The Washington Capitals, still seeking a first-ever berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs, will present five new faces Wednesday night when they open their eighth season here against the Buffalo Sabres.
Two of the newcomers are fuzzy-cheeked 18-year-olds with boundless enthusiasm, center Bobby Carpenter and left wing Gaetan Duchesne. Two are 31-year-olds for whom Washington is one more stop on the pro hockey roller coaster, center Orest Kindrachuk and defenseman Terry Murray. The fifth, right wing Roland Stoltz, is a 27-year-old Swede making his first National Hockey League appearance.
Carpenter's NHL debut has stirred considerable interest across North America, as he becomes the first player to jump from high school to the NHL. On what he has shown during exhibition play, it figures to be "no problem," as he said after today's practice at the Fort Dupont rink in Washington.
Although the Capitals are counting on Carpenter both to score goals and to fill seats, they are trying to keep pressure off him as much as possible. The club's media guide, for example, devotes exactly 1 1/8 inches to Carpenter, on page 72 among the other draftees. Duchesne has the same space and neither is even listed on the roster page.
Carpenter will center Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner, as he has during exhibition play, when Carpenter led the club with six goals. Dennis Maruk, Bob Kelly and Jean Pronovost once again form the Roaring Twenties. Kindrachuk centers Bengt Gustafsson and Stoltz on the third line. Duchesne and Tim Tookey will be the spare forwards, with Duchesne tabbed for penalty killing and Tookey for power plays.
Mike Palmateer will start in goal and the defensive combinations show Rick Green with Paul MacKinnon, Pat Ribble with Murray and Jim McTaggart with Greg Theberge.
Theberge, 22, who played one game in Washington last season and 12 the year before, has been assigned the right point on the No. 1 power-play unit. Carpenter will be at the left point, a task he performed frequently in high school, with Walter, Maruk and Gartner up front.
Kindrachuk, apparently sound after back surgery, is considered the key to penalty-killing success, working with Gustafsson, Stoltz and Duchesne.
While Carpenter's every move, here and in Europe, has been scrutinized and analyzed, Duchesne has advanced quietly. One factor was Carpenter's position in the draft, No. 3 overall. Duchesne was 152nd, in the eighth round.
"Picking someone like that in the eighth round is like reaching in your pocket for a dollar bill and finding a hundred," Hartford owner Howard Baldwin said after watching Duchesne Saturday.
Bobby Orr, another spectator, asked the identity of Duchesne, watched him for a while and said, in disbelief, "That kid's only 18?"
"Duchesne is a beautiful skater and he has defensive instincts coming out of his ears," Washington Coach Gary Green said yesterday. "Everybody at training camp was impressed with him and all I heard when we got back from Europe was 'Duchesne, Duchesne, Duchesne.' When I laid my eyes on him, I felt the same way.
"He has speed and good puck-handling ability, but it is his intelligence toward the game that is earning him a spot. He has made some excellent defensive plays. We are going with three lines and he figures just to play as a penalty killer, but if some left wing is not going well, he'll be in there."
Duchesne (pronounced Doo-shane) was determined to make the NHL from the first day he reported to training camp in Hershey. He was sent back to his junior team in Quebec for games on Sept. 26-27, then was recalled. He did not score in those games and, in his broken English, explained, "My coach, he say my head is here, not there."
Twenty-four players skated in today's practice, including defenseman Timo Blomquist, recovering from a fractured jaw. The only player missing who is now on the Washington roster was defenseman Howard Walker, idled by a shoulder separation.
The four players left behind in Washington when the team flew here tonight were defensemen Pierre Bouchard and Darren Veitch, winger Dennis Ververgaert and utility player Alan Hangsleben, assigned to the defense in today's practice. Green is counting on them to serve as spurs to those selected to play in the opener.
The only physical question among the starting 19 pertained to Gustafsson, who was drilled in the instep by a puck and left practice early. A victim of muscle tightness Saturday, Gustafsson was expected to be ready for the first faceoff of the season. Rick Green, out last week with a groin pull, skated at full speed in practice without difficulty.
If anyone had a problem, it was Gary Green. Leaning back against the boards, he was hit in the head by his chalk-talk board, which had been dangling from a stanchion. It was just one more hard knock for the man of whom General Manager Max McNab commented after unlucky year seven, "I hate to see a 27-year-old coach in two years become 47."