After taking six of seven on a west coast swing, the Nationals began a dream homestand (two games with the Yankees and a series with the Dodgers) with the nightmare of one suspended game, two postponed games and three losses.  The cherry on top?  Wasting 13 strikeouts by Max Scherzer.  And don’t get me started on the injuries.  Instead of making their move on Atlanta and Philadelphia atop the division standings, the Nats are back in fourth place.  At least the weather’s supposed to be nice this week…

Dissecting the Division- the 0-3 week coupled with the Mets sweep of Arizona drops the Nats down one rung.  For first place Atlanta, the future is wow with 21-year old Ozzie Albies belting 13 homers to lead the Braves.  Second place Philadelphia is enjoying a stellar season from Odubel Herrera (batting .344 with 30 RBI).  The Nats bats?  Yet to catch fire after scoring 7 runs while getting swept by the Dodgers.  Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster who’s appeared in 10+ games batting over .300 at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds drop to 14-32 after losing three of four in Boston.  The team finished 12 games under .500 last year.  They’re now 18 games under .500 with over 110 games left in this journey to nowhere.  This is no longer a micro- thing.  The O’s have to step back and ask themselves where they see this organization in three to five years.  Nats fans know full well how bad things can get.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick was hitting 2-for-5 when he tore his achilles tendon Saturday.  The loss of Kendrick hurts in the lineup and on the field…as he had seen action at three different positions and five different spots in the batting order.  And now the 34-year old is done for 2018.  Max Scherzer struck out 13 Saturday and even drove in a run (he’s hitting .308 with more RBI than strikeouts this year).

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show three games gives us one super-small sample size.  But Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon each hit .083 and with a patchwork lineup in progress the two key cogs need to deliver.  Shawn Kelley and Sammy Solis had less than desirable episodes out of the bullpen.  The rain blew up what could have been a great miniseries with the Pinstripes…and waterlogged a red-hot Nats club.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against San Diego…the lefthander allowed one earned run over six innings earlier this month in a loss to the Padres. But what makes this the one to watch is that 19-year old Juan Soto (.362 with 14 HR in 39 minor league games) makes his first Major League start.

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Capitals face a potential Game Seven and The Americans airs its second to last episode.  Due to the rainouts wreaking havoc with the rotation the Nats have yet to name a starter for the 4:05 pm game.  At that time I’m either watching highlights of previous Game Sevens (Pat LaFontaine–ugh) or previous Jennings family capers (how much can you fit into a suitcase?).  I’ll leave the light on after watching both…

 

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What a difference a couple of weeks make.  The Nationals have won 13 of 15 to turn from April underachievers to May movers and shakers…highlighted by a four game sweep of Arizona on the road.  Somehow despite missing major pieces in the lineup the Nats are within a stone’s throw of first place in a continuing to deflate NL East.  Credit a starting rotation that is the second stingiest (2.91 ERA) in the big leagues…and just enough offense (7th in MLB this month) to put W’s on the board and keep this club in contention until in theory the big bats on the DL return to the lineup.

More Aches- add Ryan Zimmerman and a hurting oblique to the growing list of lumber in the land of limbo.  Four of the top six bats in the order (Eaton, Rendon, Murphy and now Zim) have been sat down this spring- with Eaton now on the 60-day disabled list and Murphy past the point of “as long as he’s back by May 1st” concern.  In addition, Brian Goodwin’s stay on the DL nears one month means that the team has been forced to go with Plan C…and sometimes D and E in LF.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta’s Monday matinée victory over the Chicago Cubs gave the Braves a game and a half lead in the NL East…as six wins in seven games keeps them ahead of the surging Phillies (four wins in five games) and Nationals.  The Braves’ bats (#1 in the MLB in average) and the Phillies’ rotation (2nd most quality starts in the majors) have those clubs ahead of the Nats (24-18) for the moment.  The Mets remain over .500, but just barely…

Break up the Birds- who are these people?  Back to back series wins for the Orioles have the team no longer saddled with the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is a major monster (.350, 13 HR & 38 RBI) while Jonathan Schoop is off the disabled list.  Unfortunately the nightmare season of Chris Tillman lands the former ace on the disabled list.  The 10.46 ERA this year may not be the largest sample size, but he’s 2-11 since the start of last year.

