When Coach Danny Belisle of the Washington Capitals decides this morning whether to start Wayne Stephenson or Gary Inness in goal against the visiting Buffalo Sabres tonight at 7:30, it will be his decision alone, with no outside influence.
That was the word from General Manager Max McNab, who was disturbed by speculation that he had ordered Belisle to use Stephenson to attempt to justify the fat salary the club is paying the summer acquisition from Philadelphia.
Stephenson, with a 4.56 goals-against average and 85 percent save ratio, has started nine games to five for Inness, who has more capable figures of 3.00 and 90 percent.
"I have never told any coach, Tex Evans (at San Diego), Tom McVie or Danny Belisle, to play anybody," McNab said. "The coach is more attuned to what is going on in the room and a player's mental outlook than I could possibly be."
Belisle has defended his use of Stephenson on the basis of Stephenson's 2.80 career mark in the NHL and on the premise that, "If we're going to improve in goaltending, he's going to do it for us. That's why we got him."
McNab ended a lengthy silence in the Tom McVie controversary by unloading a one-sentence jab at the former Capital coach who is not at Winnipeg.
"I just want to say one thing, that I met with Tom McVie for two hours after I got back from Los Angeles," McNab said.
McVie had claimed that McNab had never discussed his firing with him after it occurred two days before the 1978-79 season-opener at Los Angeles.
Tonight's game is the second of four in less than two months against Buffalo, with the season series due for completion by Dec. 2 in one of many quirks in a generally unpopular NHL schedule. Buffalo was a home-ice, 6-3 winner over Washington in the season-opener.