Following his second game as coach of the Washington Capitals, Bryan Murray watched the videotape, awaiting a second look at a controversial play. Before the tape reached that particular action, the announcer was heard commenting, "The Capitals considered Don Cherry and Fred Shero for their new coach, but they decided to stay in the organization and hire Bryan Murray."
"And a darned good thing they did, too," Murray told the TV set.
Murray actively lobbied for the job, but many considered him just a hired hand who came cheap. They wanted a big name and many hooted the announcement of Murray's name at his first home game.
Nobody is hooting now. In less than two weeks, Murray has turned a team with a 13-game losing streak into a club that visits Minnesota Wednesday with high hopes of tying the club record of five straight victories.
The Capitals' passing, net coverage and power play are so different it is hard to believe most of the players are the same ones who started the season in disarray. That is the case, however, with just enough newcomers around to provide a spur to any who might feel complacent.
Few can appreciate the turnaround more than Max McNab, the general manager who, along with Coach Gary Green, was fired when the team was 1-12. McNab had insisted he had obtained the players for a competitive team, but it took Murray to prove it.
"The chemistry never came together and just what the reason was only time will tell," said McNab, who watched the Capitals thrash the Philadelphia Flyers here Saturday, 10-4, then listened to the radio broadcast of the 3-2 success at the Spectrum Sunday. "But I'm delighted that things have come around and I'm hoping it continues in every way.
"Bryan obviously knew the pulse of the players. He's seen them all perform and he's well tuned in to what to expect from each guy. He was the logical guy to choose and he was ready. From his training-camp procedures and what he did last year, I thought he'd do a fine job whenever or wherever.
"Those five power-play goals Saturday were good to see. Bryan has the power play very well organized. I don't think this spurt is a flash in the pan. He should go forward from this point and do very well."
The players made it known after Green was fired that they wanted Murray for their coach, and they have followed through to produce for him. The turnabout would indicate that they were not giving Green their full support and some of the players acknowledged that fact.
"It's a pretty funny thing to happen, from all those losses to suddenly winning," said Darren Veitch, called up from Hershey at the depth of the depression. "The attitude of everybody is different now. Everybody is willing to work and stand up for each other. Bryan has a lot to do with that, the way he motivates us."
"Management and the coach have given the players some self-respect," said another young defenseman, Greg Theberge. "That provides confidence and it applies to discipline. We know that if we don't do the job, we are going to pay for it. Players are hustling more and feeling confident. They're giving an extra 10 percent. There have been some changes, but the basic nucleus is still here and those guys are playing better."
"The first part of the season, we weren't really blown out, but we weren't getting the breaks," said Dennis Maruk, who has scored eight goals in the last six games while posting 10 pluses without a minus. "And we had a couple of key guys injured. That was part of the reason Gary changed his lines so much, but doing it so often maybe confused a lot of players.
"Bryan took his lines that he wanted and stayed with them. The power play is an important part of the game and he's worked at it. Everybody is contributing to it now, not just a few guys."
"We had no confidence in ourselves or our teammates," said Mike Gartner, plus seven with nine points over the last four games. "The major factor in our turnaround is that we're starting to regain our lost confidence. We've worked hard over the last two weeks and we really feel we can play as a contending team."
"It's getting to be a game again," said Alan Hangsleben, a standout on defense Sunday after starting the season at left wing. "Before, I was used to playing defense here with 900 people coming in on you. But the forwards are backchecking very well and we're able to turn it around and come out quick."
"Our problem before was breaking out of our end," said goalie Dave Parro. "Bryan has put in a simple system, with the defensemen using their partner if they can't push it up the middle, and we're getting quick breakouts. The big thing is getting confidence in yourself. Somehow, Bryan has done it. He's done it before with teams that were down."
"Anytime you have a change in coaching and management, there's a lift," Terry Murray said. "You know it's one time, then they're going to change players. You're fighting for survival. Anyone who wants to stay in the NHL has to prove he belongs to the new coach and management. When you bring up the young guys, it makes the other guys play out of fear for their jobs."
"We got that important win, the first one, and we saw some light," said captain Ryan Walter. "Bryan is a major factor with his practices and his coaching ability. The players have pulled together. The younger defensemen are playing excellent hockey. So are the older defensemen."
So is just about everyone. It is gratifying to Bryan Murray, who refused to be intimidated by a bleak future and instead swore it would brighten before long.
"The work habits of the guys, the actual things on the ice have changed," Murray said. "In two weeks, our puck handling and skating have shown great improvement. There is real unity and it's fun now. That comes with winning.
"I think a lot of it is just a change in attitude and atmosphere. (Acting General Manager) Roger Crozier has been very positive and up front with the guys. There were a lot of rumors about trades and Roger told the players we had talked about trades but nothing had happened yet. We have put the emphasis on the individual hockey player, the team as a whole, doing things in a more positive manner for the players. We've made the players aware of what our goals are. And they have responded."