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Over their 46-year history, the Washington Capitals have had some memorable games during the early December time frame. One such game took place on December 4, 1981, a home game against the Winnipeg Jets which featured one of their leading scorers dazzling the home crowd with his heroics. Diane Doyle takes a look back in this latest Retro Recap.
Heading into their game against the Jets, the Caps held a record of 7-15-2. As poor as the record seemed at the time, the Capitals had gone 6-2-2 since hiring their new Head Coach Bryan Murray to the position on November 10, after the team had stumbled to a 1-13-0 start. In their previous game on December 12, they had routed the Calgary Flames by a 9-3 score at home. The Caps started Al Jensen, who was filling in for the injured Dave Parro and Mike Palmateer, in net, only the fourth game that Jensen had played in the NHL and his third with the Capitals. The Jets countered with Ed Staniowski in goal.
Just over 30 seconds into the game, Dave Babych of the Jets was assessed a penalty for hooking which set up a Capitals power play. On a give-and-go between Dennis Maruk and rookie Chris Valentine, Maruk scored for his 18th goal of the season at 1:57; Darren Veitch had the secondary assist. A little over four minutes after Maruk’s early goal, the Jets’ Moe Mantha was penalized for holding, which put the Caps on yet another power play. About 20 seconds into the man-advantage, Maruk faked a shot to set up Valentine, who scored the Capitals’ second goal to give the team a 2-0 lead.
The Caps did not enjoy their two goal cushion for long. Just 19 seconds later, Dave Christian put the Jets on the board after a pass bounced off Capitals defenseman Rick Green. While neither team dented the twine again, the Capitals had to and successfully killed off two penalties to Greg Theberge and Valentine, who were assessed tripping and hooking penalties, respectively.
The Capitals would regain the two-goal lead that they had maintained for most of the opening frame less than a half minute into the second period. Heading into the offensive zone, Maruk cut across the blueline, braked, and passed to Ryan Walter, who then skated unopposed down the slot and beat goalie Staniowski for a 3-1 Washington lead for his 12th goal of the season. Mike Gartner scored the Capitals’ second goal of the period before the first minute of the frame had passed, sending a 50-foot shot towards Staniowski, assisted by Bobby Carpenter and Theberge. Chris Valentine made a great play just over a minute later at the 2:17 mark, which set up Maruk’s second goal of the game and 19th of the year which gave the Caps a 5-1 lead, ending the competitive portion of the game barely two minutes into the second period.
The fireworks began 10 seconds later with a brawl, starting with Capitals forward Bengt Gustafsson and Dale Hawerchuk, and various other players getting involved in the fracas. The officials doled out one fighting major and three minor penalties to each team. Maruk scored his third goal of the game, completing the hat trick, less than a minute after the fisticuffs, having skated from the left wing, unchallenged, and firing a shot over Staniowski’s shoulder, assisted by Theberge. Even after completing a hat trick, Maruk was not done scoring for the night, getting his fourth goal of the game and his 21st of the season after jamming the puck past Staniowski after a shot that went wide by Theberge; Ryan Walter had the other assist. The score heading into the second intermission was 7-1.
There were no Capitals goals during the third period. Paul MacLean scored for the Jets at 6:19, getting assists from Moe Mantha and Tim Trimper, while Lucien DeBlois scored the Jets’ third and final goal at 14:31, getting assists from Dave Christian and Norm Dupont. The final score ended at a lopsided 7-3.
Bryan Murray’s post game comment on the third period, “We went into the traditional sleep with a big lead.”
With Maruk now at 21 goals and 17 assists in 25 games, it was hard to believe he was so unhappy with his play just a month prior. “I had personal problems and contract problems. I want to stay here and when I finally did sign a new contract, everything started to jell. I was around the net a lot tonight and Ryan (Walter) and Chris (Valentine) played well to set me up. A lot of it was just being in the right place at the right time.”
Maruk finished with six points, tying a team record he shared with several others. It was his fourth four-goal game in the NHL, matching Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, and Richard Martin for the lead among active players.
Prior to the game, Maruk wore a blond wig in the locker room but did not wear it during the game. He spoke about it after the game, “I like to clown around. It keeps me loose. The guys wanted me to wear the wig on the ice, but I wasn’t doing that. When the warmup starts, I want to get down to business.”
Goalie Al Jensen, who had made 37 saves in 40 chances spoke to the media, “Every game means a lot to me. I’m trying to do the best I can. I have no idea what’s going on as far as the long haul, but I felt comfortable all night and the guys helped me out an awful lot.”
The game improved the Caps’ record to only three points behind the fourth-place New York Rangers in the Patrick Division.
The next game was the following day, December 5, in Toronto. Jensen, from Hamilton, Ontario, looked forward to playing in Toronto. Unfortunately, he and the Capitals did not do well, as the team was clobbered 9-4.
The Capitals ultimately, did not make the playoffs during the 1981-82 season but made it the following season, Bryan Murray’s first full season as Head Coach.
Washington Post: Maruk Scores 4 in Capitals Rout
Box Score from Hockey Reference
Capitals Alumni Profile: Dennis Maruk
It’s Not All Peaches And Cream With Dennis Maruk: A NoVa Caps Interview
NoVa Caps Interview; Catching up with Dennis Maruk
NHL Com: Caps Alumni Biographies Al Jensen
Niagra Independent: Interesting Story of Al Jensen
NHL Com: Caps Alumni Biographies Dennis Maruk