LANDOVER -- The Capitals got a clearer idea of what a struggle the 1992-93 season might be last night, as the New York Rangers took a one-goal lead in the first period and made it stand up for a 4-2 victory in Washington's home opener.
"We should have come out fighting," said Caps defenseman Al Iafrate. "It's like boxing: The challenger has to initiate the action. You've got to intimidate your opponent and make things happen, and we didn't make anything happen."
The Rangers showed why they have been tagged as one of the best teams in the NHL. New York dominated play, kept the Caps VTC off balance and gave All-Star goalie Mike Richter an easy night.
It was a different story for All-Star goalie Don Beaupre, who was again depended on to keep the Caps in it.
"New York has a lot of speed, but the bottom line tonight is that they just outworked us," said left wing Todd Krygier.
For the Caps, it was a less than encouraging performance, considering the Philadelphia Flyers, another Patrick Division foe, are due in here tonight.
The Caps came into the third period in need of a goal to tie but could not even get a shot off until 9:20 had lapsed. Adding insult to that was what happened four seconds later.
A pass to the Rangers' Tony Amonte along the boards in the Caps' end set up a feed to Phil Bourque -- just out of stick range of center Michal Pivonka. Bourque hit a slap shot past Beaupre, who had 32 saves.
"We've got to play grittier hockey," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "Our zone play wasn't good, they beat us off the boards, beat us down the floor, and we continually picked up the wrong player. . . . We've got a lot of work to do."
The Rangers' 3-1 lead with 10:43 to play sent many of the 16,123 fans to the exit, which was too bad, because they missed some of the most exciting play of the evening.
The Caps had had six previous power-play opportunities and failed on every one. But with 4:47 to go, Washington found itself with a two-man advantage. With 4:47 to go, Washington finally was able to capitalize when Calle Johansson scored his second goal of the season to make it 3-2.
"We gave the puck away so much, by shooting blindly into the middle, hoping something good would happen," Murray said. "But as crazy as it went, we still had our chances in this game.
"They put a lot of pressure on our guys at the blue line," Murray said. "There's no way to be successful when only two guys are controlling the puck. There is just too much ad-libbing on the power play."
Adam Graves scored the final New York goal with 2:38 to play to reaffirm the outcome.
The Rangers controlled the puck during the first 10 minutes of the game, but it was Washington that took the early lead on a goal by Peter Bondra, who is leading the Caps in scoring with two goals and two assists.
Bondra escaped on a breakaway when Pivonka found him near center ice for the outlet pass. With Rangers defender Mark Hardy crowding him as he closed on the Rangers' net, Bondra persisted and unloaded a strong shot that went under Hardy and past Richter for his second goal in as many games.
The goal, with 12:56 gone in the first period, was surely a relief for the Caps. Washington had gone eight
minutes and two power plays without getting a shot off.
Meanwhile, New York peppered the goal with nine shots in the first 9:30 of the period, forcing Beaupre to act as the Caps' saving grace for the second consecutive game.
The Caps' 1-0 lead lasted only until New York mounted a power play two minutes later, as Amonte connected against the Washington unit of Brad Schlegel, Rod Langway, Bob Carpenter and Pivonka.
NOTE: Caps general manager David Poile said he was disappointed that there wasn't a sellout last night.
"To me, it's disappointing," Poile said. "I'd hoped we had enough interest to sell out our first game."
To add insult to injury, a vocal portion of fans on hand took up a "Let's go Rangers" chant before the teams took the ice.
N.Y. Rangers 2 0 2 -- 4
Washington ..1 0 1 -- 2
First period--1, Washington, Bondra 1 (Pivonka), 12:56. 2, New York, Amonte 1 (Messier, Leetch), 14:58 (pp). 3, New York, Gartner 1 (Nemchinov), 17:06. Penalties--Savage, Was (holding stick), :26; Wells, NY (holding), 4:34; Weight, NY (holding stick), 7:32; Iafrate, Was (interference), 13:26; Patrick, NY (holding stick), 18:43.
Second period--None. Penalties--Wells, NY (elbowing), 3:20; Kevin Miller, Was (high-sticking), 7:08; Pivonka, Was (hooking), 12:07; Elynuik, Was (holding stick), 17:04; Leetch, NY (holding), 18:52.
Third period--4, New York, Bourque 1 (Amonte, Messier), 9:17. 5, Washington, Johansson 2 (Pivonka, D.Hunter), 15:17 (pp). 6, New York, Graves 1 (Messier, Hardy), 17:22. Penalties--Kocur, NY (interference), 2:29; Kelly Miller, Was (tripping), 5:12; Iafrate, Was (interference), 12:51; Cirella, NY (high-sticking), 14:53; Beukeboom, NY (hooking), 15:13; Kevin Miller, Was, minor-misconduct (holding stick), 18:13.
Shots on goal--New York 17-10-9--36. Washington 8-8-7--23. Power-play opportunities--New York 1 of 8; Washington 1 of 8. Goalies--New York, Richter, 1-0-0 (23 shots-21 saves). Washington, Beaupre, 1-1-0 (37-33). A--16,123. Referee--Bill McCreary. Linesmen--Gord Broseker, Pat Dapuzzo.