As Christmas approaches with its accompanying spirit of giving, it seems timely to review the circumstances that brought the high-scoring line of Dennis Maruk, Jean Pronovist and Bob Kelly to Washington. The players must qualify as gifts, or General Manager Max McNab of the Capitals would have been arrested for grand larceny.
In the Capitals' last 11 games, of which they have lost only one, the Roaring 20s Line has accumulated 22 goals and 24 assists. This has contributed toward a six-game Capital nonlosing streak that will be at stake against Colorado at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30.
Pronovost has tied the club record for assists in five straight games, Kelly has collected goals in five straight and Maruk has gained the 20-goal plateau and a berth in the top 10 National Hockey League scorers.
Their acquisition costs were minimal: right wing Hartland Monahan, whose 20-goal figure over three-plus seasons equals Maruk's 24-game production this year; a bundle of cash in a day when good players supposedly cannot be bought and a third-round draft choice.
Maruk came first, in Ocotber 1978, for the first-round draft pick McNab had lifted from Pittsburgh a year earlier for Monahan. Then, during the past summer, Washington acquired Pronovost from Calgary in a straight cash deal and obtained Kelly from Philadelphia for a No. 3 draft choice.
"Last year, when PeeWee (Maruk) came back from his knee injury, we had two other well-balanced lines, but we had nobody to play with him," said Coach Gary Green. "Max was determined to see if we could create a line. We needed to do it to get the most out of Dennis Maruk.
"Max was on the phone all summer. When we learned Pronovost was available, we felt he had a few good years left and he had a lot of qualities Maruk needed. He was always in the right position, he was excellent at feeding passes and he was especially good at the give and go. Also, he was the best defensive player on Atlanta in years past.
"The next job was finding a guy on PeeWee's left in the Alan Hangsleben-Paul Mulvey category -- aggressive, a digger in the corners and strong. Max deserves all the credit for persisting. We were first to know Kelly was available and others told me they didn't know or they would have bid higher.
"I was so excited about Kelly becoming available. He's the kind of guy you love to coach but hate to coach against. You have a lead against him and things are going well and then he sticks his nose in and kills you."
Washington got first crack at Pronovost and Kelly for reasons dating back several years, when McNab made vain attempts to acquire both.
"We tried to get Pronovost from Pittsburgh real bad, but he went to Atlanta instead," McNab said. "Then (alternate governor) Peter O'Malley was sitting next to (Calgary General Manager) Cliff Fletcher at a league meeting and Cliff mentioned that they were cutting back on some veterans and Pronovost was available. Peter immediately got up and called me and we got Pronovost.
"I'm afraid of missing a phone call, because when a team makes up its mind the chance is there and then it's gone. I had spoken to (Philadelphia General Manager) Keith Allen two years before and I asked him, if Kelly ever became available, to please call me.
"I give Keith credit. He had kids coming in, and couldn't keep Kelly, and he called me and told me. I think Keith felt for us a little bit, being geographical rivals, and I think he felt for Kelly, not wanting to uproot him as much as if he had to go to Winnipeg or Edmonton or some other place."
Maruk was easier to latch onto, because the merger with Cleveland left Minnesota with seven centers. But McNab would have been unable to make that deal unless he had acquired that first-round pick from Pittsburgh the year before.
"We had contract problems with Hartland Monahan," McNab said. "Peter O'Malley had been involved in the contract talks and he was talking to Al Savill, who owned Pittsburgh then, and found out Pittsburgh was willing to go high for Monahan.We couldn't turn down that deal, although we got some abuse because Monahan was so popular here.
"Maruk was a big decision, but we had to get some balance, because we were relying too much on Guy (Charon). With the extra first-round draft, we could go ahead and make that deal, and still have a No. 1, which we used for Mike Gartner."
Pronovost, who will turn 35 Dec. 18, and Kelly, 30 on Nov. 25 do not figure to stay around as long as Maruk, 25, but their present pace indicates they have a lot to give.
"I think they'll continue to produce," Green said. "I'm happy for them. Pronovost is skating better playing regularly here than he was his last couple of years in Atlanta. And a lot of people in Philly thought Kelly was at the end of his career, that he couldn't play a full game. He's shown he has a lot left."
Goalie Mike Palmateer and winger Bengt Gustafsson will return to action against Colorado after injuries idled them Wednesday.Defenseman Rick Green is able to play, but it is likely he will wait until next week as a precautionary measure.