Two hockey teams that like to throw punches but lack a scoring punch are expected to fill Capital Centre tonight at 7:30.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who usually bring enough fans with them to assure a house divided and sold out, make their final appearance of the season against the Washington Capitals. For Philadelphia, it is a welcome assignment.
Before last night's game in Pittsburgh, the Flyers had lost three of four, including home-ice setbacks by Minnesota and the New York Islanders, and a humiliating shutout in Buffalo.
Before that sorry stretch, the Flyers handcuffed the Capitals, 4-1, in that questionable seven-shot game Feb. 12 at the Spectrum. Washington is guaranteed more shots than that tonight, if for no other reason than the absence of a statistician's campaign to keep the shot total down.
Washington has never beaten the Flyers, although it has managed three ties, all at Capital Centre, in 15 games. The Flyers have outscored the Capitals, 83-37.
Seven points behind the Islanders, Philadelphia finds itself fighting for a favorable playoff position, rather than first place. For the first time since the current alignment was formulated in 1974, Philadelphia is faced with a Russian roulette-type best-of-three preliminary playoff.
Unless they get hot and someone else cools off, the Flyers figure to finish fifth overall. With playoff pairings determined by total points, that would put the Flyers in an almost hopeless situation, lacking home-ice advantage after the preliminary round.
Although the Flyers rank fourth in scoring, they have found goals difficult to obtain recently. The trouble dates to Feb. 9, when Bobby Clarke suffered a broken thumb. Paul Holmgren received fractured vertebrae in the same incident against Vancouver and much of the spark has gone out of the Flyers, to the extent that Coach Fred Shero's job is reported in jeopardy.
Philadelphia, commonly known as the Broad Street Bullies, leads the NHL in penalties. Washington, infrequently labeled the Truman Drive Terrors, is No. 3.
Bryan Watson, Dave Forbes and Mike Marson engaged Flyers in fisticuffs in the teams' last meeting, which was recent enough to promise that tempers have not completely cooled. There were 88 penalty minutes in that contest.
The Capitals, who played in Toronto last night, will be opening a three-game home stand with this contest. They entertain the Colorado Rockies Tuesday and the New York Rangers Friday.