Capitals' cool, intelligent play leaves Penguins smarting, 7-3

December 27, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals were playing without their two top defensemen, Kevin Hatcher and Al Iafrate, for the first time in nearly three years last night.

They were playing with veteran goalie Don Beaupre, who would make 29 saves, and defensemen Sylvain Cote and Calle Johansson anchoring the play of John Slaney, Enrico Ciccone, Jason Woolley and Brian Curran.

And for 2 1/2 periods against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had lost only nine times before last night, they were the glue that kept the Capitals together until the Washington offense arrived to put the Northeast Division-leading Penguins into a deep freeze, 7-3, before 15,346 at USAir Arena.

"We all knew what we had to do," Cote said. "You've just got to keep it simple. That's what we did. No one tried to do anything one-on-one. This is how expansion teams are winning. This is how the Rangers are winning. . . . They all just do the basics, take the body, protect the puck."

It was not the kind of game the Capitals have played lately against Pittsburgh. Usually, it is the Penguins who turn up the heat in the final minute. But last night, once Washington got rolling in the second period, it looked like a juggernaut, more impressive than in its 11-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators Dec. 17.

After forging a 4-3 lead during the last five minutes of the second period, the Capitals broke Pittsburgh's back in the third with goals by Randy Burridge, Slaney and Dave Poulin in the first 7:11 of the period.

"This was a big win for us," said Capitals coach Terry Murray, whose team had to make up for the losses of Hatcher, out with a broken hand, and Iafrate, out with a sprained knee.

"I think we played intelligent hockey. It's the first time in a couple of years that we've played like that against Pittsburgh. . . . This has to get some confidence going. I know they didn't have Mario [Lemieux], but they've been having great success without him."

Burridge's goal 2:49 into the third period was his second of the game and 14th of the season, and it gave the Capitals a 5-3 lead and breathing room.

Less than a minute later, Poulin got the puck up ice. Keith Jones dropped it off to Slaney and the rookie scored his second goal of the season.

"It looked like it was going to be easy, but they turned it around and just out-worked us," Pittsburgh coach Ed Johnston said. "All the things we had been doing well in for a long time went right out the window in the second and third periods. We just kept getting caught on three-on-twos, four-on-twos, three-on-ones. They just took the game right away from us."

Pittsburgh scored on power-play goals by Kevin Stevens and Kjell Samuelsson to take a 2-1 lead.

Washington's first goal was from left wing Craig Berube, who gave the Caps a 1-0 lead with 4:38 gone in the game.

But Berube's biggest contribution may have come four minutes later, when Pittsburgh defenseman Marty McSorley instigated a fight. Berube allowed him the first blow and then delivered a right that dropped McSorley to the ice.

When it was broken up and sorted out, McSorley was given a five-minute fighting penalty, two-minute instigation penalty and a game misconduct.

"It was a big fight," Murray said. "He took a big guy off the ice and got us going."

Burridge scored his first goal 1:35 into the second period, off assists from Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller.

It was the first of three Capitals goals in the period. After Joe Mullen scored for a 3-2 Pittsburgh lead, Ridley and Dimitri Khristich scored for a 4-3 Caps lead with 2:30 left in the middle period.

For Washington, four goals is generally a good game. Goals do not come easily to this team -- that the Capitals were looking to set up Berube, a rugged player whose job is to play physical hockey, attests to just how hard it has been to score.

But then came third-period goals by Burridge, Slaney and Poulin, and the game was virtually over with 12:49 left.

The Caps were out-shot 13-3 in the first period and 11-9 in the third period, marking the seventh and eighth times in the past 10 games that Washington had been held to single-digit shots in a period.

NOTES: The Capitals will hold their third annual skills challenge tomorrow night at USAir Arena, 7:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free, but fans will be asked for a $2 contribution for charity. . . . Iafrate, who holds the league record for the fastest shot -- 105 mph -- is not expected to participate because of a sprained knee. Iafrate says he intends to defend his title during the NHL All-Star activities Jan. 20-22 in New York. . . . Peter Bondra returned to action last night for the first time since breaking his hand Oct. 26 at Pittsburgh. . . . Woolley was recalled from Portland Dec. 23 and G Olaf Kolzig was recalled Christmas Day. . . . RW Pat Peake, C Steve Konowalchuk and C Kevin Kaminski did not suit up for the game.

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