Following their first expansion season in 1974-75, when the Washington Capitals set league records for futility with the fewest wins (8), fewest points (21), most goals against (446), worst goal differential (-265) and longest winless streak (17, twice: 0-16-1 and 0-17-0), the club certainly hoped for better during year two.
To that end, they acquired several new players, including Hartland Monahan, who would go on to place second in team scoring in 1975-76 with 46 points, trailing only first year holdover Nelson Pyatt. While Pyatt led the club with 49 points, for comparison, Guy Lafleur led the league with 125 points, one of nine NHL players to score 100 points or more.
Gary Meehan was also a welcome addition following his arrival from the Atlanta Flames via a trade, scoring nearly a point per game with 31 points in 32 games.
Bernie Wolfe was brought in to help stem the tide of goals against allowed by the Capitals, as their record 446 goals against the previous season left the team with a 5.58 goals against average, with no goaltender with an average below Michel Belhumer's 5.36 in 35 games. Wolfe saw action in 40 games for Washington and would lead the team with a goals against average of 4.16. While still far from the league lead, it was over a goal per game lower than Belhumer's previous team best.
While the Capitals season began pretty much where they left off the previous season when Washington went 0-8-1, two wins out of their next three showed signs of life thanks to a 7-5 win over the Chicago Black Hawks and a 6-2 victory against the equally downtrodden Kansas City Scouts, with both wins coming notably on the road.
A second 0-8-1 skid followed, but was halted by another offensive outburst when the Capitals netted seven in a dominating 7-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on November 26, 1975.
A loss followed on the road to the Minnesota North Stars 5-3 before a home tie against the Buffalo Sabres 4-4 on December 3rd. The schedule makers then sent the Capitals on the road for four games, the first three of which were a murder's row of Original 6 clubs, Boston, Montreal and New York. The final game of the trip was a loss to the Flames before a welcome return home, where they would play five consecutive games and seven of their next eight.
Unfortunately the Black Hawks got their revenge for their earlier loss with a 7-2 win over Washington, which would go on to lose 5-3 to Detroit, tie Minnesota 4-4, drop a close one to Boston 3-2 and close out their home stand with a 7-5 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions Philadelphia.
Their streak of home games was interrupted by their most embarrassing defeat of the season, a 14-2 demolition by the Sabres in Buffalo on December 21st. The club recharged their spirits over the Christmas break and came back to tie Minnesota in Washington 1-1 on December 26th, which left them with an 0-10-3 mark since their last win one month earlier.
Still, the Captials could not break through, and they were shutout by Montreal (6-0) and at Detroit (4-0) before scoring five against the California Golden Seals. Unfortunately they gave up eight in an 8-5 loss. The Canadiens then blanked the Capitals for the second time in six days with a 7-0 win at The Forum in Montreal, which equaled the record of 17 games without a win.
Washington then broke the record with a 5-3 loss at home to the Vancouver Canucks on January 6, 1976, their 18th game without a win.
The losses mounted with a loss at St. Louis, a shutout at the hands of the lowly Golden Seals 5-0, defeats at home to Boston and Montreal and on the road to Buffalo and Minnesota.
On January 21st, the Capitals once again fell, this time at the hands of the New York Islanders by a score of 5-2. This latest loss was Washington's 12th loss in a row and 25th consecutive without a victory, leaving them with a record of 3-39-5.
Finally, on January 23, 1976, the Captials took to the ice at home against the New York Rangers. Jean Lemieux scored for Washington on a power play at 3:22 from Garnet "Ace" Bailey and Pyatt to open the scoring. Ron Lalonde made it 2-0 for the Capitals after one period with his goal at 15:16 from Monahan.
Things were looking good for the Capitals when Pyatt struck for a goal just after the game's halfway point at 10:46 from defenseman Gord Smith, but in short order, the Rangers fought back with goals from Steve Vickers, Rick Middleton and Wayne Dillon in the span of 5:08 to send the game into the third period tied at 3-3.
Phil Esposito then gave the Rangers their first lead of the night with a goal at 4:05 of the third period, which certainly must have had the home fans thinking "here we go again".
But Washington, against the flow of play, dug deep and not only tied the game at 11:06 with Bob Sirois goal from Lalonde and Lemieux, but then retook the lead when Tony White scored from Monahan and Bob Paradise just under two minutes later at 12:59.
Bailey then beat Rangers goalie Dunc Wilson at 14:58 from Sirois to extend the Capitals lead to 6-4 to give the club hope that a victory was in the cards, only to have a reality check arrive in the form of a second goal by Middleton for New York at 18:06 to cut the Washington lead down to one.
The Rangers then pulled Wilson for an extra attacker, but Bailey scored his second goal of the game with an assist from Sirios with 36 seconds remaining to not only seal the victory for Washington and goaltender Ron Low, but end their 25 game winless streak, which dated back just three days short of two full months since their last outright win back on November 26, 1975.
The Capitals would go on to win seven more games that season, as their longest losing streak from that point on would be limited to four games and their longest winless streak would not top six games. Their season would conclude with an 11-59-10 record and they actually went undefeated for three straight games for the first time in franchise history thanks to ties against Philadelphia and Boston followed by a win over Chicago from February 24th to 29th.
Today's featured jersey is a 1975-76 Washington Capitals Yvon Labre jersey. The Capitals wore their star-spangled jerseys from the time of their NHL debut in 1974 through the 1994-95 season when they stopped wearing their classic red, white and blue jerseys and changed to a new blue and black color scheme. Names would not arrive on the back of the Capitals red jerseys until 1977-78.
Labre, a defenseman, was a member of the Capitals for their first seven seasons, including being named team captain in 1975-76. He became the first player to have his jersey number retired by Washington on November 22, 1981.
Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1975-76 Washington Capitals Bob Paradise jersey.
Paradise played eight NHL seasons, including stops in Minnesota, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, two seasons with the Capitals followed by a return to Pittsburgh. A defenseman, he played a total of 70 games for Washington, scoring 13 assists and 62 penalty minutes.