Although most of its members would qualify for a July 4 reunion of the survivors of Valley Forge, the Washington Capitals' defense, with a giant assist from goalie Gary Inness, is getting the job done.
Saturday night the Capitals' back line bent to the extent of permitting the Pittsbugh Penguins 39 shots, but Inness stopped 37 and the Capitals won, 5-2, tying the club record of seven road victories in a season.
The Capitals have won four of their last five games, despite an alarming number of injuries among the defense men.
Pete Scamurra underwent surgery after suffering a torn knee ligament Jan. 6 and will be out the rest of the season. Leif Svensson suffered a severely sprained left ankle a week ago and has missed the last three games.
Robert Picard has been playing despite a badly bruised elbow and assorted other ailments that make him a permanent postgame resident of the trainers' room. Yvon Labre played Friday and Saturday despite a bruised knee that had kept him from practicing the previous two days.
Picard will not practice today, nor will Rick Green, who suffered a bruised knee Saturday when he crashed over Inness into his own net while trying to ride the Pittsburgh's Peter Lee off the puck.
Inness was knocked unconscious on the play, yet he and Green rose and continued.
Watching two of his stars lie on the ice was a traumatic experience for Coach Danny Belisle, who commented, "If they hadn't gotten up, I would have just called Philly and seen if the Firebirds had a job for me."
While the injuries pile up, there have been some compensating factors. One was the return Saturday of Jack Lynch, battling back from difficult knee surgery in December 1977. Lynch, who saw limited duty, played capably and his quick outlet pass helped Greg Polis to open the scoring against the Pittsburgh team for which Polis, Inness, Lynch and Labre all toiled in the past.
"I feel great," Lynch said. "It's nice to get my feet wet again. It'll be a while before I'm 100 percent, though, because the game is so much faster here (than in Hershey, where he had played most of this season)."
Unsolicited, Belisle showered praise on Gord Lane, the defenseman whose occasional obvious mistakes have overshadowed the remarkable improvement in his overall play.
"Gordie Lane is really playing well," Belisle said. "He's picked up so much it's unbelievable. Pic and Green are steady and you expect them to play super, but Lane has made the difference, the way we've been struggling with all those injuries."
The Capitals are nine points away from Los Angeles, which holds down the 12th and final playoff berth. With three straight home games coming up -- against the New York Rangers Wednesday, Chicago Saturday and Toronto Sunday -- the Capitals have an excellent opportunity to make further gains.
"We're closing on the other teams and at least now the playoffs are a realistic goal," Belisle said. "Talk about starting to believe -- the attitude and togetherness on this team are as good as you can possibly expect."