Shortly after Fred Shero became the coach of the New York Rangers, he displayed his luggage, with a Ranger insignia carefully sewn over the original Philadelphia Flyers label, and said, "It certainly is great to have a smart wife. I never wold have thought of that."
If Shero is fortunate to have a wife who looks after such details, he also is fortunate in overlooking few items himself. And the Rangers are fortunate, finally, to have a coach who is capable of bringing a winner to New York.
The Rangers are breezing so far, with an 11-44 record that puts them among the National Hockey League's elite. But, oddly, the Rangers have a better road record (6-1-1) than they have been able to muster at Madison Square Garden (5-3-3).
The Washington Capitals hope to capitalize on that slight deficiency in the Rangers' performance when the teams meet for the first time this season tonight at the Garden (WTOP-1500 at 7:30 p.m.).
To do so, Washington must find a way to handle the Rangers' big line of left wing Pat Hickey, center Ulf Nilsson and right wing Anders Hedberg. Hickey, who blossomed into a 40-goal scorer a year ago without the Swedes' assistance, is headed in that direction again with a club-leading figure of 21 points, on eight goals and 13 assists.
Nilsson, who fit in quickly to Shero's system, and Hedberg, who found the switch to the NHL a bit more difficult, trail Hickey by two points. Nilsson has eight goals, Hedberg six. That is a long way from their World Hockey Association accomplishments - Hedberg had 236 goals in four years with Winnipeg, Nilsson 140 - but Shero has expressed satisfaction with their progress in the NHL wars.
Defenseman Ron Greschner, in his fifth NHL season, has jumped into the ranks of the league's best backliners. He has collected 16 points in his last 12 games and his defensive efforts have not suffered in the process.
In fact, the Rangers' defense leads the NHL, allowing only 46 goals in 19 games. John Davidson's 240 mark is the best among the league's goaltenders.
The Capitals were scheduled to make the journey to New York by troliner this morning, after playing the Boston Bruins at Capitals Centre last night. The Rangers have been on a holiday since playing a 3-3 home-ice tie with Toronto Wednesday night.