LANDOVER -- No one is ready to say the Washington Capitals have given up all their bad habits from the end of 1990.
But there were some good signs yesterday, as the team started off 1991 with a 4-3 victory over the second-place New Jersey Devils in a typical Patrick Division rumble.
The Capitals improved their record to 2-13 in games in which they trailed after the first period (2-1 yesterday).
Right wing John Druce scored his first goal since Dec. 1 and had two on the afternoon.
Goaltender Don Beaupre won his first game since Dec. 7.
As a result, Washington's eight-game winless streak (0-7-1) came to an end against a New Jersey team that had not lost in eight games (3-0-5).
And Capitals coach Terry Murray was breathing a little easier.
It was an eight-game losing streak last season that led to the firing of Terry's brother, Bryan, on Jan. 15, 1990.
"I'm not going to let anybody up off their game," said Terry Murray, who conducted tough Sunday and Monday practice sessions. "I'm not letting the screws up. We have done a lot in the last few days. We've had team meetings and players' meetings. At this level, you have to be prepared and completely focused. The mental aspect is so important. I'd say it's 75 percent of the game."
Murray said he thought some of the reason for Washington's skid was that the team had practiced only twice in a 14-day stretch.
The first win since Dec. 11 gave Murray an opportunity to joke for a moment yesterday about the possibility of the New Year bringing his team good luck.
"There was a blue moon last night, and I stood under it for six hours and walked around the block twice," said Murray with as big a smile as he's had after a game in 21 days.
Murray said the real reason the Capitals won was "our dancers danced, our scorers scored, our forecheckers checked."
"That's what they're on the team for," said Murray. "Also our defensemen did their job and Beaupre made the saves. It all came against a New Jersey team that I'd put in the top of the league. They have size, strength and talent."
For Druce, it was the end of a long scoring slump during which he had failed to score on several high-percentage opportunites.
Even his last goal (against the New York Islanders in a 3-1 victory Dec. 1) was scored into an open net. His previous goal was Nov. 21 in a 5-3 win over Toronto.
"Two goals doesn't make a scoring streak, but it's a start," said Druce. "I was thinking that I've been working hard and getting the chances. Eventually, it was going to go in the net for me."
Druce also said, "It's frustrating when the puck's not going in for you and the team's losing -- you feel like you're not contributing."
Druce said Murray's tough practice sessions paid off.
"We beared down in practice the last two days," said Druce. "Terry got us doing what he wanted us to do. We got on their defense, and we kept the puck in their end most of the game."
Dale Hunter, who had one assist yesterday, said, "It's only one, but we have to start somewhere and this was a good one for us."
The game started off passively for a Capitals-New Jersey encounter, with only two penalties in the first period, when the Devils took a 2-1 lead on goals by Claude Lemieux and Kirk Muller.
But the action heated up in the second period and continued the rest of the game (a total of 15 penalties in the second and third periods) that ended with Hunter and Lemieux slugging it out.
Druce scored two straight goals to give Washington a 3-2 lead at 15 minutes, 31 seconds of the second period, but Lee Norwood answered for the Devils to tie the score at 3 at 17:31 of the second.
New Jersey 2 1 0 -- 3
Washington 1 2 1 -- 4
First period--1, Washington, Kypreos 5 (Ridley, Hatcher), 7:36. 2, New Jersey, Lemieux 17 (Driver, Muller), 8:38. 3, New Jersey, Muller 12 (Weinrich, Driver), 10:41. Penalties--Druce, Was (holding), 5:15; Daneyko, NJ (high-sticking), 13:10.
Second period--4, Washington, Druce 16 (Hatcher, Hunter), 8:08. 5, Washington, Druce 17 (Hatcher, Johansson), 15:31 (pp). 6, New Jersey, Norwood 5 (Daneyko), 17:31. Penalties--Daneyko, NJ, major (fighting), 1:20; Kypreos, Was, major (fighting), 1:20; Hunter, Was (slashing), 2:09; Maley, NJ (slashing), 10:02; Shanahan, NJ (holding), 15:07; Boschman, NJ (roughing), 15:24; Pivonka, Was (roughing), 15:24.
Third period--7, Washington, Ciccarelli 8 (Tatarinov, Langway), 5:40. Penalties-- Maley, NJ (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:01; May, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:01; Shanahan, NJ (roughing), 5:29; Hunter, Was (roughing), 5:29; Bondra, Was (holding), 10:31; Driver, NJ (tripping), 15:49; Lemieux, NJ, double minor (roughing), 20:00; Hunter, Was, double minor (roughing), 20:00.
Shots on goal--New Jersey 6-6-7--19. Washington 13-6-15--34. Power-play opportunities--New Jersey 0 of 3; Washington 1 of 4. Goalies--New Jersey, Terreri, 13-8-5 (34 shots-30 saves). Washington, Beaupre, 6-10-0 (19-16). A--16,229. Referee--Richard Trottier. Linesmen-- Pat Dapuzzo, Bryan Murphy.