Last Week’s Heroes- Matt Reynolds homered twice in Sunday’s win over Arizona, while Trea Turner scored 8 runs and Matt Adams drove in 7 runs.  Stephen Strasburg went 2-0 while Max Scherzer struck out 11 and allowed zero walks in his lone start (a victory).  Jeremy Hellickson posted a 0.77 ERA over two starts.  Sean Doolittle saved three games while tossing three scoreless innings.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor hit .148 with 12 strikeouts (and no walks).  The early-season injuries are making life miserable for the training staff.  Hope they can go fishing on their off day this week.

Game to Watch- Wednesday Max Scherzer takes his 7-1 mark to the mound against C.C. Sabathia and the New York Yankees.  The Pinstripes are a big-league best 28-12 with four players already at 10+ home runs.  Max leads the majors in strikeouts and is fourth in ERA.  Even with FBI agent Stan Beeman finally realizing his neighbors are more than just “travel” agents, The Americans takes second place.

Game to Miss- the Washington Capitals are on a collision course with destiny…one that will result in me wearing a red suit for one day when they capture the Stanley Cup.  They took the first two games of their Eastern Conference Final with Tampa Bay on the road (and we won’t mention they did the same thing in the 2003 First Round only to lose in six games)…and host the Lightning Tuesday evening.  I’ll be there for WTOP– and even though the Gio Gonzalez-Masahiro Tanaka duel is compelling, the chance to watch the Caps take a 3-0 lead > regular season baseball in May.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

For 40-plus years in College Park, the mantra was “wait until next year” as one Maryland men’s lacrosse team after another fell short of winning a National Championship.  Local rivals like Johns Hopkins and ACC foes like Virginia tallied titles while the Terps wondered what was necessary to get to the next level.  There were blowouts and there were heartbreaks, bad calls and worse mistakes over four decades…until last year became next year.  The Terps’ 9-6 win in the 2017 Championship Game over Ohio State brought generations of Maryland players and coaches together, and now next year is technically last year for the team that plays this year.  See how easy it is for defending champs to trip over themselves, even if only from a semantics standpoint?

The tone for the 2018 season was set early and often.  Senior goalie Dan Morris says “this year’s whole mantra is, we’re not the defending champs-we’re the attacking champs.  This is a whole different group of guys and a whole different scenario.”  It’s good to have Morris back;  after starting all 19 teams for the national champs the Dallas, Texas native finished second in the Big Ten in goals against average and saves per game.   All-Big Ten selection Curtis Corley is more than happy to have Dan between the pipes again this May.  Corley says, “he’s so talented in that he’s gonna make those stops that are routine. And he’s gonna make those stops that go–wow, that was a good one. Way to go Dan!”

A senior leads the attack as well:  Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Connor Kelly led the Terps with 40 goals and 33 assists. Kelly compliments his supporting cast: “we have a great group, athletic group, high-IQ group. We play as a unit and not 1-v-7,  that’s our biggest focus.”  The Terps rank 13th in goals per game and hit another gear when going man-up (lacrosse’s version of the power play):  only Lehigh was more effective than Maryland’s 57% success rate.

Despite falling to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Terrapins enter the tournament as the #1 seed and get Robert Morris in the first round following the Colonials 12-6 win over Canisius.  The Northeast Conference champs rank 3rd nationally in scoring defense. “They just got some big defensemen,” Kelly says, “they’re like six-foot-five or above on some of them.  Got a lot of length-and obviously they’re a smart defense.”  The Terps will begin its NCAA Tournament run at home for the sixth straight May, and the defending national champs are looking forward to spending 60 more minutes on the Maryland Stadium Field.  Morris says, “We love our stadium. We’re gonna have a good group of fans there.  We’re just excited to have one more game together and one more game in our stadium.”  The first round’s faceoff is slated for noon Sunday.  This year.

