LANDOVER -- Obviously, the Washington Capitals got their dates mixed up. The NHL players strike, should it come to that, is scheduled for next Monday.
Horror show. That's the only way to describe the team's effort last night as it was being steamrolled by Hartford, 8-2. The Whalers, be advised, are the third-worst outfit in the 22-team league.
How bad was it, Johnny?
Coach Terry Murray couldn't even work up a good mad over the effort, preferring instead to recall what one of his former mentors advised him one day: "He said make sure and take care of going to the bathroom before the game. It's likely to be the best you'll feel all day."
The Caps scored in the first 19 seconds of play, Dimitri Khristich netting a rebound in close. They left the ice after the first 20 minutes leading 2-1 on a Sylvain Cote screamer from about 20 feet. The rest they called in.
"Maybe we got a little cocky," the coach said. "I mean, we had so many chances in that first period it well could have been four or five to one. Maybe the guys thought those chances were going to be there all evening."
They were, but for Hartford. During the next 18 minutes, the visitors blasted four pucks past goalie Don Beaupre, including a rare penalty-shot score by Murray Craven. Beaupre was derricked and, as Murray reminded afterward, "Donny's going to carry us as far as we're going to go in the playoffs. If he's not at the top of his game, it's going to be very tough."
So, while Washington's overall ineptitude last night can be chalked up to "one of those things," the recent rash of soft goals visited upon Beaupre lately certainly has to be cause for huge concern.
"Sure, it's nice to be assured of second place in the division, but all along we've talked about higher goals. Things like finishing with a hundred points and finishing second in the entire league," TTC Murray continued. "And here we go out and do that; there's no excuse for it.
"Maybe we looked at the standings, saw Hartford's 20th in the league and figured this one was an automatic two points. I don't know how many times we have to say it, 'There are no automatics in this league.' Still, we're getting away from the fundamentals and hard work."
Lately, during wins and losses, the Caps have owned the second period. The Whalers climbed all over them in the middle session last night, aided immeasurably by dumb penalties on the part of the home team.
Todd Krygier, for example, was detected tripping with one second remaining in the first period. Good one, Todd. Former Cap Yvon Corriveau cashed it in 1:41 into the second period. Next, Krygier went off for a hook and Doug Houda lit it up.
Down a goal, the Caps then had a power play only to have Craven sneak away short-handed only to be hooked down by Calle Johansson. Indication it wasn't Beaupre's night came when Craven cruised in on the penalty shot and converted on a rather ordinary attempt at the five hole (through the goalie's legs).
The Whalers continued the slaughter in the third period, converting half of six shots while hardly pressing the attack and making fill-in goalie Jim Hrivnak appear as if he longed to be somewhere else.
"We've got to improve our mental preparation. We've got two big games on the weekend [Montreal and Vancouver]," Murray said. "The guys are aware this is no time to be slipping into bad habits."
The Caps are 5-5-1 in March, usually a big month for them. Over the last 13 games, they're 5-6-2 and have been outscored 50-47.