Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
The visiting Washington Capitals are in a surly, combative mood. Four days ago they had more points than any other NHL team and led the Metropolitan Division after winning nine consecutive games. And then the Capitals waltzed into Pittsburgh Monday and battled hard, but ended up losing in overtime to the defending Stanley Cup Penguins.
The Caps had a 2-0 lead after one period and a 3-0 lead in the second period, only to see the Penguins score five straight goals and take the lead. But Washington came from behind twice in the third period to tie the game at the end of regulation, 7-7. Both teams combined for 74 hits in a game that exhausted even the spectators. So, Columbus’ victory Tuesday put the Blue Jackets into first place in the division and the league, even though they and the Caps both now have 48 points. Easy to see why the visitors will be irritable and testy tonight.
The nation’s capital was granted an expansion franchise in 1974 (along with the Kansas City Scouts a.k.a. the Colorado Rockies a.k.a. the New Jersey Devils). Owner Abe Pollin built the Capital Center in suburban Landover, Maryland, home of the Capitals (and Pollin’s NBA Baltimore Bullets/Wizards) until 1997, when Pollin moved both teams to the MCI Center, now the Verizon Center, in downtown Washington.
Washington’s inaugural season was disastrous, even by expansion standards, as the baby Caps finished 8-67-5. Head coach Jim Anderson reportedly said, “I’d rather find out my wife was cheating on me than keep losing like this. At least I could tell my wife to cut it out.” The Caps would miss postseason play for eight consecutive years, finally qualifying in 1983. Advancing beyond the second-round only once (losing the Conference Finals to Boston in 1990), Washington then made the playoffs for the next 14 straight seasons. In 1998 the Caps made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings in four games. Since 2007, Washington has earned postseason play every season except one (2014).
Like the Blues, the Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup, nor have the two franchises ever met in postseason play.
The first of 12 trades between St. Louis and Washington occurred in February 1975 when winger Denis Dupere joined the Blues in exchange for wingers Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Stan Gilbertson. Dupere played only 22 games in St. Louis (3 goals, 9 points) before being traded to the Scouts with Craig Patrick for Lynn Powis and a 1976 second-round draft pick, which was used by the Blues to select Brian Sutter.
Twelve years later in December 1987 St. Louis traded a second-round pick (defenseman Wade Bartley, who never played a game for the Caps) to Washington for defenseman Paul Cavallini. Cavallini spent six seasons manning the Blues’ defense, accumulating 37 goals and 167 points. He was named an NHL All-Star in 1990. In November 1992 Cavallini was traded back to the Capitals for Kevin Miller.
Rob Whistle was traded by St. Louis to Washington in October 1988 (for a sixth-round draft pick) and then reacquired in June 1990 in exchange for an eighth-round pick. Whistle played 19 games wearing the Note with three goals and six points.
A major transaction happened in July 1990 as Geoff Courtnall came west to St. Louis and Peter Zezel and defenseman Mike Lalor went east to Washington. Courtnall played one season (27 goals, 57 points) before continuing his career in Vancouver in 1991 as part of the Garth Butcher deal. The feisty winger would return to St. Louis in 1995 and play five more seasons, amassing 79 goals and 175 points in 260 games. Zezel played only 20 games in Washington (7 goals, 12 points) before moving on to Toronto, Dallas, St. Louis, New Jersey and Vancouver. Lalor played two seasons in a Capitals jersey before relocating to Winnipeg, San Jose, Dallas and San Francisco (for the IHLSpiders).
St. Louis and Washington exchanged wingers Rob Pearson and Denis Chasse in January 1996, a move that helped neither team. Three years later defenseman Brad Shaw joined the Blues for a sixth-round draft pick, and in November 2000 the two franchises swapped checking-wingers, Mike Peluso to the Note and Derek Bekar to the Caps. A decade later, in 2010, the Blues obtained tough Stefan Della Rovere from Washington and sent popular ruffian D.J. King to the Capitals.
A second blockbuster occurred in July 2015 when popular winger T.J. Oshie was moved (read: salary dump) to Washington for winger Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round draft choice. That pick went back to the Capitals in June 2016, included in the deal when the Blues and Caps swapped first-round draft picks. St. Louis used #26 to select Tage Thompson, while Washington used #28 to choose Lucas Johansen. Oshie has starred for the Caps, totaling 41 goals and 79 points in 116 games over two seasons, while Brouwer signed as a free agent with Calgary. Copley is currently the top goaltender for the Blues’ farm team in Chicago, with a 2.32 goals-against average, 92.0 save percentage and 11 wins in 18 games.
The Blues should be in a sullen, curmudgeonly mood as well after losing Tuesday to Ottawa. Carter Hutton had little protection in an overall poor defensive performance, and even though the Blues scored four goals, the St. Louis attack was spotty and indecisive with only 23 shots on goal. At least Patrik Berglund has awakened from his deep winter’s sleep to pot six goals in the eight games so far in 2017.
It will be fun to watch two exasperated, belligerent teams battle it out tonight.