There was much disappointment but no bitterness yesterday as goalie Bob Mason, center Glen Currie and winger Gary Sampson left the Washington Capitals for involuntary servitude in Binghamton.
"It's the best thing for me," Mason said. "I haven't played in a month and I've got to play. If I'm not going to play here, I might as well play there. It's tough for a young goalie like me not to play. You get stale, your confidence is down and you don't even feel comfortable in practice."
"My defensive play is up to par but the offensive creativity isn't there," Currie said. "With Dean Evason (a center called up from Binghamton Monday along with defenseman Peter Andersson) playing so well, it's only fair to give him a shot. He's got my job now; it's up to him to keep it. I feel I can still help this team if they need me."
"It's another hurdle and it's tough to go down, but after the second injury I kind of expected it," Sampson said. "Still, for all you're prepared for it, it still hurts. I should get a lot of ice time and if things go well, in a week, a week and a half or two weeks, I should be back up."
Sampson is the only one of the three with a realistic chance of returning soon, barring injury to other players. Sampson was a regular and playing well when he suffered ligament damage to his left knee Dec. 27. After six weeks of recuperation, he banged up the same knee Feb. 13 in his third game back and has not played since.
"I think Gary Sampson will be back," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Coming off the injury, it's important for him to get some games in. He was a little short before in game condition. We'll take a week and see how he comes along."
Currie was sent down after clearing waivers and his principal hope of returning would seem to be a failure by Evason to perform. Evason played so well in the 3-2 victory over the Canucks, however, that his prospects of staying here are excellent.
"I have the highest regard for Glen's work," Murray said. "He's a very responsible checker. But maybe the club is getting beyond carrying a guy who can't score. Dean gives us a little more puck movement and a scoring chance."
Currie, who had one goal and five assists in 44 games, spent two weeks in Binghamton in late November and early December.
"I thought when I came back the second time I was playing a little better," Currie said. "It was coming slowly, but in this game you can't wait forever. It would have been easier if I was playing with Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner, but things don't work out that way."
Mason won eight straight games in December and January, and shared NHL rookie of the month honors for December with Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux. He has not played since being yanked during a 3-3 tie against Toronto Feb. 1.
The trigger for yesterday's move was confirmation that Al Jensen is ready to play. Jensen will back up Pat Riggin tonight in New York against the Rangers (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30) and Saturday at Capital Centre against Buffalo. He is scheduled to start Tuesday's Centre contest against New Jersey.
"If Al can play, then it's important that Bob Mason play, too," Murray said. "There's no sense him sitting here. As it is, sitting him for 25 days would make it tough to put him in in an important situation. I didn't lose confidence in him, but we got ourselves into a little rats' race for first and Pat has been playing so well, I kept using Pat."
The Capitals hold the Patrick Division lead by two points over Philadelphia, which visits Boston tonight.
Jensen said his left knee remained somewhat tender, but he would be ready tonight should anything happen to Riggin.
"I'm feeling a lot better each day," Jensen said. "I'm progressing in big chunks. I can move fine, but there's still a little problem when I go down. That's what I have to overcome. The knee isn't 100 percent, but it's close."
Winger Alan Haworth practiced yesterday, but he remains questionable for tonight with a groin pull. When Haworth is ready, Murray said, another player will be sent to Binghamton. Although Murray declined to speculate on the identity of that player, the logical choice would be winger Bryan Erickson, who has scored one goal in the last 23 games.
A big question tonight is which Ranger team will show up, the one that beat the Islanders, 9-3, on Feb. 17 or the one that lost to Winnipeg, 12-5, Monday night.
Defenseman Barry Beck, absent with flu on Monday, is expected back. Winger Jan Erixon will miss the game with a bruised foot. This is the last meeting of the teams during the regular season, the Capitals having won the last four after the Rangers took the first two.