Two months ago, at Richfield Coliseum, the Washington Capitals ended that awful 20-game winless streak, and everyone connected with the team was sure it would never again be enmeshed in such misery.
Tonight, the Capitals are back (WTOP-1500 at 8 p.m.) and this time they have brought with them an eight-game winless string. Of their last 16 contests, the Capitals have won only one, and the remaining two months of the season promise little of a positive nature.
After four days of reflection following Sunday's 4-1 loss in Buffalo, General Manager Max McNab sent the team on the road last night with only one minor change in the lineup. Winger Ace Bailey, who has been resting his damaged right knee, will dress in place of Blair Stewart, whose rebuilt left knee requires strengthening.
While the Capitals have been reluctant to change faces for the sake of change, the home-standing Cleveland Barons have been shuffling players east and west. General Manager Harry Howell has been so busy that only eight players remain from the team that was shifted here from Oakland in October, 1976.
Since that 5-3 loss to Washington in December, deals with Colorado, the New York Islanders and the Capitals have added to the roster wingers J. P. Parise, Chuck Arnason and Rick Jodzio, defensemen Jean Potvin and Dennis O'Brien, and center Walt McKechie.
The last-named was the Capitals' contribution to the Cleveland merry-go-round. McKechnie was sent here Dec. 8 in exchange for Bob Girard and a No. 2 amateur draft choice.
This will be the first opportunity for McKechnie to gain some vengeance against a team whose management he claimed "tried to destroy me". After McKechine had posted four goals and one assist in 16 lethargic games, Coach Tom McVie barred him from practice, citing his poor attitude. It took three weeks for McNab to deal McKechnie off.
"I'm not going to say anything more about the Capitals," McKechnie said. "I've got more class than that. I was used as a scapegoat, but that's behind me now. I have a lot of hockey left in me and I want to do what I can to make things go here."
McKechnie made a giant contribution Saturday night. As 13,110, the season's largest crowd, roared its approval, McKechnie scored two third-period goals to lift the Barons into a 2-2 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers. In 29 games with Cleveland, the 30-year-old McKechnie has produced eight goals and 12 assists.
The Barons have collected 41 points and are five behind in the scramble for a wild-card playoff berth. Among their 18 victories are two decisions over Toronto and one each over Montreal, Boston, Buffalo and the Islanders.
Before the Capitals' December victory, they had dropped two games to the Barons, by scores of 4-2 here and 3-2 at Capital Centre. McKechnie will return to the Centre March 18 for the clubs' fifth and final meeting end.