After logging 16,000 miles in the air and chasing speedy Swedes and Finns around outsized rinks, the main body of the Washington Capitals is back in the land of chocolate bars, high sticks and buses. The team arrived here Friday night at 10:15, only 15 minutes short of 24 hours after it rose in Oulu, Finland, to begin a three-plane, one-bus journey home.
Although the European tour served to get the team in excellent condition, it resolved only one of the many questions concerning the lineup for the Oct. 7 opener at Buffalo: Bobby Carpenter will be in a Washington uniform.
"Carpenter was a standout up front, no question," Coach Gary Green said of the 18-year-old center who led the team in scoring with four goals in five games.
The defensive situation became even more muddled, however, and each backliner who dresses for the exhibition against Pittsburgh here at 2:30 Sunday will find his every move scrutinized by Green and General Manager Max McNab.
Asked what young players made an impression in Europe, Green said, "Greg Theberge played fairly well on the blue line. And Timo (Blomquist) performed fairly well. We know he's lacking experience in certain situations but he's going to be a fast learner and physically he can handle it."
Starting Wednesday, there will be an intense series of tests, with the Capitals playing Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pa., on Wednesday, Hartford in Binghamton, N.Y., on Thursday, Philadelphia here Friday and the Whalers in Hartford Saturday.
If Blomquist and Theberge earn berths in Washington, the Capitals would be breaking in two rookie defensemen, a situation they had hoped to avoid this season after using three rookies -- Darren veitch, Howard Walker and Jim McTaggart -- on the backline a year ago.
The only defensemen guaranteed starting roles on Oct. 7 are Rick Green and Paul MacKinnon, both of whom played exceptionally well in the two victories that closed the tour.
The Capital's principal need is for a puck-carrying defenseman who also can trigger the power play. McNab continues to seek one via a trade but if he fails, Theberge is a candidate for the role.
Theberge, 22, who played for Green at Peterborough in the Ontario Major Junior League, was selected to the American League all-star team by the coaches last season. At 5 feet 11 and 192 pounds, he lacks the size McNab wants on the blue line, but he is mobile and eager. He scored a goal in his only game with Washington a year ago.
Carpenter almost certainly will start the season on a line with Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner. Orest Kindrachuk probably will center for the two Swedes, Bengt Gustafsson and Roland Stoltz. Dennis Maruk and Bob Kelly figure to be on a line with either Lou Franceschetti or Jean Pronovost, who stayed here on a special training program. Prominent fourth-line candidates include Alan Hangsleben and Glen Currie, a capable penalty-killing pair in Sweden, and Tim Tookey, a talented power-play performer.
There were surprises among the forwards who stayed here. The man everyone is talking about is left wing Gaetan Duchesne, 19, an eighth-round draft pick who was returned to his Quebec junior team for weekend games but will be back Monday to perform for McNab and Green. Duchesne cannot play for Hershey, but must go back to Quebec if he is not tabbed for duty in Washington.
Others who have impressed here are winger Tony Cassolato, a 48-goal scorer at Hershey; winger Frank Perkins, who played at Port Huron in the International League; winger Alain Daigle, who once played with Chicago, and center Chris Valentine, a 10th-round draft choice who scored 65 goals for Sorel in the Quebec League.
On the negative side, veteran Bob Sirois has had a disappointing camp following back surgery in November. Wingers Dennis Ververgaet and Errol Rausse have not imyoung players destined for Hershey, both may be dropped