There are few things Bengt Gustafsson values more than an assist, but a victory by the Washington Capitals is one. He got both -- plus a little extra -- in Saturday night's 3-0 Capitals victory over Quebec, in which Gustafsson recorded an assist for the eighth straight game to tie Ryan Walter's 5-year-old club record.
Although he has little interest in scoring goals, Gustafsson has at least one point in the last 13 games he has played.
Over the last six games, Gustafsson has collected eight assists while putting only two shots on goal. The bottom line, as far as he is concerned, is that the Capitals have not lost any of the six games.
"If I don't get another point the rest of the year, that's okay as long as the team keeps on winning," Gustafsson said. "The streak is nice, it's always nice to get points. But the main thing is the team's success.
"I do look for a pass more than a shot. It's always nice to get someone else a goal."
With that kind of philosophy, it is no surprise that Gustafsson, despite stick-handling talent, never has topped 32 goals in a season. Incredibly, he holds the club record of five in a game, a feat he accomplished in Philadelphia's Spectrum.
Before the current season began, Gustafsson said it might be his last, because "I just don't think it's fun any more. I get bored." After Saturday's contest, he hedged.
"Right now it's fun, but we've got almost 60 games to go," Gustafsson said. "It's a long season. As long as the team's playing good, I'm all right. I'm not thinking about it now."
Gustafsson's outlook has been enhanced by his switch to center, where he has a greater opportunity to create scoring chances and is less likely to be thumped into the boards by opponents.
"Gus may be one of the top centers in the league right now," Coach Bryan Murray said. "He was good on the left wing, but he gives us much more in the middle. He passes so well. I'd like to see him shoot more, but I can't really complain. He gives us another scoring line we haven't had."
Gustafsson has been a key figure in Dave Christian's goal-scoring acceleration. Christian has 11, including eight for Washington's increasingly successful power play.
"I've played with Gus enough to know what he's trying to do," Christian said. "When you're out with him, you have to learn to be patient. You can't be in a hurry, because Gus isn't in a hurry. You have to give him time to handle the puck and make the play."
"Davy and I play the same kind of hockey," Gustafsson said. "We think the same way and we help each other. I can almost feel what he's going to do and I'm able to throw blind passes his way."
If Gustafsson often seems to be in slow motion offensively, his speed is apparent when he races back on defense, as he showed Saturday in contributing to Pete Peeters' first shutout with the Capitals. Gustafsson is probably the team's best two-way player and often picks off opposing passes using the same prescience with which he threads them at the other end.
A major reason for Gustafsson's present peace of mind is the absence of the bruises that have hampered him in the past and earlier this season. That situation is the result more of luck than of any easing of opponents' intent.
On Saturday, Gustafsson and Quebec's Dale Hunter came together, with Hunter jamming the butt end of his stick into the Swede's stomach. Referee Ron Wicks assessed each player a two-minute penalty for roughing -- butt ending calls for an automatic major.
"You're upset when it happens, but you don't worry about it," Gustafsson said. "If the referee calls a penalty, you want to score on the power play to get even. If he doesn't, what can you do?"
Earlier this season, Gustafsson suffered a bruised tailbone in Calgary. He finished the game, although unable to sit on the bench.
Two nights later, in Winnipeg, he was standing at the blueline when Doug Smail checked him offside, stick noticeably striking tailbone. There was no penalty and Gustafsson afterward lay on his stomach in back of the bench until the pain subsided.
Returning to action, Gustafsson was blasted into the boards from behind by Laurie Boschman. Again there was no penalty and when Gustafsson, forced to leave for the night and eventually to miss the next two games, complained to referee Dave Newell, he was slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
"I just asked him if he was watching the same game I was," Gustafsson said. "I guess he wasn't. Next time I'll just talk about the weather."