1974 - 1982: The Beginning
The Capitals had their first training camp in London, Ontario but returned home to Washington to play their first ever home game on September 27, 1974 - an exhibition game against the Montreal Canadiens. Tommy Williams scored the first goal in the Capital Centre and the Caps tied the Canadiens 4-4.
It would be another six days before they would get their first exhibition win in a 6-4 game against the Detroit Red Wings in Ann Arbor.
On October 9, 1974 the Washington Capitals played their first regular season game. It was at Madison Square Garden and just 5:09 into the game, Jim Hrycuik stripped the puck from Rod Seiling and scored on a 2-on-1 sliding the puck on his backhand past Eddie Giacomin. The Caps took the early lead and despite being severely outplayed, kept the game close with a 2-2 score through two periods. The Rangers took a 3-2 lead just over a minute into the third, but Dave Kryskow tied it 3-3 just 30 seconds later. Then the Rangers pulled away, not allowing another shot on goal from the Capitals the rest of the period. They added three goals to win 6-3. The Caps were outshot 43-12.
On October 15, 1974 the Washington Capitals played the first ever regular season National Hockey League game in the Washington D.C. area. They played a tight defensive game and came away with a 1-1 tie against an L.A. Kings team that would finish with the fourth best record in the league. Yvon Labre scored the only Capitals goal at 4:35 of the second period. The Kings outshot the Caps 16-4 in the third, but Ron Low saved all 16 to hold on to the tie.
The Capitals very first uniforms consisted of white jerseys and red pants at home and red jerseys and white pants on the road. Although the California Golden Seals had worn white gloves and white skates, no one had ever worn white pants before. After just four road games, the Capitals found out why. On October 23, 1974, the Capitals played a game in Chicago and the benches in the Chicago Stadium were quite dirty. Sliding up and down the bench for a whole game left the pants filthy on the backside. Add the sweat and water from the ice and it was not a pretty site!
For the next four road games, the Capitals wore their red pants with the red jerseys. Beginning on November 20, they switched to blue pants with the red jerseys, a look they would keep for the next 20 years.
The Only Road Win
The timing of the Capitals entry to the NHL could not have been worse. The existing 16 teams were allowed to protect 15 skaters and 2 goaltenders, almost their entire roster! Compare that to the 2017 expansion draft when teams were only allowed to protect 10 (or 8) skaters and 1 goaltender and you can see the huge disadvantage that Washington faced. In addition to this, the WHA was stealing many of the talented 18 and 19 year olds in their entry draft. This gave the Capitals almost no chance of fielding a competitive team. The result was a 8-67-5 record for the 1974-75 season. In fact, they only won a single game on the road all season.
On March 28, 1975, the Capitals were 0-37 on the road. They didn't even have a tie. That night they faced the California Golden Seals, which was their last real chance of getting a road win. The Capitals came out strong and took a quick 2-0 lead. To illustrate the type of season it had been, during the radio broadcast of the game, Ron Weber stated "We've played just four and a half minutes and the Capitals in front two to nothing. Of course I need to remind you that that leaves 55 and a half minutes for the Seals to catch up or go ahead." At the end of the first, it was 3-1 Caps. As if on queue, The Capitals surrendered two unanswered goals and the game was tied at 3 with 15 minutes left. But this game would be different. Nelson Pyatt scored just a minute and a half later and the Capitals defense held as Pyatt scored again in the final 20 seconds to give the Capitals their only win on the road that season. The team was so excited after the win that they picked up a trash can in the dressing room and paraded it around like it was the Stanley Cup!
How bad were the 1974-75 Capitals? Ron Low posted a record of
8-36-2 and was voted team MVP. They were 0-31-3 without him.
During the three seasons Ron was with the Caps, he was 30-94-9. The other goalies were a combined 13-74-20.
In November 1976 as Low had just played his 100th game as a Capital, coach Tom McVie noted "He's played 1000 games in those 100", referring to how Low often faced over 40 shots a game.
On the night before the final game of the 1974-75 season, Ron was asked what the high point of the year was for him. His answer, "It'll come tomorrow night when this damn thing ends".
