A couple of weeks ago, when he was playing well at Binghamton, Greg Adams said, "I'm too good for the American League and not good enough for the National League." Since he was called up by the Washington Capitals Nov. 26, Adams has been giving the lie to the second half of that statement.
The latest chapter of Adams' rise to NHL respectability occurred last night, when he scored two goals to lead the Capitals to their sixth straight victory, a 4-1 decision over the New Jersey Devils.
Bob Carpenter scored his 19th goal and Gaetan Duchesne scored shorthanded, while goaltender Pat Riggin made some key stops with the game still in doubt before his shutout bid evaporated on a long shot by Bob Lorimer early in the third period.
The result was in the nature of a birthday present for Washington Coach Bryan Murray, who turns 42 today. The NHL earlier played party pooper, first assessing Murray a $1,000 fine for his second gross misconduct penalty of the season. Then it assigned Ron Wicks as the referee last night, his first Capital Centre appearance since his celebrated run-in with Murray resulted in gross No. 1 on Oct. 20.
Wicks called five penalties against the Capitals and only two against the Devils, an imbalance challenged verbally by the crowd of 9,573. But Washington's penalty killers emerged in a plus-one status, Duchesne scoring the only goal in a penalty situation.
Adams' two goals matched his 1983-84 production in 57 games as a Capital. Sent to Binghamton before this season began, he made the most of the opportunity for increased ice time. He gained confidence and has maintained that level of play here.
"Last year was an experience," Adams said. "I didn't play as good as I could have and I didn't get a lot of ice time in certain situations.
"In the minors I got to carry the puck more, I got more ice time and I built up my confidence. I brought that up with me. The game's the same; just the faces are different. I feel good now and I'm pretty confident."
Not only did Adams score twice, late in the second period he sprawled in trying to block a slap shot by Joe Cirella and wound up with a bruise on his left side as a souvenir.
But he wasn't complaining and he aptly described the turnabout that has produced this winning streak.
"When you're on a roll, everybody feels comfortable," he said. "Guys are hitting the net and making great plays, where before the puck would hit somebody's shin pad. It's a game of luck and bounces, and we're getting them now.
"Look at my two goals. It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time. But I am doing some things differently. Last year when I might have dumped the puck, now I'm trying to make some plays."
After the Devils had dominated the first 15 minutes, Carpenter and Adams scored on successive shots 41 seconds apart. Carpenter got his goal from just outside the crease following sharp passes by Peter Andersson and Mike Gartner. Then Adams deflected a shot from the right point by Larry Murphy, who had intercepted an attempted clear by the Devils.
Duchesne's third goal in as many games provided a big lift, coming 14 seconds after Gary Sampson was penalized for hooking the Devils' John MacLean. Duchesne shot as he crossed the blueline, the puck striking the glove of goalie Ron Low before spinning into the net.
"I didn't know it was in," Duchesne said. "I shot it right at him, but sometimes those go in and sometimes, when you get a good shot, the goalie makes a big save."
Low, the one-time Capital bidding for his 100th NHL victory, made outstanding stops thereafter, but the Devils had lost their spark. After Lorimer's goal, Adams completed the scoring with an ice-hugging backhander following more good passes by Alan Haworth and Dean Evason. Haworth's assist was his 200th NHL point.
The Capitals' play over the last 45 minutes was in sharp contrast to the opening 15, when they looked so bad the fans started booing.
"We were casual early in the game," Murray said. "Our first power play, we took it for granted and a casual pass (by Carpenter) almost cost us. Then, on their first power-play chance, we had the puck three times in our end with a chance to clear and we didn't. It looked like we were back in trouble the way we were early in the season.
"But Pat made four or five great stops early in the game, we got momentum and we didn't have much trouble in our end after that early stretch."
Murray was noticeably restrained on the bench, no doubt influenced by the $1,000 fine for his verbal assault on referee Don Koharski in Buffalo Nov. 17. He had escaped with the automatic $100 assessment for the Wicks incident, when he shoved his way into the officials' dressing room after a 6-5 loss to the New York Rangers.