Center Guy Charron returns to the Washington Capital's lineup today and followers of the faltering hockey club hope he is the leader of a steady return march by the halt and the lame.
Seven regulars remain on the disabled list, however, so the revolving door to Hershey was given another push.Wingers Gary Rissling and Tim Coulis moved up, temporarily at least. It was Coulis' third such promotion in 10 days.
Charron suffered a pulled muscle in his right thigh Nov. 15 when he was checked hard by Boston's Dick Redmond. He has missed four games, none of them victories, as the team's winless streak has reached seven games.
Charron qualified for play in today's 1:30 p.m. date with Buffalo at Capital Centre by skating capably in a marathon practice session at the Centre yesterday. Coach Gary Green had the club on the ice from 10:45 to 1:10, except for a 20-minute break for resurfacing, and the emphasis on hard skating was reminiscent of the conditioning drills inflicted on the club in the early days of Tom McVie.
Charron stayed on ice during the recess and said, "I need the work. I've been resting long enough. The other guys are a month ahead and losing a week really sets you back.
"You'll be able to tell in the first period if I'm ready. If they slam Guy into the boards, then he's not skating the way he should. When I'm in top shape, I'm fast enough that they can't catch me to hit me."
Charron missed four games in October with a similar problem and he said, "It was easier coming back the first time. I think this time I missed the conditioning. Skating by yourself is no good."
Charron, a 102-goal scorer over the last three campaigns, has recorded only one this year and he hopes today marks the start of a new and better season. So does Green, who noted after Wednesday's shutout in Chicago that "we haven't got enough guys out there who can put the puck in the net easily."
Green had a busy day yesterday, even shoveling ice chips into a wheelbarrow to speed up resurfacing for the second segment of the practice session. Later, he spent 2 1/2 hours describing his system to members of the media, then was summoned for a conference with General Manager Max McNab and Roger Crozier, assistant GM.
Today's game means more to Green than most, because Buffalo is guided by Scotty Bowman and Roger Neilson, two of the acknowledged brains of hockey. Green, who would like to be regarded in the same echelon, succeeded Nielson as head coach at Peterborough in the Ontario Major Junior League and outshone his old boss by guiding the Petes to Canada's junior championship last spring.
"Roger's system was geared more to defense," Green said, "and I was always telling him not to be so defensive. When I got the Washington job, he and Scotty sent me a telegram that said, 'Don't be too defensive.'"
On the basis of graduating with honors from 12th grade, Green said present player compliance with his system had reached fifth-grade level.
"For some it comes easy, for some who have never played a disciplined system it comes hard," Green said.
Although Green has detailed his system for many NHL coaches at clinics, he said he was not concerned that it would be neutralized.
"Execution is what's important," Green said.