For Jonathan Maruk, age 4, Saturday night will be something special. His favorite hockey team, the Washington Capitals, will be here to play the Minnesota North Stars.
Dennis Maruk, 27, is looking forward to the game, too. For five years, the Washington Capitals were his life, until a July trade brought him back to the North Stars, the team that traded him to Washington in 1978.
"I'm looking ahead to Saturday; it should be an interesting game," said Maruk, exhibiting the smile that was so prominent during 50- and 60-goal seasons as a Capital. "It's a big game for me and I want to be at my best."
As it has developed, this is an important contest for the rest of the North Stars as well, not to mention Coach Bill Mahoney, the onetime assistant to Gary Green in Washington. Minnesota was humiliated by Boston, 8-1, at the Met Center Thursday night, and fans, media and General Manager Lou Nanne are most unhappy about it.
Nanne vented some of his wrath today by trading center Bobby Smith, who scored the only Minnesota goal Thursday but is regarded locally as a high-salaried floater, to Montreal. In exchange for Smith, the NHL rookie of the year in 1979, Minnesota received right wing Mark Napier, center Keith Acton and a third-round draft choice.
"Nothing has been going right or falling in place for us," Maruk said. "We're fighting the puck and trying to do it all individually. We're not together out there.
"Washington has been struggling a little bit, but they're playing tight hockey. We have to tighten up, too. If we play like this, Washington is going to beat us."
Although Maruk is second in scoring among the North Stars with 10 points, he has only three goals and a minus-eight rating, fourth from the worst on a club that has allowed 5.4 goals per game, poorest defensive record in the NHL.
"I've been welcomed here and they seem happy with me," Maruk said. "I'm playing the power play and centering a regular line. Maybe I've been passing more than shooting, but I want to get used to my wingers and I've been trying to set them up.
"I'm sure things will pick up when we get our line combinations set. The lines have been juggled a bit and things are still a little unsettled, with a new system and some new players. I had the flu for a few days and it really pulled me down. I felt weak and lost weight. I'm feeling better now and I hoped things would get better, but they obviously weren't very good against Boston.
"This is a new town and a new bunch of guys and it's tough at times to know who they are. We're home for two weeks now and I hope I can get my game going."
Minnesota (3-6-1) and Washington (3-7-0) would appear to be headed in different directions, since the Capitals have won three in a row. When Washington was struggling toward an 0-7 start, Maruk's new teammates kidded him about his importance to the Capitals.
"The guys would come in joking about it, how they must really miss me," Maruk said. "But I said they'd turn it around. I knew they would, once they got a little stretch of hot goaltending. The idea you can win is important and I know those guys are confident that they can win.
"I wanted to stay in Washington. After all, I was there five years, and I liked it there. I'm not bitter about it, but I was a little disappointed when I was told I was staying and a week later I was gone.
"After that situation playing left wing last year, I was obviously unhappy. Then I had the meeting with (Capitals General Manager) David Poile and (Coach) Bryan Murray and afterward I felt like a piano was off my back. Then I was told a different thing. What did I do wrong?
"But if the move strengthened their team, fine. And hopefully it will turn out to help Dennis Maruk and the North Stars."
As for Jonathan, who had so much fun growing up around Capital Centre and Fort Dupont, Maruk said, "He's still a Washington Capitals fan and he wants to come to the game. He was first involved in hockey with the Washington Capitals and he doesn't know what a trade is.
"He's adapted to the move pretty good and it helps that there are five other 4-year-old boys on the street where we live. He's out playing all the time. We still don't know a lot of the players and their wives, and there's so much still to do on and off the ice.
"We just settled on our house in Washington and we're still unpacking here. But we're happy with our home, we like it here and now we're just hoping the team can turn it around." ...
Bryan Murray expects a big effort from the North Stars Saturday: "If they have any pride, they'll come out flying after that Boston game." . . . Bobby Gould, his right wrist heavily taped, looked good in practice today and is expected to return to the lineup Saturday . . . Al Jensen, bidding for his third straight shutout, will start in goal. "If he keeps playing like that, he may play the next 70 games," Murray said . . . Minnesota has recalled Olympic goaltending hero Jim Craig.