It seems that Clint Malarchuk and Scott Stevens possess a magic touch in these heady days when the Washington Capitals are breezing along with a six-game winning streak.
Malarchuk will be bidding for a third straight shutout tonight as the Capitals battle the Los Angeles Kings at the Forum in Inglewood (WMAL-630 at 10:30 p.m.). The last NHL goalie to record three in a row was Glenn Hall of Detroit, in December 1955. Hall shut out the New York Rangers, Toronto and Montreal over an eight-day period.
Malarchuk, the most recent to post two back to back, as a Quebec Nordique in November 1985, stopped 62 shots in Winnipeg Friday and at Minnesota Saturday. However, he had to share star billing with Stevens, a dominant figure on the Washington defense.
Stevens earned the No. 1 star in Winnipeg, the third time he has been so honored during the Capitals' six-game surge. Over that stretch, he has been on the ice for 22 of Washington's 29 goals and only five of the opposition's 12.
As further proof that they can do very little wrong, Malarchuk and Stevens joined Rod Langway and Kevin Hatcher to form the winning foursome in the team golf tournament, contested under a scramble format Monday at La Quinta Country Club near Palm Springs, Calif.
Stevens has played about half of each game. He has thrown some crunching checks, blocked shots, cleared the puck and moved it up ice with consummate ease while recording three goals and four assists.
In Minnesota, Stevens pounced on several rebounds and steered them out of dangerous quarters, prompting Malarchuk to comment, "Every game you have some tough saves and sometimes after a tough save you're out of position, but the guys are jumping on them and clearing them right out of there. It's easy to play behind this defense."
Coach Bryan Murray is having trouble coming up with new superlatives for Stevens.
"Scott is so strong, guys just can't handle him," Murray said. "Everybody tries to bump him and get him agitated, hoping he'll start something and get chased to the penalty box.
"But he has more composure than in past years and he doesn't let that stuff bother him. He's really in control out there. He's always being challenged and he could get carried away and be emotional. Instead, he's putting the team first. When he does have a fight, it's near the end of the game, when it doesn't matter.
"He'll get hit, pushed and knocked down, maybe have a wrestling match at the end of a shift. Thirty seconds later, he's ready to go right back out. He's a tower of strength out there.
"Clearing the net, he's just so effective. . . . Before, he was trying to make a perfect play, but now he's willing to move it right away."
Stevens' maturation can be traced to two events last summer. First, he was married; second, he was cut by Team Canada, on the eve of the Canada Cup. The snub prompted him to say he would never play for Canada again, but eventually he calmed down and when he was bypassed for the recent All-Star Game by the same selector, Coach Mike Keenan of Philadelphia, he took it in stride.
"The main thing I want to do is play good hockey for the Washington Capitals," Stevens said. "I realize the rest of it is all politics and I can't do much about it."
Of his marriage, Stevens said, "I'm really happy the way it's gone and I know Donna is part of the reason I'm playing better . . . She's good to talk to. Win or lose, after a game I can talk to Donna and put things in perspective.
" . . . I think this is the most complete hockey I've played since I've been in the league."
Islanders 6, Canucks 1:
In Uniondale, N.Y., Bryan Trottier scored twice and assisted on two shorthanded goals by Mikko Makela to lead New York over Vancouver.
The victory extended the Islanders' undefeated streak to six games (4-0-2) and moved them into sole possession of second place in the Patrick Division, two points ahead of Washington.
Jets 4, Penguins 3:
Mario Marois scored at 2:40 of overtime as Winnipeg ended a three-game losing streak with the win in Pittsburgh.
Flyers 11, Red Wings 6:
In Detroit, Mark Howe and Murray Craven had two goals each as Philadelphia scored six times in a span of 9:17 of the third period in rebounding from a 5-1 deficit.
Canadiens 3, Nordiques 1:
In Quebec, Mats Naslund and Claude Lemieux scored 80 seconds apart midway through the second period as Montreal beat Quebec for its third straight win.
Whalers 3, Bruins 2:
In Hartford, Kevin Dineen scored with 55 seconds left and John Anderson had three assists for the Whalers.
Oilers 6, Blues 4:
In St. Louis, Craig Simpson scored two goals and Mark Messier added a goal and four assists to lead Edmonton over the Blues. The victory helped the Oilers move ahead of Calgary by a point for first place in the Smythe Division.