Slumping Penguins race past Capitals, 4-2 Loney, Tocchet get 3 points each

March 01, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are single-minded when it comes to overcoming adversity.

Last spring, they changed their game plan to overcome the Washington Capitals and a 3-1 deficit in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yesterday, they exhibited the same ability to improvise, overcoming the absence of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in front of a sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.

Pittsburgh beat its nearest Patrick Division rival, 4-2.

The Penguins were without their leading scorer, Lemieux, who is recovering from Hodgkin's disease, and Jagr, their fourth-leading scorer, who is recovering from a separated shoulder.

They also had gone 1-5-1 in their previous seven games and 0-2-1 in their previous three. To make it even more embarrassing, included in those previous three games were a loss and a tie to the expansion teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively.

"The way to describe our play of late has been embarrassing and disgusting," said Pittsburgh right wing Rick Tocchet. "I think everybody had had enough of it."

With left wing Troy Loney (two goals, one assist) and Tocchet (one goal, two assists) leading the way, the Penguins built an early lead and never allowed the Capitals to recover. Tom Barrasso made 10 first-period saves and 24 in all.

"It's funny. Before the game, we said to ourselves, 'We have to look in the mirror,' " Tocchet said. "You hate to say that. Mario is the best player in the world, but you like to say, 'Hey, we can win some games without him.' It got to a point the last few weeks, everybody said we can't win without Mario. We got to have some pride in ourselves, to go out and say we have a solid team."

Washington had staked itself to a wonderful opportunity before the weekend. Going into Boston on Saturday, the Capitals had a seven-game winning streak and the chance to cut Pittsburgh's lead in the Patrick to single digits.

But Boston played a hard, physical game and won, 5-4, in overtime. And the Caps, a little leg weary, had "no jump" yesterday, according to Don Beaupre, who made 25 saves but lost his six-game winning streak.

Washington is 14 points behind the Penguins.

Capitals coach Terry Murray attributed the loss to his team's poor decision-making, which led to too many turnovers in the neutral zone. He tried not to make excuses for the loss but said that a number of players are getting over the flu and that the game in Boston may have made the leg power "a little low."

With all that in mind, and because Washington will face its third game in four days here tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks, Murray said today will be a day off for most players.

"Basically, we just didn't play very well," said Beaupre, who got caught out of the net on the Penguins' fourth goal, a power-play score by Tocchet. "And this was a missed opportunity. If we're going to catch Pittsburgh, this would have been a great time to get started."

The Penguins got an early lift from Loney, who broke a personal scoring drought that reached back to Dec. 12, when he scored for the third and fourth times this season. Sandwiched between those was a power-play goal by Shawn McEachern.

Together they gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead with 7:57 gone in the second period and left the Capitals to try to dig from behind.

"Pittsburgh kept it simple," said Capitals captain Kevin Hatcher. "The one thing I admire about Pittsburgh is that when they play against us, they come in with a game plan and they stick to it. We didn't make their defensemen make any mistakes. We played a decent first period, but we didn't take advantage of our chances and Barrasso made a lot of key saves for them early."

Mike Ridley scored for the Capitals with 13:31 gone in the second, to make it 3-1. But then Tocchet's goal again widened the gap, so that when Bob Carpenter scored -- for the third time in three games -- with 9:15 left, it had little impact on the outcome.

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