The last time the Philadelphia Flyers came to Capital Centre, 'twas the night after Christmas and the Flyers stirred up the only sellout house of the local hockey season by ending the Washington Capitals' 14-game undefeated streak, 6-3.
Tonight the Flyers return for a 7:30 game, one-third of the tickets are still unsold and it is Philadelphia that is on a roll. The Flyers, unbeaten in 12 games overall, have won eight straight on the road and no team in the National Hockey League's 66 seasons ever has made it to nine.
"They stopped us; we owe them," said Washington captain Rod Langway. "This would be a hell of a game to come up big for. We've got our hands full, but we beat them in Philadelphia (for No. 13 of the big streak) and there's no reason why we can't do it here.
"There's a good chance we'll meet them in the playoffs and we need to show them and us that we can handle them. There's no sense pushing the panic button, but we have to get back to the way we were playing."
"They fouled us up a bit and we can at least reciprocate," said winger Mike Gartner, who was late for yesterday's practice and drew an automatic fine when his alarm clock was hit by a same power outage that also closed five Prince George's County schools. " . . . We have to start getting some points again."
"It's not just the streak, although that will be in the back of our minds," said Dennis Maruk. "It's a division thing. We want to beat them to get closer to them. Every game is important to us and we have to start winning at home."
Terry Murray, Capitals' assistant coach, watched the Flyers in Saturday's 4-4 home-ice tie against Chicago, the only league game Philadelphia has failed to win since the 3-1 Spectrum defeat by Washington Dec. 19.
"The whole team is playing well together and they have it going now," Murray said. "Mark Howe can wheel with the puck and (Darryl) Sittler, (Bobby) Clarke and (Bill) Barber are playing very well. They're a very disciplined team and they take full advantage of their chances.
"We have to shut down their stars and come up with a big effort. I think we can forecheck the rest of their defensemen (other than Howe) and create some turnovers."
Coach Bryan Murray spent a considerable portion of yesterday's two-hour practice explaining the Flyers' positioning and checking system. He also made a couple of line changes, with Bengt Gustafsson moving to left wing alongside Milan Novy and Gartner, and Bobby Carpenter shifting to center between Craig Laughlin and Alan Haworth.
"Gus and Milan played well when they were together early, before Gus got hurt," Murray said. "I think we're creating a situation where we have a couple of good puck handlers and a lot of speed."
As for Carpenter, Murray said he was "trying everything I can to unscrew what's screwed up there. This is a chance for Bobby to get going offensively . . . it should be a good hard-working, skating line."
The Flyers have that kind of line in Sittler, Barber and Ilkka Sinisalo. Sittler leads Philadelphia in goals with 29 and needs only two more points to become the 17th player in NHL history to reach 1,000.
The Flyers' leading scorer is Clarke, at 33 enjoying his best season in five years. Clarke has 56 points and with a career total of 1,121 ranks 12th on the all-time list.
It is Barber, recently returned from a knee injury and wearing a mask to protect a severely cut face, who probably described the Flyers' current play best: "It's like everything we do turns to gold."