Al Arbour and Gary Green were contestants in hockey's version of the Match Game Saturday night. Arbour and his New York Islanders were big winners on the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard, 5-2. Green vowed that his Washington Capitals would return for many more appearances.
Green decided that certain of his lines were capable of outplaying varied Islander trios. However, as the home coach, Arbour had the right of last change. The resulting battle of wits produced a hockey game with the spectator appeal of chess.
For those who missed it on television, or fell asleep early trying to fathom the moves, the scenario at each stoppage of play went like this:
Arbour would send out a line. Green would send out the group he wanted against it. Arbour would substitute another threesome. Green would try once more to match up, with referee Ron Harris usually waving the oncoming Capitals back to the bench.
Then, if the long-delayed faceoff occurred in New York ice, Green would station two men next to his bench and substitute as soon as the puck was dropped. If the faceoff was in the Washington end, Green would order his men to leave the ice as soon as the puck headed for the New York zone.
Asked whether he considered the matchups important enough to warrant all that maneuvering, Arbour grinned like a spider reveling in all those changes on the fly and said, "They were so conscious of changing that I was hoping to catch them changing. In any event, I wanted to force them to change on the fly."
Green defended his actions with some solid reasoning, but his key statement cited the coach's role as puppet master, pulling the strings rather than being strung along.
"If you don't match lines, you might as well be a puppet behind the bench," Green said. "You can just say 'Next' and send out a line and say 'Next' and send out another one. That isn't my idea of coaching.
"Look at their first goal. That was a mismatch. They had (Bryan) Trottier's line out against our fourth line. We could let that happen all night if I'm not cognizant of the matchups, if I'm just saying 'Next.'"
The statistics backed Green's argument, while also indicating Arbour's success in countering Green's moves. Only one New York goal, by Wayne Merrick against the Guy Charron line, came while Green had the matchups he desired. Another was scored on a power play, while three times the Islanders connected during matchups Green considered undesirable.
Green's primary objective was to have Paul Mulvey, Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner playing against the Islanders' big line of Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies.Walter and company were not on the ice for a goal all night.
As an adjunct of the Match Game, Green felt that his maneuvers had succeeded in slowing an Islander team that came out buzzing from the opening faceoff.
"I was stubborn tonight and by being stubborn we slowed their game down to a snail's pace," Green said. "Our game plan was to come out for the second period, when they were expecting a snail's pace, and take it to them. But it never happened.'"
It was suggested to Green that several of his players seemed more concerned with getting on and off the ice at the prescribed times than in accomplishing anything while out there. Green did not rule out the possibility, but he said it was part of the learning process.
"Making line changes like that should not throw players off their game," Green said. "It's a discipline factor. When you play playoff hockey, you have to play a disciplined game.
"You have to be ready every shift, to go out and outplan that line opposite you. If you can't, then you're not capable of playing high-caliber hockey in somebody else's building.
"Within our situation, the playoff pairings will force us to start on the road against good hockey teams. We'd better be prepared to play physical, intense games away from home. We did it in Minnesota and we should have done it here.'"
While the team flew home yesterday for a day of rest, Green traveled to Philadelphia, to watch the Flyers against St. Louis. The Capitals' next game is Tuesday night in the Spectrum.
"We'll prepare for Philly on Monday," Green said, "and we' better be prepared to go in and face the toughest team in the league Tuesday night."