If Coach Bryan Murray had tried, it's doubtful he could have orchestrated the Washington Capitals' two-game road trip any better than it turned out.
The Capitals, who took three of four possible points on the road to move within five points of Patrick Division-leading Philadelphia, tied one game and won the other with defense. Except for minor first-period lapses in a 3-2 victory Wednesday at Minnesota, the Capitals did what they want to do -- shut down a free-wheeling offense and force it to play a conservative game.
"The way we played, to allow only five goals in two games on the road, shows our defense is playing very well," Murray said yesterday.
Take the third period in Minnesota. For the first 16 minutes of the final period, the North Stars had only one shot on goal. During that time, Washington defenseman Mike McEwen scored the winner, at 5:58.
"When we get the lead like that late in the game," said rookie goalie Bob Mason, the major beneficiary of the defensive work, "we're in pretty good shape."
The North Stars, losers of four in a row, had a two-minute power play and a man advantage for nearly another minute at the end when they pulled goalie Gilles Meloche, but were held to four more shots on goal.
The defense seems to be peaking at just the right time for the Capitals, who will play the New York Rangers at Capital Centre Saturday night and at Madison Square Garden Sunday night.
But success does not mean the Capitals are content. Yesterday, the club put left wing Greg Adams on waivers with the right of recall, which means he will likely go to the Capitals' Binghamton farm team.
"We thought he played really well," Murray said. "But we had 23 players on the roster and want to get down to 20 or 21 as soon as possible." Murray would not say what other players might be involved.
Murray also has been experimenting with different lines. In Tuesday's 3-3 tie in St. Louis, he used Bob Carpenter on five different lines, and moved defenseman Scott Stevens to wing on occasion.
Murray said he plans to use Gary Sampson and Mike Gartner on a line with Carpenter, switching Peter Andersson to a line with Bengt Gustafsson and Alan Haworth as he did in the third period at Minnesota.
The only sour note coming out of the trip was the failure of Washington's power play, which was one for seven at Minnesota. McEwen, who was out on all of Washington's power-play opportunities, said that in spite of the problems, the team never lost its patience.
"We always have to look to our end first (on defense)," he said. "It's just a matter of being patient. That's our game."