PHILADELPHIA, OCT. 22 -- The Washington Capitals passed a key test tonight when they demolished their Patrick Division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, for their fourth straight victory.
It was Washington's first triumph in the last 11 visits to the Spectrum and the score accurately reflected the play. The Capitals had a 32-22 margin in shots and the Flyers' only goal came on a power play.
"Washington outworked us," said Flyers Coach Mike Keenan, who, in unusual form, called a team meeting for Friday morning. "Our game is bumping and grinding, but they did most of it tonight."
Greg Adams, who had not scored a goal in 24 games against the Flyers -- the team that first brought him to the NHL -- netted two tonight. The others were scored by Kelly Miller and Dave Christian.
The Capitals succeeded without top scorer Mike Gartner, who did not return after suffering a slight concussion early in the first period. Gartner watched the last 20 minutes from the bench, and was reported ready if needed. He wasn't.
Philadelphia was minus two of its key performers. Center Tim Kerr is sidelined with a shoulder injury and goalie Ron Hextall is serving a suspension for actions in last season's Stanley Cup final.
The Capitals went home in undisputed possession of first place in the Patrick Division. With 10 points, they share the overall NHL lead with Boston and Chicago.
"We knew we had improved, down the middle in particular," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Now we have the center icemen to match up with the good teams in the league. This proves something to our players. With the work ethic back, they have a good chance to beat anyone."
Despite the best start in Capitals history, the players could hear the whispers from around the league: Just wait until they play Philly and see if anything has changed.
Tonight, it was changing almost from the opening faceoff. Flyer Rick Tocchet, who has been known to intimidate visiting players, found himself stick to stick with Washington newcomer Dale Hunter, who quickly made it apparent that there would be no backing down this year.
"Dale is a feisty guy, and no matter who challenges him, the guy's going to be there," Murray said. "On the bench they see the effort being put out by a smaller guy and it's got to get everybody else going, too."
This is a team, however, that can find its inspiration anywhere. Before the game, for example, Adams and Miller were joking about the fact that neither had scored a goal this season.
"We were looking at the stats and at our goose eggs, and we were kidding about being in a pretty tight race," Miller said. "Unfortunately, he came out ahead, so there's no shutting him up."
Adams' first career goal against the Flyers was a welcome one, because it came with less than two minutes left in what had been a scoreless first period. Lou Franceschetti made the big play by knocking rookie Kerry Huffman off the puck in the Flyers' end. It squirted to Adams and he beat goalie Wendell Young with a drive from the left-wing circle.
"That first goal pumps everyone up," Adams said. "We were taking the play to them, but something on the scoreboard shows you've accomplished something. It's the reward for working hard."
Doug Crossman tied it early in the second period on a power-play blast from the right point, with Brian Propp screening goalie Clint Malarchuk. It extended the Capitals' unhappy streak of yielding a power-play score in every game this season, but it also terminated the Flyers' offense.
Miller put Washington ahead to stay at 14:36 of the second period on the fourth in a series of shots at Young, as the line of Franceschetti, Miller and Mike Ridley applied relentless forechecking pressure.
"I just kept batting at it," Miller said. "I stopped it, chipped it up and it rolled off his shoulder. They go with four defensemen a lot and we wanted to put a lot of pressure on them. If we're forechecking them in their end, then they can't put pressure on us in our end."
The Capitals, smelling the kill, came at the Flyers in waves the rest of the second period. Christian took a drop pass from Craig Laughlin and rattled a post. Then Miller skated in from the right-wing corner and was foiled by Young's superb pad save.
Finally, though, Laughlin threw a backhand pass out of the Washington end to Christian, who used backpedalling Brad Marsh as a screen. Christian's shot went between Marsh's legs, struck Young in the right arm and popped into the net with 44 seconds left in the second period.
"I just tried to put it on net," said Christian, who had passed to Garry Galley in a similar situation when Young made a sensational save. "I knew Dale was coming, but he was just taking someone to the net, where Garry was wide open. This was a nice goal to get, because there was less than a minute left in the period and it gave us a little breathing room."
The Flyers survived a two-man shortage for 1 minute 35 seconds in the third period, but a mere 19 seconds after they returned to equal strength, Adams netted a rebound of a Greg Smith shot to complete the scoring.
Murray did a lot of juggling in the absence of Michal Pivonka, unable to shoot because of a sore wrist, and Gartner, who tried to come around the net in a shorthanded situation and was flattened by Peter Zezel.
"I was coming from behind, I knew the net was open and I have no idea what happened after that," Gartner said.
Defenseman Scott Stevens was struck in the right knee by a Ron Sutter shot late in the game and was momentarily concerned, because it was similar to the incidents that resulted in fractured kneecaps for Smith and John Barrett.
"It hit on the kneecap, above the shinpad, and it was numb for a while," Stevens said. "I was scared until it came back to life."
Stevens had another unpleasant experience, with the score tied at 1-1. Tocchet dumped the puck as he headed for the bench and it struck Stevens' skate, caromed off the post at Malarchuk's right and bounced away through the crease.
"He turned and fired it and I lifted my leg," Stevens said. "It hit my other skate and went right toward the net. It was kind of scary."
North Stars 5, Nordiques 3:
Brian Bellows scored a pair of power-play goals in the third period to break a tie and give Minnesota the win last night in Quebec.
Bellows snapped a 2-2 tie at 3:52 of the third period, completing a three-way passing play with Dino Ciccarelli and Neal Broten. Bellows then added what proved to be the game-winner with his sixth goal of the season at 7:26, when Ciccarelli once again set him up at the side of the Nordiques' net.
After Bellows made it 4-2, defenseman Jeff Brown cut the deficit to 4-3 with 1:12 to play in regulation time, but Ciccarelli iced the win by scoring into an empty net with 34 seconds to play.
Broten scored with 20 seconds left in the opening period and Scott Bjugstad made it 2-0 midway through the second on a power play before the Nordiques rallied to tie the score on goals by Michel Goulet and Lane Lambert late in the second period.