Juggling lines wakes up Capitals' offense

January 09, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Evidently there was nothing wrong with the Washington Capitals that a long week of practice couldn't fix.

But after Capitals coach Terry Murray shuffled his lines last week, looking for more scoring, he admitted he didn't expect the scoring to come from Craig Berube, Sylvain Cote, Alan May and Calle Johansson.

And yet, that's who delivered the offensive punch in yesterday's 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

The success of the line changes showed up in good communication and sound defensive play that held the Blackhawks to 17 total shots. Chicago got two of those shots in the third period, and the first of those didn't come until there was 2:35 left.

It was a situation that reminded Murray of the way his team played in years past.

It reminded Chicago coach Daryl Sutter of how valuable the puck is.

"You can't go to the net if you don't have the puck," said Sutter. "Berube and May show that. They were the ones scoring goals."

It was the fourth line of Berube, May and Dave Poulin that jump-started the Capitals.

After Jeremy Roenick gave Chicago a 1-0 lead with 7:13 gone, Berube and company went to work.

And what terrific fun it was for the 15,410 at USAir Arena to watch.

After May and Poulin relayed the puck to Berube, he hurled one Chicago defenseman away with his left forearm, as if flicking away a fly.

Then he continued after the puck along the boards, ran through Neil Wilkinson behind the Chicago net, and as Al Iafrate tied up defenseman Frantisek Kucera in front of the net, Berube skated around and stuffed the puck past Chicago goalie Ed Belfour.

The move tied the game at 1 at the 10:26 mark, and seemed to fortify Washington's confidence, as did the entire past week of practice.

"What we needed was to let Terry [Murray] coach us," said May, who scored the Capitals' third goal, 3:53 into the second period, with assists from Berube and Johansson. "We hadn't had time for a true practice in a long time . . . but the last couple days, Terry got us back in the flow. He got our legs moving again, and today, it was almost like subliminal coaching in this game. We kept our legs going and we kept them from scoring."

Washington will try to continue this basic play tonight in New Jersey against the Devils, the third-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Cote scored what turned out to be the winning goal, when Peter Bondra and Iafrate set him up on the power play. Cote let go a slap shot that seemed to have eyes, as it scooted between the legs of Chicago defensemen and past Belfour into the net at 2:53 of the second.

Johansson took a pass from Dale Hunter, with 18:58 gone in the second, and made it 4-1 on a slap shot from near the blue line.

"Eddie's not sharp," said Sutter of his goalie. "You guys know it and I know it. [But] the worst thing you can do is not show confidence in him. He's a worker and a battler. He just has to play through it."

The Capitals can relate to that. After going 2-0-2 in their previous four home games, the Caps went to Boston, where they seemed never to be on the ice in an 8-2 loss.

Yesterday, they were as good as they had been bad seven days earlier.

"The difference for me was about 57 1/2 minutes," said goalie Don Beaupre, who was pulled after allowing Boston three goals in the first three minutes Sunday. "Today, we had good coverage. We played close and tight, and Chicago couldn't get the puck in or a shot off."

But the men Washington must look to to score over the long haul, didn't. And there are two ways to look at that. On the one hand, it takes time for new line combinations to click.

"Give it a few games," said Mike Ridley. "We had good solid play from all of our lines defensively. The offensive side in new lines takes a little longer."

On the other hand, as Hunter, who is acting as team captain until Kevin Hatcher returns from a broken hand, said, they need days like this.

"Hockey is this way," Hunter said. "Some nights your [scoring lines] are checked down and guys like Berube, Cote, May and Johansson play great and come through. That's what makes it a team game, different guys coming through for us."

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