Bryan Murray, the Washington Capitals' forthright coach, is not one to play verbal games. So, when he was asked whether he was glad to be taking his team on the road for two weeks, after Saturday's 3-1 loss to Minnesota, his reply was predictable, if not diplomatic.
"Yes," Murray said, without hesitation. "We've wanted to play so hard and so well and win a few games here, and we haven't. The guys are all disappointed. If we get out of here, and win one or two, and come back after I've been able to spend more time with the guys, we should be better off."
The Capitals are winless in four home starts, with both victories in a 2-5-1 record coming on the road, against the New York Rangers and Toronto. This was not the way things were programmed, since owner Abe Pollin was hoping the team would win some early games at home and induce the members of those guaranteed-sellout crowds to come back later in the year.
Only 12,768 were present Saturday and enough displayed dissatisfaction to leave Murray upset with them as well as the result. This was an excellent hockey game, with the Capitals foiled only because Minnesota goalie Gilles Meloche turned in a sensational 34-save effort.
"People yell at me every game, so I guess I ought to be used to it," Murray said. "This time a guy comes down when the game's over and points his finger in my face and starts yelling at me. You understand that. He's frustrated; we're frustrated. But that was a good effort. I only hope people understand we put out a heck of an effort.
"We played one of the better teams in the league and played very well. I'm discouraged that we don't score, but I'm not disappointed with the effort. We've played a tough schedule."
When Roger Crozier, then the general manager, submitted the Capitals' proposed home dates in March, he asked that good opponents be lined up for October, when Washington traditionally has trouble selling tickets because of the Redskins' dominance of the local sports scene.
Brian O'Neill, the schedule maker, obliged by assigning Philadelphia, Buffalo, Montreal and Minnesota as the visitors. Then, with the pro football strike and the guaranteed-sellout scenario, the whole thing backfired.
"If I'd known about the guaranteed sellouts, I would have tried to get New Jersey, Toronto and Hartford, so the team could have won a few," Crozier said. "But not only did we wind up with tough teams coming in, we left dates open when we could have played at home, but didn't, to try to avoid conflicts with TV baseball and the Redskins."
So the Capitals still have not won a home game, being outscored, 18-8, in three losses and a tie. The fans already are grousing and unless Murray can settle the players, they will be pressing when they come back and probably making things worse.
First stop on the road trip is Wednesday's televised contest at Pittsburgh, with the loser assured of the only sixth-place status in the NHL. Then it is off to St. Louis on Saturday and Chicago Nov. 3, before returning to the Centre for a Nov. 5 engagement with the Blues.
There could be several personnel changes by then. Murray shook up all his lines Saturday, with only a Mike Gartner power play goal to show for it, and the nonproducers may soon be changing places with some of those first-place Hershey farmhands.
One man who may have saved his job Saturday night was goalie Dave Parro, who turned in his best performance of the season, despite being overshadowed by Meloche.
"Up until that game, I was seriously thinking of asking David Poile to bring up Al Jensen from Hershey," Murray said. "We still have to evaluate the situation. But Davy looked all right and Pat (Riggin) played all right on the Island (in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Islanders)."