No More Hard October RoadsPosted on October 19, 2011
As we walked down the hall to the Caps’ locker room following Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers, Brian McNally of The Washington Examiner asked me if I was surprised that the Caps had never won their first five games of the season before. I thought about it for a little bit. It’s not that easy to win five straight games in this league at any time of the season any more, and my quick reply was something to that effect. Then I thought about it some more. And I thought about how good this team has been on home ice, especially in recent seasons. And I wondered how many times they’ve ever played four of their first five games of the season on home ice. I also thought of the litany of long, long road trips this team has taken in the season’s first month over the years. And then I did a little research. So thanks, B-Mac. This is the Capitals’ 37th season of NHL play, and this year marks the eighth time – and the first since 1998-99 – that the team has had four home games among the first five on the schedule. Only once in those previous seven seasons did Washington win as many as three of those four home games. That was in 1991-92, when they were 3-1 in the first four home contests. Early season road trips have been hellish over the years, preventing swift starts. Have a look at this: • In 1975-76, the Caps opened at home (with a loss), then went on a six-game road journey that took them to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Los Angeles, California (the Golden Seals) and Buffalo. Even a team that wasn’t as bad as the second-year Caps would have had trouble with that trip. The Caps stumbled home with an 0-6-1 mark. • In 1976-77, a home ice win in the season opener against Atlanta was followed by a four-game jaunt to Detroit, Cleveland, Vancouver and Los Angeles. The Caps were 1-3-1 when they got back to the District. • In 1977-78, a home ice win in the season opener against Pittsburgh was followed (though not immediately) by a four-game trip to Montreal, Atlanta, Colorado and Minnesota. The Caps were sitting at 2-5 when they got back. • In 1979-90, the Caps returned from an October trip to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Edmonton with a 3-6 mark. • The schedule-makers tossed the Caps a softball to start 1980-81, giving the team six of its first seven games on home ice. The Caps posted a 3-3-1 mark, respectable for a Washington team of that vintage. Then a journey to St. Louis, Los Angeles, Colorado, Edmonton and Winnipeg left the Caps at 3-4-5 after a dozen games. • After starting the 1983-84 season with an 0-5 mark, the Caps actually made a little hay on a Pittsburgh-New Jersey-Minnesota-Winnipeg-Edmonton trip. They were 5-8 when they got home. • The 1988-89 Caps had an October tour through Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Detroit. When they got home, they were 3-7-2. • A year later, they returned from a Toronto-Calgary-Winnipeg-St. Louis-Chicago run with an identical 3-7-2 record. • In 1990-91, a five-game trip to Philly, Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver left the Caps at 2-7 on the plane ride home. • The 1991-92 team had the standard five-game October journey – to New Jersey, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh – but returned with a sparkling 9-3 mark. • The 1992-93 Caps wended their way through Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton before coming home at 4-8. • The 1993-94 Caps became the third team in franchise history to start 0-5. They used a lengthy trip to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Anaheim and San Jose (ah, the soothing salve of expansion!) to come home at 6-7. • The lockout-shortened season of 1994-95 didn’t start until mid-January and contained games against only Eastern foes. Even so, the Caps had an early five-game trip to Buffalo, Manhattan, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey that left the team at 2-8-2 upon its return. • In 1996-97, a four-game trip to Pittsburgh, Manhattan, St. Louis and Colorado found the Caps at 3-6 when they jetted home. • The 1997-98 team is one of only three Caps teams to open up at 4-0. The Caps held serve on a zigzagged five-game trip to Chicago, Montreal, Colorado, Phoenix and St. Louis, getting back with a 7-3-1 mark. • The 1999-00 Caps were 2-6-2 after an October journey to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. • The 2000-01 Caps were at 0-3-2 after an early four-game run through Carolina, Atlanta, Nashville and Dallas. • The 2001-02 Caps opened with nine of their first 11 games of the season on the road. They came back from a Boston-Manhattan-Anaheim-Phoenix-Los Angeles trip at 3-3 and were 5-5-1 when they got back from a jaunt to Philly, Tampa Bay, Florida and Atlanta. • After starting the 2002-03 season with a home ice win over Nashville, the Caps played eight straight on the road in Long Island, Carolina, Philly, Dallas, Manhattan, Tampa Bay, Florida and Pittsburgh. They were 4-4-1 at the end of that stretch. • The lavishly payrolled 2003-04 Capitals had a six-game trip to Toronto, Montreal, Dallas, St. Louis, Ottawa and Toronto that left them at 1-6-1. After opening with nine of their first 13 on the road, they were 3-9-1. Soon after came the firesale. Long trips in the early season have mostly gone by the wayside for the Caps since the lockout, probably because they have a bit more say-so in their building and scheduling matters. The 2006-07 crew had a run through Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary that left it at 4-3-4 heading into November, but that is the only Caps team that has had to play more than three straight games on the road in October since the lockout that killed what would have been the 2004-05 NHL season.