On a day when the rest of the immediate world was talking baseball, or missing football, the Washington Capitals were thinking hockey. Skates scraped the ice of Hersheypark Arena this morning as Coach Bryan Murray directed his players through one of their last preseason practices.
The Capitals ended the preseason with a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia Saturday night, increasing their exhibition record to 5-2-1.
Real life for the club will begin Wednesday against the Rangers in New York, and after their defeat of the Flyers, Murray says he will do only minor tinkering with his lineup.
"We are almost there, with maybe a change on defense. Basically, we're a hockey team," he said.
"We defended well (against Philadelphia). I liked what I saw (for Washington), but it's still the same old Philadelphia team." Meaning that the Flyers' theme song is still "Let's Get Physical," particularly with newcomers.
"They always go after the rookies," Murray said. "We need people in our lineup that they're aware of, because by doing that their guys won't run at a Scott Stevens or Milan Novy."
But if Murray was slightly peeved at all the Flyer hits, he was happier with his own club than he had been after Washington's 7-5 victory over Detroit Thursday. In that game, the Capitals' 4-0 lead evaporated into a 5-5 tie. Instead of an easy time with a sleepy opponent, Washington played catch-up throughout the final period.
"Our defense just broke down," is how Murray described it. "We were so concerned with showing that we can score goals that we got off the rest of our game. And they put the pressure on my boys."
He would not fault Pat Riggin on Detroit's goals, however, and after the Flyers game, praised Riggin's improved performance. "He came out strong, challenging the shooters and looking good," Murray said. Riggin, acquired from Calgary in June, has coopted the top goaltending spot while Dave Parro recovers from a bruised shoulder.
Murray is pleased with Novy's steady improvement too. The Czech has taken a regular turn with one of the team's two power play units, and appears more confident in making plays.
Dennis Maruk, whose ultimate linemates have yet to be determined, is playing "better" -- he scored a power play goal Saturday -- but Murray still wants more offensive production out of last season's 60-goal scorer.
Defensively, Washington's obvious edge has been the presence of Rod Langway and Brian Engblom, late of Montreal. Murray has purposely split the pair, but near the end of Saturday's game, they played together briefly. Langway all but tackled Flyer Darryl Sittler from behind at the Washington blueline when Sittler threatened with a breakaway with 25 seconds left.
"I like what I see," Murray said again. "I really like what I see."
Parro, who has a bone chip in his left shoulder, will be examined by doctors Monday to determine the extent of that problem. He is not likely to play Wednesday; Robbie Moore of Hershey will go to Washington as Riggin's backup.