If it is true that teams play the way they practice, the Washington Capitals' fans are advised to bring alarm clocks to tonight's Capital Centre game against the New Jersey Devils.
None of the usual repartee was evident at the Capitals' drill at the Centre yesterday. There were no shouts of joy at goalies beaten, no friendly shoves at persistent checkers. In fact, about the only signs of life were snarls by players who seemingly felt they had been bumped unnecessarily.
However, neither captain Rod Langway nor Coach Bryan Murray felt the team's demeanor was related to its recent losing ways, which have dropped the Capitals six points behind Philadelphia. They emphasized that this was a teaching session and it was more important to listen than to cheer.
Asked if the silence was significant, Langway replied, "I hope not. This is no time for anybody to get down on himself. We've got to be ready tomorrow and keep things in the right direction. Today's practice made a point of teaching and we were listening more, but we had a good, hard skate."
"I was doing a lot of talking and I was slowing everything down so the guys would stand and listen," Murray said. "It was really warm out there, so between the sweating and standing I guess they were lacking the usual enthusiasm.
"At an up-tempo practice, guys get into it after about 15 minutes. But I'm satisfied with their physical condition. Today I was more interested in the mental part of the game, in getting our system upgraded. We're giving up too many chances and we have to think about what we're doing a little more."
Two of the more enthusiastic practice players, Bob Carpenter and Dave Shand, were absent.
Carpenter incurred a bruised leg during Saturday's 6-4 loss to the New York Islanders and was advised to rest it. However, he will be in the lineup for the 311th straight game tonight.
Shand used Sunday's off day to drive to North Carolina for his son's birthday. Heading back, his car broke down.
Al Jensen, who shut out Toronto in his most recent start, will be in the Washington net tonight. Murray said Jensen also would play one of the two games against Montreal, Thursday or Friday.
"We want if possible to give him enough games down the stretch to get in game condition," Murray said. "We want him to feel confident and we want the players to have confidence in him."
Murray said he would continue over the next five games to shuffle players before deciding on the three defensive pairings and the three lines he expects to carry the load in the playoffs.
"The main objective over the last 10 games is to be on top of our game going into the playoffs," he said. "We want to win a majority and get some confidence back. I'm going to continue to look at everybody over the next few games, then over the last five we'll give most of the ice time to the people who will play most in the serious situations in the playoffs."
Murray said he hoped to form a solid checking unit centered around Doug Jarvis and Bob Gould. But he said he doubted that Gaetan Duchesne could be spared from the No. 1 line with Carpenter and Mike Gartner to join it. The trio of Duchesne, Jarvis and Gould had considerable early-season success shutting down high-powered offensive lines.
"I've certainly given that possibility a lot of thought, but I think Gaetan probably needs more ice time than that," Murray said. "I may have to shift him down for a particular job, but I like having him with Bobby and Mike, he's such a responsible guy."
Langway has been the object of unusual attention in recent games, with opponents going out of their way to check him after he has played the puck and often when he hasn't. He isn't concerned.
"The games we've played -- Philly, Boston and the Islanders -- every team is checking better coming down to the playoffs," Langway said. "We have to get it down, too.
"And maybe it just looks that way because Mike (McEwen) and me play so much. They're checking Scotty (Scott Stevens), too. They did that last year in the playoffs. I'm used to that and I just try to make the easy play. Otherwise, they'll eat us alive."
"The word goes around the league pretty quick how teams are playing us," Murray said. "They've put pressure on Rod, played much more aggressively against him. But that could work to our advantage, if we can trap guys in situations like that and make the quick pass. We were as quick in our end as any team in the league, but we've slipped a bit. We need to get that back."