Disappointed with first-quarter earnings, the Washington Capitals today implemented a major personnel shakeup. Three players were called up from Binghamton, with three others demoted to the American League farm.
Joining the club here for Tuesday night's game against the Quebec Nordiques will be defenseman Mike McEwen, center Dean Evason and winger Greg Adams. Trimmed from the parent roster, at least temporarily, were goaltender Al Jensen, who needs game sharpness and was given a week in Binghamton to get it; center Glen Currie, destined for two weeks of motivational therapy, and center Paul Gardner, who was tried and found wanting.
The moves were a bit of a surprise, considering that the Capitals played their soundest game of the season Sunday night in shackling Chicago, 5-0. However, it was recalled that afterward Coach Bryan Murray had cautioned, "That was only one game."
Murray revealed the changes during a media breakfast at the Sheraton Lanham and emphasized that they basically followed the club's policy of rewarding hard workers on the farm.
"Mike McEwen and Dean Evason have played awfully well down below and Greg Adams has been playing a physical type of hockey that is somewhat lacking here," Murray said. "We're doing this from an organizational point of view. We're challenging the people down below by telling them, 'If you work hard, you'll get a chance.' You have to have a reward system for a good player."
Conversely, of course, management is trying to let the residents of the parent roster know that they must work hard to maintain their places. Murray had threatened to reduce the ice time of players he felt were not contributing and he has done so with Currie, Alan Haworth and Larry Murphy.
"I told several players in Pittsburgh (Wednesday) that they would have an opportunity in the next three games to shape up or changes would be made," Murray said. "Now it's time for the changes."
Jensen, of course, was sent out because injuries have limited him to four games this fall, with a resulting 2-1-1 record and 3.43 goals-against mark. Jensen began the season with a strained tendon in his knee, then last week pulled a muscle in his side.
Currie was benched in Pittsburgh, the first game he had missed since he was called up from Hershey early in the 1982-83 season. Currie was a key figure in the Capitals' league-leading penalty-killing effort last season; Murray felt he was also an important factor in the sharp decline during the first 20 games this fall.
"This is just an attempt to get his fire stoked up," Murray said. "I want him to play three or four games down there and get a little confidence. It's a hard thing in the short term, but in the long run it should be a tremendous benefit and get him going again.
"What I don't like is that he's happy with the way he's playing. I think he should be more aggressive killing penalties, taking the body with more authority. He's getting pushed around out there."
Currie, who consented to the two-week demotion -- otherwise, waivers would have been required -- had only three assists in 19 games, but scoring never has been his forte. Gardner, on the other hand, was called up from Binghamton Oct. 30 as an offensive specialist and was used almost exclusively in that role. The results, two goals and four assists in 12 games, were considered unsatisfactory.
All three of the newcomers have been standouts for the AHL Whalers.
McEwen, a veteran signed as a free agent during the summer, was bothered by a sprained knee, but he has fully recovered and has two goals and 10 assists in 14 games. "Mike is quick and he has a very good shot from the point," Murray said. "Our shots from the point have not been the perspective we want on the power play. It's important to see now if Mike McEwen can help this hockey club."
Evason, 5-9 and 180 pounds, played one game with Washington earlier as an emergency replacement for Bengt Gustafsson. He has seven goals and 14 assists in 21 games with the Whalers. "Dean Evason has been very, very good at the American League level and it's time to give him a look," Murray said. "He's not strong or quick, but he may be the smartest player in the organization."
Adams was a regular most of last season, when he scored only two goals in 57 games. At Binghamton, he has eight goals and 15 assists in 22 games, while also amassing 50 penalty minutes. "Greg is a big, strong kid and I hope he'll play more physical than some of the guys who have been here," Murray said.
The Capitals have the fewest penalty minutes in the NHL and while Murray emphasized that he did not want to take bad penalties, he also said that he felt the low total was an indication of the team's overall lack of aggressiveness.
"We had one close-checking game and I heard a player -- I won't mention his name -- comment that it would be tough playing that bump and grind game very often.
"Well, I made a point to him. I think a lot of teams take liberties against us. You have to make them pay the price on occasion and give them something to think about, or they'll always play at their best against you."