The Washington Capitals' noon practice session at Capital Centre yesterday resembled a World War I reunion. Not all of the regulars made it.
Coach Gary Green skated to center ice, counted 13 noses that included two behind goalie masks and asked, "Where is everybody?" Then, stepping off for one last check, he said, "Don't any of you guys go away while I'm in the dressing room."
While Green has maintained his sense of humor in the midst of adversity, he really was not laughing on the inside. It is not funny to have only two defensemen physically able to practice.
"It seems to come all at once for us," Green said. "It's depressing. It's tough to work on the power play or anything else. I can count on one hand the days since I've been here that I've had everybody here to work on the power play, and I won't need to use all the fingers."
At least, the medical report was more distressing from a numbers standpoint than from any preponderance of disabling injuries. There is even a remote chance that all of yesterday's seven absentees will be able to suit up for Wednesday's Centre duel with St. Louis.
Defenseman Pat Ribble, struck in the right hand by a shot during Sunday's 3-1 loss to Colorado, was X-rayed twice, with cast in place and later removed, and no break was discernible. The extreme soreness, however, will probably keep him out for a few days.
Defenseman Rick Green, who departed in the second period when he felt a twinge in his sore left knee, should be all right with treatment. The same goes for Pierre Bouchard, tender shoulder, an Alan Hangsleben, sore hands and bruised shoulder.
While those four visited doctors' offices yesterday, three others reported for varied treatment from trainer Gump Embro. Ryan Walter sat in the whirlpool to ease the pain of a slight leg muscle pull, Bengt Gustafsson applied an ice pack to a bruised hip and Rolf Edberg rode the bicycle, to exercise his tight groin muscle.
"I was so hungry to help, I had to try to play Sunday," Edberg said. "But it was no good. I need rest. How do you rest with only 16 games left?"
The brevity of the remaining schedule was also noted by General Manager Max McNab, who expressed thanks that both Detroit and Quebec, two prime targets for Washington's playoff drive, had lost Sunday.
"We were kissed by angel dust as far as the proper teams losing," McNab said. "With the time factor, though, we have to help ourselves. One thing I think the guys have learned is that home ice is only what you make of it."
Both McNab and Green talked to the players at a team meeting that followed practice or treatment.
"We have to regroup and this was a chance for them to watch some video," Green said. "For some guys, it's a mental rest day, for some a chance to recuperate, others got checked out at the doc's. We've got this home stand and we've got to get the most out of it."