Guy Charron was the first true star the Capitals ever had.
He was often called "The Franchise" and it was well deserved. He was their first
30-goal scorer and their first point-per-game player. In the two seasons before
Charron joined the team, the highest point total on the team was 58. Charron
had 82, 73, and 70 in his first three seasons in Washington. He eclipsed the
35 goal mark twice - 36 in 1976/77 and 38 in 1977/78. In his third year, he was
made the team captain and even though his production slipped a little (28 goals),
he was voted the most popular player by the fans.
Charron didn't miss a game in his first three seasons in Washington. A pulled thigh muscle in October 1979 ended his iron man streak at 245 games. A knee injury at the 1978 World Championships and then surgery to repair torn knee ligaments in January 1980 all but ended his career. He played about half of each of his final two seasons in Washington and then the Capitals bought out the final year of his contract.
The First Wins
New York Islanders - The Capitals were 0-16-3 against the New York Islanders before finally beating them on April 1, 1979. Dennis Maruk opened the scoring with a short-handed goal just 1:37 into the first period. The Caps dominated the first period building a 3-0 lead and outshooting the Islanders 17-7. The second period was more balanced, but again it was the Caps that were able to light the lamp. Rolf Edberg scored two goals in the period and Guy Charron added a power play goal in the closing seconds of the second period to make it 6-1. The Islanders made it close in the third by scoring three unanswered goals, but Washington was able to hang on to a 6-4 victory.
Montreal Canadiens - The Capitals had played the Montreal Canadiens 34 times from October 1974 to February 1980 without a single victory. Then on February 19, 1980 before a home crowd of 13,551, they finally beat the Canadiens. This wasn't a case where the Canadiens came out flat or took the Caps lightly. They played hard from the drop of the puck, but Wayne Stephenson had a great night, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced. Robert Picard, who took a puck to the face in warmups and received a dozen stitches in the locker room, came back to open the scoring at 10:53 of the second period. In the third period, the play was controlled by Montreal, as Washington only managed 3 shots on goal. However, the scoring was all Washington as they scored on 2 of those 3 shots to win, 3-1.
Philadelphia Flyers - By the beginning of the 1980-81 season, the Capitals had beaten every team in the league at least one time, except for the Philadelphia Flyers. They had faced the Flyers 24 times without a win. Then on December 20, 1980 before a sold out Capital Centre crowd of 18,130... they lost again. The Flyers bullied their way to a 5-2 win pumping 46 shots on goaltender Mike Palmateer. The very next night in Philadelphia, the Flyers had the same game plan and executed it to perfection... well, almost. They did the bullying - 92 penalty minutes were given out on the first shift of the game! 344 minutes were given out in total (the most ever in a Capitals game) and 15 players were ejected. They did the shooting - with 44 shots on goal. But, this time Mike Palmateer stopped all 44 of the Flyers shots and the Caps slugged their way to a 6-0 victory.
"Before Bobby Carpenter, NHL scouts never attended high school games in
the United States. After Bobby Carpenter, they all did" - Legends of Hockey
In 1981, the Capitals made Bobby Carpenter the highest drafted American player in league history and he instantly became a symbol of the growing American influence in the traditionally Canadian game. He proved himself right out of the gate, setting team records for goals (32) and points (67) by a rookie during the 1981-82 season. Just three seasons later on February 13, 1985 in Winnipeg, Carpenter broke Joe Mullen's record for the most goals in a season by an American born player when he beat Brian Hayward to score his 42nd goal of the year. He would go on to score 11 more that season to up the record to 53.
Carpenter would later become a defensive specialist for the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, helping the Devils to win the Stanley Cup in 1995. Overall, he played in over 1100 NHL games and scored 20 or more goals seven times.
The jersey above was worn by Bobby in his first NHL regular season game on October 7, 1981 at the Buffalo Auditorium. In that game, he got his first point just 12 seconds into the game when he assisted on a Ryan Walter goal. In the second period, he scored his first NHL goal, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead at the time. This jersey retains its original nameplate, with is very rare for a 1981-82 jersey.