Bob Kelly, the Capitals' new left wing, is likely to spend his first three games in Washington as a press box observer. Kelly faces suspension for three regular-season games for leaving the bench during Friday night's Battle of Hershey against his former club, the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Capitals are appealing and hope television tapes from WRC-TV-4 will bolster their case.
Referee Ron Harris was castigated from all sides for his failure to control the two teams, but he would have needed a whip and a squad of ice skating deputy sheriffs to extinguish the repeated flare-ups that produced a combined total of 325 minutes in penalties.
Five members of the Capitals, who won the hockey phase by 7-2 and penalty dishonors by 181 minutes to 144, were ejected from the sorry exhibition, along with one Flyer. The only player to face suspension, however, was Kelly, trapped by league rule 66e, which provides an automatic three-game sentence to the first player to leave his bench during an altercation.
The Capitals cried "foul," the same term many of the 7,224 fans undoubtedly used to describe the antics of the evening. Washington felt the Flyers' Gary Morrison, not Kelly, deserved the goat's horns for the incident that spelled the termination of hockey and the onset of mayhem.
"It's a bloody frustrating thing," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "It'll be a crying shame if Philly gets off scott-free and Kelly gets a suspension out of this."
With the Flyers leaving several stars in the stands and icing young fowards eager to creat an impression, it was inevitable that muggings would result once Washington had built a 4-0 lead. It was also inevitable that the Capitals would refuse to turn the other cheek.
Yves Preston, still smarting fom a couple of solid first-period checks by Washington's Bengt Gustafsson, lined up the Swede in the second period and started his run. Gustafsson sidestepped and Preston crumpled to the ice, victim either of Gustafsson's stick (Flyer version) or the boards (referee's and Capitals' outlook.)
While Preston struggled to his knees, Morrison came off the Philadelphia bench and headed straight for Gustafsson. Alan Hangsleben, Gustafsson's line mate, intercepted Morrison at the same time Kelly leaped off the bench to grab the Flyer forward. The result was a lengthy bench-clearing brawl in which Kelly was fingered as the villain.
"Kelly knows the rule; all our players are well aware of it," Green said. "But there is no penalty for the second man over. You have to protect your teammate in an unequal situation.
"I knew Morrison came off the bench and Harris was right in front of me. I yelled, 'Morrison was first off,' and Harris said 'I got it.' But the lineman apparently convinced him that Morrison was merely involved in a substitution for Preston. That was ridiculous, because Preston was still on the ice."
Harris assessed so many penalties that players and minor officials could not digest the delayed calls, creating a long series of stoppages to discuss them. All the talking helped extend the second period to 1 hour 20 minutes and the game to 3 hours 30 minutes.
Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson, who blaned the Flyers for 30 minutes, departed at the stage when he found the delayed penalties incomprehensible and Harris unwilling to discuss them. It took three teammates to steer Stephenson to the dressing room as he tried to attack Harris.
Mike Palmateer, who was being rested for tonight's dramatic return to Toronto, replaced Stephenson and became the target of two assults by Flyer Paul Holmgren and one by Mel Bridgman. Palmateer survived, although Rick Green departed as the third man in on one rescue mission.
Other Capitals receiving game misconducts were captain Ryan Walter, for yanking jerseys with Flyer Ron Busniuk until Harris tired of watching, and defenseman Howard Walker for pulling Preston's hair during a third-period fight.