The Washington Capitals, trying to forget a woeful 1-8 start, flew west today, into a new season.
After playing eight of nine games against the National Hockey League's top echelon, and losing all of them, the Capitals move on to Vancouver Wednesday, Los Angeles Thursday and Colorado Saturday. All three hosts, on paper at least, are teams Washington is capable of beating.
"Pressure has been on us since the opening of the season," said Coach Gary Green. "We had to have a good start, and we didn't get it. We knew the first nine games would be difficult and now that they're over, I'd like to start a new season.
"There are no excuses, but reality told us we would have problems facing a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Flyers, a doubleheader against the Buffalo Sabres and a doubleheader against the New York Islanders, plus games against Boston and Quebec, which have always given us trouble.
"That is a crutch, an excuse, and it's in the past, but it's nonetheless factual. Now we are going out to play Vancouver, Los Angeles and Colorado, all teams we'd better beat."
There is no way of knowing, since owner Abe Pollin has not commented, on what Green's future holds if the Capitals should lose the three games on this road trip. But the way he has filled his lineup with younger players, while veterans sit in the stands, indicates he probably has some assurance of a further learning period for the rookies before any ax falls.
"I've never known a coach in any city when you're 1-8 who wasn't a scapegoat," Green said in reply to a question on the subject. "I can't fault the younger guys. They're making some mistakes, but they're also giving us life. I won't change the game plan."
For Saturday's 6-4 loss here against the Islanders, Green started six rookies, including two, right wing Todd Bidner and defenseman Timo Blomquist, who were making their NHL debuts.
With the Capitals idle until Wednesday, there is hope that Mike Gartner's bruised right hand will heal sufficiently for him to resume shooting with his usual efficiency. Gartner, hurt in Boston Oct. 10, has scored only one goal this season, after hitting 48 a year ago. His problem was clearly illustrated Friday, when he was set up in the slot by a Ryan Walter pass with the game tied and missed an open net.