Archives for posts with tag: Capitals

Beware the Bad Bullpen. Shaky setup men and closers in crisis are the perfect way to undo five-plus solid innings of work from your rotation.  Eight games into the season, the Nats bullpen ranks last in the majors with an ERA of 10.80.  While last week one was reminded of the 2018 season’s sloppy baserunning and bad defense, this week one recalls how bad the bullpen was during the first half of the 2017 season.  And this is April- with multiple off-days early in the season.  Can this bullpen get itself together before it’s too late?

Dissecting the Division-  Philadelphia leads the New York Mets by one half game after two weeks while Atlanta is a game and a half game back.  The Nats at 4-4 are two full games out of first…with three more games against the first place Phils on tap this week.

All About Bryce- Harper came home Tuesday and went 3 for 5 with a homer in his return to DC.  The former face of the franchise is hitting .385 with 3 homers and 5 RBI.  Along with leftovers from Filomena.

O’s Woes- It didn’t take long for the Orioles to return to form after a 4-1 start.  Four straight losses drops the team back under .500, and Chris Davis wishes he was doing that well.  The slugger is currently 0-for-23 this year, and 0-for-44 dating back to last fall.  At least he’s not batting leadoff like he was last April.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .474 with 4 homers and 7 RBI, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in 5 runs.  Stephen Strasburg tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to start their series against the Mets, Sean Doolittle threw 2.2 scoreless frames over three outings and Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts over 11.1 innings.  Max also gave himself a lead for the first time all year by driving in a run Saturday.

Last Week’s Humbled- Trevor Rosenthal remains in the land of infinity, allowing 2 more earned runs while walking 3 more over two games.  Joe Ross in his 2019 debut allowed a 3-run homer while getting one out Sunday.  For those doing the math, that equates to an earned run average of 81.00.  Tony Sipp’s ERA for the week was a robust 27.00, while Matt Grace and Wander Suero also have double-digit ERA’s.  At the plate, Victor Robles and Brian Dozier are both hitting .133 to start the season.  While neither is expected to carry this team offensively, the loss of Trea Turner to a broken finger for the next 4-8 weeks makes every out sting a little more.

Game to Watch- Tuesday the Nats face Philadelphia with Stephen Strasburg starting against the Phillies Aaron Nola, who’s trying to figure out if he’s more like the 17-win pitcher of 2018 or the guy who has a 7.00 ERA to start 2019.  Strasburg followed up a shaky first outing with a strong one.  Let’s see how he fares while facing Harper for the first time.

Game to Miss- Saturday the Nats play Pittsburgh at 4:05…just as the Capitals are hosting Carolina in Game Two of their first round playoff series.  It’s tough to skip a Scherzer start, but this is the exception that proves the rule. Rock the Red!

The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions.  It’s been well over a week and the contact high from that sentence still holds.  The Caps are NHL champs for the first time in franchise history…and the DC metro area has its first major pro sports titlist (sorry, DC United and Washington Kastles) since 1992 when the Redskins ruled the roost.  What a journey and what a destination.

Alex Ovechkin can rest knowing he won’t have an asterisk on his career;  the Stanley Cup winning captain leaves the land of Marcel Dionnes and Gilbert Perraults behind.  Unlike a Ray Bourque, Ovechkin didn’t have to benefit from a late-career trade to piggyback another team’s Cup run.  The face of the franchise is a champion without spending another minute in another club’s home dressing room.  Ovechkin got to enjoy the Cup with his long-time teammate Nicklas Backstrom and now can become a rare cradle-to-grave title-winning Washington sports icon.

Barry Trotz can enjoy the professional achievement of winning a Cup after never having coached a game past the second round before this spring.  He can enjoy reaching the peak of his profession and the validation that the system he built in DC was title-worthy after all.  Trotz will also enter the summer knowing that just about every one of his moves (sitting Holtby after a disastrous February, moving Ovechkin and Backstrom to different lines, maximizing Wilson and Eller) this winter paid off in the long run.  He can also appreciate the fact that his contract with the team expired, and he’s going to be paid in DC or elsewhere at a rate commensurate with having led a franchise to their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Brian MacLellan’s Stanley Cup ring won as a player with Calgary finally has a buddy.  The General Manager made multiple moves to pump up a roster that was high on upside but didn’t have a ton of depth and was a disaster on the blue line when he took over.  The midseason trade for Michal Kempny was everything the move for Kevin Shattenkirk last year wasn’t–and worked for precisely that reason.  Seemingly minor pickups like Devante Smith-Pelly became major in the postseason.  Yes, decisions need to be made regarding John Carlson’s expiring deal and next year’s roster will look different–but for at least one day MacLellan can rest easy knowing he’s achieved what he set out to accomplish.  Even if it was year three of the “two year window”.

