Tom McVie and Johnny Wilson, the leading for coach of the years honors in the National Hockey League, will be cracking the whips tonight at Capital Centre.
McVie's Washington Capitals, who have already collected 20 more points than their total of last season, will be trying to escape from the doldrums of a five-game winless streak.
Wilson's Colorado Rockies, 15 points higher than their 1975-76 windup, are still struggling to acquire a playoff berth in the all-losing Smythe Division.
Only one other team, the Minnesota North Stars, has topped last season's point production. Ted Harris' crew, also a Smythe contender, has exceeded its 1975-76 total by eight.
The Capitals have been playing poorly since their playoff hopes expired, and the sudden absence of that incentive is probably an important factor.
"Since the playoffs became pretty welll out of the question, maybe we've lost a little enthusiasm," said center Gerry Meehan. "I hope that's not the case, But each team experiences stages of success and mediocrity. It we knew why, nobody would ever play a bad game.
"We'll have to keep up the hard work and play with more resolve. The next game you play after a bad one, you have to bear down and work twice as hard."
"Every team runs into a bit of a slump," said defenseman Jack Lynch. "This is the first time we've been in a slump all year. We want to finish out the season really strong. You don't want to go and finish it out badly. This runs right into next year.
"We've worked so hard to develop the franchise into a good one. We'll have to straighten it out in the last eight games.The fans deserve better. We need hard work in practice and hard work in the games. We'll just have to knuckle under the work our butts off."
That's a good attitude for rationalization when one plays for McVie, who has often said that the only way the Capitals can win is to work harder than the opposition.
The rivals tonight lack the overall talent of more established clubs and the improvement in each is due in large part to the motivation created by the coach.
Wednesday morning in this space the Capitals were termed "an untalented team that produced the utmost possible effort." The original wording was "undertalented" and the deletion of the three letters resulted in an unwarranted slap at the Washington players. No NHL player, no matter his shortcomings, can correctly be called "untalented."