The Washington Capitals stumbled to their sixth straight home defeat last night, a statistic unmatched since the 25-game winless days of early 1976, and then decided it was time for a long talk.
While Coach Gary Green in a nearby room underlined the obvious -- that injuries have left the Capitals in a state where victories must be considered luxuries -- the players held a team meeting in the dressing room. So many had too much to say that it dragged on for 20 minutes, 10 more than National Hockey League rules permit when the press is waiting to get in, and left the club subject to a fine.
The principal speaker was Guy Charron, fitting choice, since he was the only player who put in a 60-minute effort while the Capitals were being dumped by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2.
Incredibly, one of Toronto's heroes was Walter (Sludge) McKechnie, who assisted on every goal. This was the same McKechnie who was fired two years ago by Tom McVie after compiling five points in 16 games as a Capital.
While the Capitals talked to each other, McKechnie had a few words for the fans who have heaped abuse on him every time he comes to Capital Center.
"I don't know why they dislike me so much," McKechnie said. "They can do whatever they want, of course. They pay their money. But they must not have much to cheer about or yell about if they have to yell at me.
"Nobody likes to be called some of the things they're yelling at me. I wouldn't mind meeting them on the street. I played 16 games here and I guess I wrecked their franchise."
Well, he probably helped, but there have been a lot of other wreckers in the Capitals' ignominious 88-274-62 history. Last night penalties destroyed the home team, as Toronto converted all three of its power-play opportunities while extending the Capitals' winless streak to 10 games.
Lanny, McDonald scored twice for the Leafs, running his season total to 12. He and Paul Gardner sent Toronto into a 2-0 lead in the first period while Washigton's Rick Green and Robert Picard were serving interfecence penalties.
The Capitals outshot the Leafs by 14-7 in the second period and halved the lead on Tom Rowe's power-play goal. Charron made the play, on which goalie Wayne Stephenson assisted, by skating across the Toronto blue line and shoveling a pass to Rowe at his right. Rowe's 40-footer marked his 100th NHL point, his first in six games.
The goal, Rowe's eighth, ended a string of 20 unsuccessufl Washington power plays. The extra-man play clicked again and produced a tie early in the third period as Charron skated around the back of the Toronto net and tried to jam the puck in. He failed, but managed to slip the rebound past goalie Mike Palmateer for his third goal in three games.
"We got that right off the bat, the way we had hoped, and got right back in the game," Coach Green said. "Then we got another penalty, they scored and we're sitting back a goal again."
It was the team captain, Ryan Walter, who went to the box, for pulling down McDonald. Mike Gartner failed to clear the zone and, after much maneuvering, the Leafs set up McDonald in the right-wing circle. He connected as Stephenson went sliding on his back.
It appeared that Toronto's Tiger Williams, in the process of being shoved from the crease area by Washington's Gord Lane, triped Stephenson with his stick.
Stephenson charged to the blue line, then was pushed to referee Alf Lejeune any time the official came near him and still was yelping at games's end.
By that time, Toronto's Dan Maloney, pemitted too musch room along the left-wing boards by Picard, had set up Ron Ellis for the clinching goal. t