The Washington Capitals will skate out for their first practice under Coach Gary Green today. They need it. The Detroit Red Wings spoiled Green's Capital Centre debut last night with a 4-2 decision that exposed some obvious dificiencies on the home club.
"We made a lot of breakdown errors," Green said. "The guys need a lot of work. They're making mistakes out there that they shouldn't make. But they're trying to play a system we still haven't practiced. Maybe last night on that smaller ice surface it was easier to do."
The close, 3-2 loss in Boston Thursday to the tough Bruins had most of the 11,972 Centre fans expecting a victory over the lowly Red Wings. Instead, Detroit tucked the game away with three goals in less than four minutes of the first period. Reed Larson neeting a pair of 50-foot slap shots.
"In the first period the guys stood around too much," Green said. "They were tense and I could feel it. I think there were too many memories of the last game here.
"They were thinking about the crowd, remembering the past. You can't do that. You have to think about the future."
The crowd was thinking about the future as it welcomed Green enthusiastically, both as he crossed the ice and after he was formally introduced.
"It was a nice feeling to see everybody up cheering for the team," noted defenseman Rich Green, a frequent target of Centre dissidents. It's going to take a little time for everybody to react at certain time and do things in certain situations, but we're going to make things happen."
On this night, however, the Red Wings were making things happen. Vaclav Nedomansky converted Dale McCourt's perfect pass at 9:59 of the first period and Detroit was ahead to stay.
After Paul Mulvey was flagged for interference, a funny thing and an unfunny thing happened.
First, Rick Green thought he was the offender and beat Mulvey to the box. He yielded his seat, somewhat embarrassed, when the violation was confirmed. The Larson blasted a slap shot past screened goalie Gary Inness for a 2-0 lead.
It was 3-0 just 71 seconds later on another Larson drive, this one without bodies blocking Inness' vision. There were boos from disgruntled fans who expected a happier result, but there was no comparison to Tuesday's demonstrations against then-Coach Danny Belisle.
Ryan Walter deflected a Rich Creech slap shot past Detroit goalie Rogie Vachon before the period ended to create a more positive mood, and Gary Green tabbed Wayne Stephenson to replace Inness at the start of the second period.
Stephenson was beaton on the first shot that came his way, another Nedomansky lamplighter off a McCourt setup. Stephensen was perfect the rest of the way, however, and his grandstand critics offered a gruding applause when he gloved a high, closeup drive by Paul Woods.
Tom Rowe's seventh goal, off Peter Mahovlich's skate from an impossible angle reduced the Detroit lead to 4-2 at 5:44 of the second period. It also closed the scoring and the Capital's losing streak reached four games.
As usual in Detroit-Washington games, there were fistic encounters. The main bout saw Rowe take on Larson with dire consequences, and Paul Mulvey came to Rowe's rescue, to be ejected as the third man in the altercation.
I thought Larson gave Gusty (bengt Gustafsson) an unnecessary shot and we stick together on this team, so I went after him," Rowe said. "Like Walt says, nobody loses a fight -- but maybe I lost this one. It's lucky he couldn't hurt my helmet.
Washington was playing without most of its regular center. Guy Charron, who suffered a pulled muscle in his right thigh during Thursday's loss at Boston, is out indefinitely.Rolf Edberg hopes to skate Monday after learning that the ligaments in his right knee were stretched, not torn as in the case of another center, Dennis Maruk.
Center Wes Jarvis, Hershey's leading scorer with 18 points in 15 games, made his NHL debut on a fourth line with Antero Lehtonent and assorted right wings. Winger Tim Coulis was returned to Hershey yesterday.
Defenseman Leif Svensson took a regular turn despite sore groin muscles. He needs rest, but is not likely to get it, with games scheduled Sunday (against Atlanta here 7 p.m.), Tuesday and Wednesday.
"This is a tough schedule," Svensson said. "It's quite a changeover, too, moving to a new system without any practice. It will take a little while to get it down.
The fans seemed to accept the result with good grace, although a few facetious "Goodbye Gary" cries were heard.