Scott Stevens, the last of the Washington Capitals' injured defensemen, went through a lengthy workout at Capital Centre yesterday and hopes to return to game action tonight, when the Montreal Canadiens come to town.
Stevens has been a spectator for seven games, the longest stretch of inactivity in his hockey career, after suffering a bruised right knee in Pittsburgh Nov. 6.
Stevens was expected to miss only a week. However, he has been the unfortunate one in two misguided forecasts; Larry Murphy came out ahead of the guessing game when he returned one week after suffering a broken foot that was supposed to idle him for three.
"I felt really good today," Stevens said. "For the first time I was skating without a painful thing in the knee. I was only going three-quarters speed and it's still a little swollen, so we'll have to wait until morning to see how it reacts to this hard skate."
If Stevens does play, Coach Bryan Murray said he would limit his ice time and most likely would not use him in his power-play role at left wing.
"Any shortcoming would be in conditioning and high-level skating," Murray said. "Certainly, the way our defense has been playing, there is no need to ask Scott to do too much his first time back."
The Capitals, who also were missing Rod Langway, lost a 5-4 game to Calgary the first time Stevens was absent. Langway returned for the next game and has been a key figure as Washington has compiled a six-game unbeaten streak.
Traditionally, hometown hockey fans have learned to tell the good guys by their white sweaters. Tonight at Capital Centre, however, there are certain to be a few double takes.
It will be the Capitals skating in the road red and the Canadiens in the bridal white, as part of a reverse sweater night dreamed up by Marketing Director Lew Strudler to give the home folks a closer look at uniforms they have seen only on television for 11-plus seasons.
Asked whether he thought one of the Capitals might aim a pass for a white-clad skater in time of stress, Langway said, "I hope not and if it does happen, I hope it doesn't happen to me. I really doubt that it would cause any confusion. It's a change for the fans and it's nice to recycle our TV uniforms."
It is appropriate that the Canadiens and Capitals both wear red, white and blue. Montreal has six Americans on its roster, Washington seven.
Seven of the 13 are defensemen, which seem to be the chief United States contribution to Canada's national sport. Of 62 Americans listed on NHL rosters, 35 are defensemen, and 17 of the 21 teams have at least one. The ratio is remarkable, since NHL teams carry twice as many forwards as backliners.
Montreal's U.S. defenders include Craig Ludwig from the University of North Dakota, Tom Kurvers from Minnesota-Duluth, Buffalo-born Mike Lalor who played junior hockey in Ontario and Chris Chelios, the Chicago native who attended Wisconsin and has been touted as Langway's successor in the role of top American defenseman.
The Capitals have their own candidate for that honor in Kevin Hatcher, the young Detroit native who has played so well while paired with Langway the last two weeks. Washington's third U.S. defender is Dwight Schofield.
The other Americans in action tonight include Montreal forwards Chris Nilan and Steve Rooney, and Washington forwards Dave Christian, Bob Carpenter, Gary Sampson and David Jensen.
Asked about the high percentage of American defensemen, Washington General Manager David Poile speculated that, "Youth hockey registration is not as high in the U.S. as it is in Canada and the better players play a bigger portion of the game at a younger level. It is easier to play defense if a lot of ice time is necessary.
"Also, defense is considered the toughest spot to excel at in hockey, so perhaps that's why the better Americans turn up there. It may be like the football analogy of putting the best players on defense when you start."
Former Capitals Ryan Walter and Rick Green, traded to Montreal in 1982 for Langway, Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin and Brian Engblom, still are trying to win a game as Capital Centre visitors. The Canadiens have gone 11 games without a victory here since they last won on Feb. 25, 1979.