As for the team, from TJ Oshie to Nathan Walker, from Dmitri Orlov to Christian Djoos, they’re champs.  Pure and simple.  Unlike if the Redskins or Wizards won it all, there’s no precedent.  There are even those who if the Nats win the World Series will cite the 1924 Senators or how the Orioles were the region’s team for three decades.  But this is the first ever title for a franchise that entered the league under sorry circumstances (8-67-5 the byproduct of the slimmest expansion pickings ever)…only to be locked into the toughest division in an era when that was the only path to a title.  Gone are nightmares of Easter Morning.  Gone is the disappointment of coming up short to the Penguins.  This Stanley Cup was also for the Peter Bondras and Mike Gartners and Yvon Labres…players who skated against the windmills of the Patrick Division.  This Cup belongs to the fans who made the trek to the Cap Centre and suffered through the teal eagle sweaters when the team finally moved to DC.  This title belongs to an area that not only was without a champ in a major pro sport since 1992, but had also not played for a title in 20 years (actually it had been 20 years since a DC major pro team had played for the right to play for a championship).

Before the Philadelphia Flyers played Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final in 1974, coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room blackboard:  “Win today and we walk together forever.”  They went out and beat Boston to capture the franchise’s first of two Stanley Cups.  The Washington Capitals’ road has been long and winding with more than a few fits and starts, but for one brief shining moment they are the best team in hockey.  And for the rest of time this team will walk-and skate-together forever.

 

 

Yes, the Nationals are in the midst of the early middle part of their season (not to be confused with the middle early part of their year).  But this week, month, season and year have been swiped away by the Washington Capitals and their first ever NHL championship.  Last Thursday, the Caps captured the Stanley Cup by rallying on the road at Vegas.  And downtown Washington, DC came alive in an incredible melting pot of fans from all over the metropolitan area.  So while the Nats make their charge towards a potential fifth postseason in seven years, let’s marvel at the force of nature that was the Caps since April 12.  And sit back as these guys celebrate.  A championship in the major professional sports (sorry Kastles and United) hasn’t happened in DC since 1992, when the Redskins were the only local pro team to actually play its games in the District.  Amazing how things change as the ‘Skins are the ones who are now outside city limits.  And this is the FIRST in franchise history.  Before Philadelphia won the 1974 Stanley Cup, Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room chalkboard: “Win today and we walk together forever.”  Whatever happens this summer with player exits or next season as the Caps mount a title defense, this team will walk together forever.  So let’s celebrate was one magical spring.  Rock the Red…

Max Factor- according to ESPN.COM, the next home start for Max Scherzer falls on Thursday, June 21 against the Orioles. Plan accordingly.

You Can’t Spell Revolving Door with out “DL”- the Nats could be getting help at the plate with Daniel Murphy potentially returning this week as the DH at the New York Yankees.  Adam Eaton returned to the field Saturday and scored a pair of runs while batting 1-for-4.  But the DL taketh just as it giveth away, as Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler join the wounded.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats and Atlanta are tied after the Braves dropped four of six on their west coast swing.  Just like the Mets plateaued and then cratered could we be seeing Atlanta ebb a little?  It’s unlikely as the Braves’ next 14 games are coming against clubs with losing records.  Philadelphia has lost seven of nine to slide three games off the pace…and 15 of their next 18 games are against foes with winning marks.  The Mets and Marlins are a combined 4-13 this month to bring up the rear.

O’s Woes- pick your poison in the sweep at Toronto. Would you rather lose in extra innings on a bases loaded walk after stranding 13 on base like the Birds did Saturday?  Or get the drama out of the way early in a 13-3 loss Sunday when Alex Cobb coughed up nine runs and left in the fourth inning?  The O’s are a big league worst 19-45…and need to go 44-54 (.449 winning percentage for a team that’s winning 29.7% of the time so far this year) to avoid the dreaded 100-loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon celebrated his birthday in style Wednesday by going 4-5 with 3 RBI.  Juan Soto continues to mandate playing time by going .333 with five runs scored.  Max Scherzer went 1-1 while striking out 22 and walking three.  Tanner Roark tossed a solid outing. Sean Doolittle notched two saves in two opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler both land on the disabled list after short outings.  Pedro Severino went 0-for-12 at the plate.  Bryce Harper hit .190 with one walk and 7 strikeouts.  Trea Turner hit 4 for 21 with the bulk of his at-bats near or at the top of the order.

