred to forget.
"It's tough to slow down a team like that, but if anybody can, we can," Christian said. "We're just not playing a controlled game for 60 minutes. We controlled part of the first period, then we loosened up, and we can't do that against any team."
"They hypnotize the players," said captain Rod Langway. "They broke us down. You get to thinking we can score as often as they do, but it won't happen. We were disorganized and undisciplined and that's not the Washington Capitals."
The Capitals, now a .500 hockey club with a 5-5-2 record, will not have much time to discuss last night's failure. They return to action tonight at the Meadowlands against the New Jersey Devils.
The home club got off on the right foot last night when Haworth poke-checked the puck away from Paul Coffey and fed Bryan Erickson for the opening score. But the lead lasted less than three minutes and Washington never regained it.
Before the first period ended, Mike Krushelnyski netted his own rebound and Kurri scored on a two-on-one feed from Glenn Anderson.
Washington came out fast again in the second period, but goalie Grant Fuhr made five saves before the Oilers scored on their second shot. Willy Lindstrom lifted the puck from the Capitals' Timo Blomqvist and fed Anderson in front.
Christian closed it to 3-2 on a remarkable power-play goal. He took a rebound in the slot with his back to the net and sent a backhander past Fuhr without looking.
Lindstrom scored on a breakaway when the Capitals doubled up on Jaroslav Pouzar at the blueline.
Carpenter brought Washington within one for the last time by scoring after his attempted centering pass struck the Oilers' Charlie Huddy and rebounded onto his stick. Mike Gartner earned an assist to extend his scoring streak to 11 games.
Before the second period ended, Gretzky set up Kurri's second goal for a 5-3 advantage. Gretzky scored from the right-wing circle early in the third period, before goalie Pat Riggin gloved his shot on a breakaway and gave the Capitals a temporary lift.
Haworth converted Christian's pass for a second extra-man goal by Washington, ranked fourth in the NHL in that department.
After Kurri finished off a two-on-one with Gretzky, Lou Franceschetti rebounded Blomqvist's shot to make it 7-5. It was the first in three seasons for Franceschetti, recalled yesterday from Binghamton.
Gretzky completed the scoring with his 15th goal, into an empty net with 48 seconds left. Technically, it was shorthanded, the seventh of the season for the Oilers, who set an NHL record of 36 a year ago.
That's the story for Edmonton -- a broken record.
Other games: Reijo Ruotsalainen scored on a breakaway 57 seconds into overtime in Madison Square Garden as the New York Rangers beat the Islanders, 5-4; Tim Kerr scored twice on power plays as Philadelphia beat visiting St. Louis, 6-0; a six-goal second period helped host Winnipeg defeat Vancouver, 6-0; Dave Taylor's goal with 83 seconds left gave Los Angeles a 3-2 home victory and ended Buffalo's five-game unbeaten streak.