When Don Cherry brings his Boston Bruins into Capital Center tonight, there will be a division of opinion among the spectators. Some will throw verbal jabs at the Boston coach and one special critic will probably bring back his worn "Cherry is the Pits" sign.
For those who save their razzberries for Danny Belisle, however, the ideal bowl of cherries would be Boston Don moving over one bench and leading the Capitals to the promised land.
It is doubtful that Cherry could have moved in two days before season's start and done much more with the Capitals than Belisle managed, but a nine game winless streak can cause folks to engage in some pleasant dreaming. Besides, some of them have been down on Belisle since the day he took over.
The mounting pressure on Belisle led him to shake his fist and shout at hecklers at Capital Centre a few weeks back. And General Manager Max McNab felt compelled to give Belisle an unsolicited vote of confidence.Mcnab said it was an attempt to make up for the "pettiness" with which Belisle was forced to deal.
That pettiness knows no bounds and extends even to his players, some of whom refer to Belisle as "Magoo" because, one said, "he's in the dark." Several players expressed shock when informed that Belisle had another year on his contract. Apparently, the going-away party was already scheduled.
One of the players' major complaints about Belisle concerns the traits others consider refreshing - his honesty and frankness. Belisle has never hesitated to praise publicly a player who has earned such praise; nor has he hesitated to chastise someone who has committed costly errors.
Sunday in Philadelphia, after the Capitals had been overcome by the Flyers' late rally, Belisle raged at the team in the dressing room. His words left many players speechless, but they obviously made no lasting impression, because the club's next performance, in Toronto, was its worst of the four game road trip.
At practice, it is not unusual for Belisle to stop the proceedings and request a better performance in words of mostly one syllable.
Belisle has overworked a few class players - Robert Piccard, Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Guy Charron - because he wants them on the ice in key spots. Sometimes, however, it seems as though the whole third period of a close game is a key spot.
If the players find some of his moves a little odd, Belisle has moments when when he wonders about them. The father of two teen-age sons, Belisle likes to say that he "exchanged two kids for 20."
The way his charges squirt shaving cream on clothing, tie and tape unwary public-relations men, dangle dollars on strings in airporst and cut the ties of sleeping plane passengers, including Belisle, nobody will argue with that statement.
"Players never really understand what goes into coaching," Belisle said.
"They're all basically con men. You just have to figure out their game and learn to deal with it. Some, of course, will con you a lot, others hardly at all."
Nobody is conning Belisle on the ice. He can see the floaters as weel as anyone else, and if he and Mcnab survive the summer solstice, Belisle will doubtless make his presence felt more in the area of who goes and who stays.
Mcnab has been calling all the personnel shots so far, even forcing Belisle to use Michel Bergeron a full month after Belisle asked for shipping papers on the early-season acquisition.
Mcnab concedes that Belisle, hired two days before season's start, faced "the most difficult job of any coach who ever came into this league. I admire his maturity under the circumstances and I'm astounded at the knowledge he has of players as individuals. Their abilities were an unknown factor for him at the start. Sure, it was tough."
It still is tough, and Belisle says, "I can see a big light at the end of the tunnel - it's a train coming my way." He may be run over, particularly if the Capitals close this season with 14 straight winless games and face utter disaster in season-ticket sales, but with his innate sense of humor he will not be reduced to tears as Tom Mcvie was by the day of reckoning.
He deserves to survive. He has made mistakes, but so have management and players. And this week's Hockey News Tells the story of his current plight - there is only one right wing, Blair Stewart, listed on the Capitals' roster.
Belisle has not molded the Capitals into chicken salad because he has not had the necessary ingredients.
The Capitals called right wing Mark Lofthouse back from Hershey and returned Mike Marson to Binghamton . . . Bob Sirois underwent surgery yesterday to repair the torn muscle above his left knee. He will be in a cast for six weeks . . . Green's right eye is sound and he will be in the lineup tonight . . . Barring an emergency, Pierre Bouchard will not play this weekend . . . Boston is one of four teams the Capitals have never beaten. The record against the Bruins reads 18 looses and five ties . . . Another of the invincible four, the New York Islanders, will be here Sunday night. The others are Montreal and Philadelphia.