The Washington Capitals will devote extra attention to right wing Tim Kerr when they battle the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the Spectrum (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30) and Friday at Capital Centre.
Although Kerr at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds would seem hard to miss, Washington defenders have permitted him to slip away so often that he has scored nine goals in five games against the Capitals.
Kerr had a hat trick in the Flyers' 7-4 victory Dec. 23, then scored four times in that notable 5-4 Philadelphia triumph Feb. 9, when Brian Propp won it with two seconds left.
The Flyers boast a 3-1-1 mark against Washington, a remarkable turnabout after dropping six straight at the end of last season, including a three-game playoff sweep.
The Capitals hold first place in the Patrick Division by four points over the Flyers, who have an extra game to play. There has been considerable fluctuation in the situation, with Philadelphia moving 13 points ahead in late November and Washington surging to an 11-point edge before Propp's late goal provided the impetus for an eight-game winning streak that brought the Flyers as close as two points.
Kerr has scored 48 goals, so Washington is not the only team he has victimized. But the Capitals obviously have found him difficult to contain and he will be the principal focus as coaches Bryan Murray of Washington and Mike Keenan of Philadelphia strive to obtain favorable matchups in the two contests.
"We want to have Rod (Langway) or Scott (Stevens) out there when Kerr is on the ice, someone who can play him very strong," Murray said. "It would be nice if you can get Gaetan (Duchesne) against him, but the way Louie (Franceschetti) or Greg Adams is playing now, from a size and strength standpoint, the left side is not the major problem it was earlier on."
Duchesne likely will go against Kerr regularly Friday, when Murray has the last change, because it also would put Mike Gartner and Bob Carpenter, Washington's principal scoring threats, against Dave Poulin and Lindsay Carson, not the best in the checking department.
In Philadelphia, Keenan probably will try to pit Murray Craven, Derrick Smith and Rich Sutter against the Carpenter line, while sending Kerr and company out against another Washington unit.
Adams, who began his NHL career with the Flyers, would relish the assignment, especially since his confidence got a boost from a fine performance in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over New Jersey.
"You always look forward to playing against a team you've been with and a situation like this is a challenge for all of us," Adams said. "If I'm fortunate enough to get the assignment against Kerr, I've got to be very strong against him.
"You can't just try to grab his arm. You have to get in his way and grab his stick. He's very good and very strong, and you have to be mentally tough against him as well as physically tough."
Langway pointed out that the Flyers have other offensive threats like Poulin, Propp and Ilkka Sinisalo, making too much focus on Kerr a possibility for trouble elsewhere.
"He's like a (Mike) Bossy and you have to be aware of him on the ice," Langway said. "But you can't concentrate on one guy. If you cover Kerr like a blanket, the others will hurt you.
"The puck has been following him against us, but we're due to get some breaks against them. Let them worry about us. We're ahead of them."
Murray has watched quantities of videotape of the Flyers and he was highly impressed by a goal Kerr scored against New Jersey Sunday.
"He carried the puck from the circle in his own end down the left side and beat Rick Meagher, who's a pretty good skater," Murray said. "Kerr gives you the impression that he's bulky and not real fast, but he's both.
"He's really quick, he has great hands and a quick release. Besides being a good skater, he gets great position body wise because of his bulk. And his teammates are always looking for him."
Murray is pleased by the sequence that has the big series opening in Philadelphia.
"I like that," Murray said. "If you lose the first game, you're coming home with a more positive attitude. And if you win the first, you're in a position where you really feel good about it. The Capital Centre crowd should work to our advantage whichever way the first one goes."
The Capitals have some concerns other than Kerr. For one thing, winger Alan Haworth did not practice yesterday, after suffering a bruised shoulder when he was slammed into the boards by the Devils' Joe Cirella. "It doesn't feel very good, but I'll be able to play tomorrow," Haworth said.
Carpenter went home after practice to watch videotapes, after being blanked for the fourth straight game, his longest stretch without a goal this season.
"I've had a lot of chances," Carpenter said. "If there were no chances, I'd start worrying. I'll keep shooting and keep working and I'm sure they'll come."
"When he was scoring, he was going to the net aggressively," Murray said. "The puck was coming to him and he was making things happen. Now that they're not coming so easy, he may be positioning himself a little higher and not going to the net when Mike (Gartner) has the puck. He has to jump on himself a little bit."
Goalie Pat Riggin, who has faced the Flyers in all five previous contests, will take a 5-9-1 career record against Philadelphia into tonight's contest.
Bob Froese, a standout in the Flyers' overtime victory on Long Island Tuesday, will probably be in the Philadelphia net. He is 1-2 against the Capitals but has not faced them this season.