Time CAPSule: 1976 - 1977 Season in Review
Written by Mike Vogel in 1999 for WashingtonCaps.com
As the Washington Capitals were preparing for the third training camp of their brief history in the late summer of 1976, the team's fortunes took a sudden upward turn. On September 1, 1976, the Capitals announced that they had signed free agent forward Guy Charron away from the Colorado Rockies.
After two years as the Kansas City Scouts, the Rockies were about to continue their existence in Denver and the team chose not to expend its financial resources on Charron, who was coming off a 27-goal season. The 27-year-old Quebec native was just what Washington needed - a goal scorer who could electrify the Capitals' growing fan base and who could alter the course of a game with his speed and skill.
As compensation for signing Charron, the Caps sent the rights to Nelson Pyatt - their own leading scorer from the previous season - to Colorado.
Charron made his presence felt immediately. Washington won its season opener in 1976, a 6-5 barnburner over the Atlanta Flames. It was the first time the Caps opened the season with a win and as such, the first time they had ever been above the .500 mark. Charron scored a goal and assisted on Hartland Monahan's game-winner. Charron had a goal and an assist in the Caps' second game, too - a 3-3 tie in Detroit. He continued his scoring streak in a 6-3 loss to the Barons in Cleveland.
The "fast" start proved to be a mirage - the Caps went through a six-game winless skid and fell to 1-5-2. Charron continued to score consistently - he potted eight of the team's first 28 goals.
After a 3-2 setback against the Sabres on November 5, the Caps embarked upon the first winning streak in franchise history. They beat the North Stars 4-1 on November 7 and downed the Canucks 4-2 two nights later. Charron scored in the Vancouver game, his 10th tally in 14 contests. It took 174 games, but Washington had the first set of back-to-back wins in its history. For good measure, the Caps made it three straight with a 7-5 win over the Rangers in New York on November 10. In the three-game streak, Charron scored three goals and seven points.
In a 5-4 loss to Chicago on November 12, Charron tied club records with a goal in four straight games. He and Jack Lynch also tied the club standard with assists in four straight games.
Besides Charron, there was one other significant addition to the Capitals' lineup for the '76-77 season. Washington used its first pick in the 1976 NHL Entry Draft - the first overall pick in the draft - to select defenseman Rick Green. Green was a big, rugged defenseman who played his junior hockey for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and won the Max Kamensky Trophy as the league's outstanding defenseman. Green cracked the Capitals' lineup as a 20-year-old rookie. He scored his first NHL goal on November 21 in a 3-1 Washington win over the Colorado Rockies.
On November 30, the Caps gave up on another of their bright young blueline prospects. Washington GM Max McNab sent defenseman Greg Joly to Detroit in exchange for veteran rearguard Bryan "Bugsy" Watson. Joly, the first overall pick in the 1974 draft, hadn't developed as well or as swiftly as the Capitals had hoped. He opened the 1976-77 season in the minors before being swapped to the Wings. Joly was only 22 at the time of the deal, but injuries and ineffectiveness hampered his career. He was out of the NHL for good before his 30th birthday.
Watson was a 14-year veteran who had a wealth of experience with both good and bad teams. He was a feisty, pesky player who played much bigger than his size (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) and he was a strong locker room personality. Watson debuted with the Caps against the Rangers on December 1.
Two nights after Watson's arrival, the Caps hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. A big crowd of 17,626 was on hand and they witnessed a first in Caps history. The game was a seesaw affair; the Flyers grabbed a 2-0 lead before Washington tied it up. Philly went back in front 3-2, the Caps again knotted the score. When Reggie Leach put the Flyers up 4-3 with just 3:45 remaining, Washington's prospects of getting the equalizer past future Hall of Famer Bernie Parent seemed bleak. Caps bench boss Tom McVie pulled goaltender Bernie Wolfe for an extra skater late in the game and for the first time in franchise history, the ploy paid dividends. Hartland Monahan beat Parent with just 30 seconds remaining to give the Caps a 4-4 tie with their neighbors from the north.