Short Stick Spotlights:

Georgetown (12-4) qualified by winning the Big East Tournament.  The Hoyas are tied for sixth in scoring defense…with senior goalie Nick Marrocco logging 917 of the 960  minutes between the pipes.  They might be a year away from making noise in the tournament, as the offense is led by sophomore Jake Carraway (43 goals and 20 assists) and junior Daniel Bucaro (34 goals in 12 games).  The Hoyas visit #5 Johns Hopkins Sunday at 5 p.m.

5th seeded Johns Hopkins (11-4) won the Big Ten Tournament by beating Maryland one week after losing to the Terps in triple-overtime.  The Blue Jays rebounded from an early 1-2 start under the steady hand of senior triggermen Joel Tinney (18 goals and 30 assists) and Shack Stanwick (17 goals, 29 assists and the best name on the team).  Causes for concern could be special teams:  Hopkins ranked 34th (out of 63 schools) on man-up offense (lacrosse’s version of the power play) and 35th on man-down (aka the penalty kill).  The Blue Jays host Georgetown Sunday at 5 p.m.

6th seeded Loyola Maryland (12-3) hasn’t lost since March 24 and is the Patriot League Champ.  The Greyhounds made the Final Four two years ago and return their leading scorer from that team in junior attacker Pat Spencer (31 goals and 55 assists);  the difference is this year senior Jay Drapeau has blossomed (39 goals) into a major threat as well.  Loyola uses its defense to fuel its attack, ranking second in the nation in turnovers caused per game.  Their road to Foxborough begins at home Saturday against Virginia.

Virginia (12-5)  went 1-3 in the ACC but brings the 7th best offense into the tournament;  youth has been served with sophomores Michael Kraus (43 goals with 37 assists-good enough for 7th in the nation) and Dox Aitken (35 goals–and named after his Uncle Cider no doubt) plus freshman Ian Laviano (35 goals in his rookie campaign).  The Cavaliers are also one of the better faceoff teams in the tournament (13th nationally), which takes more of a priority in a possession minded postseason.  Saturday’s game at Loyola Maryland starts at 7:15 p.m.

Richmond (11-5) rides a six-game winning streak into the Tournament that includes winning the Southern Conference in overtime against Jacksonville;  the 12th best man-up offense in the nation is led by the one-two punch of junior Teddy Hatfield and freshman Ryan Lanchbury (sadly there are no McCoys on the Richmond roster).  Problem is…the first round opponent (#2 Albany) leads the nation in scoring and ranks #1 on faceoffs.  The Spiders on faceoffs?  A less than ideal 57th.  They visit the Great Danes at 5 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

 

Every car needs a jumpstart once in a while.  Last week Nats manager Davey Martinez with three strokes was able to give a banged-up batting order the needed juice to recover from its early season slumber.  Bryce Harper going to the leadoff spot made plenty of sense–as he’s walking more than once per game and almost forgot what a good pitch to hit looked like.  Matt Adams to Bryce’s #3 spot made sense as the veteran has been solid  this spring.  But Wilmer Difo to the 9th spot has created a little electricity at the bottom of the order.  Batting behind the pitcher but before Bryce, Difo’s been a difference maker and wrapped up the week with a walk-off single that helped the Nats win their series with Philadelphia.  There will be more moves (Rendon taking over the #3 spot now that he’s off the DL) regarding this lineup–but in a division that is suddenly coming back to .500, a little juice might be all they need to retake the lead by Memorial Day.

Healthy and Hitting- Anthony Rendon not only returned to the lineup…but the third baseman delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning Sunday that began the rally.  The Nats are still missing Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy…and now that it’s May one wonders when the two will return and how effective they’ll be.

Dissecting the Division- don’t look now, but the New York Mets are in free-fall with eight losses in their last ten games.   Atlanta now leads the NL East with a 19-14 mark (despite getting swept at home by San Francisco) thanks to the #3 offense in the majors led by Nick Markakis (.344 with 6 HR and 25 RBI- on pace for his best season since 2008).  Philadelphia at 18-15 are in second while the Mets are in third at 17-15.  The Nats (18-17)after seven wins in eight games have moved within two of the lead.  They may be in fourth, but the rest of the division is chasing the Nats right now.

