It's a rare person who would be delighted to see a 6-foot-5 athlete charging toward him. For Scott Stevens of the Washington Capitals, however, this time it was a welcome sight.
Dave Brown of the Philadelphia Flyers skated after Stevens with nine seconds remaining in the Capitals' 5-2 victory at Capital Centre on Saturday night. Stevens had enough of a warning to get ready, and he enjoyed the fight that ensued.
All night, under orders from Coach Bryan Murray, Stevens had backed off from the hockey sticks and elbows of the Flyers. It was not an easy task for a 21-year-old scrapper whose lowest penalty total in three previous NHL seasons is 195 minutes.
Murray, however, finally has convinced Stevens that he is more valuable to the Capitals by turning the other cheek and staying in the game than battling his way to the penalty box or dressing room.
With this season more than half over, counting the five minutes he received for that set-to with Brown, Stevens has been assessed only 65 minutes in penalties. He has not been ejected from a game, which puts him one up on taskmaster Murray.
"You've got to use your head and take your licks or you'll wind up in the penalty box," Stevens said. "There's not much you can do about it, but it's nice to be able to get some revenge at the end of the game.
"It's tough to stand there, see a guy charge me with his stick up and not get involved. I'm frustrated, and I know Rod (Langway) is, too. But when we get up a few goals, then there's a chance to fight and let some of it out."
Ever since Stevens entered the NHL, the Flyers and New York Islanders have taken advantage of his short fuse by having lesser players run at him and try to lure him into a fight. In the past, they often succeeded, since NHL rules allow no time off on pleas of self-defense. Murray hopes that when such tactics continue to prove futile, they will be abandoned.
"We're not going into a situation like this unaware that Scott Stevens and Rod Langway will be run from behind," Murray said. "They run guys after we score, and they run guys after the whistle. I've told Scott and Rod not to fight, and I know it's not easy for them to put up with that stuff.
"But they're too valuable to go to the box with some guy who has half their ability. Scott has been very good about it. He was suckered into one at the end, but he didn't lose his cool, and it was the other guy who paid the price."
Brown, a winger whose hockey ability is best illustrated by his statistics, 10 points and 215 penalty minutes, was given his fourth game misconduct penalty of the season, which carries an automatic two-game suspension.
"I was talking to (the Flyers' Peter) Zezel, and I had my head down for the faceoff," Stevens said. "Somebody yelled, and I saw Brown charge me with his gloves off. I was kind of glad."
Brown had managed to take Stevens off with him for two minutes in the first period on coincidental roughing minors. They constituted two of the 28 penalties dealt out by referee Bryan Lewis in a first period that lasted longer than an hour and on eight occasions brought all the players on the ice, except the goaltenders, into a scuffle.
The Capitals scored on their first two shots of the game, and after each one, the Flyers went after the goal scorer. In virtually every one of the game-delaying brawls, Lewis merely issued coincidental penalties.
Not one of the 49 penalties issued by Lewis went to Dwight Schofield, the Capitals' resident policeman. When Schofield was on the ice, the visitors had no trouble restraining themselves.
If the 18,130 fans were watching a sport that resembled roller derby more than ice hockey, there at least was one positive aspect for the Capitals, besides the result on the scoreboard. Each time five Flyers converged on their target, they quickly found five Capitals keeping them company.
"This was a good game for us, because everyone worked hard and everybody showed up," Stevens said. "We had them frustrated instead of them frustrating us."
Gaetan Duchesne, hardly an accomplished rabble-rouser, was in the midst of every scuffle while he was on the ice and said, "The first period was tough to play; it was such a long period with so many stops in play. But it wound up to our advantage. What can you do? When guys are in a fight, you have to be there. I was there. Everybody was there."
Bengt Gustafsson, whose sensational short-handed goal boosted Washington's lead to 3-1, set up two other scores. He said, "You don't think about the cheap stuff when you play. It wasn't tough out there. I liked it. You get involved in the game and when they're taking runs at you, it makes it easier to get by them."
Bob Gould said it slowed up the game and made it difficult for the better players to show their skills. But he added, "It was a pretty good game for us, because a lot of guys contributed in one way or another, and that's a good sign for us when everybody contributes."
The Capitals, with two games in hand, now trail the first-place Flyers by only eight points in the Patrick Division race. But Murray cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the result, just as he did after the Capitals' 4-0 loss in Philadelphia on Jan. 9.
"Remember, even though we won this one, they won up there," Murray said. "It's just one hockey game. There are a lot more to come."
The Capitals will face Minnesota here Tuesday. Schofield has been scheduled for minor surgery today to remove a mole from his right calf. He will be out about a week.