Goalie Ron Low #1 of the Washington Capitals makes the save during an NHL game against the New York Rangers on October 9, 1974 at the Madison Square Garden Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images
Every October, the Capitals play the first game of the respective season, hoping to build on the previous season’s successes and overcome the failures. On this date in 1974, the Capitals took the ice in their first regular season game against the New York Rangers at the famous Madison Square Garden. While the Caps lost their first game 6-4, it was night that began the history of one of the NHL’s premier franchises.
The Capitals’ Head Coach for their inaugural game of their inaugural season was Jimmy Anderson, and their first General Manager was Milt Schmidt. The city of Washington D.C. was awarded a franchise in May of 1972 and then-owner Abe Pollin went about building his team from scratch. In the days leading up to their first regular season contest, The Washington Post ran multiple articles on the basics of the game of hockey, to educate fans about the fundamentals of the game.
The Capitals took on Original Six franchise New York in a Wednesday night matchup in their first Opening Night in franchise history. The team was led by captain Doug Mohns, who at the time was 40-years old and a seasoned NHL veteran, while in net, the Capitals were represented in the crease by Ron Low. The Caps took an early lead on a goal from Jim Hrycruik just 5:06 into the opening frame, and it was his first ever NHL goal (Hrycruik was a rookie that season) and it came against future Hall of Famer Eddie Giacomin.
The Blueshirts would respond less than a minute later on a tally from Greg Polis (a future Capital), which was his first NHL goal as well. The Capitals would break the tie on yet another first career goal, this time from Ron Anderson, who split the Rangers’ defensemen to break the tie just over nine and a half minutes into the second period on a power play. The Blueshirts would tie the game yet again on a power play goal of their own from defenseman Brad Park at the 12:38 mark of the second frame.
The two teams would trade another pair of goals, but it was all Rangers from then on, as New York would score two more goals to take a commanding and definitive 6-4 lead, which would kickstart the worst season of any team in the Expansion era (8-67-5). The Capitals mustered just 12 shots on net to New York’s 43, and seven of the Caps’ players that night were making their NHL debuts. The Capitals would use three Head Coaches the rest of the season (Anderson, Red Sullivan, and Schmidt himself would take over for eight games) and scored 181 goals to an astonishing 446 goals against.
Despite the loss, it was clear from the media coverage preceding the game that the Capitals’ NHL premiere was something the entire city of Washington looked forward to, and while it may not have been the most memorable of nights, it certainly began the history of one of the league’s most beloved and as of recently, most successful franchises.
By Michael Fleetwood