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The Washington Capitals’ Inaugural Game

The first game was set for October 9th, 1974 against the New York Rangers, not the best team, but a strong NHL team.
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It was to be expected that the Caps would suck in their first year. It was the team’s first year in D.C and the NHL. They joined the league that year as an expansion team, along with the Kansas City Scouts (really, a team in KC?).

The team was in the Norris Division of the Prince of Wales Conference — such formal names back then — up against the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings.

Quite a bit has been written about the comically bad season the expansion Capitals had, but I’m really curious what happened in that first game. Needless to say, there was probably a great deal of anticipation with the city joining the National Hockey League.

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Greg Joly, Washington Capitals #1 (overall) draft pick in 1974
Greg Joly, Washington Capitals #1 (overall) draft pick in 1974

The first game was set for October 9th, 1974 against the New York Rangers, not the best team, but a strong NHL team.

A day before the game, there was an article in the Washington Post.

A scout for the New York rangers, who will remain anonymous, thinks the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts are beginning their first NHL season superior to the established Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.

This evaluation, if confirmed through an 80-game Capitals schedule that begins Wednesday night in New York against the Rangers, would more than satisfy most Washington fans because Detroit and Pittsburgh are fellow residents of the Norris Division. Should the Capitals beat them out, they would participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs in their first season, a supposedly impossible feat.

Seriously? This guy probably lost his job, because both expansion teams were horrible. Just to confirm … this indeed was an impossible feat. Several paragraphs later, the author — Robert Fachet — gets a little sassy with his humor.

Tommy Williams
Tommy Williams

But before contacting the Capitals’ office with Stanley Cup ticket requests, it should be pointed out that the winner of a hockey game is the team that scores the most goals. The Capitals have shown no evidence of keeping the red lights burning.

Oh … the most goals. The scout mentioned earlier should have been made aware of that. No matter, he probably lost his job and has lived the last 38 years in Saskatoon.

Pete Laframboise 1974
Pete Laframboise 1974

The article closes with the subtle conclusion that it would be a bleak season and fans should brace themselves for that obvious fact.

The experimentation probably will continue all winter. The underground railroad to the farm team in Richmond is likely to resume operation, as the non-producers go back to the bus rides and younger, hungrier players get the major-league opportunities.

Several veterans are on thin ice as the season starts. Atkinson, Dupere, Jack Egers and Pete Laframboise are not viewed favorably by management; they are still with the team.

Well that certainly does not bode well. I’m curious to find out how that first game on October 9th went and how the Post reported it. Maybe some of you were there in New York, watched on television or at least read about it in the paper.

Robert Fachet recounted the inaugural Washington Capitals game the following day.

NEW YORK, Oct. 9–Rick Middleton of the New York rangers scored two goals tonight in his first NHL game. Jim Hryculk and Ron Anderson of the Washington Capitals celebrated their debutes in the big league with one each.

“The defenseman (Gil Marotte) just stood there and the goalie–I’m not sure of his name–stood up, so I didn’t have any trouble,” Hyrcuik said. His feat rubbed out the weariness that marked so many others in the Capitals’ dressing room. “It’s a great feeling; I’m really excited.”

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Michel Belhumeur
Michel Belhumeur

I’m glad Hyrcuik knows the names of his opponents. I suppose it doesn’t matter, as long as you score.

Fachet wrote another article the same day, teasing readers that the Caps kept it close, but it really wasn’t, with New York winning handily by a score of 6 to 3 in front of hometown 17,500 fans.

NEW YORK, Oct. 9–The Washington Capitals spent 43 minutes in hockey heaven tonight. Then they learned that expansion can be hell.

The New York ranger sent forecheckers over the boards in waves during the third period, compiled a 19-1 edge in shots and turned the Capitals’ NHL debut into a 6-3 setback at Madison Square Garden.

The Capitals were not behind until 1:11 of the third period. Even then, they fought back to create a 3-3 tie, on a spectacular score by Dave Kryskow. But in the last 18 minutes Washington did not manage a single shot on Ranger goalie Ed Giacomin.

There you go Hyrcuik … his name is Ed.

“We scared the hell out of them for a few minutes,” said Capitals coach Jim Anderson. “If they (the Capitals) work like this, they’ll win their share of games.”

Ranger coach Emile Francis joined in praising the Capitals’ initial efforts: “They worked, Washington; they really worked. In the third period we just kept the pressure on them, won the faceoffs and kept them in their end. They worked really hard in the first two periods and it took its toll. But you’ve got to give them their marks; they’re got a good little team.”

It was a strange crowd, jeering the Capitals in the pregame warmup, then booing the Rangers as the Capitals’ forecheckers broke up their plays in the second period. During the third period, however, the fans howled as if it were Montreal or Boston the Rangers were picking apart; the Capitals can consider that reaction a measure of their capable performance.

While the Rangers obviously dominated play–the shots were 43 to 12–the Capitals had a couple of opportunities to cause more trouble early. Ron Anderson hit the post late in the first period with the score tied 1-1. Then, after Anderson scored for a 2-1 lead, Bruce Cowick got loose on a breakaway, only to be foiled by Gincomin.

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The article was generous with enough praise and lenient on the expansion team after their sub par performance. Okay, it was an expansion team, but our Caps finished with an unbelievably horrible season (of epic proportions). They won only eight games that year, concluding the worst season in the history of the National Hockey League.

At least we have a solid team today.

1974-75 pocket schedule
1974-75 pocket schedule
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