As another team from St. Louis did in Kansas City, the Blues found a lot to complain about at Capital Centre last night. They said the warmup violated the rules and they felt referee Dan Marouelli made some bad calls that favored the home team.
In the end, just as was the case with the Cardinals and the Royals, the byplay had minimal effect on the outcome. With Mike Gartner recording his ninth career hat trick, the Washington Capitals breezed to a 6-3 victory and reached the .500 mark.
Incredibly, the Capitals' 4-4-2 start is the second best after 10 games in the team's 12-year history, topped only by the 5-3-2 record last season.
Washington's first home victory had one sour note, however. Defenseman Larry Murphy, who posted three assists, was struck on the left ankle by a St. Louis shot in the second period and ended on crutches. Although X-rays proved negative, there was considerable swelling and Murphy will be examined again today.
Gartner, shut out in the last two games after scoring at least one point in all of the first seven, broke the game apart with two goals in the second period and another in the third.
Gartner's second goal was a subject of considerable controversy. He spun in front of the net and fired a shot that appeared to strike the crossbar and carom away. Although goal judge Roger Reinke did not turn on the red light, Marouelli immediately stopped play and signaled a goal, increasing Washington's lead to 5-1.
The Blues complained bitterly, but after Marouelli vainly tried to communicate with Reinke on a phone that proved inoperative, the goal stood.
"He (Marouelli) was in perfect position and he said, 'I thought it went under the bar,' " reported supervisor of officials Matt Pavelich.
"It appeared to me as though the puck hit the crossbar and that's why I didn't turn the light on," Reinke said. Gartner, as diplomatic as possible, said, "Basically, I had my back to the play. I shot up high and it hit something and came out. I thought it went in, but I couldn't be sure. All I know is it counted on the scoreboard."
"It definitely wasn't a goal; it hit the post," said St. Louis Coach Jacques Demers. "But that wasn't as bad as the five-on-three he (Marouelli) gave them. That was what I question the most."
Demers was referring to consecutive slashing penalties to Brian Sutter and goalie Darrell May after St. Louis had jumped ahead, 1-0, on a stunning goal by Greg Paslawski eight seconds into the game. The overlapping penalties resulted in a two-man advantage that Washington converted into the tying score on Bob Carpenter's goal-mouth feed to Dave Christian.
"I get called for slashing and what actually happened was he (Alan Haworth) slashed me in the mouth," Sutter said. "He spent the rest of the game telling me he was sorry."
Demers said of the penalty (served by a skater) to May, a rookie making his NHL debut in the nets, "Our goaltender is going for the puck and hits somebody and he (Marouelli) calls it slashing. There's no way you can call that when you're a man down."
After Christian tied the score, Peter Andersson put the Capitals ahead to stay with a drive from the left point, his first goal in two seasons. Then Andersson made a fine pass down the left wing boards to Gartner, who drilled a shot over May for a 3-1 lead.
Haworth's deflection of a Murphy shot gave him his fourth goal in three games before Gartner's disputed score virtually wrapped it up. Joe Mullen scored for the Blues in the third period, then lost the puck to Haworth, who fed Gartner for his third score.
"I'm trying to get a lot of opportunities and in certain situations I can be more offensive than others," said Gartner, who already has nine goals.
The Blues' Doug Gilmour completed the scoring after Demers lifted May for a sixth skater in a last-minute power play situation.
"I know we were four goals down, but I was hoping to get the St. Louis Blues' power play going if I could," Demers said. "(Al) Jensen made an unbelievable save on Gilmour and a great save on Joe Mullen and I just wanted to see if we could get one by him . . . "
Demers was upset when the Blues were on the ice five minutes before the Capitals for the pregame warmup and his complaint prompted officials to terminate things with 1:20 still on the clock.
"We had a 25-minute warmup instead of 20," Demers said. "It didn't lose us the game, especially since we scored so quickly, but the rules should be observed."
Paslawski's goal at :008 was the fastest from the start of any of the Capitals' 890 regular season games, eclipsing the old mark of 11 seconds. Only six goals in NHL history have come any earlier, with the Islanders' Bryan Trottier and Winnipeg's Doug Smail sharing the record of five seconds.