Tom Rowe is doing a lot of talking - and listening - these days. Rowe, the Washington Capitals' leading goal scorer with four, has played with four different centers in eight games, and each change requires an exchange of thoughts among linemates.
When the Capitals entertain the Pittsburg Penguins at 7:30 tonight, right wing Rowe will be making further adjustments. After two reasonably successful games alongside Ryan Walter, Rowe finds himself back with Dennis Maruk, whose playmaking contributed to two Rowe goals last week. Bob Girard will be on the left side.
"Ninety percent of a line being successful is communication," Rowe said. "It's awfully important to know what each guy is doing. Ryan and Bobby (Girard) and I were talking between every shift and I'm sure Denny will do the same.
"For myself, I think it's better to play with two guys and stay with them, but we're not having success and I know (Coach) Danny (Belisle) is shifting people to try to hit the right combinations. We all want to get going."
Belisle was pleased with the Girard-Walter-Rowe combination, but there were problems elsewhere.
"I'm still trying to see what his guy can do and that guy can do," Belisle said. "Pretty soon we've got to get to the point where we'll just keep 20 guys. The centers are the engineers and we've got to move them to see who they work with best.
"There's no other way except to move guys around. In practice, you can't tell everything. I don't think it matters who Walter plays with; he'll help anybody he's with. Maruk has been playing well, but he's just not getting the production. This may help."
Other firm combinations for tonight have promising rookie Walter making his Capital Center debut between Paul Mulvey and Eddy Godin, and Guy Charron centering Bob Sirolis and Micheal Bergeron. The rest of the 17-man lineup (not counting goalies) is uncertain, but Belisle indicated he might have a surprise for the folks at Capital Centre.
"I may go with four lines and five defensemen," Belisle said."I've been using six defensemen and they haven't been getting enough work. If I go with five, I may put Bryan Watson at right wing on the fourth line. He's a pretty good skater and he's played there during some pretty good years, checking Bobby Hull."
Watson, who was at right wing on a line with center Rolf Edberg and Nelson Burton in yesterday's practice, spent a few seconds at that position with the Capitals last year. Tom McVie started Watson on the wing in several games to stir things up and Watson usually obliged by flattening somebody at the first drop of the puck.
Tonight's game is an important one for the Capitals, who travel to Montreal tomorrow and long Island Saturday. Pittsburgh is the one Norris Division team the Capitals can realistically figure to beat out.
"It's just like a playoff game, as Danny said today," Rowe commented. "We have no wins at home and we've got to beat Pittsburgh. We need to get fired up the way we were in Chicago and start playing consistently. We've been too up and down. We have got to dump it. We have to have good workouts and then play that way."
Yesterday's workout at Fort Dupont was not the way. The Capitals' power play, practicing five on three, was wretched, as befits its No. 17 ranking in a 17-team league. Pittsburgh has connected on 24 percent of its chances, Washington only 8 percent. The Islanders lead with 40 percent and their Mike Bossy has five extra-man goals, to the Capitals' total of three.