A reassuring injury report and good news concerning attendance figures made things brighter for the Washington Capitals yesterday, following the familiar Friday fiasco that produced a 5-3 loss to the Quebec Nordiques.
Bob Carpenter, Alan Haworth and Craig Laughlin, all of whom were banged up against Quebec, were found fit and will be ready to play in Detroit on Tuesday.
Carpenter, who has participated in a club-record 280 straight games, departed in the first period after complaining of whiplash when he was cross checked in front of the Quebec net. He still felt stiff yesterday, but X-rays were negative and he is expected to practice today.
Haworth and Laughlin participated in yesterday's workout at Mount Vernon. Haworth became ill Friday after first taking a stick in the right eye from Wilf Paiement, then engaging in a fierce fight with Bruce Bell. Laughlin banged his left hand against the boards, but X-rays yesterday were negative.
While many fans in the Capital Centre crowd of 15,525 booed the home club, particularly during a one-shot first period, their presence boosted the Capitals' home attendance over the first half of the season to 261,653, an average of 13,083.
That 20-game average is higher than the crowd figure at any of the first 23 home games of last season, when the first-half total was 205,873, or 10,294 per game.
"We're really happy with the attendance," said General Manager David Poile. "It all goes back to two or three years ago, when the situation was distorted by complimentary tickets and discount tickets.
"We've overcome those hurdles and not only increased the crowds, but turned them into paid tickets. Our average attendance is well up there and if the team continues to play well, we should have a tremendous second half at the gate."
Season-ticket sales have reached 5,800, according to marketing director Lew Strudler, which is an increase of 900 and a figure topped only during the club's initial campaign of 1974-75, when 6,800 were sold. Additionally, the team has sold 4,000 partial plans, a big boost over the 1,200 of last season.
Since attendance usually increases after the conclusion of the Redskins' season, there is little doubt that the Capitals will top their all-time record of 495,050, an average of 12,376, established during the 1982-83 season when figures were distorted by the "Save the Caps" campaign.
Strudler has penciled in five future dates as potential sellouts of 18,130, the first being the Jan. 27 visit by the New York Islanders, for which only 1,700 tickets remain.
There have been two sellouts already, against Edmonton and the Islanders. Both were on Friday night and, naturally, the Capitals lost, as they have on all five Fridays so far this season.
Although Quebec outskated Washington from beginning to end Friday, the Capitals had some hope of pulling it out after Bob Gould lifted them within 4-3 at 7:17 of the third period. However, Quebec goalie Richard Sevigny got enough of a later Gould shot to deflect it wide by inches and the Nordiques eventually wrapped it up on Wilf Paiement's empty netter.
Since they swept back-to-back games from Philadelphia and the New York Islanders, the Capitals seem to be suffering through a holiday letdown. Rather than instilling any feeling of panic, it has encouraged them to know that they can win, as they did against Hartford and Boston, while failing to perform at the highest possible level.
Obviously, no team can maintain an 80-game peak. Captain Rod Langway previously warned that the team would encounter a slump before the season ended and goalie Pat Riggin expressed a hope that the Capitals would not run out of gas because they were on a roll too early.
Gould said he was aware in the dressing room before the Quebec game that emotion was not at its usual level.
"Sometimes you can sense it before the game even starts," Gould said. "Even against Boston, we didn't seem to have real spark. We played well and pulled that one out, but you only get away with that so often.
"After getting one shot in the first period, we were lucky to be behind only 1-0. Then we played a good third period and we almost pulled it out. If we'd just put two decent periods together, I'm sure we would have won."
"We didn't play the first two periods," Murray said. "We played one period and it wasn't enough. To win, this team has to play three periods of hockey."