Not many hockey teams would elect to shake up the roster the day after its most decisive victory of the season. But the Washington Capitals did a week ago, following a 5-0 rout of Chicago, and the move has been validated by four more victories.
Newcomers Mike McEwen, Dean Evason and Greg Adams have played key roles in all four games since their arrival from Binghamton. But perhaps even more of a factor in the Capitals' sudden surge was the effect on the stay-at-homes of the departure of Glen Currie and Paul Gardner.
"I think we were coming," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Some of the guys were playing pretty well individually; they just hadn't been playing in a team concept. But very definitely some eyes were opened. Everyone realized we meant it when we said good play would be rewarded and poor play would be penalized.
"We had made the decision based on evaluations over the first 20 games. We had reports that some of our people down below had played well and we were disappointed with some of those who were here.
"After the Chicago game, we had second thoughts, but we had made the decision based on overall performance and we did not feel one satisfactory outing should change it. The individuals we brought up have definitely helped, not just by scoring points but in overall enthusiasm on the ice and in puck movement on the ice. Otherwise, we'd probably be second-guessing ourselves."
In McEwen's first game, at Quebec, he was on the ice for six of Washington's goals. In Sunday's 9-1 rout of Pittsburgh, he was on ice for five. After four games, he rates plus eight, with five assists.
McEwen, 28, was blessed in Quebec by Murray's spur-of-the-moment decision to bench Peter Andersson, after a questionable goal by the Nordiques. Murray sent McEwen out as a right-side partner for Rod Langway and the pairing has been outstanding.
"He and Rod complement each other," Murray said. "The plan was to use Mike on the left side with Darren (Veitch) or Larry (Murphy), but after Peter didn't make the play on the first goal in Quebec, I decided to try the other guy and it's worked out.
"Mike makes things happen out there. He has real good quickness, a good release from the point and a hard shot. Offensively, he sees the ice very well."
Although McEwen has a reputation for defensive shortcomings, they have not been noticeable thus far.
"There are areas of my game that I could pick up," he said. "But so far I've been okay in my end of the ice. Playing with Roddy helps -- the results seem to come a little quicker.
"I played left defense in training camp, but I was on the right side in Binghamton and I built up some confidence playing there. You're always disappointed to go to the minors, but it was nice to go to Binghamton and more or less lead them. I was playing in all situations and playing all the time."
Evason, 20, started slowly in Binghamton, with only three points in eight games. However, in the next eight, he had six goals and 10 assists. He deflected a shot by Veitch to begin the Capitals' comeback Saturday in Boston and he scored on a nifty backhander off Adams' pass for Washington's second goal against Pittsburgh.
"I've seen Dean for a couple of years and I felt by Christmas he could contribute to this hockey club," Murray said. "Then Terry (Murray, the assistant coach) watched him and he said he could end up the best player in the American League. We decided to accelerate the schedule.
"Dean has the ability to pass the puck and use his linemates. He's a very intelligent player. His size (5 feet 9, 175 pounds) and strength have always been held against him, but the way he plays, I can't see that as a negative factor."
Evason seems to have gained confidence with each game. He has made some outstanding moves, particularly in the smaller Boston rink, where he might have been expected to have difficulty.
"Every day I come in the dressing room, I feel more comfortable," he said. "On the ice, I try to take it shift by shift, let my instincts take over and play the same way I always have.
"I think the three of us coming up like this may have showed some of the guys that there are players in the minors who can play well and move in here if they let up at all. I think the last few games ignited a spark that was always there, but it was a matter of starting it and we had a little bit to do with that."
Adams, with the Capitals all last season, found himself starting this year in Binghamton. He never doubted he would be back and was among the AHL scoring leaders with eight goals and 15 assists when the call came. His forechecking set up Bryan Erickson for a big goal in the third-period comeback at Boston.
As with McEwen and Evason, a talk with General Manager David Poile made the assignment to Binghamton easier for Adams to accept.
"I was definitely disappointed, but I had a good talk with David Poile and I knew what I had to do," Adams said. "I know this organization. Sooner or later you get your shot. There's no closed-door policy by any means.
"I've been getting good ice time and I feel a lot more confident out there. The more time you get, the more confidence you get. It has a steamroller effect.
"Any time there's a change, it shakes things up, but with this team it was just a matter of time before it got moving. It just happened to coincide with our coming up. I'm glad it did. There's nothing like playing for a winner in the NHL." -- --
Winger Alan Haworth, who missed the last two games with a bruised ankle, will play tonight when New Jersey visits Capital Centre at 7:30 . . . In their last road game, the Devils ended Philadelphia's 10-game unbeaten streak . . . Although Erickson wants to play tonight, he probably will be given a few more days to rest his strained knee . . . Center Bengt Gustafsson skated without difficulty at yesterday's practice and his return is scheduled for Friday. He has been out since Oct. 25 with a severe hamstring pull.