Thirty two seasons…two thousand seven hundred and twelve games.
43 overtime and shootout losses…
Three division championships, two conference finals, one
What is it about this club that would lead a hockey fan with any self respect to have followed such a team through the years of pain and frustration?
It’s 1974-75 . . . 8-67-5. 21 points. Caps fans could walk out of Capital Centre after the last game (an 8-4 win over
It’s 1975-76 . . . and the Caps undergoing the first of what would become many death marches on the road to start the season. Ten of their first thirteen games were on the road – they lost seven of them. They didn’t get their first home win until November 26th. But Caps fans had the pleasure of seeing a budding hockey analyst -- Bill Clement. The Peerless thinks he's harbored a grudge ever since.
1t’s 1976-77 . . . and the Caps earn more points (62) than the first two years combined (53) and 21 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. Hockeytown, my ass.
It’s 1977-78 . . . and winning the last three games of the season to avoid having the worst record in the league.
It’s 1978-79 . . . and Gary Inness is the first Capitals goaltender to end the year with a .500 record – 14-14-8.
It’s 1979-80 . . . and the first time the Caps beat
It’s 1980-81 . . . and one point…one freakin’ point. That was the margin by which the Caps missed the playoffs. But Dennis Maruk became the first Cap to reach the 50-goal plateau for a season.
It’s 1981-82 . . . Starting the season 1-14-1 is not a recipe for reaching the playoffs. It doesn’t do much for coaching longevity, either (Gary Green was relieved when it reached 1-12-0). But then, things took a turn. Roger Crozier lost one game behind the bench (that’s 1-13-0) before yielding to a 38-year old coach who led the Hershey Bears to a 47-24-9 record the previous year (the 103 points earned would not be exceeded until 2006-2007 when the club was an affiliate of the Caps) – Bryan Murray.
It’s 1982-83 . . . and the biggest deal in Capitals history. Without it, this narrative ends about here. Not two weeks into his new job as general manager, David Poile sent Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Canadiens for Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis. The 39-25-16 record would earn the Caps their first playoff berth, and although the Caps were dispatched in four games by the eventual champion New York Islanders, it would mark the first of 14 consecutive playoff appearances.
It’s 1983-84 . . . and more firsts . . . the first 100-point season (48-27-5, 101 points), the first hardware earned by Caps players (Langway the Norris Trophy, Jarvis the Selke), and most important the first playoff series win – a three-game sweep of the Flyers in which the Caps outscored the Flyers 15-5 and chased the Flyers’ goaltender twice.
It’s 1984-85 . . . and another 100-point season (46-25-9, 101 points) and the only time in team history the club had two 50-goal scorers – Mike Gartner (50) and Bobby Carpenter (53). But for the third straight year, the Islanders would end the Caps’ season.
It’s 1985-86 . . . and the most successful regular season in the club’s history – 50-23-7 (107 points), the only season in which the Caps won 50 games. It might have had the most bitter ending – a six-game second round loss in the playoffs to the New York Rangers, a club the Caps finished 29 points in front of in the regular season.
It’s 1986-87 . . . and a year of turmoil. Bobby Carpenter shipped off to the Rangers on New Year’s Day after all but being dismissed by the team. It seemed to rejuvenate the club. Beginning with a 4-3 New Year’s Day home win, the Caps closed 26-13-4 and looked poised for a long run in the playoffs. That would end deep into Easter morning in the fourth overtime of a seventh game against the old nemesis – the Islanders. Pat Lafontaine turns, fires….CLANG!...see you next year. The 75 shots faced by Islander goalie Kelly Hrudey in that game would be a Stanley Cup playoff record that would last almost 20 years.
It’s 1987-88 . . . and another path-changing trade. Gaetan Duchesne, Alan Haworth, and a first round pick in the 1987 draft were sent to
It’s 1998-89 . . . and a year in which the Caps would win their first and only Patrick Division title. They also would obtain one of the team’s all time favorites – Dino Ciccarelli – in a late-season trade. He didn’t disappoint…12-3-15, +10 in 11 games. The Caps went 8-3 in those games. That’s called “making a good first impression.” It didn’t last though; the Flyers exacted a measure of revenge for the previous year’s result, downing the Caps in six games in the opening round, punctuated by a goal scored into an empty net in game five by Flyer goalie Ron Hextall.
