32 Years of Caps Hockey

Cue the Flintstones’ Happy Anniversary Quartet: it was 32 years ago today, on Oct. 9, 1974 that the Washington Capitals played the first game in franchise history, a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Jim Hrycuik netted the first goal in team history; Greg Joly and Denis Dupere collected the first Capitals assists. Future Cap Greg Polis scored the first goal against Washington. Ron Anderson potted the Caps’ first power play goal and Bill Mikkelson was whistled for the first minor penalty against Washington. Ron Low absorbed the loss in goal for the Caps; he was decisioned by Rangers goaltender and future Hall of Famer Eddie Giacomin.

Jim Anderson started the season as the Capitals’ head coach. Red Sullivan replaced him in February; general manager Milt Schmidt replaced Sullivan in March. Schmidt and fellow Hall of Famer Sid Abel (GM of the expansion Kansas City Scouts and Brent Johnson’s grandfather) were given the impossible task of building a competitive expansion team in a terrible climate for expansion. The Capitals and Scouts were the 11th and 12th teams added to the NHL in a span of just eight seasons and were the fifth and sixth teams added in a span of only five seasons.

Also, the rival World Hockey Association was in its third season of existence and had been very successful at poaching big-name talent away from the NHL. In those days, you could count the number of Americans and Europeans in the NHL on one hand, so the talent level was extremely diluted and virtually all players hailed from Canada. The Caps and Scouts were left with the dregs of the NHL, and it showed. Each club drafted 24 players. Washington took two goaltenders, six defensemen and 16 forwards. Four of those players never donned a Capitals uniform; several more played only a handful of games before disappearing. Blueliner Yvon Labre lasted the longest; he was the only expansion draftee to play as many as 300 games in a Capitals sweater. Labre played 334 games over parts of seven seasons.

The Caps finished the season with a dismal 8-67-5 record; the Scouts weren’t much better at 15-54-11. Including its first two games this season, Washington has played 2,478 regular season games (game No. 2,500 is slated for Nov. 28 at Tampa Bay). The Caps are now 1,041-1,105-303-29 all-time, so they’re 64 games under .500.

That first year is basically what did it. They were 59 games south of break-even in 1974-75 and have basically been a break-even team since.

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4 Comments on “32 Years of Caps Hockey”

  1. I remember the Caps best of the David Poile era when the team was always challenging for Patrick division titles but never got anywhere in the playoffs. Goodness gracious…how time flies. Mike Gartner. Dale Hunter. Michal Pivonka. Gaetan Duchesne. Bobby Gould. Kelly Miller.

    In honour of the Caps, I’m profiling Rod Langway on my hockey history blog today. Langway is my favorite Cap of all time, although Ovechkin is quickly challenging that status!


    Joe Pelletier

  2. Andrew Says:

    My favorite Washington Post headline in Caps history:

    Eureka! Caps 3-1

    Memorializing their first win over the Habs. There has been so much to cheer for since those bleak days!

  3. Absaraka Says:

    Of course, the one headline I know we’ll see sometime before Olie hangs it up:


    Ya think?

  4. Ted Says:

    They Are Not Dead Who Live. In The Hearts They Leave Behind Them

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