The Washington Capitals pulled the power switch on the NHL's best team last night. Scoring a club-record three shorthanded goals against a power-play unit with a 33-percent success ratio, the Capitals soundly defeated the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers, 5-2, before a screaming sellout crowd of 18,130 at Capital Centre.
Alan Haworth set another club mark by scoring a goal for the ninth straight game. It came after just 2 minutes 9 seconds and it put Washington ahead to stay.
"It gave us a big boost to get the first goal and not start out a goal behind," Haworth said. "It's easier to keep a lead than to go after it, and being in our building, it got the fans riled up."
Goaltender Al Jensen stopped 28 shots in beating the Oilers for the first time and he set the tone of the contest by foiling Mark Messier on a breakaway shortly before Haworth scored.
"That was a big start for us," said defenseman Rod Langway, who played very well following an eight-game layoff because of an injured knee. "I knew Al would come out, so I just worried about the rebound, but he knocked it a long way off Messier's stick."
Dave Christian became the first Capital to score two shorthanded goals in a game, the second sailing into an empty net in the last minute. Incredibly, Christian equaled the team record (two) for shorthanded goals in a season.
The Oilers did manage to score one power-play goal in six tries, but the net of minus two was remarkable for a team that had clicked on 15 of 45 this season to lead the league by a wide margin.
"On the power play, we were constantly surging to go ahead and we got burned," said Edmonton Coach Glen Sather. "It was probably a carryover from winning our last game 13-0 (over Vancouver). Give Washington credit. They played great tonight."
Greg Adams earned two big assists for the Capitals and Bengt Gustafsson set up Christian's first goal. That enabled Adams and Gustafsson to extend their point-scoring streaks to eight games. Adams has assists in seven in a row, one short of Ryan Walter's club record.
Haworth connected from the right-wing circle, putting the puck between goalie Andy Moog's pads after taking Adams' feed from the near corner.
"I know the streak is going to end soon, but I'm happy it has kept on going," Haworth said. "Actually, I just want more consistency and I want our line to be a good line. If Addie (Adams) or Locker (Craig Laughlin) scores and I get an assist, that's great."
With Bob Carpenter serving the first of his three minor penalties, Gaetan Duchesne picked off a pass from Paul Coffey to Wayne Gretzky and fed Mike Gartner for Washington's first shorthanded score and a 2-0 first-period lead.
"I saw the play coming, Mike put pressure on the first guy and I cut the puck off and gave it to Mike," said Duchesne, who was forced to leave practice yesterday because of abdominal pains. "I'm still sore, but I try not to think about it. It was a good win. You can't ask for better than that."
The Oilers halved the deficit in the second period when Glenn Anderson converted Messier's pass for his 14th goal. But Jensen made outstanding saves on Jari Kurri and Gretzky, then foiled Coffey twice from close range while Edmonton was shorthanded.
"If you're going to beat quality teams, you have to have that kind of goaltending," Murray said. "Al was just outstanding."
Each team scored with Peter Andersson off for hooking Gretzky early in the third period. Messier overskated the puck, allowing Gustafsson to set up Christian for a shorthanded goal. But 30 seconds later Gretzky eluded Carpenter and beat Jensen with a stick-side backhander for his 12th goal.
Adams made the play that broke the game open. He walked in from the right-wing corner on a power play and fired from close range. Although Moog stopped the shot, the goalie and two other defenders lay in the crease and Carpenter had no trouble lifting the rebound over them.
"I had shot one over the net earlier and that time I was going to either put it through him or in the net, not over it again," Carpenter said. "I had a terrible time tonight, but I'm glad we won. These games mean a lot, even early in the season. They set a precedent if we meet again in the Stanley Cup final."
Carpenter was penalized twice late in the game, once for using an illegal stick, but the Capitals easily killed off both, and during the second sentence, Christian hit the empty net from outside the Edmonton blueline.
Until last night, Jensen was 0-3 against Edmonton with a 7.61 goals-against mark.
"The guys played unbelievable against a high-flying team like that," Jensen said. "Our defense was at the top of its game and they let me see the shots. It was nice to see Rod come back. He played super for his first game in a long time."
Of his play, which obviously helped settle the younger defensemen in a tough game, Langway said, "I felt good. There were a couple of situations where I was weak and I was cautious about going into the boards and getting my legs tangled up. But I used a lot of upper strength to move guys out.
"It's just good to be back and it's good to beat a team like that. They were flying in the second and third periods.