Game to Watch- We didn’t get any resolution in last month’s DC series with the New York Yankees, so here’s hoping there aren’t any rainouts this week.  Tuesday Tanner Roark is coming off of a solid outing and is actually better on the road (3.29 ERA) than at home (3.86) this year.  Ageless C.C. Sabathia might not be on pace to equal last year’s 14 wins, but has an ERA lower than any he’s finished with since 2012.

Game to Miss- Sunday Roark pitches in Toronto as the Nats wrap up their roadtrip.  But golf’s US Open takes center stage.  Sorry, Tanner.

Hey- it’s finally good to get some games in after the Nationals played just three the week before thanks to the schedule and rainouts.  It’s also nice for the Nats to play well–and they won five of six to inch closer to the top of the NL East standings (pesky Atlanta continues to win–what gives?).  On Memorial Day the Nats may be in third place but are only one game behind the Braves.  Buckle up for a scintillating summer.

Dissecting the Division- the Braves (30-21) lost consecutive series to Philadelphia and Boston, but looking closer one sees they’ve played very well against the NL East (20-11).  The Phillies are a half game off the lead and one half game better than the Nats–thanks in part to their 8-4 mark in one-run games and 4-1 record in extra-inning affairs.  The Mets are 8-15 this month and are treading water at the .500 mark.  The Marlins are an embarassment and Derek Jeter should be ashamed of himself.

Wildcard Worries- the Nats may currently hold the second wildcard spot, but there is a lot more competition in the NL amongst non-division winners.  Seven clubs at .500 or better competing for two spots…as opposed to just four in the AL.  We’re only a third of the way through the season, but still…

O’s Woes- after splitting a four-game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Birds dropped two of three to Tampa Bay.  They’re on a pace to lose 110 games and we’re still a month away from wondering on a daily basis if Manny Machado and Adam Jones will get moved for prospects.  Manager Buck Showalter is also wearing a Capitals jersey and “rocking the Red”.  Hey–Buck…the team in the Stanley Cup Final, while appreciative, might not need the mojo of a team with a .321 winning percentage.  Watch them take two of three from the Nats this week.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds hit .500 with three home runs.  Anthony Rendon batted .385.  Sean Doolittle notched a win and two saves in relief.  But the week belonged to 19-year old prime prospect Juan Soto, who homered in his Major League Debut on Monday before drawing three walks on Tuesday (his ninth inning leadoff BB led to the game-winning run).  It’s just one week, but wow.

Last Week’s Humbled- Max Scherzer had a rare rough outing, allowing four runs over six innings.  Baseball Karma gave him the win, though, perhaps to make up for the no-decision he was tagged with in his previous start when he struck out 13.  Scherzer is now 8-1 with an ERA of 2.13 and an NL-best 108 strikeouts.  How is this humbling? “You use that word–perhaps it does not mean what you think it does…”

Game to Watch- the Nationals visit Atlanta this upcoming weekend for four games in a series that could be seismic to the standings.  Friday Stephen Strasburg (6-4, 3.13 ERA) pitches against Mark Foltynewicz (4-3, 2.55).  Bring it on…

Game to Miss- Apologies to Max Scherzer. Because I know he’s going to do something awesome in the series finale against the Orioles.  But the Capitals are playing Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vegas…and “The Americans” wraps up its six-year journey of bad wigs, dead drops gone wrong and 80’s fashion.

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.

 

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…?

 

Despite taking two of three from the NL East-leading New York Mets, the Nats this week find themselves far from DC–and far from where they want to be in the standings.  After dropping two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a duel of defending division champs that was also a showdown of sub-.500 squads, the Nats are right where they were last week.  Two games under the break-even mark isn’t ideal in April…and only becomes more of a concern the longer this team plays tag with fourth place in the division.  Three guys are hitting .300 or better on this team:  two are pitchers and the third is a guy sitting on the disabled list (Adam Eaton).  Actually AJ Cole has been designated for assignment so Max Scherzer is the only player on the active roster hitting better than even .275.  Not awesome.

