The Washington Capitals gave the Philadelphia Flyers a couple of things to think about last night.
The Capitals played at a dazzling level as long as was necessary to thrash the Los Angeles Kings, 6-1. Washington's first victory on a Friday in seven tries increased its Patrick Division lead to 11 points, biggest yet, over the Flyers, who will visit Capital Centre tonight.
A crowd of 17,823 saluted Bob Carpenter with a standing ovation after his second goal of the game and 41st of the season matched the National Hockey League high for a U.S.-born player, established last season by Joe Mullen of St. Louis.
Bengt Gustafsson also scored twice, ending a 15-game drought since getting the game winner against Boston Jan. 1. Larry Murphy and Dave Christian had Washington's other goals.
There was concern that the Capitals might look past the Kings to the Flyers, but Coach Bryan Murray disposed of that possibility by pacing the dressing room before the game, instead of remaining in his office as usual.
"Bryan put pressure on us," Carpenter said. "He usually stays in his office, but tonight he was in the room checking up on everybody. With him in here, we knew it had to be an important game. There's no joking around when he's here. We had to get ready."
That the Capitals were ready quickly became evident both to fans and Kings. Washington outshot the visitors, 11-1, in the first 10 minutes and took a 2-0 lead on goals by Carpenter and Gustafsson.
Carpenter, sandwiched between defensemen Jay Wells and Garry Galley, deflected a shot past Scott Stevens, who had three assists before being ordered to the dressing room following an altercation with 3:54 left in the game.
Carpenter had gone without a goal for three games, his longest stretch of the season. Gustafsson then ended his substantially longer goalless string with a power-play shot between the legs of goalie Bob Janecyk, who was artfully screened by Craig Laughlin.
Outshot by 14-7 in the second period, the Capitals nevertheless increased their lead to 5-0. Murphy, acquired in the trade that sent Brian Engblom to Los Angeles 16 months ago, netted his 10th goal, on a rebound of Greg Adams' shot, to break things open.
It was Murphy's fourth goal in five games against the Kings since the trade and Washington has won all five.
"It's always nice to play well against your old team, and it's nice to win a game like this so convincingly," he said.
Stevens' long pass from the left point found Carpenter open in the right-wing circle and he beat Janecyk with a short-side shot to tie Mullen's mark. When the achievement was announced, the fans stood and roared, with play held up until Carpenter arose from the bench and acknowledged it.
"Mullen's record really doesn't mean anything to me," he said later. "But what made me proud was the way people reacted. Here I am in an American city, and I'm an American playing a Canadian sport. I was happy for them.
"I felt kind of funny the way they kept cheering. The only time I ever had to stand up was in school, when I got yelled at."
Of the three scoreless games that preceded his eighth two-goal effort of the season, he said, "Before I reach a milestone, I seem to have an empty game or two. I'll have to make sure I get 49 with five games left."
As he did in the first period, Gustafsson scored after Carpenter. This time he hit from the deep slot after taking Stevens' pass from the left-wing boards.
"The guys told me to close my eyes," Gustafsson joked. "The last three games I've had a lot of chances and today they went in. I had talked to Bryan and he suggested maybe I was being too defensive. I've tried to change my attitude and the last three games I've thought more about offense. Playing with Bobby and Garts (Mike Gartner) helps, too."
Gustafsson's second goal came with more than 27 minutes left in the game. Thereafter, the Kings outshot Washington, 18-9, and after Christian scored his 20th goal, Los Angeles finally ended Pat Riggin's shutout bid with 3:28 remaining. Riggin mishandled a shot by Dave Taylor and as he and Laughlin tried to clear the loose puck from the crease, Laughlin accidentally poked it into the net.
A few seconds earlier, Stevens cross-checked Bob Miller, who was already lying on the ice, and both Wells and Carl Mokosak went after him. It took the officials a long time to sort out players and penalties.
Wells was ejected, Mokosak received a major and minor, and Stevens drew two majors and a 10-minute misconduct. Had he received a game misconduct, he would have been ineligible to play tonight, because he already had two such penalties this season.
Asked if he was concerned about a game misconduct, he said, "No, I thought I'd just get five. That's all I should have got. The guy has my stick and I try to get it away from him and I get five for cross-checking. Then two guys come after me and I get 15 more. That'll really look great in the statistics."
One statistic that looks especially good is Doug Jarvis' iron-man streak, which reached 776 games. Tonight, he will match Craig Ramsay as the No. 2 man in NHL history, behind Garry Unger's 914.
As for the Kings, who rallied for a 4-4 tie in Philadelphia Thursday, they left giving full credit to the Capitals.
"Washington is a better club than Philly," Engblom said. "A big part of it is their confidence level. Philly seems to be missing something. They're not as sharp as they were a month ago."
"Washington is the best defensive team in the league," Bernie Nicholls said. "They may be the fastest, too, right up there with Edmonton."