Beginning tonight in Chicago, the Washington Capitals will play their next eight games in eight different cities, traveling approximately 8,700 miles over a period of 2 1/2 weeks.
The itinerary, which makes sense to nobody and brings joy only to travel agents and autograph-hunting airline personnel, reads Chicago-Atlanta-Washington (against the New York Rangers)-Detroit-Winnipeg-Los Angeles-Edmonton-Vancouver-home.
While General Manager Max McNab is in Miami, trying to persuade his colleagues to adopt an unballanced schedule along geographic lines, Coach Gary Green is busily figuring ways for his charges to benefit from the travel. He is not concerned with broadening their horizons.
"A long road trip can be difficult, but in our case there is a great opportunity," Green said. "The games are spaced pretty well, except for the windup in Vancouver, and most of them are against teams that we are trying to catch to make the playoffs.
"We have to beat teams like Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver. There's no reason why we can't put together a .500 or better recored on this trip."
Green's chief task is to keep the players' attention riveted on each upcoming opponent, instead of aimed ahead toward the club's four-day stay in Los Angeles, already a topic of weary players anxious to bake weary bones in the sun.
Motivation should be no problem tonight in Chicago (WDCA-TV-20 at 8:30 p.m.).On their last visit, in November, the Capitals were blanked by the Black Hawks' Tony Esposito, 4-0. It was one of three shutouts this season against the Capitals, who have not saddled on opponent with a 60-minute zero in more than two years.
Esposito leads the NHL with six shutouts and has a career total of 73, tying him with Lorne Chabot for seventh place on the all-time list.
Terry Ruskowski, a teammate of the Apitals' Paul MacKinnon at Winnipeg last season, leads Chicago in both points (46) and penalty minutes (187). Grant Mulvey, brother of Capital Paul, is the Hawks' top goal scorer with 25.
Robert Picard, although less than 100 percent because of a virus that kept him out of Sunday's victory over the Islanders, was with the Capitals when they flew to Chicago last night. Left at home was goalie Gary Inness, who recently returned from two weeks in Hershey.
"There will be a decision somewhere along the line on that (three-goalie) situation," said Roger Crozier, the Capitals' assistant general manager.
Presumably, McNab is utilizing the Miami meeting to try to peddle either Innes or Wayne Stephenson for a hard-hitting winger.