With motivation lacking, Caps are, too

Phil Jackman

April 05, 1993|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- It would be patently unfair to suggest that the Washington Capitals mailed in their NHL game against the New York Rangers yesterday.

It was worse than that, the 4-0 loss to the Broadway Blues: The effort arrived postage due.

There is, though, a tendency to attach all sorts of importance to nearly every game these days, when, clearly, seasons in pro sports without exception are entirely too long.

For the Caps, it was game No. 78 after a 10-game preseason slate. And, to all intents and purposes, the team has established its position and simply awaits the start of the playoffs, still two weeks off.

Flat doesn't really do justice to the way the Caps came out and fell behind the straggling visitors by three goals in the first 15 minutes. Asleep was more like it, according to resident thumper Alan May, who went for two fights and another scrap that was labeled roughing.

"The game started at 1:30, not 7:30, and we had some guys who looked like they were still in bed," said the forward who raised his penalty minutes past 4 1/2 games (260 minutes).

"This was particularly so in the first 10 minutes," he continued. "You could feel a sense of urgency in them, so they got out fast and we weren't able to handle it."

After losing four straight and six of their last eight, the Rangers had fallen into fifth place. And, after losing in overtime to the

New York Islanders, the team they're battling for the final playoff spot in the Patrick Division, goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck noted, "Everyone in New York counted us out."

These circumstances seemed to make rallying to a cause so much easier, according to "Beezer," who made things relatively easy for his mates by registering his fourth shutout of the season and 200th win of his career.

How bad was it for the Caps?

Their play was such after Adam Graves (33) and Mike Gartner (44) sent the Rangers away winging that coach Terry Murray found need to call a timeout with seven minutes remaining in the first period to inquire as to what was going on.

The team's response came in the form of Ed Olczyk's 21st goal about two minutes later increasing New York's lead to 3-0. By period's end, Murray excused Don Beaupre from his post in goal, somewhat of a rarity this late in the season when a lead goalie is supposed to be sharpening up for the postseason.

The move might be an indication of what the Caps braintrust thinks of its netminding situation. Friday night, Rick Tabaracci, who was traded for just two weeks ago, got the start against a hot Montreal team, and he blanked the Canadiens, 4-0. He was nearly as good over the last two periods yesterday.

Washington, despite a horrid 11-19-2 record in their division, maintained a five-point lead over New Jersey for second place in the Patrick. With six games to play, that's comfortable, and maybe that's the problem.

"Any time we get a five-point lead on anyone," said defenseman Kevin Hatcher, "we seem to take a step backward. We weren't ready to play."

Most players who chose to be interviewed said pretty much the same thing, as though anyone in attendance couldn't pick up on this almost immediately.

"We could have almost put it away, going up by seven points," Beaupre lamented while admitting he's at a loss to figure out the Jekyll and Hyde routine the Caps have played all season.

"We play great one night, then a completely different team comes out on the ice the next game. We can't win like that," said the goalie.

Meanwhile, the team that finished first in the NHL last year in the regular season, the Rangers, are in danger of not even making the playoffs this time around. That hasn't happened since 1970-71 (Montreal).

Now there's a team with a problem, facing seven games, including four on the road and two each against Pittsburgh and the Caps. The Islanders, who come to Cap Centre tomorrow (7:35 p.m.), have had two games with Hartford and one with Ottawa to help pad their way.

See, the grass isn't always greener in the other fellow's yard, and a clinker in game No. 78 is all part of the show. But next time, Caps, don't forget the stamp, please.

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