Schoenfeld caps anger for now

March 28, 1994|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- When he was working for the New Jersey Devils some time back, Washington Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld said one of the sagest pieces of advice he ever received came from a guy who had a lot more coaching experience than did he.

"Tom McVie [ex-Capitals coach] told me, 'If you're going to criticize, better not to go into the [locker] room after a game, you'll criticize too loudly,' " Schoenfeld said. "At the same time, McVie said, 'If you're going in to praise, you'll praise too much.' We'll cover things at practice [today]."

Ho, boy! It figured to be some kind of practice on the ice at USAir Arena today, site of the Caps' 6-4 loss yesterday's to the Boston Bruins.

"We're going to scrimmage here in our own home arena; that way, we can win one here for a change," the coach said, only half in jest.

A healthy cooling-off period coupled with an appearance as a postgame guest on ABC's national telecast of the game probably had Schoenfeld's blood pressure back from somewhere up in the ionosphere. It had to be pretty bad given what the veteran cast had subjected the coach and the sellout crowd of 18,130 to.

One of the cardinal sins in hockey is giving up a short-handed goal. Each of Boston's first three tallies was scored with the Caps skating with a man advantage.

"Our special teams [power play and penalty killing] hurt us," Schoenfeld said. "Nothing elevates a team like a short-handed goal. And nothing deflates a team more than having a short-handed goal scored against it."

Think of the elevation the Bruins were lifted to while being handed a 3-1 lead in the first half of the game. How bad did it get? Late in the second period, when the Caps went on a power play, the coach sent out penalty killers Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley just to make sure the visitors weren't handed another freebie.

"We had some players who were not ready to play, and I don't know why," Schoenfeld said. "Usually, we're pretty good at doing the things that lead to good shots when we get the puck down low. Today, some of the guys weren't reacting [to opportunities]."

A prime example occurred just before the Caps closed an early two-goal deficit to 3-2 most of the way through the second period.

Joe Juneau was leading his former mates a merry chase as three times in a span of no more than 30 seconds he laid the puck in front of the Boston goal just begging to be smacked into the net. Unfortunately, Dimitri Khristich was the guy being set up, and he was performing as if he had never played the game before.

Finally, Juneau decided if the job was going to get done, he'd have to do it, so he smacked his 16th goal past Jon Casey.

"We're a team that needs 20 guys going. We're not going to get it done with only five or six guys [playing well]," the coach said. "I don't know why we didn't play well."

This was a recurring theme throughout the discussion, Schoenfeld at a loss to explain why or how the Caps could be so sloppy in their own building before a big crowd with so much on the line and only 10 games to go in the season.

With the loss, Washington is just one game above .500 at home (14-13-8), same as on the road (19-18-1). But lately, it has won just one of six games.

"It's probably a good thing we'll start the playoffs on the road," the coach said before remembering that his gang certainly hasn't assured itself of postseason action.

After a recent spurt in which the Caps won three of four in a week, the team blew a two-goal lead in the third period and was tied by the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday. Schoenfeld consulted the coach's handbook and said, "Getting a point on the road against a Stanley Cup contender is fine."

Still, a two-goal lead is supposed to stand up in the last 10 minutes of a game even if you're playing in the other guy's family room with his parents officiating.

The Caps are running seventh in the Eastern Conference with the same number of points (77) as the eighth-place team, Florida. Eight teams from the division will vie for Lord Stanley's goblet, and the Flyers (ninth) and the Islanders (10th) are only a couple of wins away from being back in it.

"This game was no bigger or no smaller than any game we've played," Schoenfeld said. But he seemed to be having difficulty convincing himself of what he said.

"It'll come down to what teams want those last two playoff spots the most," he said, dusting off a prehistoric cliche. For the time being, at least, Schoenfeld appeared as if he couldn't wait to get at his lads today.

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