At the dawn of this Halloween, Washington Capitals fans began lining up in the cold, eager to get their hair trimmed, spiked and dyed blonde in tribute to winger Richard Zednik's trendy coif and his return from a four-game suspension.
Some 200 of those fans--Zed Heads, as they were dubbed--sat in a corner of MCI Center last night in Capitals sweaters adorned with Zednik's No. 44, cashing in on a team promotion. Zednik, spurred by his instant cult status, did not disappoint, scoring three goals in Washington's impressive 6-2 drubbing of the mighty Detroit Red Wings before 15,151 spirited fans. Zednik notched his first career hat trick in his 203rd game and could have had several more goals, striking the post once and nearly converting a partial breakaway.
"Everybody said before the game, 'This is your night,' " Zednik said. "Everybody was saying, 'It's Zed's night, it's Zed's night.' Finally I get a hat trick and it feels good, especially on Zed's night."
However, the glory was not Zednik's alone. The Capitals gave a 60-minute effort for the first time this season and flashed the no-nonsense playing style that led them to the top of the Eastern Conference last season. They were superior in all facets--offense, defense, special teams--dominating a crisp and entertaining game. Washington (2-1-1-1 at home; 0-4-3-0 on the road) was undoubtedly at its best, continuing a trend of playing to the level of its competition.
Virtually every forward had a chance to score in the first period. Zednik, whose cult may have reached 500 members had the hair stylists on hand had more time to produce the dye jobs, was denied by goalie Chris Osgood several times, weaving creative bursts with center Andrei Nikolishin and winger Peter Bondra, who assisted on each of Zednik's goals.
"Our line, each time we touched the puck it was exciting," Bondra said. The line of Ulf Dahlen, Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk, meantime, produced offense with a purely blue-collar work ethic, grinding the puck in the corners and behind the net. Dahlen highlighted one such sequence by feeding Halpern at the top of the crease; the Potomac native blasted a one-timer as he fell to his knees about 13 minutes into the game. The Capitals had scored first for just the third time this season.
"The bottom line here is scoring first," Coach Ron Wilson said. "We're not going to win games if we don't score first."
Red Wings center Boyd Devereaux quickly tied the game, capitalizing on a rare defensive breakdown, then Washington gradually began to take over the game and Zednik began to hit his stride. Bondra slipped a blind pass from behind the net and Zednik banged it past Osgood with two minutes left in the first period for a 2-1 lead. The Capitals--who entered the game outscored 14-5 in the first period--led after 20 minutes for just the third time in 12 contests, leaving the ice to a standing ovation, on their way to their first home victory over Detroit since 1994.
"We were completely out-hustled to every puck," Detroit winger Brendan Shanahan said. "They played like a desperate hockey team, and we played awful."
The entire second period unfolded in front of Osgood. Calle Johansson rained down slapshots on the power play and Chris Simon charged the net, daring Red Wings defensemen to impede his path. The Capitals were out-skating one of the quickest teams in the league and out-working one of the league's most tenacious clubs. More goals were imminent. Center Adam Oates, originally signed by Detroit 15 years ago, won a draw and Sylvain Cote pounded the puck over Osgood's shoulder about 12 minutes into the period. Oates earned his 902nd career assist on the play, passing Bryan Trottier for 11th place on the all-time list.
Two minutes later Zednik tore down the left wing and smashed a shot that beat Osgood cleanly. The game already secured, Zednik's teammates began constantly feeding him the puck and Wilson double-shifted the speedster, rewarding the winger and those resembling him. With just under 13 minutes to play, all celebrated as one. Bondra flicked a perfect blind pass from the right boards and Zednik extended his stick beyond defenseman Todd Gill and deflected it into the net. "I didn't see him," Bondra said. "He was just yelling, so I threw it to the net."
Hats fluttered down from the Zed Heads. Primary owner Ted Leonsis, decked out in a yellow wig, waved a towel in his box. Zednik found his fan club in the stands and basked in their salute. For one night at least, blondes had more fun.
Capitals Notes: Wilson, who coached Team USA to a championship in the 1996 World Cup and was head coach at the 1998 Winter Olympics, will not do so in the 2002 Games. Herb Brooks will be named coach of that team today. Wilson declined to comment on the matter. . . . Defenseman Ken Klee remains out recovering from minor wrist surgery. Defenseman Rob Zettler and forwards Joe Murphy and James Black were healthy scratches.