When the Philadelphia Flyers visit Capital Centre tonight at 7:30 for the first of two weekend games with the Washington Capitals, they will have trouble recognizing their old teammate Bob Kelly.
The Capitals have a guy named Bob Kelly, who wears No. 24, skates his wing in capable fashion, carries a plus two rating and has compiled 11 goals and 15 assists.
The man the Flyers likely will identify as Bob Kelly, however, wears No. 12, and the name on the back of the jersey reads Hangsleben. For it is Alan Hangsleben who fills the Capital role that Kelly made his trademark in Philadelphia -- coming out in a dull moment to wake everyone up.
Hangsleben has collected 100 minutes in penalties this season, no insignificant figure for a college graduate who earlier this season said of hockey fights: "It's just part of the game that shouldn't be there. It's supposed to be a finesse game, not Saturday afternoon crucifying the Christians in the Colosseum."
So it was with a sigh yesterday that Hangsleben glanced at a newspaper headline suggesting the Flyers and Capitals were mobilizing for war. He checked his knuckles, finally healed after a fight with Stan Jonathan in Boston, and said, "Well, whatever happens is going to happen. We'll be ready for any kind of game we have to play."
Coach Gary Green will be ready to launch his Kelly act when the situation requires it, too.
"Hank (Hangsleben) is the Bob Kelly of Philadelphia, before Bob came here and settled onto a regular line," Green said. "Hank comes out there and things happen. Positioning isn't his strong point, but he has intensity and desire, and he creates pressure. He's an ideal guy for any coach, because you need a guy who can play any position.
"Kelly and Hank are guys who make things happen for you. The opposition isn't sure what angle Hank is coming at them. We're a forechecking team and he adds a lot to that part of the game. Hank is similar to Kelly. We wouldn't want to be without him."
Philadelphia Coach Pat Quinn, who scouted the Capitals' game against Edmonton here on Wednesday, said the Flyers have missed Kelly, particularly his heavy checks in the offensive zone and the contribution he made in the locker room as a team player. The Flyers, although their 22-6-5 record is the NHL's best, have not satisfied Quinn's demands for a 100 percent team effort, and Quinn even chastised Behn Wilson for a game-winning goal against Colorado Thursday; Wilson was out of position when he scored.
Kelly is looking forward to tonight's meeting, not only because it will mark his first regular-season confrontation with his former team of 10 seasons, but also because "they're a first-place team, a quality team, and you're always excited about playing the best."
Sunday's rematch in Philadelphia is something else. Kelly knows he will receive a tremendous ovation from the Spectrum fans who loved him and he cracked, "My wife will boo me, so that will make me feel at home.
"It's going to be tough -- not tough, really, but it will seem so different.
It was my home and I loved it there. I loved everything about the Flyers. If I was bitter, it would be different, but my roots are there. When you play 10 years in one rink, it has to mean something."
Although the Flyers lead the NHL with 1,083 penalty minutes, a figure that would translate over a full season to an almost incomprehensible 2,625, much of the sin time has resulted from failure to heed the new neutral-corner fighting rule. Kelly does not see intimidation as a Flyer tactic of the 1980s.
"Intimidation is an overused word," Kelly said. "It's almost outdated. The last four years the intimidation factor has been done away with. The new rules and the big guys on each team have changed things. You can maybe intimidate an individual and get more working room, but you can't intimidate a whole team."
The Capitals have not been intimidated by the Flyers, but they have not beaten Philadelphia, either. The 24-game series stands at 18 defeats and six ties. All the ties were at Capital Centre. Washington did breeze to a 7-2 victory in an October exhibition that degenerated into an all-hands brawl, but there is little reason to believe there will be any carryover from that contest, in which several Flyer regulars did not dress.
"We're expecting a disciplined game, up and down," said Washington captain Ryan Walter. "I don't think they're looking for a battle here and we never go into a game hoping there will be a battle, although we're prepared to battle anytime, if that's what we need to do to win."
Green does not feel either team will go out looking for fights, but on the basis of past Capital-Flyer games, he recognizes the potential.
"I don't know two teams who go at it as physically fiercely as us and the Flyers," Green said.