After four seasons of open, forthright discussion of his plans, Coach Bryan Murray of the Washington Capitals has been converted to the hide-and-let-them-seek philosophy of his boss, David Poile, and his playoff rival, Al Arbour of the New York Islanders.
"In the past, I let my plans out and then I sat in the room and wondered who was playing goal for the Islanders, or left wing, or whatever," Murray said. "Maybe this year, if we're going to win, we'll hold our numbers to ourselves. We know what we're doing. Our plans are made. Let them figure them out."
It will be a simple matter for Murray to hide his intentions. Not only has he used a variety of lines and defensive partnerships in recent games, but it has been more than a month since he suited up the same 18 skaters for back-to-back games.
"We're going to play four lines a big part of the time and I'm hoping that will prove to be a factor with four games in five nights," Murray said. "I'm not worried about who plays as a line all the time. I have three right wings I can move around, and we've been doing that the last part of the year so they're prepared to play with any center."
Murray says his priorities are to have Gaetan Duchesne and either Scott Stevens or Rod Langway on the ice whenever 58-goal scorer Mike Bossy is out for the Islanders. Since Bossy has been playing with John Tonelli and Brent Sutter, and that line figures to see a lot of ice time, Duchesne will not always find himself with checking linemates Doug Jarvis and Bob Gould.
"Obviously, I can't have them out there all the time," Murray said. "Occasionally, I'll have Gaetan Duchesne at left wing with (Bob) Carpenter or (Bengt) Gustafsson. Gus has good defensive skills and I'll use him in spots against (Bryan) Trottier or Brent Sutter. We have a lot of options."
For what it is worth, the lines at yesterday's practice, besides Jarvis' trio, had Gustafsson centering Lou Franceschetti and Mike Gartner, Dave Christian between Gary Sampson and Craig Laughlin, and Greg Adams and Alan Haworth the apparent wingers for Carpenter, who was absent while recuperating from the flu.
It seems likely that if the Capitals fall behind, Murray will go with three lines, putting Carpenter with Gartner and Gustafsson with Christian.
Two things are definite for Wednesday's Capital Centre opener of the best-of-five series. Tickets are still available, almost a thousand at last count, and forward Mikko Leinonen will not play. Leinonen was suspended for the first playoff game and the Capitals were fined $7,000, because of irregularities in his signing.
Murray said the Capitals would use five defensemen most of the time, with a sixth used on a situation basis. Although he would not elaborate, the likelihood is that Stevens will be teamed with Darren Veitch, while Rod Langway rotates with Mike McEwen and Larry Murphy. Peter Andersson is the logical sixth man, although Murray indicated that he would not hesitate to use rookie Kevin Hatcher, who was paired with Langway at yesterday's practice.
Asked about a starting goalie, Murray said, "Bill Smith," then laughed. Almost certainly he will start Al Jensen Wednesday and go with Jensen as long as he wins, which has been frequently of late, Jensen having prevailed in seven of eight starts since returning from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Arbour figures to do the same with Smith, who replaced Kelly Hrudey after two periods Tuesday and then played the Islanders' last two games. It will be a case of putting faith in experience, since Smith has had his problems this season.
Besides the Brent Sutter line, Arbour has had Trottier centering Anders Kallur and Duane Sutter; Pat LaFontaine between Clark Gillies and Patrick Flatley, and an infrequently utilized fourth line with Roger Kortko the center for Bob Bourne and Bob Nystrom. Mats Hallin is available if Bourne, recovering from surgery on his hand, is forced out.
The Islanders' recent defensive pairings had Denis Potvin with Stefan Persson, Tomas Jonsson with Ken Morrow and Paul Boutilier with Gord Lane. Dave Langevin might step in if Morrow, slowed by knee surgery, can't handle the tight schedule.
Arbour is likely to use Trottier in multiple situations, possibly double shifting him in Kortko's place. He also has tried in the past to put Potvin on the ice whenever Gartner is out for Washington.
Although the Capitals have more speed, the Islanders have the greater experience and are adept at the clutch-and-grab tactics that tend to neutralize a star like Gartner. New York has paid a price this season, being short-handed a league-high 383 times, compared to Washington's 287. But officials tend to let more go in the playoffs; the degree of leniency could be a key factor.
Regardless of official intervention, this should be an extremely physical series. Murray inserted both Franceschetti and Adams into the lineup because of the need for more hitting against the Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, the team the Capitals likely would play next if they advance.