When Bryan Murray watched the videotapes of the Washington Capitals' slumber party in Pittsburgh last week, he had no need for slow motion. It was already there.
Before the Capitals' next game, four new faces were in the lineup, including Tony Cassolato, the man Coach Murray had selected as his captain in Hershey at the start of this season.
"Tony is a willing guy and an honest individual," Murray said. "He makes a good effort every game and he's consistent. He'll be there every night. I'm not looking for miracles, just effort."
Since shakeup No. 2 of the Murray era, the Capitals have beaten Vancouver, 5-2, and the New York Rangers, 4-3. Cassolato has contributed a goal and two assists with a plus-three rating. He has done it with a combination of effort and guts, blending well with linemates Bobby Carpenter and Lou Franceschetti.
The first time Cassolato saw Ranger defenseman Barry Beck in New York Sunday night, he was hammered into the glass, the price for releasing a centering pass. Cassolato, 5-foot-11 and 180, earned his revenge later, slipping behind the massive Beck to convert Franceschetti's pass into the goal that put Washington ahead to stay.
Cassolato's first NHL goal came a bit late, in his 17th game and at age 25. For a while, it appeared that it might never come, although Cassolato was a good enough shooter to total 48 goals at Hershey last season.
"I was starting to wonder if I'd ever get one here," Cassolato said. "I didn't get any breaks before, but this time Louie made a perfect play and I couldn't miss."
In three World Hockey Association campaigns with San Diego and Birmingham, Cassolato recorded 44 goals. When Hershey won the Calder Cup in 1980, he led all scorers with 16 assists and 22 points. In the 1981 playoffs, he had seven goals in 10 games.
Still, in three previous tryouts with Washington, Cassolato had never left much of an impression, and there was little effort to sign him to a new contract last summer, so that he currently is playing out his option.
"I just didn't fit in before," Cassolato said. "I think Gary Green was more interested in a free-wheeling type of hockey and I'm basically an up and downer. I'll go for the net, stick my nose in the corner, keep my man in check. That's what I'm best at.
"I thought I'd get a good shot this year after the 48-goal season, but I guess the consensus in training camp was that they had what they wanted. They had a lot of inexperience in Hershey and they needed some guys with a little experience. They made me captain and I guess they knew I could lead the team there and score 40 goals."
When the Capitals soured early, Roger Crozier, now the general manager, went looking for help. He watched the Bears in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and fingered Cassolato as the team's best player. That night, however, with typical Capital luck, Cassolato took a shot on the knee and was put out of action.
When Crozier and Murray assumed command, their first move was to call up Cassolato, but the knee still was troubling him. He appeared in four games, which served only to reinforce the opinions of those who felt he lacked the talent to rise above the American League.
"The knee was so bad I could hardly skate," Cassolato said. "I was kind of disappointed they didn't give the knee a chance to heal. But I guess they couldn't wait. Things were going so bad, they had to have guys who could help right away."
Washington reeled off a seven-game unbeaten streak and Cassolato was forgotten. He kept working in Hershey, however, and on New Year's Day he received a welcome phone call.
"Bryan told me he just expected me to show up for the games," Cassolato said.