Two nights later, the Caps traveled to Boston and repeated the feat. The Caps squandered a 3-0 first period lead and a 4-3 third period lead. Washington's second goal was scored by Tom Rowe, the club's third pick (37th overall) in the 1976 Entry Draft. It was Rowe's first NHL goal and it came on his first NHL shot. With Ron Low off for an extra skater, Charron beat another future Hall of Fame netminder - this time it was Gerry Cheevers - to give the Caps a 5-5 tie with the Bruins.
On December 4, the Caps acquired veteran forward Bill Collins from Philadelphia for cash. The well-traveled Collins had once been traded for Watson and was now joining him in Washington.
The Caps returned home to take on the Canucks on December 7. Charron scored a goal in his fourth consecutive game to match his own club record, and the Caps beat Vancouver, 4-3. In the process, Washington matched club records with a three-game unbeaten streak and a four-game unbeaten streak at home.
Charron netted a pair of goals in a loss to Cleveland on December 11, reaching the 20-goal mark in the team's 29th game of the season. On December 14, Watson and Collins both recorded their first points as Capitals when they assisted on a goal by Rick Bragnalo. On December 17, Watson was assessed a holding minor that put him at 2,000 career penalty minutes. He was the first player in NHL history to achieve that plateau.
On January 10, the Capitals recorded just the second shutout of their history, a 2-0 win over the Red Wings in Detroit. Collins scored the game-winner against his former team -a shorthanded goal at the 2:38 mark of the first period. Caps netminder Bernie Wolfe notched his first NHL shutout. The win was Washington's 12th of the season and it established a new club standard.
With a 4-2 win over Buffalo on January 19, the Capitals reached the 33-point mark to eclipse their total from the previous campaign. The win was also Washington's first ever over the Sabres.
The Capitals started the best stretch of their short history with a 6-3 home ice win over the St. Louis Blues on January 23. The Caps fell behind 3-2 but tied the game on Bill Riley's goal with just 3:18 remaining in the game. With only 1:08 left, Hartland Monahan netted the game-winner for Washington. Ace Bailey scored for the Caps 32 second later and Gerry Meehan added an empty-netter 11 seconds after Bailey's strike. Washington set club standards with three goals in 43 seconds and four goals in 2:53.
On January 27, the Caps downed Detroit by a 4-1 score. Washington then traveled to St. Louis where it beat the Blues by a 5-2 count on January 29. The three-game winning streak matched the club mark set earlier in the season. Charron reached the 25-goal and 50-point plateaus in the game.
The Caps returned home to take on the Flyers on January 30. In front of a sellout crowd, Washington skated to a 5-5 deadlock with Philadelphia. The tie extended the Caps' unbeaten streak to four straight, a new club record. Bryan Watson's goal at the 15-second mark of the third period was his first as a Capital and the 14th of his 14-year NHL career. Watson's tally gave the Caps a short-lived 4-3 lead. Washington had a 5-4 advantage until Rick MacLeish's power play goal tied it with 3:36 left.
A 7-2 loss in LA ended the Caps' unbeaten streak at four. Charron set a new club mark when he scored his 27th goal in a 3-3 tie with the Islanders on February 5.
After a 4-4 tie in Chicago on February 9, the Capitals stood at 16-30-10, a marked improvement over their performance in their first two seasons. But the next two games would see the Caps revert to their inept expansion form.
In the fifth of a six-game road trip, the Caps absorbed a 9-2 beating at Philadelphia on February 10. It was the most goals the Caps had allowed all season, the worst defeat they had suffered and the most shots they had allowed all year (46), too.
Two nights later in Toronto, the Caps set new marks again for most goals allowed in a game and worst beating of the campaign in a 10-0 loss to the Maple Leafs. Lanny McDonald and Darryl Sittler each scored twice and Inge Hammarstrom had a goal and five points for the Leafs. With the loss, the Caps matched their longest winless skid (seven games) of the season.
The Caps returned home and skated to a 3-3 tie against the North Stars on February 15. Charron became the first Capital to enjoy a 30-goal season and set a club mark by registering his 59th point of the season. Tommy Williams had set the previous mark with 58 points in the team's inaugural season of 1974-75.
