Barring an unwelcome tie, there should be quite a victory celebration tonight at Capital Centre. The Washington Capitals, who last enjoyed a success on Jan. 3, match a 10-game winless streak against the eight-game drought of the Chicago Black Hawks, whose last victory came on Jan. 10.
Chicago shared the Norris Division lead after beating the Capitals here Dec. 19 by a 6-4 score, but not long after defensemen Bob Murray and Keith Brown were lost for the season with torn knee ligaments. As a result, the Hawks are currently struggling to hold off Toronto for fourth place and a playoff berth.
Chicago has given up 49 goals during that awful eight-game stretch and Washington Coach Bryan Murray is hopeful the presence of the Hawks along with the return of defenseman Rick Green, and the second coming of winger Tom Rowe, will provide some scoring.
"With Green back, we should be able to stand up at the offensive blueline much better," Murray said. "We've been very conservative in our forechecking because we have not had the type of defense that was capable of pinching very often. Chicago's defense has always been so mobile. Those injuries figure to hurt them."
Green's value is confirmed by his plus-1 rating in the 34 games he has played, for a team that has been outscored by 29 goals.
Rowe reported yesterday and immediately impressed Murray with his hard shot. Murray assigned Rowe to the No. 1 line with Ryan Walter and Dennis Maruk, to give the NHL's all-time American goal-scorer a solid opportunity.
"We'll start it that way tomorrow and see how they work together," Murray said. "Rowe certainly shoots the puck well and he had his best season playing on a line with Maruk (1978-79, when Rowe set his mark of 31 goals by an American)."
"I was surprised that they put me there right away; Ryan and Dennis should really help me," said Rowe, who was called up from Hershey Thursday. "They're giving me the chance and that's all I can ask. The ball is in my court now. It's up to me.
"I've been away from here two years and I didn't really want to leave. I hope I play well enough to stay. I'm really happy to come back and my wife's happy about it, too."
Besides better forechecking, Murray is expecting more hitting tonight. The Capitals have been noticably weak in the contact department in recent games, being outmuscled by Winnipeg, Boston and the New York Rangers.
"Green, (Todd) Bidner and Rowe give us a little more size out there," Murray said. "We need to take advantage of it."
General Manager Roger Crozier contacted all 20 of his opposite numbers in the last two days in an attempt to secure a veteran left-hand shooting defenseman. He came up empty, because other clubs feel the Capitals are desperate enough to jump at any proposed deal.
While recognizing his club's deficiencies, especially on defense, Murray is backing Crozier's "bite the bullet" policy.
"They're all trying to rob us because they think we have to do something," Murray said. "Well, we do have to do something, but we're not going to do something that will hurt us in the long run.
"I was hoping certainly that we'd win some more hockey games, but I still think playing the kids is the right road to take. I had anticipated that we would get at least one veteran defenseman, a left-hand shot who could play, and then play the kids around him and Rick Green and Terry Murray. Losing Green and not getting another defenseman have made things difficult."
There is agitation from disgruntled fans to trade that No. 1 draft pick for an experienced defenseman--Denis Potvin of the Islanders with his contract problems has been mentioned as a possibility. Murray, however, favors sticking to the youth movement.