The All-Time Capitals Team Tournament, Part III

Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport

Which Washington Capitals team was the best the organization has ever put on the ice? Four more contenders battle it out in Round 1 of our tournament to answer that very question.

Half of our bracket is filled now (catch up here and here), but that means half the slots remain open - here are the next four...

***


S
Season GP ROW ROL T/SO Adj Pts Pts%
GF GF Rk
GA
GA Rk
3 1983-84 80 48 27
5
101 .631
308 12/21
226
1/21
14 1992-93 84
43
34
7
93
.554
325 10/24
286 10/24

Just one year removed from the first playoff appearance in franchise history, the 1983-84 Caps entered the post-season as a 101-point team with home-ice advantage in the first round. How'd they do it? De-fense. Rod Langway won the Norris (back when a defensive-minded defenseman could do such a thing), Doug Jarvis won the Selke Trophy, Al Jensen and Pat Riggin won the Jennings Trophy as the Caps allowed the fewest goals in hockey (thanks in part to a League-best 86.7% effective penalty kill) and Bryan Murray won the Adams Trophy. Scott Stevens and Dave Shand provided solid defense as well, with the former adding 45 points, just one behind Larry Murphy for the team lead among rearguards. Up front, Mike Gartner, Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson all averaged better than a point-per game (of course, Wayne Gretzky averaged nearly 2.8 that season).

The Caps made short work of Philly that spring, sweeping the best-of-five, but then faced the four-time defending champion Islanders, who ran off four-straight wins after spotting the Caps Game 1. Despite the loss, this was very much a Caps team on the rise...

... unlike the 1992-93 team, which was Terry Murray's third - and last - full season behind the bench since awkwardly replacing his brother in the middle of the 1989-90 campaign (Terry would be fired 47 games into the 1993-94 season). One year after finishing in the top-four in both goals-for and -against (more on that 1991-92 team later), the Caps slipped into the middle of the pack in both categories, winding up tenth (of 24 teams) in each metric. The team had pretty good balance on offense - nine 20-goal scorers, three of whom (Peter Bondra, Mike Ridley and Dmitri Khristich) topped 30. But the more notable offensive achievement for that team was that it had three 20-goal defensemen: Kevin Hatcher (34, which led the League), Al Iafrate (25) and Sylvain Cote (21). That Caps trio accounted for three of the NHL's seven rearguards that topped 20 goals that season and represented the only time a team has had three 20-goal scorers on the blueline in the same season.

The 92-93 Caps faced the Isles in the first round of the playoffs and won Game 1 on the road, only to lose the next three in overtime (twice in double OT) before eventually losing the series in six games.

So which team would win a best-of-seven, 1983-84 or 1992-93? Could a balanced attack with offense from the back-end be the undoing of a superb defensive squad, or does great defense and mediocre offense win out over a decent all-around team? Who takes the Murray brothers bragging rights here?


S
Season GP ROW ROL T/SO Adj Pts Pts%
GF GF Rk
GA
GA Rk
6 1991-92 80 45 27
8
98 .613
330 2/22
275
4/22
11 1988-89 80
41
29
10
92 .575
305 9/21
259 5/21

If there’s a dark horse in this tournament, it might be the 1991-92 squad (Friend of the Blog Ed Frankovic had these guys as the best of the lot a few years back). Terry Murray’s team finished second in the League in goals-for (with 330 – the most in franchise history), tenth in goals-against and top-four in both special teams categories. In fact, the only team in the League with more wins and points than Washington (45, 98) that season was the team that kept the Caps out of the top spot in the Patrick Division, the 50-win Rangers (against whom the Caps were 5-2 during the regular season).

Fourteen Caps (including four defensemen) had double-digit goals, with seven topping 20 and a pair – Dino Ciccarelli and Khristich – besting 35, and 11 skaters had 50 or more points (Pivonka led the way with 80, followed closely by Dale Hunter’s 78). The Caps were good and deep.

The first round of the playoffs set up nicely for the Caps to get some revenge on the team that had sent them home from the dance the previous spring, namely the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had finished 11 points behind the Caps and lost five of the seven meetings between the teams in the regular season. Washington raced out to a 3-1 series lead (which included 7-2 and 6-2 drubbings)... before losing three straight (including Game 7 on home ice) and hitting the links. It would be the first of three Game 7 losses to the Penguins, and the second of six series lost to Pittsburgh in an 11-year span (four of which featured blown two-game leads for Washington).

One Caps team that didn’t have the pleasure of facing the Pens in the playoffs was the ever-so-dapper 1988-89 team, D.C. hockey’s only division champ prior to the creation of the Southeast Division. The Caps finished third in the NHL in points with good defense and goaltending, a decent bit of scoring that eventually included Dino Ciccarelli, who scored a dozen goals in 11 games after being acquired from Minnesota in a late-season blockbuster that sent Gartner and Murphy the other way, and some tremendous lip-syncing. With Ciccarelli in the fold, the Caps had a goal-busting trio of 40-goal scorers (Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley being the other two) and a solid blueline heading into the post-season as Patrick Division Champions. Once there, however, they were unable to handle their first-round opponent, Philadelphia, who ran off four wins in five games after the Caps took Game 1. The series would be Bryan Murray’s last behind the Capitals bench, as seasons of disappointment caught up to him after a slow start the following season and he was replaced by his brother.

So which team would win a best-of-seven, 1991-92 or 1988-89? In the tourney’s second first-round matchup between the Murrays, which brother who was ultimately ousted by an inferior team from Pennsylvania wins out? Would the 1988-89 team come out on top or not?

***

Twelve down, four to go - here's a look at the bracket:

Capitals_tourney_part_iii_medium

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