Gary Green, the Washington Capitals' beleaguered coach, was saying the other day that he feared "there are guys here who have lost too much. They just don't feel the pain that should come with losing a hockey game."
No names were mentioned, but it was obvious one of the players to whom Green was referring was his namesake, Rick Green, a big, strong, talented defenseman in his sixth Washington season. Gary Green is the third coach who has tried to find a way to motivate Rick Green, to prod him that extra step that separates competence from greatness.
Entering tonight's 7:30 game with Quebec at Capital Centre, Rick Green has endured 213 defeats as a Capital, either on the ice or during frequent recuperative periods in the stands. He admits the repetitious nature of Capital losses has left its mark.
"Sure, I'm sick of it," Green said. "Losing night after night is frustrating. It's tough to get pumped up all the time, especially when you're trying and things aren't bouncing for you. Look at this season -- we haven't been that far out of any games, but a few mistakes kill us every time.
"Losing brings on frustration, and frustration prevents you from having a lot of enthusiasm. But we have the right type of character to dig out of it. It's the difference between night and day from what we had when I first came here. We've acquired a lot of talent here. It's a case of everybody working together and getting a solid, consistent effort every night."
Although Green is considered Washington's best defenseman and most other teams bring up his name during trade overtures, he seems destined to write the following epitaph to his NHL career: "He could have been better."
Green performs his defensive duties competently. It is only on occasion, when he carries the puck up the ice to threaten the opposing goal or slams an opposing forward on his fanny, that one realizes the potential of a motivated Rick Green.
"Everybody anticipates just a little more from Rick," said General Manager Max McNab. "I think Rick needs somebody to play up to. If we had a defenseman or a two-defenseman combination ahead of him, you'd see even greater things come out of him.
"He's the guy our other guys are playing up to, and he has to realize what a tremendous influence he has. When guys give it to him physically, his ability to retaliate is considerable.
"He should be more of an influence on the outcome of games, because he has got better offensive skills than he appears to want himself to deliver."
Green knows he should be more of an offensive threat. During 1978-79, he collected eight goals and 33 assists, but he has not approached those figures since. There appears to be a relation between his play-it-safe defensive attitude and those 213 defeats.
"I'd like to see myself creating more offensive opportunities," Green said. "I think I may be overcautious, too laid-back, concentrating more on defense instead of creating things. The trend for so many years was that we used to get burned so bad game after game.
"When you give up a goal every time you're caught up ice, you become very cautious. I just have to worry less about laying back. I'm not going to be a 25-goal scorer -- I just don't have it around the net -- but my playmaking is good enough that I can create opportunities for others. It's something I have to iron out myself. The past is in the past, but you can't totally forget it."
Green has heard boos from Capital Centre fans who think he should be using his 218 pounds to drive opponents through the boards. But he lacks the mean streak necessary to accommodate them.
"I'm pretty low-key on the ice," Green said. "I don't do a lot of running around and I can't get into cheap-shot tactics . . . Maybe I can do a little more smacking out there. It would be good for all of us.
"I know I have the respect out there. If guys see I'm mad and upset about something, it gets them going, because I don't get upset too often. Maybe I should get upset a little more. It's something that has to come from me."
Howard Walker will make his seasonal debut on the Washington defense, after suffering a shoulder separation Oct. 2 . . . Center Tim Tookey, bruised knee, and winger Roland Stoltz, bruised shoulder, also are ready to play . . . The Nordiques feature four defectors from Czechoslovakia, the three Stastny brothers and winger Miroslav Frycer, who had a hat trick against Toronto in his second NHL game.