Coach Bryan Murray, dissatisfied with the Washington Capitals' scoring deficiencies, altered his lines last night. The result was the team's lowest offensive production of the season and its worst defensive showing in 10 games.
As usual, the Capitals had plenty of chances to score, outshooting Quebec by 31-24. But Mario Gosselin survived several spills to become the latest in a line of goaltenders to frustrate Washington, as the Nordiques skated off with a 4-1 victory.
Michel Goulet scored twice and returning favorite Gaetan Duchesne and Lane Lambert added singles for Quebec, which maintained its status as the only NHL team with an unbeaten road record (4-0-1 while 3-5-0 at home).
"We have a lot of young guys and maybe they do too much at home, trying to show the people in Quebec," said defenseman Robert Picard. "There are five rookies with me right now on the blue line and they're nervous. Sometimes at home they'll try to make a pretty play instead of the easy play off the boards, like we were doing tonight."
Mike Ridley recorded the lone goal for the Capitals, who will visit New Jersey tonight for the start of a three-game road trip against Patrick Division opponents.
"It's been the same thing, game after game," Murray said. "We had a lot of quality chances, but we get in and don't seem to come close to scoring. It's snowballed and you can tell it's having an effect on some of the guys. They knew the second shots were the key, especially against Mario, but they weren't getting to them."
The Capitals put themselves behind the eight-ball early. Duchesne, one of the four players involved in that big Quebec-Washington trade in June, carried the puck from his own blue line to the top of the left-wing circle and beat goalie Clint Malarchuk, another of the traded players, with a short-side drive.
"I saw the opening on his stick side and I made a good shot," Duchesne said. "He gave me a pretty good chance. That was nice. I was so pumped up."
The Capital Centre crowd of 15,511 produced probably the biggest roar for a visiting goal since the days when Philadelphia fans used to arrive here in thousands to watch the Flyers.
There was less enthusiasm when Goulet, after Washington's Paul Cavallini was chased for hooking, took advantage of some botched penalty killing to make it 2-0.
Peter Stastny, challenged at the right point by defenseman Kevin Hatcher, fed brother Anton in the right-wing corner. Rod Langway moved toward Anton, leaving Goulet unguarded at the left post for an easy conversion of Anton's pass.
"When you get a lead on the road, it makes things easier," Goulet said. "The other team has to open up and the fans can get on your back. The last four games at home, we've fallen behind and had a tough time playing catch-up."
Gosselin took a pounding in the second period, but he stopped 14 of 15 shots. With Tommy Albelin off for hooking, Ridley fired one from the right-wing circle and Gosselin made a stick save. The puck then struck defender Terry Carkner and popped into the net.
Lambert got that back late in the period. He took Goulet's headman pass as he cut between defensemen Larry Murphy and Greg Smith, then fired the puck between Malarchuk's legs.
The first time Gosselin was dumped, he blocked a backhander by Bob Gould, who then crashed into him.
Next, Dale Hunter, Gosselin's old teammate, knocked him over with a hard shove after the goalie had played the puck outside the crease area.
Finally, Hunter was knocked into Gosselin by Carkner and lay on the goalie for about 10 seconds, his skates keeping Gosselin down. Incredibly, Washington could not get off a shot with Gosselin incapacitated and referee Bob Hall finally penalized Hunter for interference.
Asked if he was upset about being upset, Gosselin said, "Hunts just pushed me with one hand the first time and I fell because I was off balance. The second time, his skate was caught in the lace of my pants and he was just trying to get it out. He didn't deserve a penalty. Hunts is a great guy. I love him."
The Capitals had little love for Gosselin in the first 10 minutes of the third period, as they outshot Quebec by 10-0 without result. Then they drew their third penalty in three games for too many men on the ice and Goulet converted another Anton Stastny pass to empty a lot of seats.
Duchesne has been used sparingly much of the season and admits to "some discussions" on the subject with Coach Andre Savard. Gosselin, on the other hand, has played 12 of Quebec's 13 games and feels he is giving former coach Michel Bergeron, now with the Rangers, a lesson.
"Michel decided last year I couldn't play two nights in a row," said Gosselin, 5-9 and 160 pounds. "So far, I've played 12 of 13, my record of 7-4-1 is pretty good and I think I can keep it going."
Red Wings 3, Whalers 1:Brent Ashton scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period and Joe Kocur got the final goal for the home team in the third period as Detroit beat Hartford.
Goalie Greg Stefan turned back 28 shots for the Red Wings, who broke a four-game winless streak and improved to 6-5-2. Hartford, which had won five games and tied two after losing its first five of the season, fell to 5-6-2.
The Red Wings dominated play late in the second period and had several scoring chances, but managed just one goal. Right wing Bob Probert stole the puck in the corner near the Hartford net and hit Ashton with a centering pass in front of the crease.
Ashton put the puck past Hartford goalie Mike Liut for his fourth goal of the season, giving Detroit a 2-1 lead at the 12:43 mark of the period.
Midway through the final period, Kocur was knocked down on a one-on-one breakaway, but managed to flip the puck past Liut while sliding on his knees.
Jets 6, Blackhawks 3: In Winnipeg, Doug Smail scored two goals to help the Jets beat Chicago, extending the Blackhawks' winless streak to seven games.
It was the Jets' first victory over the Blackhawks since Jan. 17, 1986, and only their second win in six games this season against Norris Division teams.