In recent weeks, however, Carpenter has become something of a goal-scoring machine himself, scoring six goals in his last seven games. On March 3 he got two spectacular goals to ignite the Caps' 5-1 romp over the Rangers, and four days later he secured their 4-2 defeat of Hartford with some equally spectacular playmak-ing. After taking a Langway feed at center ice, Carpenter beat first Joel Quenneville and then Risto Siltanen before pulling goalie Greg Millen to the left of the cage and sliding a pass across the goal to Brian (Butsy) Erickson, who found himself looking at nothing but yawning net. Erickson scored.
"This is a young team playing like a veteran team," says Jarvis, 28, Washington's oldest player and a member of four Canadien Stanley Cup champion teams. "We stress defense first, and we can protect a lead. In some ways, this team reminds me of the old Montreal teams."
Maybe so, but there are days when the Caps act their ages. Like at their March 7 practice when Erickson was forced to skate through the dreaded Grunt Line, a new team ritual in which a player celebrating his birthday—Erickson had turned 24—must skate through a gauntlet of his teammates who whack him with hockey sticks, the number of whacks generally exceeding the total of the birthday boy's years. Erickson breezed through the gauntlet with ease and then, with a laugh, he reached into his hockey pants and removed a pair of shin guards that, well, had not been protecting his shins.
One further reminder of just how young these Caps are lies in Murray's new report card system. After every game Murray and his brother, Terry, the assistant coach, rate each player on various facets of individual and team play, assigning a grade one to nine. Those marks are averaged after 20 games, and a report is given to the player, who then gets to discuss his report card with the teachers...er, coaches. "There was some swearing when we handed out the first cards," Murray says, "but I think the guys now accept it as something constructive, another teaching tool."
Says Riggin, "My first two report cards were so bad I had to take them home and get them signed by my parents. But I can't wait till the next one, because I think I've made the honor roll."
He won't be the only one.