Jack Lynch is a man who cannot rationalize anything short of victory. His dance to celebrate a goal, a ritual that compares favorably to the mating routine of the maribou stork, is one of pure, unbridled joy. His reaction to defeat is just as pronounced.
The Washington Capitals, for whom Lynch toils on defense, have played 11 games without a triumph. So one can imagine the effect on Lynch.
"This year had been harder than any year I've ever played hockey," Lynch said yesterday. "It's really bad. It's tough. Brutal.
"We know we have more talent. We expected to do so much better and we haven't done as well. We finished so well last year, won four of our last six and could have won one of the other two from Montreal.
"We finished on such a high that the next day everybody was looking forward to the start of the next season. Nobody wanted the five month's vacation.
"Management kept up constant contact with us all summer, kept us keen. We were never away from hockey. I started skating July 30 and I skated five nights a week in August.
"The team came to camp in great shape, ready to play physically after the first week. The skating drills were hard, but everybody did them. In some camps, guys are puking all the time. But we were in shape.
"Then we beat Pittsburgh and played great against Cleveland, and against Montreal. It's impossible to believe anything like this could happen.
"The first two years everybody expected us to lose. We went in hoping to win, but realistically a win was a bonus. I never dreamed we'd have those problems again.
"Our team is so much better. That's what drives you a little bit nuts, trying to figure it out. If we don't straighten it out soon, we'll spend the whole year playing catch-up, and that's a heck of a lot tougher than just trying to stay even with somebody."
For most of his two-plus seasons with Washington, Lynch teamed on defensewith Yvon Labre. Now Labre, the team captain, is recovering from knee surgery and Lynch has looked to his left in recent weeks to see Rick Green, Robert Picard, Gord Smith and, during Wednesday's 5-2 loss at Toronto, even Gord Lane.
"Having another partner is like a centerman getting on a new line," Lynch said. "We play together enough in practice, switching around a lot, so it shouldn't make much difference. It's certainly no excuse."
Although no security blanket, Labre was a man of considerable value to the team, and one wonders whether his absence is not a key to the Capitals' current plight
"Yvon is an on-ice leader," Lynch said. "He doesn't use any fancy words, but he goes up and down the ice and leads by performance. He's a rambunctious hockey player. That kind of play is infectious."
There have been suggestions that the Capitals' heavy summer and practice load made the players tired. Lynch doesn't think that's true.
"Our schedule hasn't been rigorous," Lynch said. "If anything, we haven't worked as many practices as last year. Of course, they're longer now, with the extra time working with the weights. But it's the same old story. When you're winning, you feel great. When you're losing, you feel tired."
Lynch's outlook on winning is a simple one.
"You might as well be the best at what you're at," he said. "When I go bowling, I've got to win. If I play golf and a guy shoots 85 and I have 87, I'm burned up. When I play tennis with my wife, I play to win.
"There's no way I'll ever be the best NHL defenseman, but you have to keep trying and do the best in your own mind. You don't get a trophy for finishing second. I was never a star as a kid, but I worked hard in minor hockey, then in junior B, then junior A, now the pros.
"When you go to school and your marks are down, there's only one way to get out of it, work harder. Our marks are down, so I guess we need to work harder.
"There have been games this year where we played well and deserved to win, but there have been a lot where we played lousy and deserved to lose.
"We've put too much into this to let it fall. Sooner or later, if we work hard enough, we'll turn it around."
Despite his personnal anguish, Lynch can sympathize with some innocent bystanders, those fans who continue to cheer for the Capitals.
"The fans went through the bad part and stuck with us," Lynch said. "We've let them down so far. When you've got fans who stuck through such bad, bad times, you want to give them something back.
"This is such a great place to play. I don't want it to screw up. Right now there are fears of the management making changes. But it's nothing a few wins won't straigthen out."
The next opportunity to win one comes Saturday night, when Buffalo visits Capital Centre. Defenseman Rick Green, who missed the Toronto game because of strained ligament in his right wrist, is not expected to play . . . As the Capitals' bus leave Toronto's Royal York Hotel yesterday, a woman banged on the door and shouted, "I think you've got one of my people from the Royal Agricultural Society aboard." She was quickly convinced that Bill Collins was a hockey player, not a misplaced visitor from England.