It’s finally here. Opening night for the 2023-24 NHL season is upon us, with the Penguins visiting the District to do battle with the Capitals on Friday.
This will be the sixth time the teams have played one another on opening day, with three openers played in Washington and the other two played in Pittsburgh. Here is a look back at the previous opening night games between the heated rivals.
October 7, 1975 – Capital Centre
The Capitals hosted the Penguins at the Capital Centre on opening day of their second season ever. In this game, the Penguins opened the scoring on an early power-play goal. The Pens added another goal early in the second period. Fortunately, the Caps tied the game with two goals late in the second period, the first of them by Greg Joly, their first-round pick in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately for the Caps, Pittsburgh scored two unanswered goals, the first by Colin Campbell, who later became the New York Rangers Head Coach and NHL Vice President of Operations. The final score was a 4-2 loss.
The Caps went on to post a record of 11-59-10 for 32 points which was a slight improvement over their 8-67-5 of the prior year which still stands at the worst NHL record ever.
October 14, 1977 – Capital Centre
The Capitals and Penguins had a return opening day engagement at the Capital Centre two years later. This time, the results were different. Greg Malone scored a late first-period goal to put the Penguins ahead 2-1. But during the second period, the Capitals answered with two goals, one by Bob Sirois early in the period and one by Guy Charron halfway through the period. The final score was 2-1, a Capitals win.
The Caps went on to post a record of 17-49-14 for 46 points.
October 9, 1986 – Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Nine years later, the Capitals and Penguins met in another opening day matchup, this time at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.
In this game, the Capitals scored two first-period goals to take a 2-0 lead and added a Dave Christian goal three minutes into the second period to take a 3-0 lead. But just over half a minute later, the Penguins broke through on the scoresheet with a Randy Cunneyworth goal. The Penguins added two power-play goals during that period to tie the score at 3-3. During the third period, Randy Cunneyworth added two more goals to complete the hat trick and stake the Penguins to a 5-3 lead. Dave Christian scored his second goal of the game to come within one goal of the lead. But there was no more scoring for either team after that. The final score was 5-4 in favor of the Penguins.
The Caps ultimately ended with a record of 38-32-10 and made the playoffs where they met the New York Islanders who eliminated them in the Easter Epic for Game 7.
October 7, 1988 – Capital Centre
Two years later was another Capitals/Penguins opening day matchup. This time, it was at the Capitals Centre. In this game, Mike Gartner opened the scoring a minute into the contest, staking the Caps to a 1-0 lead. Pittsburgh countered with a goal just over three minutes later. Geoff Courtnall scored for the Caps so they now lead 2-1.
The second period featured two early goals by Pittsburgh, including a power play goal by Zarley Zalapski which allowed the Penguins to regain the lead at 3-2. Mike Ridley scored with about three minutes left in the second period to tie the game at 3-3.
The Caps took the lead 6 minutes into the third period when Dave Christian scored. The Caps now lead 4-3, but the lead was short-lived as Randy Cunneyworth scored two goals just over five minutes apart. Paul Coffey added an insurance goal as the Capitals fell 6-4. The game was like their opening game two years earlier, with Cunneyworth being the offensive hero. The game was a very penalty-filled game, featuring 30 minor penalties and two misconducts, the latter resulting from a second-period brawl.
The Caps ultimately ended with a record of 41-29-10 and made the playoffs where they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.
October 13, 2016 – PPG Paints Arena
The Capitals and Penguins did not meet again on opening day for another 28 years. This time, the contest was in Pittsburgh and was the first time the teams met on opening night during the Crosby/Malkin/Ovechkin era. It was also the night where the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner for being champions of the 2015-16 season.
In this game, Andre Burakovsky scored nearly a minute into the first period, staking the Capitals to a 1-0 lead. That lead lasted until nine minutes into the second period. Patric Hornqvist scored on a power play goal to tie the score at 1-1. The Penguins scored near the end of the second period to put the Penguins up ahead 2-1. Andre Burakovsky scored his second goal of the game about a third of the way through the third period, knotting the score at 2-2. The game went into overtime but still no more goals scored. The game proceeded to a shootout, which the Penguins won. The final score was 3-2.
Photo: NHL on NBC
That season, the Caps went on to win the Presidents’ Trophy for the second consecutive season with a record of 55-19-8. Their post-season ended in a similar manner to the previous year. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs but lost the series to Pittsburgh.
In summary, the Capitals had beaten Pittsburgh on opening day just once, with three regulation losses, and one shootout loss although they were all relatively close games. There was one other Capitals/Penguins matchup that took place on October 13 which was not on an Opening Day. That was on October 13, 2011.
October 13, 2011 – CONSOL Energy Center
That game was the third game for the Capitals that year and they had won their first two contests before arriving at CONSOL Energy Center. In this game, James Neal of the Penguins staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead about two and a half minutes into the game. Mike Knuble scored early in the second period to tie the score at 1-1.
The Capitals took a 2-1 lead 40 seconds into the third period when Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season. However, James Neal tied the game up at 2-2 with his second goal of the game at 16:15 on a power player. The game went into Overtime. Dennis Wideman scored the game-winner on a power play less than a minute after Jordan Staal went into the penalty box for tripping. The final score was 3-2.
Photo: Puskar/Associated Press
One negative note on the game was that Jay Beagle was injured in a fight with Arron Asham. He had gotten a concussion and would not return to the lineup until after Christmas.
By Diane Doyle