The Washington Capitals have had some fine squads over the years. They’ve made it to the Stanley Cup Final but haven’t yet hoisted the trophy. It may already be evident to many, but let’s say it here, that this season’s team is the best ever in D.C. Let’s take a look at some of the previous great Capitals’ teams and where this seasons’ team stacks up.
The Washington Capitals had the first of their finest seasons in 1985-86 when they reached the 50 win mark for the first time as a franchise in the regular season. That squad, led by head coach Bryan Murray, had some excellent defense, anchored by Rod Langway, Larry Murphy, and a young player at 21 years of age by the name of Scott Stevens.
Backstopping duties were split between Al Jensen and Pete Peeters, each playing in 44 and 34 regular season games respectively. In a different era for netminding, Jensen was second in the league, for goalies with 30 or more starts, in goals-against-average with a 3.18 mark.
The Caps weren’t hurting on offense that season, either. Dave Christian had a career year with Washington as he notched 83 points (41 goals, 42 assists), and the speedy Mike Gartner scored 35 goals to go with 40 assists in the 74 games he played.
The ’85-86 Caps would sweep the Mike Bossy led New York Islanders in the first round of that seasons’ playoffs, with Pete Peeters taking on full goaltending duties for Washington. In the Division Finals however, Washington would give way to the New York Rangers with a 4-2 game record.
Washington had one of its best performances from a netminder in a single-season during the ’97-98 campaign when Olaf Kolzig put up a .920 save percentage and 2.20 GAA during the regular season and even more impressive .941 save percentage and 1.95 GAA in the playoffs.
Their offense was led by longtime Capital Peter Bondra, Adam Oates and Joe Juneau, while on defense they had veterans Calle Johansson and Phil Housley. There were some tough dudes on that squad also in Craig Berube, Dale Hunter and Chris Simon.
Although this team was good in the regular season, putting up 90 points, they outperformed in the postseason. In the first set of games against the Boston Bruins, three of the contests went to overtime (two went to double OT), but the Caps closed out the series, 4-2. In the Conference Semi-Finals, Washington pretty handily beat the Ottawa Senators, 4-1. The Conference Finals would be another slough, with several low-scoring affairs and three games going to OT. In the end though, the Capitals pulled through, winning the Eastern Conference title, 4 games to 2 over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Stanley Cup Final, however, saw the Caps face a fierce team in the Detroit Red Wings. Led by Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings knocked off the Capitals 4 games to none, as Washington was able to muster only seven goals.
In 2009-10, the Capitals had their best full season winning percentage to-date, with a mark of .738 (54-15-13), and 121 points. With two Caps going over the 100-point mark in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington had some significant firepower.
Interestingly, the young Ovechkin not only led the team in points, but also in penalty minutes and hits for the regular season. Their defensive corps was headed by Mike Green, Tom Poti and a young Jeff Schultz.
Although they had three goaltenders spend time in net during the regular season in Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, Theodore got the lion’s share of time in net, putting up a 30-7-7 record.
Heading into the playoffs with their first ever President’s Trophy, the Caps were taking on the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs surprisingly took game one from Washington, before the Capitals reeled off three straight wins. Up 3 games to 1, the Caps let the series slip away as Montreal turned the tables and recorded three consecutive wins of their own, to pull off one of the biggest playoff upsets ever.
In their 42nd season as an NHL franchise, the Capitals are having their best season ever. Through 63 games, Washington is on pace to finish with their best winning percentage ever, surpassing the 2009-10 team. They have 98 points on a 47-12-4 record. Their lead on the next closest team in the Conference is 18 points, and they are outpacing the next closest team in the NHL by 13 points.
In his second season with the Capitals, head coach Barry Trotz has the team firing on all cylinders. Netminder Braden Holtby is having a career-season with a 40-7-3 record and .923 save percentage. In a much smaller sample size of 16 games, backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer has a .926 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against-average.
The Caps are surprisingly led in points not by Alex Ovechkin, but rather by fellow countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov who has 66 points through 60 games. And that speaks to the balance of offense present within these Capitals. They have several scorers who can lead the team forward. Granted, Ovechkin does lead the team in goals once again, but the Caps have no less than eight players in double-digits in the goals category.
Although they have a quirk of starting slow and finishing strong, the end result remains the same. Wins, and lots of them. The stakes will be raised in the playoffs however, and the Caps will need to be more wary of the slow starts.
I don’t think there’s much of an argument as to whether this is the best Washington Capitals team ever, in the regular season. Barring a colossal collapse, they will win their second President’s Trophy with the most points they’ve ever garnered. But it all comes down to the postseason. Can the Caps endure? Will they show the combination of skill on offense, defense and goaltending that has led them to this point? Time will tell, but based on their current track record, I wouldn’t expect anything less than total success from these Capitals.
Scott is a published writer and editor in the sports, fitness and business fields. He currently covers the Washington Capitals for The Hockey Writers. Based in the New York metro area, he is a Villanova University alumnus.