Considering the depressed economy, the Persian Gulf War, the spillover from the limousine incident and their season-long inconsistency, the Washington Capitals are having a wonderful year at the gate.
Last night's crowd of 11,491 was the smallest of the season and it lowered the average to 16,234. That is only 975 per game below last season's record pace. What is especially remarkable is the fact there have been only three sellouts this season, compared with 14 at this point a year ago.
A major reason for the consistently high figures is the infrequency of weekday home dates, such as last night's. Discounting games scheduled around holidays, this was only the second weekday game this season at Capital Centre. The first, against Philadelphia on Tuesday, Dec. 11, attracted only 14,962, fewest to see the Flyers here in many years. The season low, of 14,164, came on Friday, Oct. 19, against the New York Islanders, a game that began the third straight Friday-Saturday weekend at home.
Most NHL teams simply send the league a list of acceptable home dates and take what comes. But Lew Strudler, the Capitals' marketing director, annually spends a lot of time in Montreal with Phil Scheuer, the NHL director of administration and scheduling guru. The object is to move those deadly early season weekday games and to avoid conflicts with baseball playoffs and Redskins games.
"This has been a difficult year, with some of our season ticket holders serving in the Persian Gulf and a number of partial plans canceled because of uncertainty regarding government layoffs," Strudler said. "I think the economy probably cost us 500 a game in the fall. Overall we have to be very happy to do this well and, of course, it's helped to have a favorable schedule. . . .
"But our close interest in the schedule isn't confined to getting the best possible home dates. We try to avoid one-game road trips that put us at home the next night. We're thinking of a schedule that gets the most out of the players as well as the most out of the box office." Revolving Door
When Reggie Savage skated for the Capitals last night, he became the 39th player to appear in a Washington uniform this season. To illustrate the turnover because of trades, newcomers and injuries, only nine of the 20 players who were in uniform for the Feb. 6, 1990, game against Quebec were in the lineup last night.