Center Bob Carpenter's 360-game iron-man streak will end Saturday night when the Washington Capitals play the Minnesota North Stars for the first time this season.
A debilitating case of flu will force Carpenter to miss a game for the first time in his NHL career. He reported today that he was so sick he had no energy, and he was sent home from Philadelphia before the Capitals flew west.
This was just one more discouraging event for Carpenter, who has struggled with a mere 10 goals and 14 assists this season. He had played in pain much of the time, suffering inflamed tissue in his back, a bruised hand that made it difficult for him to hold a stick, a pinched nerve in his neck and a bruised ankle.
Center Alan Haworth, who missed Thursday's 4-0 loss in Philadelphia because of the aftereffects of Saturday's concussion, is expected to return to action tonight.
It was impossible to demote every player who performed poorly against the Flyers, but General Manager David Poile did make one move today. He sent right wing Ed Kastelic to Binghamton and recalled left wing Gary Sampson.
Kastelic had played 15 games without scoring a point and had 73 minutes in penalties.
Sampson had one goal and four assists in 17 games with Washington before he was assigned to Binghamton Dec. 5.
Today, following a practice session at the Coliseum in Voorhees, N.J., and during the flight here from Philadelphia, the Capitals had ample opportunity to reflect on Thursday's loss, in which they were totally outplayed by the Flyers. The consensus was that they had better rebound in a hurry against the North Stars.
Last season, when the Flyers won their 30th game on Feb. 9 at Capital Centre, beating Washington, 5-4, in the last two seconds, it marked the beginning of the end of the Capitals' dreams of a first-place finish in the Patrick Division.
The inspired Flyers lost only four games the rest of the season as they wound up first overall and eventually reached the Stanley Cup final.
The stunned Capitals, 11 points ahead entering that fateful contest, dropped their next game in Winnipeg and never recovered, stumbling home in second place and disappearing in the first round of the playoffs.
Thursday night, the Flyers again reached the 30-victory plateau at Washington's expense. Hitting the milestone a month earlier this time, the Flyers were so dominant that there is some question whether the Capitals can mount another challenge for the lead.
An answer of sorts will come Saturday night, when the Capitals face an improving Minnesota team that has won six of eight.
If Washington fails to bounce back and repeats its Winnipeg reprise of last season, it could be a long, disappointing winter.
There was talk of forgetting Thursday's loss, but team captain Rod Langway would have none of it. Although the Capitals have been winning regularly, most of the victories have been unconvincing and Langway thinks this is the time to straighten out a few things.
Accordingly, he had more than a few words to say to his teammates today.
"From the team part of it, sometimes on a loss, you have to dwell on it," Langway said. "We have to say some things and put things on the table, get things straight.
"It wasn't us on the ice. It wasn't a Washington Capitals game. We keep trying to make great plays instead of moving the puck easily and it was just a matter of time until we got burnt."
Mike Gartner felt the Capitals had been overly concerned with the Flyers and had gotten away from their usual game. He noted the importance of getting back to basics Saturday.
"We played tentatively and we didn't play our game," Gartner said. "We showed Philadelphia far too much respect. We have to start having more respect for ourselves.
"It's important to get back from any loss and one of our goals is not to lose two in a row. It's happened twice and that's enough."
Coach Bryan Murray remained optimistic, although obviously distressed by the loss.
"We've got to play well again and I'm sure we will," Murray said. "I thought a lot of younger guys played nervous and I was disappointed with some of the veterans, too, but I know they'll bounce back."