After three days of rain, the Washington Capitals finally brightened up tonight. Goaltender Al Jensen stopped 23 shots and Bengt Gustafsson scored two goals as the Capitals beat the Los Angeles Kings, 4-1.
It was the sixth straight defeat for the Kings, a season high, and their 33rd loss of the season. They suffered only 32 defeats all of last year.
The Capitals, eager to atone for Wednesday's awful performance in Pittsburgh, did a lot of things right in the first period. Their inability to click on several goal-mouth setups, however, limited their lead to 1-0 at the intermission.
Los Angeles ranks 20th in penalty killing, and Washington took advantage of that defect to score at 1:47, just four seconds after Grant Ledyard was chased for hooking.
Bob Carpenter outdrew Marcel Dionne in the Kings' end, with Alan Haworth immediately unloading a 40-footer. Goalie Roland Melanson made the save, but Mike Gartner netted the rebound as he was pulled down by defender Jay Wells. It was Gartner's 28th goal, on his 200th shot.
The light went on again behind Melanson at 5:46, but the apparent goal was nullified by referee Kerry Fraser's whistle. Melanson, playing his first game in a month after recovering from a groin pull, caught a tough shot by Peter Andersson. Gaetan Duchesne bumped Melanson, who dropped the puck into the net. There was no penalty, but also no goal.
Jensen was extremely sharp, coming off a 13-day layoff with a twisted knee. Jensen was tested by ex-Capital Bryan Erickson on a first-minute breakaway and made the stop.
Jensen made a sensational glove save on Dionne at the finish of a three-on-one and foiled Len Hachborn after a Scott Stevens giveaway.
Jensen also enjoyed a bit of luck. He came out to challenge Tiger Williams and made the save, but he had no chance when Dave Taylor pounced on the rebound. Incredibly, Taylor's shot struck Dionne, who had slipped behind the goalie, and caromed wide.
Each team scored a goal during a wild second period that saw Jensen twice buried in goal-mouth pileups.
During a Los Angeles power play, Erickson fired from the right point and the puck leaked through Jensen's pads. He turned and dove for it as Bernie Nicholls tried to poke it into the net. Nicholls was knocked down and lay next to the puck, but refrained from pushing it across because it wouldn't have counted. Jensen finally covered it.
Later, Jensen was knocked into the net by Phil Sykes. Carpenter attacked Sykes, J.P. Kelly went after Carpenter and the net was filled with players, Jensen at the bottom. Fraser solved this by helping the linesmen lift the net off its magnetized moorings.
Gustafsson's 19th goal put Washington ahead by 2-0 at 6:48. Dave Christian banged the puck off the rear boards and it caromed out near the right post. Two Kings overskated it and Duchesne was able to feed Gustafsson for a virtual empty-net shot.
Moments after Jensen stopped a breakaway by Taylor, Ledyard fired from the blueline and Taylor deflected it past Jensen for his 25th goal at 8:08.
Jensen dove out to hook the puck off the stick of Sean McKenna on a Los Angeles breakaway and got another lucky bounce when Garry Galley rapped one off the crossbar.
The crowd of 11,273 erupted in laughter when Carpenter centered the puck and Haworth and Jorgen Pettersson collided and fell going after it.
Washington extended its lead to 3-1 at 2:55 of the third priod on Lou Franceschetti's fifth goal. Rod Langway, a formidable defensive force all night, dumped the puck into the left wing corner and it skipped out across the goal line. Franceschetti, although closely checked by Hachborn, skated in and poked the puck between Melanson's legs.
It became 4-1 at 4:09 as the same combination that provided Washington's second goal enjoyed a repeat performance. Gustafsson, taking Duchense's pass from behind the King's net, fired a shot that slipped through Melanson's pads. It was Gustafsson's 20th goal and 60th point, tying him with Christian for the club scoring lead.
The Kings' frustration showed late in the game when Taylor ran Gartner into the boards. Gartner responded by decking Taylor and then Larry Playfair jumped Gartner from behind. Craig Laughlin came to Gartner's assistance and in the brief free-for-all that ensued, linesman Ron Asselstine took the hardest hit as he was blasted into the boards, trying to break up the fight.
With a minute remaining, Sykes received both an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and a 10-minute misconduct for complaining to Fraser.