This has not been a pleasant season for Bob Sirois. A 29-goal scorer for the Washington Capitals a year ago, Sirois has netted only one in nine NHL games.
The night he scored that goal, on Oct. 20 in Pittsburgh, Sirois left the ice in agony, spasms sending ripples of pain through his lower back. It was a problem that had occurred before, never lasting more than a day or two.
This time, the pain persisted.It was not, until Nov. 10 that he could play again and, once more, he was unable to finish the game. He tried again, on Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, and then Dr. Pat Palumbo prescribed a long rest.
Last Friday, after five weeks of fidgeting in the stands, Sirois pronounced himself fit to play. He expected to join the Capitals in Springfield, Mass. Instead, he was told to fly to Rochester and play for the Hershey farm club. For Sirois, it was like a kick in that pained portion of his anatomy.
"It hurt my feelings," Sirois said. "I always thought I could start back here, but other people thought differently. Nobody likes to go down and I didn't like it a bit."
Sirois went anyway and he scored the winning goal for the Bears. That night, he rode the bus back to Hershey and played again, less effectively, against Syracuse. It was not the back that betrayed him; his legs, after so much idleness, could not handle two games in two nights.
On Monday, Coach Gary Green was asked whether Sirois would suit up for Tuesday's exhibition with Moscow Dynamo, a game in which each team could dress 20, one more than normal.
"I don't know," Green said. "His play Saturday indicated that his legs aren't ready yet."
Sirois, however, did play Tuesday, at right wing on a line with his old pal, Guy Charron, and newcomer Mike Kaszycki. Although an errant stick burst a blood vessel in his finger, Sirois collected two goals and two assists in one of the more emotional games ever played at Capital Centre. No stars were selected after the 5-5 tie, but there was little doubt that Sirois and Charron were Nos. 1 and 2.
Afterward, Sirois, still wearing the corset that protects his lower back, held his head high and let those "other people" know that his pride had been pricked.
"It hurt my feelings to go to Hershey, but it never hurt my game," Sirois said. "I work hard here and I worked hard there, in the American league.
"It was great being on the ice again and my back held up fine. Of course, after I survived that seven-hour bus trip from Rochester to Hershey I knew I was okay. I think that's why they really sent me down there."
Charron was pleased to have his old linemate back and he joked: "We've learned a lot by playing together. Bobby likes to carry the puck and I've learned to be patient to wait until he can't take it any farther and then it will usually come to me."
It was a needle of sorts and somebody unfamiliar with the Capitals might have taken it as a jab. But there was memory of a practice last week at Fort Dupont, of Sirois skating out when the contact work was over, of Charron coming over to shake Sirois' hand and offer a few words of welcome back.
Yesterday, Green was asked whether Sirois would be returing to Hershey.
"No, after that Russian game, I'd have to say he's in good enough shape to stay here," Green replied.