Two last-place teams with championship ambitions, the Washington Capitals and Hartford Whalers, try to take advantage of each other's early season misfortunes tonight at Capital Centre.
The Capitals, 1-2 after yielding 14 goals in their first three games, are counting on goaltender Clint Malarchuk and some adjusted line combinations to reduce a goals-against average of 4.67 per game.
The Whalers, 0-4 in a surprising turnabout to last year's first-place finish in the Adams Division, yesterday picked up left wing Dave (Tiger) Williams on waivers from Los Angeles in attempt to add some spark to a listless lineup that has totaled the same number of goals as Washington's Mike Gartner -- six.
Williams, 33, is the all-time NHL penalty leader with 3,879 minutes, more than 1,400 ahead -- or behind, depending on the viewpoint -- of runner-up Willi Plett of Boston.
Malarchuk shut out Hartford in his final exhibition appearance and has a career mark of 6-2-2 against the Whalers. He yielded eight goals as Washington split games against Boston and Chicago, then Pete Peeters gave up six in a loss at Buffalo.
"Clint right now is the sharper of the two guys," said Coach Bryan Murray, who does not blame either goaltender for the unexpected deluge of opposition goals. Instead, Murray cited defensive breakdowns, in particular a penchant for giving up two-on-one breaks.
An obvious factor in the Capitals' slow start has been the absence of center Bob Gould with a hairline fracture in his right foot. The Gould-Gaetan Duchesne-Kelly Miller line was Washington's best over the second half of last season and, with Peter Sundstrom replacing the traded Duchesne, it was highly effective during the exhibition campaign.
It had been hoped that Gould, injured on Oct. 2, would be able to return tonight, but it now appears he might not be back before Oct. 27, the same date projected for defenseman Kevin Hatcher.
"The X-rays show the bone is healing okay, so it's a matter of whether it hurts," Gould said. "I tried to skate on it yesterday and -- believe me -- it hurts."
Murray said: "We could have four really good lines, but until Gould is available, I have to make adjustments. And now it looks as though he won't be here for three or four more games."
Accordingly, Murray has taken Miller off the checking line and assigned him as the left wing with Bengt Gustafsson and Dave Christian. Mike Ridley, who had been in that spot, will center the revised checking line with Sundstrom and Craig Laughlin. In another move, David Jensen will make his season debut as a right wing on the fourth line with Lou Franceschetti and Michal Pivonka.
Of the Ridley-Gustafsson-Christian unit, Murray said: "We had three guys who were very good offensively and also very similar. We needed someone to get more involved in the forechecking and in the corners. They were playing very clever and working the puck to the outside, but there was no consistent forechecking.
"Gus has always played very well defensively against the top lines and Kelly is an excellent defensive player, so we have several options now. And when Mike Ridley plays center, he has the puck a lot and does some good things individually. It is an experiment and, when Gould gets back, we'll aim for a permanent four-line setup."
Of his assignment to the checking line, Ridley said, "I like center and this move is okay with me. We can still score, checking line or not."
Jensen, although a left-handed shooter, was a right wing for about 35 games with the 1984 Olympic team and said, "I felt comfortable on the off wing. Actually, I cut in better from the right side and I had better luck beating the defenseman. My forehand was right there."
Jensen came to Washington from Hartford in a trade for center Dean Evason and goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz. Evason has become one of the Whalers' better players and there is a chance Sidorkiewicz could make his NHL debut tonight, since Mike Liut is out with back spasms and Steve Weeks blew a shot from the red line in Wednesday's 3-1 loss at New Jersey.
Another former Capital, center Doug Jarvis, has sat out the past two games after Whalers' management decided it was time to end his record consecutive-games streak at 964.
Islanders 6, Flyers 0: Alan Kerr and Pat LaFontaine each scored two goals, including one apiece in the first minute of play, to lead New York in Philadelphia.
Goalie Kelly Hrudey stopped 31 shots for his first shutout of the year.
Kerr scored his second goal of the game at 15:45 of the first period as he and LaFontaine teamed up for a two-on-one rush.
The Islanders took a 4-0 lead on a power-play goal by Bryan Trottier, his second goal of the year, 1:37 into the second period.
Rangers 6, Penguins 6: Mario Lemieux scored at 15:33 of the third period for his eighth career hat trick, lifting Pittsburgh, at home, into the tie with New York.
Lemieux, who entered the game without a goal this season, tied the score on the power play, snapping a shot from near the bottom of the right circle past goaltender Bob Froese. The point was Lemieux's fifth of the game.
Bruins 3, Kings 2: Defenseman Ray Bourque scored two goals as Boston built a 3-0 lead, then held off a third-period rally, to win in Inglewood, Calif.
The Bruins took their lead on the strength of two power-play goals, the first coming from Bourque with 4:09 left in the first period. In the second period, Boston scored twice. Cam Neely scored his fifth goal of the season on a power play at 7:41 and Bourque added his second goal with a 20-foot backhand shot.