The Washington Capitals took the Patrick Division lead tonight, moving past the idle Philadelphia Flyers at the expense of the embarrassed Quebec Nordiques.
Gaetan Duchesne, a Quebec native, put Washington ahead to stay after 27 seconds. The Capitals were four goals in front after 27 minutes and most of the 14,483 fans had departed before the 4-1 result was made final.
Washington, 11-1-1 over the last 3 1/2 weeks, increased its overall unbeaten streak to six games and its undefeated road string to eight. The Capitals have 40 points, one more than the Flyers, who have dropped four straight following a surprisingly fast start.
Goalie Pat Riggin improved his remarkable career record against Quebec to 9-1-1 and joked, "I love to beat them, because I'm still mad that my PeeWee team never got invited to play in the tournament here."
Riggin also warned against premature celebrations: "I knew we'd be in the hunt for first. I'm just scared we're making our move too early. I hope we don't run out of gas. It's a long year."
Doug Jarvis, whose backchecking tonight could pass for an instructional film on the subject, said, "That was our type of game, get out in front early and shut the door. It certainly feels good to be on top. But the big thing is that we're playing one game at a time and not looking too far ahead. The guys are just excited about playing well as a team and playing well every game."
The Nordiques figured to be fired up, since the Capitals blew them out here, 9-2, three weeks ago, and they were crushed, 8-3, in their most recent game, Saturday at New Jersey. Duchesne quickly deflated them.
Jarvis poked the puck loose from Alain Cote along the side boards in the Washington end. Duchesne picked it up, skated to the left wing circle in the Quebec zone and attempted a shot that struck the crossbar and dropped behind goalie Dan Bouchard.
"That's the first time in my NHL career I ever scored so quick like that," Duchesne said. "Before the game, we talked about how Bouchard always goes down, so I wanted to go high and I got lucky and it went in."
"We felt if we got behind, it could be difficult, but the first goal by Duchesne changed everything," said Coach Bryan Murray. "I think it hurt them. I'm sure after losing to New Jersey, they were ready to come out tough, but here it is 27 seconds into the game and they're looking over their shoulders already."
The crowd was doing more than looking. The Nordiques endured barrages of boos for much of the night and at the final buzzer, the few that remained managed to signal their displeasure to a team that now is a game below .500.
The Capitals had a lot to do with the Nordiques' discomfort. The penalty killing was so impressive that Quebec's two power plays left the home team rattled and disorganized.
Washington used a hooking penalty against Nordique Dale Hunter to make it 2-0 at 13:09 of the first period. Mike McEwen shot the puck in from the point and it was blocked by defenseman Normand Rochefort. It caromed directly onto the stick of Mike Gartner, who beat Bouchard with another high one for his 17th goal.
The Capitals swarmed all over the Nordiques to put the game away in the first seven minutes of the second period.
Quebec apparently relaxed when a penalty to Wilf Paiement expired and Washington's Bengt Gustafsson made a quick move to strip defender Pat Price of the puck behind the Nordiques' net. Gustafsson fed Dave Christian in the slot and his shot was deflected to Craig Laughlin for a virtual empty netter. The assist was Gustafsson's 200th in the NHL.
If Bouchard was blameless on that one, he had a lot to answer for when Bob Carpenter beat him with a stick-side 55-footer just 68 seconds later. It was Carpenter's 26th goal, and Bouchard for a long time heard sarcastic cheers for any easy stop he made.
Riggin's bid for a 10th NHL shutout ended with 7:49 remaining in regulation time. He blocked Paul Gillis' deflection of a shot by Randy Moller, but had no chance when Gillis retrieved the puck and fed Anton Stastny in front.
"You always want to get a shutout," Riggin said, "but that's really not very important. The big thing is to keep on winning."
"This is our first chance since I've been in Washington to sit on top and see how convincing we can be the rest of the year," Murray said. "It's early in the year and I'm sure the Flyers will win some more games and the Islanders will come back. We'll see."