During the Washington Capitals' bumpy 11-year history, the desperate need for a victory often has been filled by the appearance of the Chicago Black Hawks. So it was again last night, as the Capitals enjoyed their first blowout of the season with a 5-0 rout of the Hawks at Capital Centre.
Goalie Pat Riggin handled 23 shots, few of a testing nature. Not only was it the Capitals' first shutout this season, it was the first time they had held an opponent under two goals. Last year, by contrast, they shut out eight opponents and limited 16 others to one score.
Craig Laughlin produced the only goal Washington needed last night, converting a first-period feed from Dave Christian.
The remainder of the scoring came in the third period, at the expense of what had been the second-best penalty-killing unit in the National Hockey League. Christian, Mike Gartner and Darren Veitch scored on power plays, and Larry Murphy got a goal three seconds after the expiration of yet another penalty.
The Black Hawks lacked direction in the absence of star defenseman Doug Wilson, who incurred a charley horse Saturday when he was kneed by Boston's Keith Crowder.
By contrast, there was no doubt about the Capitals' game plan.
"Our game is built on defense and if we score a couple of goals, we have a chance to win," said Coach Bryan Murray. "I thought for a long time tonight it would be a 1-0 game, which would have been okay.
"It was a very important win. Not only are we going on the road for three games, but we haven't played well in this building. The big turnaround was Rod Langway and Scott Stevens. I played them a great deal and they never got in trouble."
Of course, without Wilson, Chicago did not pose much of a threat. The Hawks folded in the manner of past meetings with the Capitals, dating back to 1974.
The first-year Capitals won one of their first 18 games -- over Chicago, naturally. The second-year Capitals were winless after nine games, then won No. 10 in Chicago. Earlier this season, after two sloppy efforts against the Philadelphia Flyers, when everybody was fearing the worst, the Capitals went into Chicago and got their first victory, 5-3.
With only one victory in their last nine games, the Capitals were gasping once again, a circumstance that no doubt contributed to the slim crowd of 8,818.
It was evident from the start that the Capitals were up for this one. Christian set up the eventual game winner at 6:54, poking the puck through a group of Hawks in center ice to begin a two-on-one break. Laughlin beat goalie Murray Bannerman high on the stick side for his third goal.
A right-hand shot, Laughlin credited his shift to left wing for the necessary positioning.
"On the off wing, I was able to shoot as I got the puck from Davy," Laughlin said. "On the other side, I would have had to stop and by the time I shot, he (Bannerman) probably would have stopped me.
"The shutout was so big for us. Everybody played tonight and played well, no matter where they were put, left wing or right wing or center. We need everybody out there playing as a unit, but before guys were complaining about playing the off wing or something like that."
To show how even the team effort was, not only did five players score goals, but the 10 assists were divided among 10 players.
Late in the first period, Bob Carpenter and Chicago rookie Ed Olczyk tangled as they skated in the Chicago end and Carpenter emerged the stronger, with Olczyk crashing heavily into the boards. Although Olczyk was able to return, the incident angered the Hawks and they picked up unnecessary penalties.
"The officiating in this league is a complete farce . . . Our guys are getting ticked off," said Chicago Coach Orval Tessier. "Some of them are going to drop their gloves. If they want penalties, we'll show them what penalties look like."
Coincidental roughing minors to Olczyk and the Capitals' Bryan Erickson began the sequence that helped the score mount in the final period. Behn Wilson went off for hooking Doug Jarvis and, with Washington skating four against three, Christian lifted a rebound of Paul Gardner's shot over a pileup in front of Bannerman.
Bob Murray, who will have little reason to celebrate his 30th birthday Monday, flipped the puck into the stands in disgust and was penalized for delay of game. During that penalty, Gartner converted a pass by Murphy for his 13th goal. It also was Gartner's 432nd point as a Capital, breaking a first-place tie with the departed Dennis Maruk.
Not long after, Murray was whistled for slashing and threw his stick in front of referee Don Koharski. For that, he received a second minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. After surviving the first two minutes, Chicago fell behind, 4-0, when Laughlin set up Veitch in the slot.
Three seconds after the expiration of an interference penalty, Murphy converted Alan Haworth's pass to conclude the scoring. For Murphy, like Veitch, it was the first of the season.