Photo: Getty Images
The 1992-93 season was the first NHL season that was 84 games in length instead of the usual (at the time) 80 games. For the Washington Capitals, it was also a season of transition, as former key players were either traded away or had their roles reduced.
The season was like a roller coaster ride, featuring the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. So fasten your seatbelts as we relive this season.
Before the season began, the Capitals made two notable trades. Right-wing Dino Ciccarelli was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Kevin Miller, brother of Capitals forward, Kelly Miller. In addition, the Capitals traded right-wing John Druce, their playoff hero from the 1990 playoffs, to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for right-wing Pat Elynuik. Ciccarelli had been the Caps’ leading goal scorer the prior season but his tenure was controversial due to off-ice incidents.
The Capitals had a rash of injuries even before the season started. Left-wing Randy Burridge had injuries to both his knees, defenseman Sylvain Cote broke his hand and Dmitri Khristich broke his foot. New acquisition Kevin Miller dealt with a hip flexor issue.
The Capitals opened their season in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, winning 6-5, with Kevin Hatcher scoring the game-winner with less than five minutes to play. Unfortunately the Capitals followed that up by losing their next three.
During their third consecutive loss, defenseman Jason Wooley fractured his wrist. To add to their injury woes, Michal Pivonka was also dealing with a groin pull. The Capitals closed the month of October with a record of 4-8-0 and were last in the Patrick Division. It was their worst start since 1983-84.
The team’s poor play led them to trade off-season acquisition Kevin Miller to the St Louis Blues on November 1 in exchange for defenseman Paul Cavallini, who previously played with the Caps. Miller had not scored in his first ten games and was benched in his last two games before the trade.
“Things were not working out well with Kevin Miller and the Washington Capitals… I felt that before the situation got any worse, this would be good for all of us,” said Capitals’ General Manager David Poile.
The Capitals started November on a winning note by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on November 3 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. The win allowed the Capitals to escape from the Patrick Division cellar. Keith Jones scored his first NHL goal for the Capitals, as Kevin Hatcher wore the Captain’s “C” for the game. Long-time defenseman and team captain, Rod Langway, was scratched.
Within the next several days, General Manager Poile and Head Coach Murray talked to Langway about his role on the team going forward. He would either have to accept a diminished role, retire, or seek a trade. Langway figured it was a good time to have arthroscopic surgery on his knee in addition to shoulder surgery. With the downtime for surgery, he could have more time to consider his options.
Near the end of November, both Pivonka and Khristich returned to the lineup. The Caps ultimately went 7-5-1 for November, despite a four-game losing streak that month. They broke out of that streak with a 6-4 win over the Quebec Nordiques on November 22. Their overall record was now 11-13-2 on the season.
December was a much better month for the Capitals. One of the biggest reasons for their success was the power play which at that juncture was converting 27.3% of their opportunities, and lead the league. Mike Ridley and Dale Hunter were key members of the team’s power play units. The Cap’s record during December was 9-3-1 and their overall record was 20-16-3 on the season.
January 9 marked the return of Rod Langway to the lineup against the Edmonton Oilers after a two-month hiatus as he reclaimed his captaincy. Langway replaced Sylvain Cote who was dealing with a leg injury. They beat the Oilers 4-3 that night.
But January was a one-step forward and one-step backward type of month that featured no long winning streaks and no long losing streaks. Langway ultimately played in eight games that month, as Cote and Calle Johansson battled injuries. They were 5-5-3 during the month with an overall record of 25-21-6.
The Caps started off February by losing 6-4 to the Calgary Flames on February 2, the last game before the All-Star Break. [The Capitals’ All-Star Game representatives were right-wing Peter Bondra and defenseman Al Iafrate].
The team appeared to be rejuvenated following the break, as they won their next seven games, and wouldn’t lose again until a 5-4 loss in Overtime to the Boston Bruins. Their record for the month was 7-3-0 while their overall record was now 32-24-6.
Langway played in just two games that month: February 2 and February 21. As it turned out, these were the last two games of Langway’s NHL career. He permanently relinquished his role as team captain to Kevin Hatcher after the All-Star Break. He tried out the role of an assistant coach but felt it was not a good fit and asked for his release on March 12.
The Caps sputtered at the beginning of March, winning just one of their first five games going 1-3-1. On March 16, they beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with Kevin Hatcher scoring the game-winning goal, his 27th of the season, and Dale Hunter scoring two goals.
They lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 18 but then ran-off a four-game winning streak. One of those wins was a 5-1 win against the Quebec Nordiques and featured Hatcher’s 30th goal. Their record for March was 7-6-1 for an overall record of 39-30-7.
The last month of the regular season was a roller coaster month as the Capitals won their first game, lost their next four, and then won their last three games, including an overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens.
Their record for April was 4-4-0, resulting in an overall record of 43-34-7 for the season, 93 points, and second place in the Patrick Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished first in the division with 119 points, the best record in the NHL.
In individual player highlights, three Capitals defensemen scored more than 20 goals that season – Kevin Hatcher with 34, Al Iafrate with 25, and Sylvain Cote with 21, which is the only time in NHL history that a team had more than two defensemen scoring over 20 goals.
Peter Bondra scored 37 goals for the first time in his career. Dmitry Khristich scored 31 goals, the second time he had exceeded 30 goals. Nine Capitals players met or exceeded the 20-goal threshold that season. Dale Hunter led the team with 59 assists. He, Mike Ridley, and Michal Pivonka all had more than 50 assists.
Photo: Capitals Hockey Museum Website
The Capitals met the New York Islanders who finished third in the Patrick Division with a record of 40-37-7 and 87 standings points. They opened the series at home on April 18 and won the first game 3-1. Unfortunately they lost Game 2 just two days later in double overtime by a 5-4 score.
The series continued at Nassau Coliseum on April 22. The Caps lost Games 3 and 4, both in overtime, losing both games 4-3, with Game 4 another double overtime loss.
So now the Caps were down in the series 3-1 thanks to three consecutive overtime losses. They came back to win Game 5 in Washington 6-4. But the Islanders won Game 6 on April 28 by a 6-3 score and closed out the series.
Hunter scored the game’s first goal but the Isles struck back for five unanswered goals. When Pierre Turgeon scored the fifth Islanders goal, a frustrated Hunter leveled Turgeon and checked him into the glass. A fight ensued and Hunter was ejected from the game.
Ultimately, Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Hunter for 26 games to begin the 1993-94 season. That was another extremely frustrating series for the Caps where they lost three consecutive games in overtime and the player who had been their best player throughout the series, ended up getting a VERY long suspension due to the accumulated frustration.
By Diane Doyle
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