O’s Woes- wow.  Yeah.  Did anyone see an 0-6 roadtrip happening with the Birds getting outscored 35-17?  At 8-26 they’re not only 17 games out of first place but also tied for the worst record in the majors.  Manny Machado is having a decent season  (.346 with 9 HR and 27 RBI)–and the watch begins on when or if they send their best player packing for a bunch of prospects.  Right now they’re on pace to lose more than 120 games–and while teams always regress (or progress) to the mean, one wonders if this is the end of the current management structure and core on the field nucleus.  For those scoring at home, the Orioles need to finish 55-73 to avoid a 100-loss campaign…almost double their current winning percentage.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilmer Difo hit .524 with 2 HR and 5 RBI…culminating in the game-winning hit Sunday.  Matt Adams batted .360 with 5 homers…and Bryce Harper went deep 4 times last week.  Max Scherzer was masterful in his 15-strikeout performance on Sunday–and had 8 in his other start.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and a save while Gio Gonzalez tossed 5 scoreless innings in the series opener with Philly.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Gott coughed up 3 earned runs while getting one out Friday against the Phillies–and twisted his ankle in the process.  Michael A. Taylor hit .087 while Ryan Zimmerman has yet to eclipse the .200 mark for the season and missed two games over the weekend with a “side” injury.  Nobody expected the veteran to duplicate last year’s career resurgence (.303 with 36 HR and 108 RBI) but nobody expected this sort of prolonged start from a guy whose bat figured to be relied upon early and often (especially with the injuries).

Game to Watch- Let’s be honest, every Max Scherzer start is must-watch.  This one more so because Friday night he’ll be facing the team that drafted him in Arizona…while squaring off against Zack Grienke.  The 2009 Cy Young winner may own an ERA of 4.10, but he’s 2-0 at home with a 1.85 ERA.  Did we mention the Diamondbacks lead the NL West?  I’ll be watching after my appearance on News Channel 8’s Sports Talk.

Game to Miss- Wednesday there may very well be a Game Seven at Capital One Arena between the Caps and Penguins.  If there isn’t, The Americans final season continues with the most clueless FBI Agent potentially finally realizing his neighbors in Falls Church are really KGB agents and not just Travel Agents.  So far this season has given us a pair of appearances by the Mail Robot as well as bad country music line dancing.  Sorry, Gio Gonzalez as you pitch against a San Diego team that’s 13-22.

After today the Nationals will no longer have the fail-safe phrase at their disposal.  Nothing writes off inefficient offense or porous pitching better than “it’s only April”.  Even though these games count in the standings as much as the games in August and September.  And while one shouldn’t panic at 7-9…one should have cause for concern at 12-16.  They rank a middling 17th in runs scored…and although one can explain that by realizing they’re still missing arguably three of their best four hitters (Eaton-Murphy-Rendon), the regression of Ryan Zimmerman (.191 with 13 RBI in 27 games) isn’t going away.  The bullpen’s ERA of 4.91 is 25th best and has been healthy for the most part.  May means matchups with contenders like Arizona, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers plus surprising Philadelphia.  It’s only April for just one more day…

Dissecting the Division- the New York Mets remain the problem that won’t go away atop the standings after going 3-3 on their road trip.  Yoenis Cespedes ranks second in the NL with 25 RBI while Asdrubal Cabrera’s .340 batting average is one point behind St. Louis’ Tommy Pham.  That’s a good duo to build your lineup around.  Atlanta and Philadelphia are both 1.5 games back;  the Braves rank second in the majors with 151 runs while the Phillies’ 16 quality starts is tied for sixth most in the bigs.  The Nats are 3-3 against the Braves and 2-4 against the Mets this year;  they play Philadelphia for the first time this Friday.

O’s Woes- the Orioles won a series for the first time in three weeks by taking two of three from Detroit.  Anything to stop the profuse bleeding.  There are still fundamental problems facing this fifth place club, from combustible starting pitching (their 5.34 ERA is third-worst in MLB) to underwhelming offense (26th in runs scored, 27th in batting average and 29th in on base percentage).  Will their west coast road trip represent a different direction or a disaster?

