During the second period of Saturday night's 3-3 tie with the Buffalo Sabres at Capital Centre, 34-year-old Jean Pronovost of the Capitals was dealt a punishing blueline check by Buffalo's Olympic hero, Mike Ramsey.
Pronovost went down with a charley horse in his right thigh, the kind of painful injury that would prompt a 34-year-old office worker to call in sick for a few days. Pronovost, however, was back on the ice before the period ended.
"I still feel it a little bit," Pronovost said today. "These things have to work out. But it was not bad enough to stop me. I just want to play. I'm not trying to be a hero."
A hero Pronovost became the next night, as he scored two goals in the third period to create yet another 3-3 tie in Buffalo. With a 3-5-7 record, the Capitals might be tempting the marketing department to schedule a guaranteed tie night, but Pronovost, like his teammates, is unappreciative of any media mention of the team's nine-game winless streak.
"Seven ties are better than seven losses," Pronovost said. "Of course, you could say that they should have been seven wins. But I like to think positively. This is a young team and I don't think we know our possibilities.
"We have to hit and be consistent about hitting. When we take the body, we play well. When we adapt to the other team's style, we do not work as well."
Presumably, there will be much hitting Wednesday night at the Civic Arena, as the Capitals try to prevent that victoryless string from reaching double figures. The way to beat the Penguins is to take the body; let Pittsburgh skate and it will be an unhappy night, one like the Capitals' last visit here in March, when the Penguins dealt a severe blow to Washington's playoff hopes, 4-0.
Pronovost certainly will feel at home Wednesday. He spent 10 years in a Pittsburgh uniform and holds club records for games played (753), goals (316) and points (603). He claims to have enjoyed his stay here, yet he asked to be traded two years ago and the Penguins obliged, sending him to Atlanta in a three-way deal that brought Gregg Sheppard here and shuffled Dick Redmond to Boston.
"I had a good feeling about Pittsburgh," Pronovost said. "I had good years and ups and downs. We had some good crowds and a lot of good fans. But I figured the grass was greener on the other side and I wanted to go with a winner. In 10 years here we had three different ownerships and five different coaches. It was very inconsistent. You don't build a winner that way."
There were problems in Atlanta, too. Every day there were rumors about the club moving, as it eventually did, to Calgary. A new coach, Al MacNeil, decided that he had too many right wings and moved Pronovost, a right-hand shot, to the left side. Worst of all, the team still was unable to win a playoff series.
"You have to work together, a play as a family," Pronovost said. "But in Atlanta there were a lot of insecure things. Every year we were supposed to be moving somewhere. We had a fairly good team, good enough to make it past the first round of the playoffs, something that never happened.
"I didn't mind the move to left wing. They had big guys on the right side.
I just wanted to play and I had to make a little adjustment. I was willing to learn. The first season there I got 28 goals and things went pretty well, but the next year was different. Maybe it was my age and they thought I was slowing down. I never asked."
Instead, he said, "Thank you," when the Flames virtually gift-wrapped him and handed him to Washington for nominal future considerations. In his first game in a Capital uniform, in Stockholm, he scored three goals in the third period to erase a 3-0 Minnesota lead in a game eventually won by Washington in overtime.
After a sparking training camp, Pronovost started slowly, going eight games without a goal. He has had a hot hand recently, though, with four goals in the last four games, and he is third in club scoring with 13 points.
"I was surprised at training camp that things went so well," Pronovost said. "Usually, I am a slow starter. But you can't go by training camp. The season is something else. We have a lot of new players thrown together and it takes time. I was giving my best and I wasn't worried.
"Now things seem to be going well. I'm scoring some goals and I'm having fun. When you take the fun out of it, forget it. Hockey is so grueling. When I lose the pleasure of playing, I'll hang my skates up in a hurry."
Obviously, it will take more than a charley horse.