As the Capitals' Robert Picard perpared for the postgame interview Sunday night, a young fan shouted at him, "When are you guys going to try pro wrestling?"
The answer should have been obvious to anyone watching the last two home games. The Capitals are already more attuned to a pro wrestling format than they are to the nuances of ice hockey.
In those two games, five Washington players have been expelled with game-misconduct penalties. One was a double offender, defenseman Gord Lane, who followed up a dash from the penalty box on Friday with a challenge to the Detroit bench on Sunday.
Suspended one game for his initial offense, Lane will learn today how long he will be permitted to contemplate the consequences of his latest act, which precipitated a 15-minute brawl involving every player in uniform, including the four goaltenders.
That one provided all the thrills of a 38-man tag team match, with half-dressed warriors punching and pushing and pulling until they were too tired to continue. But who in the Capitals' smallest-ever audience will forget the way his heart beat when Washington's Mike Marson skated off, arms raised in symbol of fistic victory - "Hurrah." Or the Way Picard kept coming back from the dressing-room exit to punch out another Red Wing - "Kill him."
Brian O'Neill, NHL executive vice president, talked with Lane and General Manager Max McNab yesterday, then asked to see a film of the incident. A copy was dispatched to Montreal by plane last night and O'Neill will issue a decision after watching it this morning.
It's a virtual certainty that Lane, although obviously goaded into his rampage by taunts from Detroit players, will not be available tonight, when the Truman Drive Terrors line up against the big, bad Boston Bruins at 7:30.
Public-address plugs for that one had wrestling overtones, too, as it was pointed out that the Bruins are coached by Don Cherry - "Boo" - and everyone remembers what a villianous guy he is - "Hiss."
Cherry and Washington Coach Tom McVie have been exchanging verbal degradation and perhaps it would boost the gate if the two met at center ice in a best-of-three falls before the main event.
Certainly, it might help McVie relieve his frustrations. The players, in easing theirs during Sunday's brawl, merely raised McVie's temperature, because extracurricula activity set up three Detroit power-play goals and turned a winnable game into a fifth straight defeat.
It's amazing that McVie has kept his cool, although he slipped a bit Saturday on the bus bringing the team from Baltimore-Washington Airport ot Capital Centre after the 5-0 loss in Montreal. When some players laughed loudly in the back. McVie stormed from his seat and shouted. "Keep it down, gentlemen. Next thing you'll be singing."
"It's frustrating for the players," McNab said yesterday, "but it's frustrating for the front office, too."
The touchiness of some office personnel was displayed Sunday when they removed a sign posted in honor of goalie Ron Low's return with the Detroit Red Wings: "Low and Behold The Caps Did Fold - McNab Blew It!"
After the removal, the angry designers were told by a team official that they could put it back up if they deleted McNab's name. They declined, apparently because O'malley wouldn't fit in the questionable area. The incident, a rather petty one, revived memories of the doldrum days of 1975, when Capitals officials tore down a sign that read: "There's An Awful Smell in the NHL, The Washington Capitals."
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The Capitals have been assessed at least one major penalty in seven of their last eight games. Washington ranks third in penalty minutes with 1,258, for a 17.2 average, and has yielded a league-high 69 pewer-play goals, including 11 in the last four games.
Boston is sixth in penalties with 1,132 and its scoring leader, Terry O'Reilly (83 points), is also the team's penalty leader with 207 minutes. If those Capitals woh escape O'Neill's wrath want to renew their battling, they will undoubtedly find a receptive opponent.
So come on out to Capital Centre and cheer the heroes, hiss the villians. Just don't look at the scoreboard, which no longer means anything to the home teams anyway.