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer struck out 10 and helped end a Nats losing streak.  We’ll overlook how he’s no longer hitting over .300 for the moment.  Sean Doolittle tossed three scoreless innings.  Andrew Stevenson hit .500 with 5 RBI while Howie Kendrick batted .450 with 2 homers…justifying a move to the #4 spot in the order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Moises Sierra hit .154 with 6 strikeouts while Pedro Severino hit .167.  Stephen Strasburg allowed 5 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work.  Manager Davey Martinez’ strategy and tactics have drawn concern.

Game to Watch- Sunday Max Scherzer pitches against Philadelphia in the series finale against the guy many wanted the Nats to sign-Jake Arrieta (who happens to be 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA).  What could have been…

Game to Miss- Saturday Tanner Roark and Vince Velasquez is your mound matchup…while at Capital One Arena the Caps will be hosting Pittsburgh.  Virginia Gold Cup rages as well.  Oh, and there’s also that Kentucky Derby thing…

With the NFL Draft still a day away, my Burgundy & Gold pals are focused on the schedule that was released last week.  I was personally hoping they would release one week at a time each week following the Super Bowl…so right now we’d be breaking down the week 11 matchups.  Sadly that was not the case so instead we got all 17 weeks last Thursday…albeit in prime time.  It took me awhile to catch up with by Skinsanity Siblings, Postive Pete and Pessimist Paul.  They now provide their exclusive analysis:

September 9- at Arizona, 4:25 pm.  The Cardinals have a new coach in Steven Wilks and a new quarterback in Ryan Reynolds lookalike Sam Bradford–unless the brittle one gets banged up in the preseason.  Bring on the Alex Smith era–he’s going to carve up the Cardinals D while the Skins will sack Bradford into submission (Cardinals allowed the third-most sacks in the NFL last year).  Will we even see Smith in the preseason?  If there’s one thing the Skins do well, it’s rest starters in August–only to be smacked upside the head in September.

September 16- Indianapolis, 1 pm.  It’s a semi-homecoming for Colts coach Frank Reich, who played quarterback at the University of Maryland in the 1980’s.  It’s also the home opener for the Skins, so expect the usual traffic issues.    Will Andrew Luck’s arm still be attached to his body?  I hear he’s throwing NERF balls.  Thank you NFL for scheduling us to a 2-0 start!  AFC fans ALWAYS pack FedEx Field–because they know their team plays once every eight years in Landover and Skins fans care less about games with Miami or Jacksonville.  Home field disadvantage leads to one sorry afternoon.

September 23- Green Bay, 1 pm.  Aaron Rodgers comes to town as the Packers try to bounce back from a rare non-playoff season.  Which is the opposite of how things work in these parts.  Funny how the cheese-heads root for a swiss cheese defense. How do you like me now?  Oops, wrong quarterback.  A healthy Rodgers will be tough enough…but to finally face a team with their stuff together will certainly catch the Skins off-guard.  Bring on the bye week…

Monday October 8- at New Orleans, 8:15 pm.  The site of last year’s fourth quarter collapse welcomes the Skins back after a way-too-early bye week.  Doesn’t it feel like they take their hiatus in September every other year?  Chris Thompson stays healthy and finishes the job this time–and the Redskins enact revenge on an aging Drew Brees.  The defense isn’t much better than 2017–and the Skins have had performance issues on Monday night to begin with.  Add into the equation a stay in the Crescent City?

October 14- Carolina, 1 pm. Redskins battle playoff teams on back to back weeks after their bye.  We should know if this team is a contender or a pretender by now.  Cam Newton isn’t all that…and Charlotte is technically still Redskins Country.  So their fan base isn’t even there to travel well.  Pretender. Man, Cam’s tough to bring down…and not having Kendall Fuller has to haunt the Skins’ secondary sooner or later–right?  Pretender.

October 21- Dallas, 4:25 pm.  How is this game on CBS?  Not a fan of the NFL flipping games to other networks.  Dak Prescott looked so-so last year minus Ezekiel Elliott– I have a feeling he’s going to look pedestrian without Dez Bryant.  Somehow the Cowboys bring out the worst in the Skins-and it’ll happen again.

