For Caps, mission accomplished 4-1 road trip puts team back on track

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

When the Washington Capitals were reeling under six straight losses, finding anyone who thought they would wind up with a decent record by the end of October was like looking for a sliver of ice in a hot drink.

But today, as the Capitals enjoy a day off after their longest road trip of the season, Washington is 6-7. That may not sound like much, but it is the sixth-best October in the Capitals' 20-year history.

And it was produced the hard way. An 0-6 start gave way to two three-game win streaks and a 4-1 record on the five-game, seven-day western trip that ended Saturday night with a 4-2 win at San Jose.

Only twice has Washington won more games during the opening month of the NHL season. In 1991-92, the Capitals were 9-3, and they were 7-7 in 1990-91.

It also was a month of emotional swings. After the first week of the season, coach Terry Murray was smashing hockey sticks as he walked off the ice after practice. Yesterday, he was looking back on a road trip in which his team reached all the goals he had set.

"It was a great road trip," Murray said. "We had five strong days of practice. Then our focus was to play Los Angeles tough and get a win to set up the five-game trip. On the road, we wanted to play smart, get the early lead, get good results and get back to a good position in our own division, and that's all been accomplished."

The Capitals got the victory over Los Angeles and then went from sixth in the Atlantic Division to fourth and within a point of the third-place New York Rangers. They also moved up in the overall Eastern Conference standings to one of the playoff-eligible top eight.

Murray said he is particularly pleased because the Capitals seemed to get stronger in the last period of each game as the trip progressed.

"Our scoring came early in these games, which is what you want on the road, but late in the games we were still the team winning the one-on-one battles and controlling the play," Murray said. "We won four of five, and I thought the game we lost in Calgary [3-2 in overtime] was one of the best we played."

The Capitals did get a little carried away in Friday's 5-2 victory over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, playing more like the competition, with individuals taking chances and trying to score. But Saturday the Capitals had settled down, forechecked early and jumped to a 4-1 lead.

Craig Berube scored his first goal of the season when Steve Konowalchuk intercepted a Sharks pass and set up the Capitals left wing. Peter Bondra scored unassisted and Keith Jones got on the board when Dimitri Khristich intercepted the puck and made a beautiful pass for the score.

Mike Ridley completed the Washington scoring, and Khristich again assisted. The goal was No. 197 for Ridley as a Capital and moved him into second place on the team's all-time goal-scoring list behind Mike Gartner, who had 397 with Washington before moving to the Rangers.

"This week we're going to emphasize the importance of coming to practice and trying to improve every game," Murray said. "We've got some things to work on. We've got to get Michal Pivonka on the stat sheets. He's a top center and he needs to be creative. And I'd like to get more, consistently, out of Bondra."

NOTES: Randy Burridge (six goals, three assists), Khristich (seven, four) and Dave Poulin played well on the trip. . . . The Capitals' next home game is Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.

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