No habitue of the top football wars has ever shouted "Dee-fense" with more fervor than Danny Belisle, coach of the Washington Capitals hockey team. None has been more blatantly ignored.
In their first six games, of which they have won two, the Capitals have yielded 30 goals and conceded 227 shots on goal to the opposition. For comparison purposes, in the first six contests of 1974, the year of the Capitals' agonizing birth, the figures amounted to only 27 goals and 203 shots.
"We've been too offensive-minded," Belisle said. "We've been loose in our own end, giving the puck away in front of our own goal for no reason. It's been a case of losing total composure, complete giveaways.
"I've been talking positional play and forechecking, and there have been indications that some guys are listening. We can't do it for 60 minutes, though. The other night in Pittsburgh, we played pretty well for 10 minutes and then we make one bad pass and everything breaks down.
"We're not really being outplayed. The other teams' goals have resulted from fundamental mistakes. That's just a matter of a little concentration. That's mental."
Only once, however, have the Capitals held an opponent to fewer than 35 shots. That was in the 5-2 loss to Boston, when the Bruins grabbed an early lead and went into a shell. By contrast, not once have the "offensive-minded" Capitals managed to reach a 30-shot figure.
Washington is fortunate not to be 0-6. The Capitals beat the New York Rangers, 5-3, although outshot, 46-26, because Gary Inness had a remarkable night in goal. They edged the Los Angeles Kings, 8-6, in a shootout that was turned around by a Guy Charron goal after the Kings seemingly had taken command.
Wednesday night, the Capitals start a three-game road trip here in the Forum against those same Kings (WTOP-1500 at 11 p.m.) and it provides a rigorous test for Washington's defensive mentality, if any.
Los Angeles, even before tonight's game in Colorado, boasted five of the NHL's top nine scorers, with the big line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor filling the top three slots.
Making the Capitals' task more difficult was the failure of one of their best two-way players, winger Bob Sirols, to come with the team today. He was left at home suffering from a strained muscle in his back.
Sirois, who has experienced similar problems in past years, was preparing for a faceoff in Pittsburgh Saturday when he felt the familiar pain return. Nevertheless, he continued to play for another period and netted the Capitals' only goal before he was forced to leave the game.
Also left at home were center Guy Charron and left wings Greg Polis and Bob Girard. Charron is still recovering from a pulled muscle in his thigh. Polis and Girard are healthy, but they have been sent to the Hershey farm club for conditioning.
Althougth Polis reported to training camp in less than ideal shape, he had played in all six games. He managed only one assist and lost his place on the Dennis Maruk-Tom Rowe line to rookie Errol Rausse.
Girard suffered a pulled groin muscle during training camp and just recently was pronounced fit for game action. He is noted as a checking winger and could conceivably help alleviate the Capitals' defensive problems after a tuneup in Hershey.
Joining the Capitals here Wednesday will be right wing Tony Cassolato, who collected three goals at Hershey, each of which turned out to be a game winner.
Cassolato, 23, played in the World Hockey Association the last three years and will be making his NHL debut against the Kings.
Center Rolf edberg, who made the trip despite a bruised right hand, is doubtful for Wednesday's game. If he cannot play, the Capitals will dress seven defensemen.