The Washington Capitals began the new year by doing a lot of things right yesterday. Al Jensen's flawless 30-save goaltending, plus some solid checking and dominance of the faceoffs, carried the Capitals to a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers.
Jorgen Pettersson, Craig Laughlin and Kevin Hatcher produced the goals and Alan Haworth assisted on all three, to take over the Capitals' scoring lead with 40 points.
Asked how it felt to be top man, Haworth said, jokingly, "It feels like I won't hang on to it too long when the stars get going. But it's fun to play like that, to work hard and see things happen. It's been a fun season so far and I just hope our line can keep it going."
The Haworth-Laughlin-Greg Adams line has accounted for 40 goals and is far ahead in the plus-minus ratings, with Laughlin at +22, Haworth +21 and Adams +17.
A Capital Centre crowd of 16,250 saluted Jensen for his first shutout of the season. He had to make a difficult save on Don Maloney in the last minute to preserve it, after he inadvertently knocked the puck onto Maloney's stick while trying to clear it.
"I tried to be too aggressive and I kicked it straight out," Jensen said. "It happened so fast, I gave no thought to the shutout or anything else except making the save.
"The whole game my only thought was that we needed a win. The guys played super and they checked well. It was definitely a team shutout."
Jensen's 11-game undefeated streak ended Saturday in a 7-4 loss to Chicago and he was eager to redeem himself, just as his teammates were determined to end a modest two-game tailspin.
"I did not feel right Saturday and I did not play well, for whatever reasons," Jensen said. "I don't want to make any excuses. Today I was just trying to bounce back, and with good support from the guys, I was able to."
Jensen made a big save early in the game, with Washington on a power play. The Rangers' Bob Brooke blocked a shot by Larry Murphy and skated in alone, but Jensen moved out to challenge him and was able to turn the shot aside.
A minute later, Pettersson deflected Scott Stevens' drive from the left point and the Capitals had the only goal they needed to beat New York and goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck for the first time in four meetings this season.
It was Pettersson's second goal in two games and his first at Capital Centre, and he enjoyed hearing a few cheers from his new home fans.
"It is much better to score, even like that, because it takes some pressure off," Pettersson said. "If you keep going five or six games without a goal, you start to press and it makes it harder. But when I score one, I usually score a couple more, and hopefully I'll keep it going."
Laughlin made it 2-0 with his first Centre goal -- he had nine on the road -- at 1:50 of the second period. Laughlin and Haworth launched a two-on-one break against former Capital Mike McEwen, and Haworth waited until both McEwen and Vanbiesbrouck leaned his way before depositing a perfect pass on Laughlin's stick a couple of feet away from the open net.
Hatcher completed the scoring in the third period on a 45-foot backhander that landed on edge a few feet in front of Vanbiesbrouck and skidded between his legs. It was only slightly more legitimate than Haworth's Sunday score off the back of Vanbiesbrouck's head.
Asked if the red light surprised him, Hatcher said, "Of course. When you get one like that, you've got to be surprised. I was just trying to put it on net."
The Capitals seemed willing to do anything to win this one, a determination evidenced in a couple of moves by Rod Langway and Mike Gartner.
Early in the third period, Referee Billy McCreary somehow got between Langway and the Rangers' Mark Osborne, who had possession of the puck in the Washington end. Langway, without hesitation, shoved McCreary into Osborne to break up the play.
Gartner was sandwiched in the Rangers' crease, his stick up near his ears, when the puck was deflected onto the top of the net. Gartner grabbed it in his gloved hand and flipped it into the net.
"It's no goal, but give him an E for effort," McCreary told the official scorer.
"I just wanted to see if everyone was awake," Gartner said.
Many of the fans apparently were dozing. They lustily booed when the "goal" was disallowed.
Faceoffs can be misleading, but possession of the puck is important and the Capitals have not been particularly adept in that department this season. Today they won 43 of 63 draws, a remarkable turnabout.
"We've been working on it, staying out a little extra after practice taking faceoffs," said Bob Carpenter, who won 15 of 19.
Bob Gould, recently converted to center, won 10 of 13. Haworth, a winger until this season, prevailed on six of seven and defenseman Rod Langway won both that he handled.
Before the game, a moment of silence was observed in memory of Don Connor, the highly respected coordinator of off-ice officials at Capital Centre who died Tuesday night at age 49.