While the economy shows merely recessive tendencies, a full-scale depression has hit Capital Centre. The Washington Capitals' winless streak reached eight games yesterday in a 6-1 loss to Buffalo and not even positive thinker Gary Green was radiating holiday cheer.
"I'm going to lose my voice," Coach Green said. "I don't know what I have to do to get them to play consistent hockey. It's like pulling teeth at times and damn tough."
There were boos from some of the 9,027 fans at the close of the second period, with Washington trailing 4-1, but little noise at game's end. Most of the spectators had left.
An exception were happy members of the Buffalo Sabres' Fan Club. They chanted "Let's go, Buffalo" and counted the goals: "1-2-3-4, we want 5." By the final period, Washington fans were joining them, just for something to yell about.
"We're all depressed," said General Manager Max McNab. "It's not a good scene. After the first period they absolutely dominated us. Not anybody was going to give us any kind of a lift after their third goal. It was like we were in a shell just trying to keep the score down."
Everyone understands that having seven regulars hurt has filled the prospect of immediate return by any lineup with youngsters and ruined the preseason hopes. There is no of the seven, and repeats of yesterday's blowout figure to drive more people away from the Centre. So the big questin is: Are the Capitals going to trade for some big-league talent?
"We are looking, no question," McNabb replied. "We weren't satisfied even before the injuries. We are in a situation where you can't expect inexperience to go against top guys and win. We were expecting better physical results."
While McNab looks and ponders, possibly with visions of a Montreal Care package for Robert Picard dancing in his dreams, he kept that Hershey revolving door spinning. Left wing Steve Clippingdale, the Bears' high scorer, will join the Caps for tonight's contest in Quebec, while Gary Rissling was returned.
Picard and Rissling were key figures in yesterday's disaster. Picard was on the ice for Buffalo's first five goals and Rissling the first three.
Guy Charron, returning from the hospital list, sent the Capitals off in front at 8:14 of the first period. Initially, he set up Rick Green for a blast from the point. After goalie Bob Sauve deflected Green's shot into the corner with his glove, Charron retrieved the puck, circled defender Bill Hajt and beat Sauve from close range.
"Guy did what we thought he'd do," McNab said."For the first 30 minutes he was a lifter, but then he ran out of gas and nobody else picked things up."
Buffalo's Danny Gare and Rissling jostled each other on a faceoff in Buffalo ice. When they were calmed, Gare sped down the right wing, took Derek Smith's pass and, with neither Rissling nor left defenseman Picard bothering him, beat goalie Wane Stephenson with a sharply angled shot from the right-wing circle.
"Outside of that one shot Buffalo didn't really have a scoring chance in the first period," McNab said.
The second period was something else. In the first 12 minutes, the Sabres outshot Washington, 11-0, and they put the game away on two goals 13 seconds apart by Gare and Smith. Gare connected on a backhanded rebound as Stephenson faced a pile of players in front of the crease. Smith netted an unscreened 40-footer.
From then on, it was statistics time, with Gil Perreault scoring once and Rick Martin twice and each hitting a post.
As the Capitals were losing their fifth straight home game, shrewd Buffalo Coach Scotty Bowman noted, "It's tough on the fans, tough on everybody. The biggest thing is not to get discouraged. I know Gary Green won't get discouraged, but you've got to give him time.
"There have been some abnormal injuries. The club is operating under a strain and what you have to be careful of is not only having the injuries, but talking about them. You get to feeling sorry for yourself and the other team gets geared up, knowing you're hurting, and things can get pretty bad."
At Capital Centre, things definitely are bad.