Coach Bryan Murray checked the Washington Capitals' midterm report yesterday and the figures convinced him to rescind, temporarily at least, his dependence on three lines to carry the attack.
Last season, Murray went with four lines, but there was a feeling that the fourth line was not generating enough offensive punch. So Murray decided that he would give his top three lines more ice time this year.
The result, after 42 games, was five fewer goals and 94 fewer shots than last season. Also, there was a suspicion that overworking some players had contributed to a situation in which Washington had been outscored, 56-48, in the third period.
"I'm going to use four lines on a regular basis for the next 10 games," Murray said. "We don't seem to be getting more goals by finesse, using the top players more, so we'll go back to creating chances by hard work and see if we can convert a higher percentage.
"What we need that we're not getting right now is better forechecking. That's where it all begins. The Philadelphia Flyers are winning because their forechecking is excellent.
"If we work as hard as they do every night, we can be competitive with them. But I think we can see it's lacking a bit now. Maybe as a team we've worked so hard over the years that we're no longer motivated every night. Every team goes through stretches like that. But I can't accept it."
Murray indicated that there could be personnel changes before the Capitals return to action Friday night at New Jersey, then play host to the Flyers Saturday. Murray drove to Hershey, Pa., last night to watch the Capitals' Binghamton farmhands play Hershey, the Flyers' top farm club.
Presumably, anyone who displayed sufficient courage in the lesser battle will be given a chance to repeat at the higher level. Top candidate for promotion is Mark Taylor, who has 19 goals and 34 assists in 38 games for the Whalers.
"There are a couple of guys we're taking a good, hard look at," Murray said. "What you have to bear in mind, though, is that scoring in the American League and scoring in the Patrick Division are two different things.
"We need guys who can get there to score. It's tough to get through the stick checks and the rest of it when you're playing the Flyers, Islanders and Rangers."
Coincidentally, the night after the Capitals were embarrassed, 4-0, in Philadelphia last week, the Whalers dropped a 4-0 decision to Hershey.
Washington entered that game trailing the first-place Flyers by only four points. Now, a week later, the Capitals have lost three in a row and are staring at a 12-point deficit. Murray conceded that the chances of overhauling Philadelphia are not bright.
"They're not going to lose a lot of hockey games, the way they're playing," Murray said. "Right now, it's important for us to play consistently well and be more competitive on a nightly basis."
Murray also said he might disrupt the goaltending rotation in which Al Jensen and Pete Peeters have alternated since Peeters was obtained from Boston Nov. 14. Normally, Peeters would face the Devils, with Jensen going against Peeters' original team, the Flyers.
"I'd like to use Pete against the Flyers Saturday to see how he stacks up there," Murray said. "I'm uncertain about Friday right now."
If he was looking ahead, however, Murray did not want his team doing the same.
"Starting today, we'll prepare for New Jersey," Murray said. "Then Saturday morning, we'll talk about the Philadelphia Flyers. Win or lose, we have to show up this time and play well."