Those folks whose hearts are regularly broken because of the loyalty to the Washington Capitals can prepare for magnified misery tonight when they flip on WDCA-TV-20 at 8 o'clock.
Barring a turn about in form by both teams, the Capitals will lose to the New York Islanders, marking the 200th defeat in Washington's brief NHL history. That's a 50-loss average, compared with a four-season victory total of 52, and there will be 28 opportunities for further distraction before this injury-haunted fourth season can be forgotten.
Victorious just once in their last 14 games, the Capitals received a needed lift yesterday when defensemen Rick Green and Gord Lane were pronounced fit for action. Green had been idle since Dec. 28 after suffering a shoulder separation and Lane has been limping since Tuesday; when a shot struck him in the leg.
The favorable hospital reports prompted General Manager Max McNab to ship defensemen Jean Lemieux back to Hershey of the American Hockey League. Although scoring three goals in 16 games, Lemieux had not impressed defensively.
Additionally, right wing Mark Lofthouse was recalled from Hershey. He will fill in tonight and Sunday in Buffalo while Ace Bailey rests his damaged right knee.
Coach Tom McVie, who has stood behind the Washington bench during 104 of those 199 losses, was on the job as usual yesterday at Fort Dupont, encouraging his players verbally and matching their efforts in postpractice stops and starts.
Asked if he planned to suit up, the 42-year-old McVie said, "Things are bad, but I hope they never get that bad."
While others in Washington management were espousing playoff talk in September, the honest, forthright McVie was issuing a word of caution. But yesterday he derived no joy from realizing that the club's 6-31-11 record made him a prophet, of ill sorts.
"I had a good feeling that this could happen," said McVie, runner up as NHL coach of the year after a 24-42-14 mark last season. "We used to outwork and suprise a lot of hockey clubs. We played with great emotion. But other teams are copying this thing. We haven't change.
"Some players who had good years last season are having off years because the players against them are working harder against them. And you can't keep 20 players that emotionally high."
Although McVie conceded that he hadn't expected the club's record to be this bad, he insisted he was not losing any of his enthusiasm.
"No one has the enthusiasm when it comes to hockey that I have," McVie said. "When the day comes that I'm losing it, I'm walking."
Hockey is far more than a game to McVie, who grew up as a rink rat in British Columbia and played 14 seasons in the Western League before turning to coaching. He offered a bit of insight into how much the sport means to him.
"My mother-in-law is staying with us," McVie said, "and she's a wonderful, gentle lady. But we come home after some losses and she tried to console me. She said, 'Don't take it so hard. It's only a game.' I was so mad I wanted to strangle her, and as the last breath was going out I wanted to say, 'Don't take it so hard. It's only a game.'"
McVie refuses to cite injuries as an alibi, but the Capitals have been struck by so many that they must be considered a major factor in the disappointing record.
"Any time we get something going a guy is out," Smith said. "We've had lot of injuries and we've had guys playing hurt. I know Tommy doesn't like to talk about it, but when you lose guys like Greener and Lynchie (Jack Lynch), it has to bother you."
Among those playing now, Blair Stewart has missed 49 games, Bailey 34, Bill Riley 21 and Green 20. Lynch, 22 and counting, is out for the season. Ron Lalonde, 5, will be idle until March. Yvon Labre, 47, will probably join the Capitals next week after some more conditioning at Hershey.
While the Capitals have stumbled, the Islanders have won eight of their last nine to take over the Patrick Division lead. Washington has scored 117 goals; the Islanders have one line with 92 (Mike Bossy 36, Bryan Trottier 33, Clark Gillies 23).
In two previous meetings, both at Capital Center, the Islanders have shut out the Capitals, 6-0 and 4-0. Chico Resch, the winning goalie both times, is likely to start tonight, although Bill Smith, Gord's brother and the All-Star Game MVP, has a better record (2.27, second only to Montreal's Ken Dryden).
The Capitals have never beaten the Islanders in 14 meetings. McClosky Gains NHL
Kevin McClosky, who grew up in Rockville, was called up yesterday by the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League from Fort Wayne of the International League.
McClosky, 20, played seven years in the Capitol Boys Hockey League here and at age 15 went to play midget anf junior hockey in Toronto. Last year he played for Calgary in the Western Canada Hockey League.
McClosky, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound defenseman, was drafted in last year's fourth round by Minnesota. He had four goals, 19 assists and 22 penalty minutes for Fort Wayne this season. He is to join Minnesota for Saturday's home game against Buffalo.