Tabaracci, Caps blank Devils, 4-0

January 10, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Washington coach Terry Murray keeps saying if his Capitals play basic, team-oriented hockey, they can beat anyone in the NHL.

Last night, for the second time in back-to-back games, the Capitals played as if they believe him.

Goalie Rick Tabaracci recorded his fifth career shutout and second in 11 days, beating the streaking New Jersey Devils, 4-0.

The Capitals defense gave up 32 shots, but only a handful were dangerous.

And the major thrust of the offense came from center Michal Pivonka and right wing Peter Bondra, two of the men Washington had determined to be their offensive leaders this season.

"This was a true team shutout," said Murray, whose team is over .500 for the first time since Nov. 13. "This is the way you want to play on the road. We moved the puck well in our own zone. We didn't force anything and good things happened."

Pivonka had two goals for the first time this season and played what Murray described as his best game of the season even beyond the goal scoring.

"The goals were a bonus," said Murray. "He played good defensively, skated well and handled the puck well. This could be a hump game for Michal Pivonka and for the whole team."

Pivonka said he thinks his play has been improving over the past 13 or 14 games.

"But this is my first two-goal game," he said. "Peter [Bondra] assisted on one of them, and it was like old times. I think my confidence is going up -- confidence or whatever it is. The last week of practice has helped. I feel physically very good."

Pivonka scored Washington's first and third goals, and Bondra netted the final goal of the night, off an assist from Pivonka.

Defenseman Sylvain Cote chipped in with the team's second goal at 13:44 of the first period, after Dimitri Khristich stole the puck and gave him a pretty pass for the perfect play.

None of it pleased the 12,385 Devils fans at the Brendan Byrne Arena, who booed as their team left the ice.

The Capitals have outscored the second-best team in the Eastern Conference -- New Jersey -- and the sixth-best team in the Western Conference -- Chicago -- 8-1 in back-to-back games.

A nice demonstration of what the Capitals can be when they play consistently at their best.

"We're just playing a much better brand of hockey," said Tabaracci. "We're keeping the number of shots to a minimum, and we're getting some satisfaction from beating the Devils, who beat up on us pretty bad early in the season."

The Devils, who have the second-best winning percentage in the entire NHL (.650), won back-to-back games against Washington in October when the Capitals were in the midst of a six-game losing streak and giving up an average of six goals.

Today, the Capitals are 19-18-4, allowing just under than 3.14 goals per game and are 4-1-2 in their past seven games.

Washington faces Toronto, the best team in the Western Conference, tomorrow at USAir Arena and then gets another shot at the Devils Friday, also on home ice.

Yesterday's victory was the Caps' fourth in the Atlantic Division. It gives them 42 points, good enough for a tie for seventh in the Eastern Conference standings.

"You'd like it all to come together in the first game of the season, but things don't happen like that," said center Dave Poulin. "The key is we're being much more patient, waiting for our chances, rather than trying to make them and when we get them, we're capitalizing."

The only little cloud hanging over last night's game developed in the final 2:26, when Mike Ridley was hit in his left instep with a hard shot. He iced the foot last night, and it will be looked at again today.

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