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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Joe Juneau: Best of the #90s

As part of a Rock the Red series, we are taking a look at the greatest sweater number by the 10s.  First up was the 90s, and #90 took the cake.  Keep an eye out for a new story every day over there.  I decided to expand a little bit on Joe Juneau, one of my favorite Capials of all-time. 

The Nineties:  #90 Joe Juneau, Left Wing

Juneau arrived in DC on March 21, 1994, in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Al "Wild Thing" Iafrate.  On paper, this was a fairly even deal, as Iafrate was one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and the speedy 25-year old Juneau was just coming off a 102-point rookie season where he tied the league record for most assists by a rookie and set a new record for most assists by a left winger with 70, both of which still stand.  In reality, it was one of the most lopsided deals Capitals General Manager David Poile ever made, as Iafrate basically retired after the season with a bum knee and Juneau went on to play 321 games with the Capitals, scoring 63 goals and 236 points between 1994 and 1999. 

Juneau quickly made a good impression with his new club, scoring 5 goals and 13 points in 11 regular season games to finish the season with 85 points in 84 games.  In the playoffs, he promptly potted the winner in the first game of the playoffs, helping the Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins for the only time in franchise history, 4 games to 2.  In all, the Pont Rouge, Quebec, native had 4 goals and 9 points in 11 playoff games as the Caps lost in the second round to eventual Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers.

The 1994-95 season was strike shortened to 48 games, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to play with Peter Bondra (note:  Juneau actual rocket scientist).  Bondra led the league in goals with 34 and Juneau finished 7th in the league with 38 assists for a total of 43 points in 44 games.  The 1992 Olympic silver medalist continued his success with a 14-goal, 64-point 1995-96 season that saw Bondra post another amazing season with Michal Pivonka as his center.   Juneau posted a combined 15 points in 12 playoff games over those two seasons, but was victimized both times by the Pittsburgh Penguins.  This included one of his most famous moments, when he missed a penalty shot in triple overtime on April 24, 1996, a game the Capitals eventually lost.  Juneau had his revenge against Penguins goalie Ken Wregget on November 1, 1996, though, when the former RPI Engineer posted his only Capitals hat trick. 

Juneau missed 50 games to injuries the next two years, missing 50 games and only posting a combined 73 points.  While the Caps missed the playoffs in 1996-97, they made a trade that helped make Juneau into the hero of the 1998 playoffs, acquiring Adam Oates from the Boston Bruins.

Playing on a line with Oates and late-season acquisition Brian Bellows, Joe Juneau lit up the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs with a then-team record 17 points in 21 games.  Among his 7 goals were 4 game-winners, his first coming in overtime in Game 3 of the first round against Boston, the third was the series winner in the second round against Ottawa, and the fourth was the overtime series winner in the Conference Final against Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres.  While the Caps eventually lost in four games to the Detroit Red Wings, Juneau had made his mark on Caps history.  He finished his Caps playoff career with 13 goals and 41 points in 43 games.  

The 1998-99 season was a disaster for the injury-riddled and aging Caps.  Juneau had some success, posting 41 points in 63 games, including a few games on the JOB line (Juneau-Oates-Bondra).  As the Caps headed for a playoff miss, Caps GM George McPhee traded away most of their veterans.  So less than a year after Juneau had scored the goal to send the Capitals to their only Stanley Cup Final, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman prospect Alexei Tezikov, who did even less for the Caps than Iafrate did for the Bruins. 

Juneau made the 1999 Stanley Cup Final with the same Sabres he had helped to eliminate the year before. He came within two games of winning the silver chalice only to get hosed by this: