The Washington Capitals tried some new tactics against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. Considering the result, perhaps it's time to go back to the drawing board.
The Flyers outskated, outchecked and outscored the Capitals, 4-0, in the first meeting of the Patrick Division powers in almost three months.
Rookie goaltender Darren Jensen, a surprise starter for Philadelphia, stopped 24 shots to earn his first NHL shutout and the 100th in the Flyers' 19-year history.
Jensen, a 1983 graduate of the University of North Dakota, was no more impressive than unrelated namesake Al Jensen, who blocked 31 shots at the other end and kept the Capitals in the game for 45 minutes, until the Flyers doubled their two-goal advantage in a 74-second span.
"They were by far the best team on this occasion," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "I don't know whether it was the Spectrum, the hockey team or maybe the fact some guys wanted so badly to play well that they tried too hard. But on this occasion, in this building, we didn't match up at all."
"It wasn't a Washington Capitals game," said team captain Rod Langway. "They beat us soundly. We tried a new forechecking system and it obviously didn't work, because if you get all those three-on-ones and two-on-ones and two-on-Os, you know it's not working. We were doing something wrong."
Pelle Eklund, Mark Howe, Murray Craven and Dave Poulin scored the goals as the Flyers posted their 30th victory, ended Washington's four-game winning streak and increased their lead over the Capitals to six points.
It was the first time Washington had been shutout since Mike Liut's 40-save masterpiece in Hartford April 4.
The Flyers swarmed over the Capitals almost from the opening faceoff, but Al Jensen was in top form and when he foiled Tim Kerr, the NHL's leading goal-scorer, on an open rebound after 4 1/2 minutes, it was apparent that goals would not come easily.
It was not until their 12th shot, at 13:22, that the Flyers broke through. Bob Gould, probably the best Washington player tonight, was in the penalty box for interference when Eklund used Poulin's screen to score Philadelphia's 56th power-play goal of the season.
Howe provided some breathing room with an unassisted goal at 13:01 of the second period. He circled from the left-wing boards into the slot and launched a backhander that was blocked by defenseman Scott Stevens. Howe jumped on the rebound, however, and banged it into the net.
"I made the stop and it went right back to him," Stevens said. "He shot it back between my legs. It was weird."
Things got no better for the Capitals as the game progressed. After Brad Marsh wiped out both Gould and Craig Laughlin behind the Philadelphia net, Craven scored at the other end while Poulin adroitly screened Al Jensen.
The sellout crowd of 17,211 still was cheering that goal, scored at 5:29 of the third period, when Poulin applied the coup de grace at 6:43.
Washington's Darren Veitch lost the puck coming out of his zone and Poulin pounced on it, put an inside fake on Stevens and slid a backhander under the defenseless goalie.
"It just bounced off my stick and he was gone," Veitch said. "It was a funny feeling. I thought I had it."
The Capitals had few good scoring chances against Darren Jensen, who learned this morning that he would be the starter instead of Bob Froese, the NHL's top goaltender. Froese had to settle for pregame recognition as the NHL's player of the week for the last week of December.
Probably Darren Jensen's biggest save came with the game still scoreless, when Jorgen Pettersson wheeled into the slot and fired a tough one that Jensen swept away with his stick. It was one of only three shots by the Capitals in the first 17 minutes; the Flyers were unloading 15 during that time.
"Al kept us in it in the first period, but we just couldn't get going," Langway said. "We made four mistakes and they got four goals. Al had no chance on any of them. They beat us soundly."
Murray also lauded his goaltender and declined to praise the Flyers' goalie.
"Al Jensen played well and the shots (35-24) were not indicative of the play," Murray said. "They had far more quality chances than an 11-shot difference. Their guy, I didn't see what he could do. He didn't have much to stop."
Pettersson performed capably despite a twisted back that prevented him from practicing Wednesday. The Capitals were missing center Alan Haworth, still suffering the aftereffects of a concussion. Asked if Haworth would have made a difference, Murray quipped, "Yeah, I'm sure he would have scored five."
Although the Capitals came here with a four-game winning streak, they had struggled against some poor teams and needed Gould's short-handed goal to beat Detroit on Tuesday, 4-3. Tonight they played at about the same level of emotion.
"We played like we did against Detroit," Murray said. "There wasn't the intensity. They took the play to us when they wanted to. They were able to play their second goaltender and their sixth defenseman and beat us with ease."
Murray began switching lines late in the first period and used some strange combinations before returning to the original setups late in the game. Nothing worked.
"We were a bit short in a couple of spots and we started so poorly, I tried to stimulate some emotion by changing things," Murray said. "I wanted some guys to move up to see how they'd do in different situations, but nothing seemed to work very well."
It appeared that for once at least these two bitter rivals would play 60 minutes without a fight. Only 7:20 remained when the Flyers' Dave Brown attacked Greg Adams and Ed Kastelic came to Adams' assistance. Kastelic was ejected as the third man in the altercation, his second game misconduct of the season. A third will mean an automatic one-game suspension. Blues 7, Bruins 2
In Boston, Greg Paslawski and Mark Reeds scored two goals each as St. Louis defeated the Bruins for the first time in 12 games since Dec. 10, 1981. It was also only the Bruins' second loss in 19 Boston Garden appearances this season. Islanders 9, Penguins 0
In Uniondale, N.Y., Bryan Trottier scored twice, including the Islanders' first short-handed goal of the season, as New York routed Pittsburgh. Flames 5, Canucks 4
In Calgary, Jim Peplinski scored 13 seconds into overtime to give the Flames their first victory in 13 games. Petri Skriko forced overtime with his 21st goal at 15:48 of the third period.