Monahan scored his 20th goal of the season in a 2-2 tie against the Islanders on February 20.
With a 3-1 win over the Penguins at the Capital Centre on February 22, the Capitals snapped an 11-game winless streak (0-5-6) behind a pair of goals by Gerry Meehan. Three days later, Meehan scored his 20th of the season in a 4-2 win over Toronto. He joined Charron and Monahan as 20-goal getters, giving the Caps three 20-goal scorers for the first time in club history.
On March 3, the Caps acquired veteran goaltender Roger Crozier from the Buffalo Sabres in a cash deal. Crozier got the start against his former Detroit teammates on March 13 but played only the first two periods in a 3-3 tie. Crozier got the nod in net against Colorado on March 18 but again left after two periods. Ron Low relieved Crozier and the two combined to author the third shutout in team history, a 5-0 whitewash of the Rockies. The victory was Washington's 20th, exceeding its combined total for its first two seasons.
The Capitals hosted the Sabres on March 20 and fell, 6-2. After the Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead on Meehan's shorthanded goal, Buffalo scored twice within eight seconds - the fastest two goals ever against the Caps - to take a 2-1 lead. Yvon Labre earned an ejection with three majors, a game misconduct and a club record 29 minutes in penalties in a single game. Labre and Buffalo's Danny Gare twice went at it, earning fighting majors in the process. Labre was also assessed a major for spearing.
Washington thumped the Rangers 7-2 on March 25. For the third time, Crozier was unable to finish a game that he started. Three minutes into the second period, he suffered face lacerations when he was struck on the mask by a shot off the stick of New York's Phil Esposito. It would be Crozier's last game in the NHL. The 35-year-old netminder - long plagued by pancreatitis - chose to retire at the end of the season. Bernie Wolfe relieved Crozier and the Caps made a winner of him by scoring five second period goals against New York's John Davidson. The five goals came in a span of just 9:49, making them the fastest five goals in franchise history.
The Caps hosted Toronto on March 27 and the fireworks started early. The Maple Leafs' Tiger Williams and the Caps' Bill Riley went toe-to-toe just 11 seconds into the game. Both received fighting majors; Williams was also slapped with a gross misconduct for "conduct unbecoming of a hockey player." Toronto took a 1-0 lead but a fired-up Riley came out of the penalty box and scored a pair of power play goals in less than two minutes of time. The game was marred by a slew of roughing, slashing and cross-checking calls. Washington took a 6-2 lead on three second period goals and Meehan's tally early in the third. Riley and Toronto's Brian Glennie mixed it up and this time it was Riley who received the gross misconduct for pulling Glennie's hair. Since it was Riley's third game misconduct of the season, he drew an automatic suspension for the Caps' next game. Washington held on to beat the Leafs, 7-4. The win was the Caps' 22nd of the season, doubling their output from the 1975-76 campaign.
Without Riley in the lineup, Washington thumped the Red Wings 6-1. The Caps extended their club record with their 10th shorthanded goal of the season. For the third time in the season, Washington had a three-game winning streak. The Caps stretched it to four wins in a row - a new club mark - with a 4-3 win in Pittsburgh on March 30.
There were only two games remaining in the season, a home-and-home set against the Montreal Canadiens. In Montreal on April 2, the Caps were reminded of just how far they had to go to be able to compete with the elite teams of the NHL. Nine different Canadiens combined to dent the Washington nets 11 times in an 11-0 Montreal triumph. The Caps regained a measure of respect in Landover the next night when they limited the high-flying Habs to just two goals in a 2-1 loss. Steve Shutt scored his 60th of the season for Montreal, which went 60-8-12 and accumulated 132 points on the season.
As for the Capitals, their season also had to be considered a success. The Caps finished at 24-42-14 for 62 points, nearly double their previous best of 32 points. Washington finished fourth in the Norris Division standings, escaping the basement for the first time (Detroit occupied that spot). The Caps also shaved 87 goals against off their 1975-76 total, an improvement of more than a goal a game.
With three 20-goal scorers and 10 double-digit goal scorers, the Caps also had shown offensive improvement. There were many reasons to be hopeful as the team prepared for Year Four.