Philadelphia defenseman Brad Marsh skated up to the Capitals' Rick Green during a break in play the other night and asked, "What are you guys on, bennies?"
An outsider looking at the bare numbers might well wonder whether the Capitals had sold their souls to the devil, or taken some other nefarious route to respectability.
Two weeks ago, on Friday the 13th, the Capitals carried a 13-game losing streak into a Capital Centre contest against Detroit and managed a 3-3 tie.
Unbeaten since, the Capitals face the Montreal Canadiens at the Centre tonight at 8 o'clock, possessors of a six-game undefeated streak that is only one shy of the club record. From unlucky 13 to lucky seven in two weeks? It does boggle the mind.
The Capitals certainly are riding a high, after their dramatic comeback in Minnesota Wednesday night, when they overcame an early 3-0 deficit to tie the North Stars, 4-4, on Darren Veitch's second goal of the game with 45 seconds left.
There is no way of ascertaining the effects of that emotional contest, with only a food-filled holiday in between, as the Capitals go up against another swift-skating team in Montreal. For further difficulty, the Canadiens are not in an especially holiday mood, following Wednesday's 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh.
"I hope it has a positive effect," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We did have a lot of intensity out there, and I hope it will carry through, particularly coming back to our building.
"No question, they're going to be flying after losing last night. But if everybody on our club continues to do his job, there's no reason why we can't keep this going."
Minnesota Coach Glen Sonmor most likely would agree.
"The Capitals played an outstanding game and obviously they are playing as well as anybody in the league right now," Sonmor said Wednesday, while wondering how his club, playing at home, could permit an opponent to unload 49 shots on goal. That was a road record for the Capitals, topping by eight the old mark set in Toronto in March.
The Capitals have unveiled at least one new player in each of the last four games and tonight Randy Holt will make it five. Holt was obtained from Calgary Tuesday, along with Bob Gould, but received permission to miss the Minnesota game while he settled his affairs in Calgary.
Holt's immediate assignment will be as the fourth-line right wing, serving as a trouble shooter when things get physical. With a career record of two goals and 839 penalty minutes in 246 games, it is obvious why Holt is here.
Gould began as the fourth-line right wing Wednesday, then was moved to a revamped third line with Bengt Gustafsson and Tim Tookey as Murray juggled players according to the effort on the ice. Chris Valentine, with another excellent performance, wound up on the second line with Ryan Walter and Dennis Maruk, and he could be there tonight, too.
"That was a great hockey game," Gould said. "This club is really working. Calgary was working like this last year and made it to the semifinals (of the Stanley Cup), but this year there has been a lot of complaining and less work."
Gould, who was paying $800 a month for an apartment in Boomtown, Calgary, had been assigned to Oklahoma City of the Central League last week. He played only one game there before the Capitals brought him back to the NHL.
A major concern to the Capitals is the condition of goalie Dave Parro, who could not play in Minnesota because of a painful left shoulder. Parro was struck by a Mike Gartner shot in the Wednesday morning practice and temporarily lost any feeling in his fingers.
"It's still sore and there isn't much mobility," Parro said yesterday, using his right arm for all normal activity and making no attempt to lift the left higher than his waist.
"Not only would I like him to function, but I'd like him to play," said Murray, who added that he might import a backup from Hershey if Parro is incapacitated.
Mike Palmateer has played two sound games in a row, while beating Philadelphia, 3-2, and tying the North Stars. However, Murray undoubtedly has not forgotten a first-period incident in Minnesota, when Palmateer skated up the slot, tried unsuccessfully to clear the puck and was saved embarrassment by Green, who made two excellent saves while Palmateer was scrambling back.
An interesting comparison tonight can be drawn between Veitch, Wednesday's hero, and Montreal center Doug Wickenheiser. Both played for Murray on Regina's Memorial Cup finalist in 1980, then the Canadiens made Wickenheiser the top pick in the draft, while the Capitals grabbed Veitch four selections later.
Wickenheiser has seen limited duty in Montreal, and there are rumors that he might be headed to Washington in a trade. Certainly, only fear of tampering charges restrains Murray's enthusiasm about the possibility of once again coaching a youngster who produced 89 goals and 81 assists in his last junior campaign, then added 40 playoff points.
"He's a big, strong kid with good speed," Murray said. "He's a hard worker if you make demands of him. I'd like to have him. Of course, I keep reading that we're trying to get him."
Murray saw a lot of Veitch last year, since the young defenseman was bounced like a yo-yo between Washington and Hershey.
"Darren needs to play and be given confidence," Murray said. "You can't just use him against the fourth line and put him on the bench when the other team sends somebody else out.
"I had full confidence in him during that last minute at Minnesota. He either won or tied five games for me in the last minute at Regina. One game, he tied it in the last minute and then won it with another goal in overtime."