No hockey team will play a perfect game, but few will come closer to one than the Washington Capitals did today.
Limiting the New York Islanders to four shots in each of the first two periods, the Capitals dominated play and breezed to a 5-1 victory, increasing their Patrick Division lead to five points over Philadelphia and 13 over the Islanders.
The Capitals, who have won six straight, will try to handle the Islanders again today in a 1:30 game at sold-out Capital Centre. It figures to be tougher; although Washington has been victorious on four of its last seven visits to the Island, the Capitals have lost four in a row to the Islanders at the Centre.
Certainly, there was little savoring of today's success in the Washington dressing room. Instead, the atmosphere was one of quiet satisfaction.
"It was nice to see the things we were able to do, considering that they have dominated us in the past," Coach Bryan Murray said. "We moved the puck very sharply and we didn't give them any chances the first two periods.
"But it's only one hockey game. We have to reestablish ourselves again tomorrow."
On their last visit here, a month ago, the Capitals outshot New York by 40-16 but needed an overtime goal by Doug Jarvis to pull out a 5-4 victory. Today, although the final shot total was closer at 30-20, the Capitals held an early lead and had things wrapped up before rookie Scott Howson spoiled Pat Riggin's shutout bid with 6:29 remaining.
The Capitals' first score came from an unlikely source. Timo Blomqvist connected from the right point, with Glen Currie putting such an adept screen on Kelly Hrudey that the goalie -- who gave up all five scores before Bill Smith relieved him -- never moved until the puck was in the net.
It was Blomqvist's first goal of the season. This is his fourth NHL season and he has one goal in each, with last year's also coming against the Islanders. Pleased with the goal and his overall performance, Blomqvist smiled and offered a series of one-liners that belied the stereotype of the phlegmatic Finn.
"I guess the puck was going so slow, he (Hrudey) fell down waiting for it," Blomqvist said. "It had to help the team. Everybody knows if I can score, anybody can score . . . One goal a year is no big deal. This year, I'm going to try to double it. There are a lot of games left."
Washington's next two goals came on power plays, a surprise considering that the Islanders' penalty killers rank third in the NHL and had skated off 14 straight short-handed situations.
Scott Stevens' 13th goal, with Howson off for hooking, made it 2-0. Hrudey blocked Mike McEwen's shot from the left wing boards and Stevens, along the goal line at Hrudey's right, caromed a centering pass off the goalie's leg.
"The rebound came to me and Hrudey was going down," Stevens said. "Bobby Carpenter was on the other side and I tried to slide the puck under his (Hrudey's) leg. Bobby was wide open and would have scored easy, but the puck hit Hrudey's other leg and went in the net. I didn't have a shot, but that's the way things go when they're going your way."
After Brent Sutter tripped Currie, the Capitals scored again. Carpenter, following an exchange of passes with Craig Laughlin, faked two Islanders out of the play and fed Dave Christian at the left post for his 18th goal.
"I knew (Dave) Langevin would go down," Carpenter said. "But he was so close I pulled it around and came back on the backhand. The other guy (Anders Kallur) came toward me and I saw Davy wide open. I was falling and all I wanted to do was get it near him, he was so open. It ended up right on his stick."
When Doug Jarvis, Washington's premier penalty killer, was sent to the box for hooking, the Islanders were unable to put a shot on goal. Rod Langway, Blomqvist, Gaetan Duchesne and Bengt Gustafsson did a superb job killing the first 1 1/2 minutes of the sentence.
"Our power play's been going well and tonight we capitalized on it," Stevens said. "Our penalty killing was very good, too. To beat the Islanders, you need that. The special teams are very important against them, particularly in the playoffs."
The Capitals were in complete control during the second period, padding their lead to 5-0 on two early goals, then playing their patented brand of keepaway.
Laughlin assisted on both scores for a three-point game. First, he came in from the left wing circle and made the Islanders think he was heading behind the net, before feeding Alan Haworth in front for a point-blank drive off Hrudey's pad.
Then, after Haworth circled from behind and shot, Laughlin outmuscled Gord Lane for the rebound and slid it to Jarvis in front for another close-range score.
The Islanders managed only four shots in the period and on each there were derisive cheers from the capacity crowd of 16,002. On other occasions, the home club's ineptitude invited boos from the stands and longtime Islanders watchers claimed it was the worst outpouring of dissatisfaction here since before the first Cup-winning year in 1980.
"We were ready and we played very well today," said McEwen, a member of three Cup-winning teams before the Islanders dealt him away. "You could feel in the dressing room that everybody considered this a playoff-type situation.
"It's good to come in here and beat them like that, but I can see differences between this Islander team and three years ago. Their injury list reads like the core of any NHL team. You can't judge them just by today. They're champions, they've ben down before and they know how to fight back."