The Philadelphia Flyers come to town tonight at 7:30, so one would have expected the Washington Capitals to prepare for the visit by punching the speed bag, chopping wood and wrestling alligators.
Instead, the only foreign object on the Capital Centre ice at yesterday's practice was a board containing a diagram of a hockey rink. Coach Gary Green frequently gathered his charges around it, made some suggestions and then dropped the puck and hoped for compliance.
It was a long session, with more talking than skating or stick-handling. Green could only hope there was listening as well. As recently as Sunday night in Boston, there was evidence that a number of Capitals had not been paying much attention to instructions.
"I watched the video all day Monday and it was obvious we had to have some teaching, to correct some of our mistakes," Green said. "We have to teach early and get the discipline down. We have to show more discipline on the ice.
"Before I tried to teach using the blackboard in the room. Then, when we took it to the ice, it seemed that too much had been left in the room. So I decided to take a different approach. Now I show them and they do it, immediately, before it's gone from their mind.
"This is different from the usual gung-ho practice, but we're not neglecting conditioning. Where we used to have a long skate at the end of practice for endurance, we're now getting that phase on the bikes at Whitemarsh. That leaves us time for more teaching during practices."
Beside the teaching phase, there was a haranguing phase. Most of the Capitals received failing grades in Boston and Green let them know it.
"We had a discussion of the previous game," Green said. "It's in the past and we don't want to dwell on it, but we intend to take the bad things, point them out and correct them. I'm confident we can learn from mistakes and correct them quicker this year. We have guys who are capable of correcting them."
Green also reminded his troops that Philadelphia never has lost a game in 14 visits to Capital Centre. The Flyers have won eight and tied six here, staving off one potential loss with only four seconds left.
Philadelphia is one of six NHL teams that has not lost a game this season, having tied Detroit and thrashed Pittsburgh, 8-2. The Flyers scored four goals within 1 minute 22 seconds against the Penguins, missing the NHL record by three seconds.
The most amazing statistic concerning the Flyers is that they have received only 12 penalties, compared to 15 for the opposition. And the Philadelphia power play, second in the NHL a year ago, has clicked four times in 11 chances, with two of those goals coming only three seconds after the opposing penalty.
The reduction in Flyer fouls can be directly attributed to the fact that Paul Holmgren, the NHL penalty king with 306 minutes a year ago, has been idled by shoulder surgery. Mel Bridgman, a 195-minute man, has shoulder problems, too, and has relinquished the team captaincy to Bill Barber.
Glen Cochrane, who compiled 219 minutes in 31 games last season, and feisty Gary Morrison have not yet dressed, but it is unlikely they will stay seated for tonight's contest and Thursday's rematch in Philadelphia. If a Flyer scout watched the Capitals being pushed around physically in Boston Sunday, Cochrane and Morrison figure to be in the lineup.
Like Green, General Manager Max McNab has not forgotten Sunday's debacle.
"That game was there waiting to be taken," McNab said. "You don't play this game by memory. Those weren't the same old big, bad Bruins. If somebody had just taken the bit in his mouth, if we'd just had a little more effort from about six people, we would have won it. We have enough hockey courage. Maybe there are so many new players it is taking a while to learn who is going to be there with you in the tough going."