The Washington Capitals have lost the one man they cannot afford to lose. Defenseman Rod Langway suffered a bruised right knee in Wednesday's 4-2 loss at Calgary and will be out of action five to 10 days, beginning with Friday's game here against the Jets.
Considering that Winnipeg is regarded as the second-fastest skating team in the league and is coming off Wednesday's 9-3 rout of No. 1 Edmonton, Langway's absence places a heavy burden on the rest of the defense, notably Scott Stevens.
Langway was injured in the second period when he was thumped into the boards by 6-foot-4, 220-pound Joel Otto. It was the second time on the same shift that Otto, a Minnesota native who played for Bemidji State, took a run at one of the best U.S. players in the NHL.
Langway had the knee taped between periods and tried to skate in the third, but quickly gave it up. "When I came back I almost fell down on the second faceoff in our end," Langway said. "I had no strength in it. I couldn't put pressure on it, I couldn't turn or do much of anything, so I decided to leave because I knew I'd just be a liability to the team."
Without Langway, the Capitals saw a 2-1 lead turn into a 4-2 setback, ending a three-game unbeaten streak. "We were running around all over the ice in the third period without him," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We not only missed his play, but his leadership and the confidence he inspires.
"A great deal will be thrown on Scott now. He'll play a lot and he'll be expected to provide leadership on the blueline."
Langway was examined this morning and the preliminary diagnosis was a bruise. However, the knee was so tender that a full examination to determine a possible strain must await a lessening of the soreness.
Langway has missed only one game in three-plus seasons with Washington. That came last Feb. 28 in New York, because of a virus. Washington won anyway, 5-4.
Langway sat out 14 games with Montreal in 1982 after suffering a knee injury in the All-Star Game at Capital Centre.
Langway was not the only Capital to miss a good part of Wednesday's game. Center Bengt Gustafsson, who scored Washington's first goal, was tripped and slid hard into the boards in the second period. He suffered a bruised tailbone and, although he skated a few third-period shifts, he had difficulty maneuvering.
Gustafsson did not practice this morning, but he said a similar injury last year had eased in 24 hours, so he expected to be able to play Friday.
The Capitals were unhappy that Calgary tied the game with Mike Gartner in the penalty box midway through the third period. Gartner was called for hooking Lanny McDonald, the only penalty referee Ron Fournier called in the third period.
"I just touched him with my stick, like everybody does to me," Gartner said. "He went down and got the call."
Goalie Al Jensen, struck in the throat by a Bob Gould shot in the warmup, bounced back to play an outstanding game -- until Steve Bozek's game winner with 2:44 remaining. Bozek did not hit the puck solidly and it fluttered in the air, striking Jensen's glove and pad before it clipped the post at the goalie's right and caromed behind him.
"I'll be the first to admit it was a fluky goal," Bozek said.
Carey Wilson completed the scoring by converting Richard Kromm's pass from behind the net. The victory ended a three-game losing streak for the Flames, who will face the Oilers in Edmonton Friday.
Bob Carpenter scored the other goal for Washington as Gartner, who has at least one point in each of the Capitals' seven games, recorded two assists.
Winnipeg figured to provide a difficult test for the Capitals, even with Langway in the lineup. Before crushing Edmonton, the Jets beat Calgary, 8-5.
"We're a great skating team, and if a team lets us go, we can score a lot of goals," said Robert Picard, the former Washington defenseman who has become a fixture playing alongside Randy Carlyle with the Jets. "We blew out the Rangers, 12-5, last year when they tried to skate with us."
The Jets will be without assistant coach Rick Bowness, who was suspended for three games as a result of an incident in the season opener at Calgary. Bowness swung at the Flames' Tim Hunter and hit linesman Randy Mitton instead.
Bill Sutherland, who usually spots from the press box, will take Bowness' place behind the bench. Coach Barry Long was unconcerned about the lack of a press box observer. "We don't really need anyone up there," Long said. "We can already hear Fergy (General Manager John Ferguson) up there -- without headsets."