Coach Gary Green, with the exuberance of youth, appears to have thrown down the gauntlet at Max McNab, the general manager twice his age who has been a symbol of restraint during the Washington Capitals' slow climb to respectability.
"I can't put up with that inconsistency and I won't have it," Green said as the Capitals' latest winless streak reached five games with Sunday's 3-2 loss in Quebec. "We need aggressiveness, guys to dig the puck out of the corners, guys to play the body out there. We have an imbalance. There will be changes made."
Asked whether he was asking for further trades, Green said, "That's the only thing left to do. I'm not going to sit still and see this hockey club play another season like this. It blows your mind. Some guys go out and take the body night in and night out. Those guys had a tough night against Philly Saturday and we had to have the slack to pick it up against Quebec. We didn't get it."
"If we can't get consistency, we will give thought to changes, either individual or major," McNab said. "We do want to get to the point where we have at least one solid cornerman, body-playing man, on each line."
Watching the first-place Flyers' aggressive, successful forechecking twice in a week apparently was more than Green could bear silently. He wants to win, he is accustomed to winning and he thinks the Flyer style is the way to win.
"The best hockey is going out and taking the body, hitting the other guys like (John) Paddock, (Al) Hill, (Tom) Gorence, (Dennis) Ververgaert. But they play the body, all four lines, every shift. That's not goon hockey. That's good, aggressive hockey.
"It's not intimidation. They're not running away from the league in penalty minutes. Things may have gone a bit too far Saturday, but that was exciting hockey. That's what happens when both teams decide to play the body.
"Boston, Philly, Minnesota they all play the body. Nobody likes to go in Minnesota any more. And Montreal is physical. They constantly go at the guy and take the puck. I'm not asking my guys to run over guys. But I want them to take their man out of the play. m
"What do you do? You get to the point where you know you have talent on the hockey club and you force them and get the effort once in a while. He have five solid defensemen, but the forwards are not carrying their share of the load.
"Some guys always give you 100 percent, but the rest have to do it night after night, too. We played an excellent game against Philadelphia and I had reason to expect the same in Quebec. But as far as I'm concerned, we did nothing out there."
The Capitals played physical hockey for a few minutes, then tailed off. It should not have been surprising, considering the night before, but Green's view may be colored by the fact that Philadelphia plays that bang-the-body style night after night.
Marcel Pelletier, the Flyers' director of player personnel, had another suggestion on a recent visit to Capital Centre.
"Washington is always trying to model itself after the Flyers," Pelletier said. "First they ought to model themselves after Washington."
For one thing, the Flyers carry four extra players, all of whom see frequent action. The night after an especially rough game, there will be four substitutions. The Capitals are not blessed with such a luxury.
Then check the makeup of the Philadelphia team. Of the 17 men, exclusive of goalies, who played here Saturday, seven played junior hockey in Western Canada, seven played in Ontario and three were U.S. college hockey products, including NHL penalty leader Paul Homgren, whose collegiate fisticuffs prompted changes in the NCAA rules.
The West and Ontario are the most physical of Canada's junior hockey leagues. Unrepresented Quebec is noted more for finesse.There also is a notable absence of foreign players on the Flyers; again, the Europeans are more accustomed to finesse hockey than aggressiveness.
Look at Washington's 17 on Saturday. Five played junior in Quebec, three are Swedes, one is a Finn. There were four from Ontario, three from Western Canada and one U.S. collegian. If the Capitals hope to emulate the Flyers style successfully, they must contemplate at least a 50 percent upheaval in personnel. McNab has been building a skating team, now Green wants scrappers.
The Capitals' prospects for playing Green's game lie in balancing the lines, with at least one rugged checker on each unit. Yet Green has three of his best hitters -- Ryan Walter, Paul Mulvey and Mike Gartner -- on the same unit and has played them almost to the point of exhaustion.
Green owns the players' respect, because they admire his hockey knowledge. But his motives came under discussion following a royal chewing out in Quebec, when the team did not play all that badly, followed by a bus trip to the airport in which Green sat grimly, arms folded, staring straight ahead.
On the flight back, Green was once again closeted with Roger Crozier, the assistant general manager whom many players do not admire. They spend so much time together on road trips that one perennial pundit has dubbed them "The Bobbsey Twins."
There is speculation that Green would like to have Crozier calling the shots rather than McNab, the voice of moderation about whom a rival general manager has joked, "I called up Max to tell him I'd trade him my first-round draft pick for a third-round pick. He said he'd call me back."
The Capitals play host to the Winnipeg Jets tonight at Capital Centre and there is reason to believe that Crozier had some influence in the Capitals' inexplicable firing of Tom McVie, the Jets' current coach, 15 months ago.
Crozier was a between-periods adviser to McVie, who finally ordered him from the dressing room and said, "He comes down and tells me we're not checking. I can see that for myself." Now Crozier relays information from the press box to Green, who is more receptive and calls Crozier "my assistant coach."
Meanwhile, McNab, hair growing whiter and thinner, ventures an occasional glance across the aisle to coach and assistant, while trying to rebuild the team that he considered capable of winning in the NHL. He concedes that some of the current crew lacks intensity. He also knows many of them cannot play a hitting game night after night.
"Some players in the league, like Bobby Clarke, prosper not with jarring hits but by playing the man," McNab said. "Tenacity like Clarke's is what we're looking for on a very regular basis. Intensity is possible every night. We have to have strong cornermen, with two players we counted on, Greg Polis and Tim Coulis, slowed down by physical problems.
"We make no bones about it. We have to have that every-night intensity. It's an absolute must the way every game is important to everybody. In the Walter-Gartner-Mulvey line, we do see intensity. They're setting a good standard of hard-working hockey."
That leaves Mike Kaszycki, Guy Charron, Bob Sirois, Antero Lehtonen, Wes Jarvis, Mark Lofthouse, Leif Svensson, Rolf Edberg and Bengt Gustafsson to intensify their efforts or, like Tom Rowe, shudder whenever the telephone rings.