'Catch of the day,' Sharks give Capitals an appetizing victory


LANDOVER -- On Friday night, there was a playoff atmosphere at the Capital Centre.

Yesterday, there was a carnival feeling as the Washington Capitals frolicked to a 6-2 victory over the expansion San Jose Sharks before a Capital Centre sellout.

Many in the crowd came to gawk at the Sharks and their popular teal blue-and-black uniforms with shark logos. The Sharks are one of the top draws in the NHL this season, even though they have the worst record (13-38-4).

A Capitals sponsor gave away pizza because Washington scored six goals, and another sponsor gave away ice cream to celebrate the first regular-season hat trick of John Druce's four-year NHL career.

And San Jose coach George Kingston talked about opponents feasting on his team.

"Everybody feels that you got to feast on the Sharks," Kingston said. "It's the catch of the day."

It was a far cry from the intensity Friday night, when a sellout crowd watched the second-place Capitals turn back the first-place New York Rangers in a Patrick Division game.

Even Capitals coach Terry Murray looked relaxed and at ease after the game yesterday.

"I feel a lot better today than I did two days ago," said Murray, whose team gained a point on the Rangers, who were tied by the Detroit Red Wings last night. "Now we're playing with the same closeness we did early in the season. We got into a mode where some guys were trying to do it all. It has to be 20 guys out there contributing to the team."

Capitals defenseman Mike Lalor denied there had been a breakdown in team unity.

"That may be what Terry [Murray] thinks, but we're a close team with a great bunch of guys," said Lalor. "We never lost that closeness."

Yesterday, Druce and Washington put away the Sharks early, scoring the first four goals of the game 2:42 into the second period.

Druce completed his hat trick on the fourth Capitals goal with a strong individual move from behind the net.

Druce was behind the goal when he took a pass from Peter Bondra, skated around the net and stuck the puck past Sharks goaltender Jeff Hackett for the 4-0 lead.

After a power-play goal by Kevin Hatcher gave the Capitals a 5-2 lead at 12:04 of the second period, Hackett was through for the day.

He was replaced by Jarmo Myllys, who held the Capitals to one goal the rest of the game.

Michal Pivonka had an assist on the goal by Hatcher, giving him four assists on the day and eight in the past two games.

Druce, Pivonka and Peter Bondra (one assist yesterday) played on the same line for the fifth straight game and combined for three goals and five assists.

In those five games, that line has teamed for eight goals and 15 assists.

Druce, who earlier in the season had been scratched from the lineup even though he wasn't injured, said: "I wasn't getting a lot of ice time and lost my confidence. But in this game I felt light on my feet, like I was floating through the air."

The only other hat trick in Druce's NHL career came in the 1990 playoffs against the New York Rangers.

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