It’s 1989-90 . . . and perhaps the oddest of all the seasons played under the Capitals’ banner. The club struggled out of the gate with a 3-7-3 record at the end of October (including a couple of “welcome-to-the-big-time” outings for a young goaltender named Olaf Kolzig). It didn’t get much better over the next two-and-a-half months, and Bryan Murray was relieved of his duties, turning the reins over to . . . his brother, Terry. The younger
It’s 1990-91 . . . and the debut of Peter Bondra. This season gave Caps fans the first glimpse of the player who would end his Caps career as its top all-time goal scorer. This season would also see a player who had one of the most meteoric, not to mention shortest, careers in club history. John Kordic would not post a point in the seven games in which he played, but would amass 101 penalty minutes. He would also be suspended by the club twice and would meet a tragic end a little more than a year later. The Caps would also be introduced to a demon of their own – after eliminating the Rangers in a six-game first-round series, they would meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round in the first meeting of the clubs in the playoffs. After losing the first game, the Penguins – facing the possibility of falling behind 2-0 in games in their own building – escaped with a 7-6 overtime win and closed out the Caps from there. The Penguins went on to win their first Stanley Cup.
It’s 1991-92 . . . and the Caps storming out of the gate to an 8-1-0 record. The club had remarkable balance over the course of the year – 14 players recorded double-digit goal totals, seven had more than 20 (including the young Mr. Bondra, who had 28). But there was the demon again – the Penguins. The Caps raced out to a 3-1 lead in games, capped by a 7-2 drubbing of the Penguins in
It’s 1992-93 . . . and the establishment of Peter Bondra as the go-to scorer; he would finish the season with 37 goals (and, oddly enough, the highest point total he would have for his career – 85). However, although the Caps would make the playoffs for the 11th straight year, the season would unravel for the Caps even before the post-season started. On March 13th Rod Langway announced he would sit out the rest of the season, citing his reduced playing time. The Caps would be eliminated in the first round by the Islanders, a series remembered more for its ignominious end as Dale Hunter blind-sided Pierre Turgeon in the final game, separating Turgeon’s shoulder and earning Hunter a 20-game suspension from the league and its new commissioner, Gary Bettman. Lost in that incident is the fact that Hunter had seven goals in the six-game series, matching a career playoff high (set in 1988 in 14 games).
It’s 1993-1994 . . . the hangover from the end of the previous season making itself felt – Dale Hunter missing the first 20 games and the club getting off to a lackluster 20-23-4 start, another Murray would find himself being replaced. Jim Schoenfeld took over, and the Caps had another strong finish – 19-12-6 – to get a seventh seed in the playoffs. It would get them another meeting with the Penguins. The script took a more favorable turn this time, though, as the Caps sent the Penguins in search of herring in six games. That’s where it would end, though, as the Caps lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion
It’s 1994-95 . . . and . . . hey, where’d the hockey go? Well, we did get 48 games, and perhaps Peter Bondra’s best goal scoring season. 34 goals in 47 games works out to a 59-goal pace for a full season. Included in that was an incredible six shorthanded goals. A hideous start – 3-10-5 through the end of February – gave way to an 18-8-3 finish that gave the Caps a ticket to the playoffs, where they met . . . the Penguins. The series – and a career – would turn almost on a single play. With the Caps ahead 3-1 in games, holding a lead, and on a power play in
It’s 1995-96 . . . and Peter Bondra would set a career high in goals with 52. But the story was Carey – the good and the bad. Carey would devour pucks like a fat guy with a bag of Doritos. A 35-24-9 record and 2.26 goals against average would be good enough to earn him the first Vezina Trophy bestowed upon a Capital. But the previous season’s nightmare at the hands of the Penguins would be stirred anew. Carey was yanked in the opener in favor of Olaf Kolzig, although the Caps won. The Caps would win game two behind Kolzig once more to return home with a 2-0 lead in games. But coach Jim Schoenfeld would return to Jim Carey for game three in Landover. It turned out to be a mortal error. Carey lost 4-1, which set up another of the heartbreaking kinds of games the Caps seem to hold several patents on. Olaf Kolzig was given the nod for game four and single handedly kept the Caps in the contest with 42 save on 44 shots. But that was good enough only to get the Caps to overtime as Ken Wregget – in relief of Tom Barasso, who left with back spasms in the second period after giving up a goal in the first period -- stopped all but one of the 13 shots he faced.. Caps tormentor Mario Lemieux was tossed in the second period with slashing, instigator, fighting, and game misconduct penalties after having his sensibilities offended by Todd Krygier. But the real fun was yet to come…in the second overtime, Joe Juneau awas awarded what was the first penalty shot in a Stanley Cup playoff game in league history.
