During the waning moments of yet another Capital punishment, Carl Stein turned to his companions in Section 211 and yelled in frustration, "You know, we've been sitting here for five years watching this (garbage). We ought to see a psychiatrist."
A hockey nut in a special breed of Iunatic, however, and even before Sunday's 6-4 victory over the New York Islanders, Stein confessed that "I'll be back here next year, no matter what."
Almost 400 loyalists will help fete the team at Wednesday night's Fan Club banquet. And Sunday, following that dramatic breakthrough, more than a thousand poured onto the ice to photograph their heroes. Although there is defection on the fringes, a loyal core of fans remains at Capital Centre, refusing to be dismissed by a team whose futility has permitted only 82 winning outings in 397.
Some may carry signs and chant "Green Must Go" or "Svensson Go Home" or "Lynch Jack" or "We Want a Coach) but what they really want are some Capital gains and many see other avenues of attaining them than those chosen by management.
"We ought to spend the money to get Don Cherry down here," Stein said. "There's more talent now than before. I don't think the team is playing as well as they can. Someone like Cherry can get it out of them. If they gave him both jobs. I know he'd get this team moving."
Other fans are more sympathetic toward Coach Danny Belisle, figuring that disastrous early-season slump was more the fault of management than the man it tossed into the pressure cooker.
"The day before the season started to get a new coach that was bad timing," said Bob Garner. "Belisle was thrown into such a tough thing, it's hard to judge him. He spent the first half of the year just getting used to the players. He's just finding out now what they can do. Maybe next year with a full training camp might be a true indication."
A lot of folks still wish Tom McVie was the coach, but Navy Cmdr. Ed Randall figures a change was a military necessity.
Randall, the portly guy with the megaphone and Capitals ski hat, probably is the team's No. 1 fan, now that health problems have chased Sharon Byrus to Colorado, while transferring her notorious rubber chicken to the Capitals' case at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"McVie was an oldtime sergeant in an oldtime army and we don't have oldtime soldiers any more." Randall said. "The team's best showing was in January, when there was a kind of compromise. Some McVie discipline was left and they were loose under Belisle. Now I think they're too loose.
"But the jury is still out on Belisle. I'd hold him till December and if he hasn't improved his skill and knowledge of the game, then I'd fire him. The way he came in was a bad deal. Let him have a training camp."
A majority of the Capitals' fans want to continue the present policy of building with draft choices, rather than trading them off for immediate help, as the Pittsburgh Penguins did to create instant improvement.
"Don't follow in Pittsburgh's footsteps," advised Henry Wertheimer. "It's more important to have superstars to identify with than a lot of mediocre players. And I don't want to see Rick Green go. He's a potential superstar."
"It's a shame that everybodyhs on Rick Green," Garner agreed. "You can only do so much and he seems to be out there all the time. I think that's where Belisle has made a mistake, shifting guys around so much that they never get a chance to figure out what they're doing."
"Draft picks shouldn't be inviolate," Randall said. "It depends on what you can get. Nobody will be up in arms if they get the right guys. It's easy after the fact to look over and see that some of the personnel decisions that were made before weren't good.
"The (Michel) Bergeron deal was bad. He never performed. And (Paul) Mulvey didn't get a fair shake. They should send him down or play him, but don't waste him. And the (Dennis) Hextall deal was a bad one. They're better off keeping (Ron) Lalonde. He's a better skater and faceoff man. That (Gary) Inness deal was a stroke of genius, though. It was good to send down (Jim) Bedard for a while."
All the fans' complaints and suggestions are not related to the team's performance. There is a feeling that owner Abe Pollin could upgrade a few things around the Centre. Wertheimer comes from Baltimore and has missed only one home game in five years, that post-blizzard contest with Detroit on Feb. 21.
"I wrote the Capitals a letter suggesting that they compensate me, since weather conditions prevented me from coming," Wertheimer said. "I didn't really expect to be compensated, but I at least expected a response. I didn't get one."
Wertheimer also questions the policy of opening the doors one hour before each game.
"They should open the doors earlier on weekday evenings," he said. "That only gives you a half hour to eat in the Showcase and still watch the warmups. That's not enough time."
Albert Groth, another Baltimorean, figures the 5 percent of Capitals fans who come from that city are deserving of bus transportation.
"When the Bullets played in Baltimore, they ran buses to the games from Washington," Groth said. "Why can't they run buses from Baltimore and save people all that driving? And I don't understand why they don't have some partial season-ticket plans, the way the Orioles do. The Clippers used to have partial plans, for particular nights or to see each team one time. A lot of people can't afford full season tickets."
Most fans with season tickets plan to take advantage of Pollin's 20 percent rebate. Randall considers the rebare "compensation for passing up promotions and discounts through the year."
James Anderko does not have a season ticket and has no intention of buying one, although he comes to most of the games.
"The season-ticket holder gets robbed," Anderko said. "There's not one benefit. They have so many of these half-price nights, when anybody can get two tickets for the price of one. I always thought season-ticket holders should get a break. I can come out here before the game and buy a ticket out front for half price. Tonight I got one free."
A statement by Garner, who does not intend to claim his rebate, should help Pollin's digestion.
"I don't think people should expect to get that 20 percent back," Garner said. "It's like a horse race. If you bet $2 and lose you shouldn't expect your money back."
Not even when the horse is unable to get out of the starting gate?