The Washington Capitals are resting here for two days, supposedly casting hockey aside and purifying bodies and minds for the pennant and playoff push ahead.
It already is proving difficult, however, to keep the Philadelphia Flyers completely out of mind. The Flyers reduced the Capitals' lead, 11 points just a week ago, to five Saturday night by beating Edmonton, 5-4, while Washington was losing in Los Angeles, 5-2.
The Flyers have played three fewer games and figure to use one of them Monday afternoon to close the gap to three when they play host to slumping Pittsburgh. Washington does not play again until Thursday, in Vancouver.
The Capitals' bus was no more than five minutes away from its Los Angeles hotel this morning before Coach Bryan Murray leaned back and said, "Well, Philly is five points back of us with three games in hand. We're in the position where we have to chase them now."
Murray ventured that a better performance Saturday would have created a more pleasant beginning for the mini-vacation that most of the players have been awaiting eagerly for some time, planning to play golf or fish or just watch whales.
"It's important to win games, but it's also important to get ready for the stretch and the playoffs," Murray said. "We're going to take two days off and get our minds in synch for what's coming up, build up togetherness and the rest of it. In the short term it may be detrimental, but it ought to help in the long run."
The Capitals were more frustrated than weary Saturday, as they outshot Los Angeles, 35-26, but had no success against rookie goaltender Bob Janecyk until the game was beyond reach.
The Kings, winless in six previous games against Washington, beat the Capitals in the Forum for the first time since 1981 by jumping to a 4-0 lead in the first 21 minutes. It was just what Coach Pat Quinn ordered -- and he was issuing angry orders after the Kings blew a 3-1 lead and were tied by Boston Thursday.
"One of the keys against that team was to score first," Quinn said. "Each of the other games when they beat us (5-3 and 6-1 at Capital Centre) they scored first, and they're such a sound club defensively that it's very difficult to come back."
Much of the Kings' advantage resulted from the continuing sour play of the Capitals' special teams. Two Los Angeles goals came on power plays, a third was short-handed.
The short-handed score by defenseman Mark Hardy was especially galling. Washington had failed to connect during a two-man advantage for 82 seconds. Then Hardy came out of the penalty box and finished off a three-on-one break to give the Kings a 4-0 margin.
Goalie Pat Riggin, foundering like a beached blowfish after he dropped too soon, managed to reach out with his right arm and block Craig Redmond's ice-hugging shot. But the puck remained loose and Mike Gartner vainly tried to shove it under Riggin before Hardy raced in and flipped it over the goalie.
"You can't have that," Murray said. "There's no need for that to happen. Mike tried to cradle it into Pat and it should have been covered, but their man jumped in and somehow got it.
"They scored a power play goal off a faceoff, just the way we had talked about it before the game. That's annoying, when you know what to expect and just don't react to it.
"It was a very frustrating game. They seemed to get a chance and score; we'd get the same chance, but we wouldn't score. Janecyk really came up big. We had him cold turkey a number of times and couldn't beat him."
Bob Carpenter appeared to score during the two-man advantage, but referee Terry Gregson ruled that he kicked the puck into the net.
The puck popped high in the air following a shot by Larry Murphy and Carpenter knocked it down with his glove. Before he could get his stick on it, he was shoved into the net by defenseman Brian Engblom, with the puck sliding in off his skate.
As Carpenter pointed out afterward, a goal in that situation could have made a big difference. The way Janecyk was playing, however, it is doubtful that anything would have altered the outcome.
Janecyk lost his cool a couple of times in the face of considerable provocation from Washington forwards Greg Adams and Scott Stevens, who frequently intruded on the crease.
In the first period, Janecyk took a swing at Adams and each was penalized for roughing. In the third period, Janecyk punched Adams in the back of the head and drew a second penalty, while Adams' apparent interference was overlooked. Dave Christian scored the Capitals' second goal on the ensuing power play.
"That's their whole game, sending one or two guys in the slot to try to tie up the front of the net and then getting the puck back to the point," Janecyk said. "The only thing I can do when a man is in the crease is to let him know I'm there, because it's my area and my responsibility to do my job."
"Your defenseman hits the guy and he bangs the goalie and the ref says he was knocked into him," Quinn said. "Well, we didn't hit him this time and the ref still says he was knocked into the goalie.
"The only defense to that is to have an official with guts, and there aren't many of them out there."