October 28- at NY Giants, 1 pm.  The Skins are back in their familiar slot–this being one of ten scheduled 1 pm games.  Just be thankful there isn’t a 9:30 London game this year.  The Fall of the House of Eli continues with the Skins taking advantage of a rebuilding franchise.  Somehow one feels that last year was an aberration–for the Giants being bad and the Redskins being good.

November 4- Atlanta, 1 pm.  The NFL is having the Burgundy & Gold blow through the NFC East in short succession with four games against that division over six weeks.  Matt Ryan can’t be efficient forever, right?  Shame the Skins can’t get a top-3 pick for a QB.  One doesn’t feel confident in a defense that played well in 2017–but didn’t make the plays when it mattered.

November 11- at Tampa Bay, 1pm.  Will the Buccaneers at least be wearing their creamsicle uniforms?   Nobody plays the ambiguous pirate card better.  The Redskins beat a bottom-feeder on their way to the postseason…you like that?!  Sorry again, wrong QB.  Last year the Skins went 2-6 on the road…and the Buccaneers are in bounce-back mode with a quarterback that’s tough to bring down.

November 18- Houston, 1pm.  The Texans were a quarterback away from being good last year…only to start Deshaun Watson.  And then once they found their QB of the future they lost him for the present to injury.  The Texans defense is a shell of its former self…and by now Alex Smith and the offense will be humming like nothing else.  For the third straight year the Skins have to play Sunday and Thursday on Thanksgiving week. The tight turnaround hurts a team both ways.

Thursday, November 22- at Dallas, 4:30 pm.  The Ghost of Clint Longley haunts the Redskins one holiday after Halloween.  And nothing good ever happens on November 22nd in Dallas.  If #2 overall pick RG3 can win in Arlington TX on Turkey Day, why not #1 overall selection Alex Smith?  A short prep week, bad sun through the Jerry World windows and the triumph of an uncluttered mind all give Skins fans indigestion.

Monday, December 3- at Philadelphia, 8:15 pm.  Skins play the defending Super Bowl champs twice in the last month of the season.  Couldn’t they have gotten one game in with the Eagles minus Carson Wentz?  Eleven days to prepare for the Eagles?  How can you not feel good?  The Skins had ten days to prepare for the Chargers last year–and got roasted on the road.

December 9- NY Giants, 1 pm.  The third straight NFC East game will no doubt have playoff implications, as the Redskins will either be winning their fifth straight to jump into contention…or be 5-6-1 and need a victory to stay on the precipice of elimination.  Have we already done the “Eli is old” thing?  I can’t wait to see who they take with the #2 pick in the draft…perhaps a quarterback that gets his first start in week 13?  Part of me fears they take Saquon Barkley–and he powers the Giants to the division title while becoming the headache to the Skins that Tiki Barber was (minus the bleep-eating grin).

December 16- at Jacksonville, 1 pm.  UH-OH!!! I command you to go on youtube.com and check out “Uh Oh- the Jacksonville Jaguars Super Bowl Song”. It’s a beaut.  What is it with the two-tone helmets?  The Jags can’t possibly be competitive consecutive years with that ham sandwich playing quarterback.  The Jaguars play December ball- good defense, solid special teams and minimal mistake-making offense…something foreign to the Skins.

December 22-23, at Tennessee, TBA.  Not just flexed from 1pm to 4pm or 8pm on Sunday—but flexed Saturday OR Sunday.  Can you believe the Titans fired coach Ken Whisenhunt after they went 9-7 and won a playoff game?  Wow- you only get fired as Skins coach if you go 4-12 (Zorn) or 3-13 (Shanahan).  Christmas comes early for the Burgundy & Gold as Alex Smith punches their playoff ticket with a win in the Music City.  Sour notes of the season continue as the hanging by a thread Skins are eliminated with another underwhelming loss.

December 30, Philadelphia 1 pm.  The season ends against the defending champs…I don’t know if you heard, but the Eagles ended a 57-year championship drought this past February.  Does this mean the Skins have to wait until 2049?  Okay, so Philly rolls to a second straight NFC East title.  Simply allows the Skins to have their way en route to locking up #1 wildcard berth.  If we can return Christmas presents the week after the holiday, what is the return policy on Alex Smith?  Another losing season ends in Landover.

