Savage gives reason for thanks, but Caps are too giving in loss

Phil Jackman

November 19, 1992|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- The Thanksgiving turkey arrived a week early at the Capital Centre last night, much to the chagrin of Reggie Savage.

This was going to be Reggie's night, his coming-out party, his entry into the big time of professional hockey. The Washington Capitals and Savage himself had waited patiently but expectantly for the occasion.

The kid did his part. The rest of the gang, uh-uh.

"Horrible," was one of the nicest things coach Terry Murray said about a game that saw the Caps take a 3-0 lead over the Minnesota North Stars in the first 10 minutes and head into the last seven minutes with a 4-2 advantage.

Time was when Washington could live off a two-goal lead for nearly a month. The Caps possessed a rugged and cagey defense difficult to penetrate not only because of their players but because they had difficulty scoring for so many seasons and knew they couldn't give up much.

This time, the two-goal advantage turned into a 5-4 loss and it took the North Stars less than six minutes to send the home team crashing to its third straight loss. The Caps are not only in the cellar of the NHL's Patrick Division, they're standing in the sump pump hole.

Before getting to the state of the team address rendered by the coach, however, this about Reggie Savage, ex-Baltimore Skipjack who, with his play, gave every indication that he expects to keep his status that way.

Washington had taken the lead on Paul McDermid's fifth goal in the first 83 seconds as many of the visitors seemed unaware the game had started. Kelly Miller gained possession of the puck in the neutral zone, moved to the center looking for mates to fill the lanes on a break and laid it off right to Savage. Reggie held on, drew a defenseman, then slipped a terrific pass across ice to Al Iafrate, who netted.

His first NHL point, rejoice. And it wasn't one of those laughable second assists either.

After Dale Hunter scored, Minnesota closed ranks in the second period and made it 3-2 on tallies by Mike McPhee and Derian Hatcher. The Caps went on a power play late in the second period when Savage somehow sprang free at the blue line and suddenly found himself bearing down on North Stars goaltender Jon Casey.

He faked Casey off his feet and slipped off to the side while the puck waited only for a gentle tap to go into the net when Reggie was the victim of a flying headlock applied by a defender. "Penalty shot," referee Paul Stewart decreed.

The joint came alive. Penalty shots are rare enough that everyone takes notice. It's great theater, the ref placing a puck at mid-ice and signaling the player to have at the goalie 90 feet away mano-a-mano.

"I was nervous about it, the chance of it being my first goal in the NHL and all, but I didn't think about what I was going to do," Savage said. "I decided to trust my instincts."

The fans drew to the edge of their seats as Savage started in on Casey. It turned out to be a breeze.

"Casey wasn't doing much," said Reggie, "so I decided to go with just one move."

He moved to his left, got the puck on his forehand and zipped it up over the sprawled goaltender. Top shelf, as they say in the broadcast booth.

"They're looking for me to produce offensively," continued Savage, "and tonight's score sort of gets the monkey off my back. But remember, this was only my fifth game in the NHL. It takes a little time to get comfortable in a new league, but they're behind me here and I appreciate that. This would have been more fun had we won."

Now back to the big picture. Bad, stupid and sundry unprintables were the words Terry Murray used to characterize his team's performance. "There's absolutely no justification for that loss," he bristled.

That was 15 minutes after the game was over. Immediately after and behind closed doors, the coach had his say with the players. "I've never seen Terry so violent," said one. Not upset, violent.

The man in goal for Washington was Don Beaupre. He made no excuses for the Minny deluge at the end, but hinted the team's early lead "seemed to have us holding back a little bit. They had more jump than us. They kept coming and coming and we gave the game to them."

Murray was not so charitable. "Donnie Beaupre hasn't given us a good game but once this season," he said. "It's about time he woke up and started playing."

Tuesday, the coach called a practice starting at 8 a.m., hoping that would get the players' attention. "Judging from the way we played," he groaned, "it looks as if it didn't work. We made a bunch of stupid decisions on fundamental play, some of them so bad they suggested not knowing how to play the game."

The Detroit Red Wings come to town tomorrow, then the Caps hit the road until after Thanksgiving. That's OK. They've already had their turkey.

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