It’s 1996-97 . . . and the first real housecleaning in the club’s history. A fine November (9-5-1) was an oasis in a lost season. The Caps would go 24-35-8 in months not starting with “N” and finish among the also rans. Peter Bondra would pot 46 goals, but it would be far from enough. Jim Carey could not recover from two disappointing playoff series against Pittsburgh, and after a 17-18-3, 2.75 record, was dispatched to Boston along with Jason Allison, Anson Carter, and a third round pick for Adam Oates, Rick Tocchet, and Bill Ranford. Coach Jim Schoenfeld would be relieved of his duties at year’s end, replaced by Ron Wilson. The housecleaning would pay off . . .
It’s 1997-98 . . . the Caps would bid farewell to the big Pringle’s chip in Landover for shiny new digs on
It’s 1998-1999 . . . and the number ‘511’ has meaning. No, it’s not the number of games Cy Young won in his career (actually, it is), but the number of man-games lost to injury by the Caps in the regular season. Only two players – Brian Bellows and Ken Klee – would dress for at least 75 games. That not being nearly the recipe for a successful season, the Caps finished 31-45-6, the 68 points being the worst finish in a full season since 1981-82. And Dale Hunter, the long-time captain of the club and its gritty soul since his acquisition in 1987, was dealt at the deadline to
It’s 1999-2000 . . . and the phrase, “storming back” comes to mind. Through December, the Caps were mired at 13-16-6-1. Then, the Caps tied
It’s 2000-2001 . . . and thrilling moments with an unsettled mix. Peter Bondra would net 45 goals (22 of them on the power play), Olaf Kolzig would have another strong year at 37-26-8, 2.48, .909. The Caps were 36-20-10-2 when they took the ice against the Ottawa Senators on March 11, two days before the trading deadline. The calendar might have been weighing heavily as the Caps fell behind 5-2 through two periods, Kolzig having been chased to the bench. Corey Hirsch was brought in for what was to be mop-up duty. Then Andrei Nikolishin scored a goal. Then, Trent Whitfield scored one. Then, Sergei Gonchar netted one to tie the game. Finally, with 1:28 left to play, Steve Konowalchuk made the comeback complete with a goal to give the Caps an improbable 6-5 win. At once, all things seemed possible. Two days later, the Caps traded Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 2001 first round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a second round pick in the 2001 draft. The Caps lost five in a row after the trade and would end the year struggling on a 4-7-0-2 run. Waiting for them in the opening playoff round was…yes,
It’s 2001-2002 . . . and the thunder clap heard ‘round the hockey world on July 11, 2001. That morning, Larry Brooks all but used his New York Post column to tell Penguin general manager Craig Patrick that a Ranger offer for Jaromir Jagr – who the Penguins were shopping as part of a salary purge – was the only one out there, and that he’d better take it and like it. That afternoon, the Caps announced that they’d acquired Jagr for three prospects and future considerations. At no time in the history of the franchise had a player of this level of personal accomplishment worn the sweater. The enthusiasm among fans at the prospect was reflected in a crowd of several hundred showing up at
It’s 2002-2003 . . . and a new coach Bruce Cassidy, along with another big signing. This time, Robert Lang was inked to a $25 million, five-year deal with the aim of centering Jagr. The Caps would return to the playoffs, but there was something . . . well, missing. Jagr had another disappointing year on the scoring rolls, going 36-41-77 in 75 games, but he wasn’t without his moments. Specifically, there were consecutive games in mid-January (against
It’s 2003-2004 . . . and time not for a remodel or a rebuild, but for the club to gut the club right down to the studs and start over. The pieces of the selloff are described here, but at the end, it was a club dressing players such as Matt Yeats in goal, Roman Tvrdon, Garret Stroshein, and Mel Anglestad in the finale against Pittsburgh (they always show up for these events, don’t they?). After 30 years, the Caps had returned to their roots…they were once more an expansion team.
