The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s December. The Capitals and Redskins are both in first place. Whoa.

(Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
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One wouldn’t know it by the distribution of posts on this site, but the Redskins aren’t the only first-place team in town. (They are, however, the only first-place team in town with a sub-.500 record.)

The Capitals increased their winning streak to six games with a 3-2 triumph at Montreal on Thursday. It was the Canadiens’ first loss to an Eastern Conference foe in regulation this season, and kept Washington atop the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division. The Caps (18-5-1) and Rangers (17-7-3) both have 37 points, but Washington has played three fewer games.

Say, when was the last time D.C. had two first-place teams in December? Try 1991.

That season, the Capitals entered December with an 18-8 record and 36 points, five more than the Patrick Division rival Rangers. Led by 22-year old Dmitri Khristich and 23-year old Peter Bondra, Washington’s 120 goals and plus-35 goal differential led the NHL.

Coming off a home loss to the Cowboys, the Redskins entered December with an 11-1 record en route to a 14-2 regular season.

With Brooks Orpik out, John Carlson takes leadership role on defense

On Dec. 10, the Capitals improved to 21-9 with a 4-1 win over the Flames. The following day, The Post’s Sports section featured an article that asked whether the 1991 Redskins could be the greatest team in franchise history and a column from Thomas Boswell about the transformation of the Capitals under then-Coach Terry Murray. Terry Murray replaced his defensive-minded brother Bryan as Capitals coach during the 1989-90 season and, as Boswell wrote, helped turn Capital Centre into a “red light district.”

These are the young Capitals, the fast Capitals, the With-Six-Goals-You-Get-Free-Pizza Capitals. They don’t just want to beat you; they want to get the mob chanting “pizza” or else fry the champion Penguins 8-0 at home.

Their brand of hockey may not have been the most exciting to watch, but the Capitals enjoyed plenty of regular season success under Bryan Murray. Still, they won only three first-round series in seven postseason appearances. In December of 1991, with Murray’s high-scoring team rolling, it was easy for Caps fans to imagine a different fate come April.

More Boswell:

April and May will tell the tale. But, for now, these are the good times. Mark Rypien and Chip Lohmiller of the Redskins come to the locker room so often they have their own Capitals jerseys with their names and numbers on the back.

The time Chip Lohmiller won the Capitals’ fastest shot competition

It’s all synergy and flow. It’s that mystical, positive-thinking kind of talk that would have seemed too high-falutin’ for Bryan. But then Terry dreams the positive happy dreams of gifted younger brothers — dreams of pucks going into nets, not dreams about kicking away other people’s shots.
“I don’t even have any shame about riding the Redskins’ coat tails,” said Terry Murray. “In sports, whole towns get hot. We’re feeding off the Redskins. We’re getting some of the overflow of emotion. Let’s turn the city on.”

The Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl. The Capitals finished seven points behind the Rangers for the Patrick Division title and blew a three-games-to-one lead against the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

There have been years and years of Capitals playoff heartbreak (and Redskins regular season ineptitude) since, but it’s not worth fretting about another bitter offseason now. D.C. is hot. The city is turned on. Embrace the synergy and flow.