Penguins' 4-goal punch floors Caps


LANDOVER -- Buster Douglas, Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, Oct. 25, third round.

That's what it was like at the Capital Centre last night as the Washington Capitals attempted a return to good hockey after two weeks of misery.

Pittsburgh was the opponent and, similar to Evander Holyfield, everything the Penguins threw at the Caps landed. The only difference was slight: while it took Holyfield 2:17 to get Douglas out of there and lift his heavyweight championship, the Penguins did it in 2:16.

After about six minutes of play and on their first shot, the visitors were away as Paul Coffey scored. Just 39 seconds later, Coffey hit again. Another minute and Bryan Trottier was on the board, then Barry Pederson.

On just five shots, Pittsburgh had a 4-0 lead and Washington goalie Mike Liut had the rest of the night off. It was the third straight time the Pens have beaten Liut this year, boosting their goals-against average against him to 8.21.

What happened during the next few hours didn't matter much as Pittsburgh prevailed, 7-3, pushing the Caps (18-20-1) further into fifth place in the Patrick Division.

Coach Terry Murray, in a quandary as to what's going on as his team wins five games, then loses five, then wins eight of 11 before going winless in six games (current), took a Grinch-like approach during the post-mortem.

"I'm glad the Christmas holiday is coming to an end," he said, obviously not clearing the statement with his kids. "Maybe now we can put those distractions behind us."

Since belting Philadelphia, 4-1, Dec. 11, the Caps fell into an old habit of blowing two-goal leads late, losing to Hartford and the Rangers and being tied by St. Louis thusly. Following a sorry loss to Toronto at home last Saturday, the coach called the team's effort the "sorriest" he had seen in quite awhile, so he gave the boys three days off to rest their weary bones.

Maybe they miscounted the vacation days accrued.

Annually, the Capitals' braintrust sits down after Christmas and discusses the first half of the season, which arrives with game No. 40 tomorrow night at home against the Rangers. Murray appeared as if he's looking forward to that little tete-a-tete with general manager David Poile.

"It'll be evaluation time for all the players," he said, his tone suggesting that quite a few of the lads won't be coming away with report cards they can be proud of.

Coffey's goals shot his career total up to 299 and, with one more, he joins Denis Potvin as the only defenseman to reach 300.

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