Washington Capitals captain Adam Oates played his 1,000th game tonight, becoming the 145th player in history to do so. The 37-year-old center had already surpassed the 1,000-point plateau, and is second only to Wayne Gretzky in assists this decade. But this milestone means more to him than any other.
"I was just talking to [assistant coach] Tim Army about it and I think 1,000 games is the best milestone in our league," Oates said. "If you're a point-getter you can get points, but to play 1,000 games you have to be a good enough player to be in the lineup 1,000 times. . . . That takes some longevity. You'd have to play at least 12 1/2 years without missing a game. I think it's the toughest milestone."
Oates had the same discussion with former Capital Kelly Miller last season when Miller reached the milestone. Miller was a speedy defensive player and excellent penalty killer, finishing with 463 points in 1,057 games.
Oates's offensive statistics are staggering. His average of .862 assists per game is fourth all-time, behind only Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. Oates, acquired from Boston on March 1, 1997, played in his 190th game as a Capital tonight. The Capitals will honor Oates for his accomplishment at their next home game at MCI Center, Dec. 27 against Chicago.
"Time does fly, no question," Oates said. "It doesn't feel like 1,000 games. I guess when you get up there you start to think about it more, but I never really did."
Injury Bug Bites The Capitals lost another player to injury in Tuesday night's ugly 6-2 loss to Edmonton, but gained one back tonight. Winger Chris Simon, who is having a career season, re-aggravated a neck injury, but is expected to play Monday, Coach Ron Wilson said. Center Jan Bulis, who missed three games with a groin injury, returned to the lineup.
Defenseman Brendan Witt (rib strain) also left Tuesday's game, but played tonight. Winger Peter Bondra remains out recovering from minor knee surgery, but he too is expected to return Monday. Simon's injury was suffered in a fight with Oilers defenseman Sean Brown. Wilson denied a report in an Edmonton newspaper quoting Oilers players as saying Simon, who scored his 50th NHL goal Tuesday, told them he re-injured his shoulder early in the fight. Shoulder problems have kept him from much of the last three seasons.
"There's no validity to that at all," Wilson said.
The Capitals flew in minor leaguers Nolan Baumgartner and Glen Metropolit this morning on an emergency basis. Baumgartner did not play, but Metropolit was added to the lineup in place of Yogi Svejkovsky, who was a healthy scratch. Both players were up for 6:40 a.m. cross-country flights; they arrived here around 3:30 EST. They're eager to get back to Portland, Maine--both players' families flew in yesterday to spend the Christmas holiday with them.