Gary Green became the Washington Capitals' coach 17 days and eight games ago. When the Capitals entertain the Quebec Nordiques this afternoon, Green still will be looking for his first victory. Undaunted by misfortune, he answered these questions from Washington Post Staff Writer Robert Fachet.
Q. You knew it wouldn't be easy. Did you expect it to be this difficult to turn things around?
A. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I never thought it would be this difficult to get some wins. I really didn't anticipate having so many players out. I don't think any coach in the National Hockey League could foresee having eight key players out of the lineup. If Toronto, for an example, had to call five players from its farm system, it would be grasping. Our young players have responded well under pressure and some day there will be a good result from this crisis situation, because by giving them experience we are creating depth for the future. But realistically we must understand that some of these players were pretty far down the ladder after training camp. We are starting two defensemen who stood 10th and 11th a month ago. We have first-line wingers who were No. 4. Everybody has been elevated immensely. I'm not degrading them. I'm just pointing out the losses in talent and experience that have made things more difficult.
Q. The players had a lot of harsh words for each other after Wednesday's game. How do you consider the morale of the team?
A. I've always emphasized that tomorrow is another day. You have to hate losing and they are upset, which is good. I have to keep them together as a team so they don't get down on each other. I attended part of their meeting and most of the talk centered around "what we have to do," not "what you have to do" or "what I have to do." I think that is a positive situation.
Q. The captaincy problem created difficulties at the start of the year and the pressure of being captain seems to have affected Ryan Walter's play. Do you forsee any change?
A. Since I've been here, that has been absolutely no problem. Guy (Charron) and Ryan (Walter) get along great. Each team has to have a captain -- but we don't need one, we need 19. I like to spread leadership around. I've had a few talks with Ryan. He was tighter out there for a while, but the last week I do not think it has affected his play. I've told him to forget this thing (the C. He's a natural leader, anyway.
Q. The Capitals' penalty figures have dropped remarkably in recent games. Is this a result of the style of play or have you told the players to make an effort to reduce penalties?
A. We were leading the league in penalties, not because we were overly aggressive but because of stupid penalties. It wasn't because we were the toughest. We were just undisciplined. We were getting killed on penalties. In Colorado, because of a bad penalty, we got one point instead of two. I studied the records and that had happened all too often. I told them first, don't hook the guy but skate with him. If you're in condition you can outskate the guy and put your shouder into him, which isn't a penalty. Penalties are not something to be proud of.
Q. Your predecessor blamed the innovative training camp and lengthy exhibition trip for lack of conditioning and resulting injuries. Do you agree?
A. I don't want to lay emphasis on what went on before. But no, I don't agree. I used that format for four years and my teams always came out of it in great shape. The exhibition record showed that they were there when camp ended. The key before was that the players were expected to get conditioning on their own after practice. We all have a tendency to put it off until tomorrow. The biggest problem I have found, though, was that three-quarters of the hockey club was on a special diet that kept them away from sugar and carbohydrates. After the games in Colardo and Chicago when the guys didn't seem to have any bite, I asked about their diets and I went crazy. Sugar and carbohydrates are energy food. You have to have fuel. We've gone to carbohydrate overload and I'm sure you'll see a big difference.
Q. Are you under pressure from management to win?
A. I put pressure on myself. I've always felt that a coach's job was to win. I'm not under pressure to the extent that they're putting blame on me. I had to have priorities coming into the organization and I'm taking those priorities one step at a time. The first priority was cleaning up our end zone and getting them organized. I feel that they are better organized. We're coming out with the puck, not just dumping it out in panic, and we're not getting hemmed in our end. The second priority is a disciplined format. After that, we can work on special situations, like the power play and penalty killing.
Q. The fans are obviously frustrated. Can you offer them any positive thoughts?
A. After Wednesday night's game, I really feel we're just that far (fingers an inch apart) away from having a good hockey club here, and that's with the guys out there now. (Rolf) Edberg and (Paul) MacKinnon should come back next week and maybe (Pierre) Bouchard, too. With the real talent coming back, I'm confident -- there's not a doubt in my mind -- that this club will be in the playoffs. I haven't had a doubt since I came. My positiveness has gotten stronger, not weaker.