 

UPDATED FROM LAST YEAR’S POST–

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Playoffs for the eleventh time this spring…and for the record the record is a broken one.  The Caps have prevailed just once over their former Patrick Division and current Metropolitan Division foes…as the two-decade Atlantic/Southeast separation did nothing to temper those flames.  Ten meetings with nine that resulted in heartbreak for DC:

1991-Patrick Division Finals.  The upstart Capitals were the defending division champs while the Penguins won the regular season title and were looking for their first-ever trip to the NHL’s final four.  The Caps took game on in the Steel city and had a chance to return home up two games to none.  The Penguins and Kevin Stevens (overtime goal in Game Two’s 7-6 heartbreaker) had other plans.  They’d then win the next three games by a combined 10-3 score and eliminate the Capitals.  By the way, the Penguins would go on to win their first Stanley Cup that year.

1992-Patrick Division Semifinals.  The defending champions lost coach Bob Johnson to brain cancer and brought in Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman.  The Penguins finished tied for third and lost three of the first four games in the first round.  Unfortunately the Captials blew a 3-1 series lead as Mario Lemieux tallied four goals and five assists in the last three games of the series (Penguins would light the lamp 18 times in that stretch). Another Cup for the Penguins…another offseason of discontent for the Capitals.

1994-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Yes, the oddly named divisions and conferences went the way of the dodo bird thanks to Commissioner Gary Bettman who somehow still is employed by the league.  The Caps drew the 7th seed while the Penguins won the Northeast Division…and just like 1991 the teams would split in Pittsburgh.  But then the Caps would hold the Pens to one goal in two games at Landover– both wins for the home team.  Kelly Miller would tally a goal and two assists in the Game Six series clincher.  Who cares if the Caps would lose in the next round to the Rangers?

1995-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. One year after proving the Penguins dominance was a fluke, the Caps take a 3-1 series lead before coughing up 14 goals over the last three games en route to another early summer.  How bad was this collapse?  Team mascot “Winger the Eagle” was not retained in the offseason.

1996-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Capitals light the lamp 11 times while taking a surprise 2-0 series lead before scoring six goals over the next four games…all losses. That includes a 4-overtime series defining defeat in Game Four.

2000-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The first playoff game at the MCI Center saw the Penguins prevail 7-0.  Not a misprint…Olaf Kolzig coughed up six goals before being lifted.  Due to scheduling conflicts, the next two games were in Pittsburgh and the Caps returned to DC down 3-0.  The game that should have been in DC…was lost in overtime. Just because.

2001-Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  Once again the Caps enter as division champs. Let the record show playing in the Southeast Division may not have prepared this team that well for the postseason.  Once again they squander home ice.  Only this time their season ends with an overtime loss in Pittsburgh.  Sound familiar?

2009-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The avidly anticipated meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby would add a different wrinkle to the rivalry.  Ovi tallied 14 points in the series while Sid the Kid led the Penguins with 13.  But it was on May 13 that the Caps’ luck ran out in a 6-2 blowout loss at Verizon Center.

2016-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Finally, the Caps would set things straight as the President’s Trophy-winning team that was a much more sound bunch than the high-wire act of Bruce Boudreau that provided thrills and chills, but also plenty of spills.  The overtime Game One win would set things in the right direction, correct?  No dice.  And the series would end in overtime on a Penguins goal–again.

2017-Eastern Conference Semifinals.  If it feels like you’ve been here before, it’s because you have.  Just like 2009 the Caps came in as Division champs and just like 2016 they were President’s Trophy winners.  A home ice loss began the fun as was the case in 2000…and an overtime win gave them hope that this was the year (2001, 2009, 2016) before the Caps rallied to force a game seven (2009).  Sadly, once again the series ended on home ice with a defeat (1992, 1996, 2000, 2009).  And once more the Penguins would go on to capture the Stanley Cup (1991-92, 2009, 2016).  Do we have to do this all over again…?