It’s 2004-2005 . . . and a lockout making this the great ice age in NHL history. For the Caps, the year was noteworthy for what took place in June. The Caps won the draft lottery, leapfrogging the Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks for the right to select a young forward from Moscow Dynamo with a game more typical of
It’s 2005-2006 . . . and the introduction of Alexander the Great to the NHL. Presumed that he would be overshadowed this season by the prodigy Sidney Crosby in
It’s 2006-2007 . . . and 70 points not looking like 70 points. In 2005-2006, 70 points was the result of an overachieving, under-talented club. This year, it was a disappointing finish for a club that was coasting at 15-10-7 on December 16th. Injuries, illness, a lack of depth, inadequate experience, and a shallow skill set conspired to leave the Capitals in 26th place in the league. Fans could enjoy the antics of the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – who combined for 84 goals and 165 points. They could enjoy Chris Clark – a captain in the mold of Caps’ captains past – realize another career goal scoring year (30), giving the Caps three 30-goal scorers. Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger would emerge as players who, with more experience, could serve as stoppers on the forward line while chipping in some scoring of their own. Milan Jurcina was plucked from a dead-end in
32 seasons, and the lows outnumber the highs. Even the sunniest Caps fan would have to concede that. But over the years, Caps hockey has not been without its moments, its players, and even its characters, leaving us to ponder the question, “what is Caps Hockey?” . . .
It’s Michel Belhumeur and Bill Mikkelson in that legendary first year. Say what you will, but an 0-24-3 record and a -82 deserve attention and, yes, even respect. They were out there every night battling.
It’s Dennis Maruk’s luxuriant fu-manchu moustache.
It’s Ace Bailey dressing for 207 games as a Cap, leaving us before his time on a clear September day in 2001.
It’s Gary Green being named head coach at the age of 26.
It’s Doug Mohns, Bill Clement, Yvon Labre, Guy Charron, Ryan Walter, Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher, Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, Steve Konowalchuk, Brendan Witt, Jeff Halpern, and Chris Clark, captains all.
It’s Terry Murray, who played for his brother, Bryan, than succeeded him as coach with the Caps.
It’s the elegance of Bengt Gustafsson.
It’s the grit of Dale Hunter.
It’s the odd character that was Al Iafrate.
It’s the Plumbers Line of Craig Laughlin, Greg Adams, and Gaetan Duchesne.
It is Duchesne leaving us too soon.
It is Steve Konowalchuk, Jeff Halpern, and Ulf Dahlen doing a pretty good imitation of the Plumbers Line and the Harlem Globetrotters with their grit and ability to play keep-away with the puck.
It is Kelly Miller.
It’s a puck ringing off a post or fluttering past a clot of bodies to end a game when people are usually fast asleep.
It is the Secretary of Defense.
It’s Bobby “One Punch” Gould on the night of March 20, 1987. What happened? Hey, ask Mario Lemieux…if he remembers.
It’s demons in orange and blue, gold and black.
It’s “…Murphy starts the rush… he hits Hunter…he’s in alone…a shot…and a goal!!!!!”
It’s a young, strapping kid from
It’s a debate over Dale Hunter versus Joe Sakic. Every Cap fan who would call themselves one knows what the debate is about.
It’s four guys in a limousine outside a
It’s the relentless professionalism of Calle Johansson.
It’s 15 consecutive seasons as a “plus” player – eight of them with the Caps – which is pretty darn good, no matter how painful it might have been to watch Joe Reekie skate.
It’s Jeff Halpern, who wasn’t just the token “home grown” Cap, but a fine faceoff man and effective checker in the tradition of Caps past.
It’s Corey Hirsch’s perfect 20 minutes.
It’s Calle Johansson playing 983 games in a Caps sweater, and Shawn Cronin playing one (in 1988-89…look it up).
It’s several hundred fans trekking out to an airport to welcome a player who had bedeviled them for years.
It’s fans glad to have seen that player go 30 months later.
It’s winning the lottery and getting Alex Ovechkin.
It’s losing the lottery and getting Sasha Pokulok (prove ‘em wrong, kid).
It’s Bobby Carpenter . . . then merely “Bob” Carpenter the second time around.
It’s 21 points and 446 goals allowed…records likely to stand as long as NHL hockey is played.
It’s the only skater to be named a first-team NHL all-star in his first two years.
It’s trying to get out of the Capital Centre parking lot.
It’s flying on the team plane to a playoff game in
It’s Joe Juneau with his arms raised behind the
It's Abe, it's Ted.
It’s a lot more. But with the good and the bad, there is a shared history here. And with that, there is a shared hope that what the Caps are building will end in names we know etched onto a plate that girds the Stanley Cup. I’m a Caps fan, and proud of it.