A lot of good things happened to the Washington Capitals last night. The best was the final score. The Capitals amassed their highest production of the season in routing the Chicago Black Hawks, 8-4, at Capital Centre.
Alan Haworth, who has been demonstrating just about the hottest touch in the National Hockey League, furnished two goals and two assists. He has eight goals in his last six games, with at least one in each to match Quebec's Michel Goulet for the longest such streak in the NHL this season.
Defenseman Larry Murphy, ruled out for three weeks when it was discovered a week ago that he had broken a bone in his left foot, suddenly materialized on the ice and claimed he "felt real good."
Defenseman Scott Stevens backed away from a first-period fistic challenge by Chicago's Jerome Dupont, who wound up serving a 10-minute misconduct penalty by himself. That might have been the most positive event of the night, because Stevens' major problem in his first three seasons has been his willingness to fight at any time, which often confined him to the penalty box at crucial moments.
"I'm not going to fight him and get tossed off when we're missing Rod (Langway)," Stevens said in words that must have gladdened Coach Bryan Murray's heart. "If the score was 5-1 I'd fight, but at that point it was 0-0 and if I stay on the ice, it gets them frustrated. Maybe the tables are getting turned.
"Two years ago I'd have fought him, because then I had to prove myself. But there was no need to fight him tonight."
The Capitals' special teams had another banner night. The power play succeeded three times in six opportunities and the third-ranked penalty killers skated off seven of eight Chicago chances.
Goaltender Pat Riggin made his first appearance since he was yanked in Winnipeg Oct. 25 and blocked 26 shots in a satisfactory effort. He was under considerable pressure during a wide-open third period, the tenor of which displeased Murray.
"We gave them chances to get back in it, when we should have been playing more disciplined," Murray said. "I guess we were getting ready for Edmonton (Nov. 12)."
Next order of business, however, is Pittsburgh. The Capitals visit the Penguins tonight and they are the only team that has been more docile in the Capitals' presence than the Black Hawks. Washington has not lost to Pittsburgh in the last 13 meetings; last night marked its fifth straight success against Chicago.
There were some anxious moments when Denis Savard and Steve Larmer scored 19 seconds apart early in the second period to give Chicago a 2-1 advantage, after Washington's Bob Carpenter netted the lone goal of the first 20 minutes, his 150th in the NHL.
The Black Hawks' only lead lasted a mere 63 seconds before rookie defenseman Kevin Hatcher caged his first goal of the season, Greg Adams adroitly screening goaltender Murray Bannerman.
The game broke open within 2 minutes 40 seconds, from 11:56 to 14:36, as the Capitals scored three times and the Black Hawks had an apparent goal disallowed.
First Haworth snapped the tie, lifting a rebound of a Carpenter shot over the fallen Bannerman. Then, during a scramble in front of the Washington net, Tom Lysiak kicked the puck past Riggin and referee Denis Morel immediately displayed the washout signal.
The Hawks screamed loudly, but the replay supported Morel and there was a suspicion Chicago was still upset by the recall of a first-period breakaway by Ed Olczyk on a two-line pass of dubious nature.
Adams built the lead to two goals with a short-side blast from the left wing boards and 15 seconds later Haworth netted a rebound of another long shot by Adams.
"I've got more confidence, I'm jumping into spots and I'm more involved in the game," said Haworth, shifted to center six games ago after five NHL seasons as a winger. "The big thing, though, is my linemates (Adams and Craig Laughlin) are both playing well and they got a couple goals, too. We're all filling well between one another."
Adams accounted for a goal and two assists. And Laughlin was credited with three assists as the line totaled 10 points.
A notable whistle late in the second period saw the Capitals' lightly penalized Doug Jarvis draw his second minor of the game. He couldn't remember the last time that happened and drolly remarked, "I'd rather have two goals."
During Jarvis' sentence, Riggin made three saves in a few seconds, against a machine-gun assault by Troy Murray, Darryl Sutter and Murray again.
Bengt Gustafsson boosted the margin to 6-2 early in the third period. Larmer netted his second goal and Bob Murray put in his first of the season to bring the Black Hawks within 6-4, but Dave Christian and Bob Gould put it beyond their reach by scoring 29 seconds apart.
Of Murphy's return, which seemed to contain elements of faith healing, the defenseman said, "I broke it before and I think that's why it looked so bad in the X-ray. They said three weeks, but I could put pressure on it the second day and two days later I didn't need crutches, so I knew it wouldn't be three weeks.
"Today they looked at new X-rays and told me it was solid and strong. I just had to make sure I had some protection on it."