Rendon’s Rendevous with the Destiny- Anthony Rendon was finally placed on the DL Sunday.  He’s suffered from an injured toe that has kept him on the shelf since Friday the 13th.  He can only be disabled for three days prior to Sunday, so the Nats bats–already having issues–were further hamstrung for over a week.  Somewhere between the player, trainer, manager and general manager something slipped through the cracks and the underperforming lineup had to play shorthanded against a division leader and defending division champ.  Not awesome.

Dissecting the Division- the Mets continue to lead the NL East at 14-6…but they’ve lost 4 of 6.  Philadelphia is the new hot team with 4 straight wins and a 14-7 mark.  They’re getting it done with pitching:  the Phillies’ rotation ranks 5th in quality starts and 4th in team ERA.  Atlanta (12-8) won series against both clubs last week…and the Braves boast a potent offense that owns the 3rd best batting average in the bigs.  Miami?  The Marlins are 5-16 and are even worse than their record would lead you to believe.  I was amused that Derek Jeter opted not to travel with the team to Yankee Stadium, and assume that he forfeited his salary for those three days.

O’s Woes- as bad as things might be for the Nats, they aren’t their neighbors north on I-95 who are going south in the direction of 67-95.  The Birds have combined ineffective offense (last in the majors in hitting and 23rd in runs scored) with porous pitching (26th in ERA and last in opponent’s batting average).  They’ve won just twice since taking three of four from the New York Yankees in a series that seems a year ago.  Enjoy summer, gang.

Last Week’s Heroes- Michael A. Taylor hit .316 with a homer while Ryan Zimmerman went yard twice and drove in six.  Max Scherzer prevailed in his mound matchup with Clayton Kershaw, striking out 9 over 6 innings in a Nats’ lone LA win…and Tanner Roark scattered 2 hits over 7 innings in his start.  Neither Brandon Kintzler (4 scoreless innings over 4 appearances) nor Sean Doolittle (2 saves) allowed a run in relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- AJ Cole and Ryan Madson both posted ERA’s of 20.25…and while Madson will be a part of the bullpen plan this year, Cole could be done as a National.  The 2010 fourth round pick went 5-8 in 26 career appearances (19 starts) while posting an ERA of 5.32 since making his big-league debut in 2015.  Howie Kendrick hit .154 with 1 walk and 9 strikeouts–not ideal when you’re batting second.  The catching duo of Matt Wieters and Pedro Severino combined to hit 4 for 22 with 8 strikeouts.  Not ideal if you’re hitting anywhere in the lineup.

Game to Watch- Wednesday afternoon Max Scherzer pitches against Jeff Samardzija in the series finale with the Giants.  Max is pretty much must-watch every time he goes to the mound, and Samardzija tossed 5 shutout innings in his 2018 debut against the Angels.  It’s also a 3:45 start so one can get this game out of the way before the Wizards take on Toronto (or heaven forbid, the Caps clash with Columbus in a Game 7).

Game to Miss- Tuesday night the Nats pitch Tanner Roark against the Giants’ Ty Blach…who has been just that this month with 3 losses in 4 outings and ERA over 5 in April.  Plus, if there’s a Game 7 I’m getting to bed early the night before.

 

 

The Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Playoffs for the tenth time starting Thursday night…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.  Nine meetings with eight 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 one 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 the 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.

Break up the Nationals!  Seven straight wins and a 6-0 start to their road trip give Dusty Baker’s team the best record in the big leagues.  And this is happening in the middle of a bullpen shuffle and a three-city, ten game journey.  While 18 games represents just one-ninth of the schedule, sweeping the Mets at Citi Field is a nice early statement.

Starting with the Closer/Closers- looks like the Blake Treinen era was brief:  last week Manager Dusty Baker announced that Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley would share the ninth-inning role.  While the duo answered the challenge over the weekend at the Mets, it’s a long way from late July and the trading deadline.  One thinks that once again the Nats will be in the market for a closer.

Dissecting the Division- the sweep puts the Nats three games in front of the pack…with Miami (10-8, 3 games back) and Philadelphia (9-9, 4 off the pace) giving chase.  The Mets aren’t just 8-11 but are -3 in run differential and 4-8 at home.  Granted, it’s only April.

Meanwhile in the Other East- the Orioles took two of three from Boston (despite some shenanigans) to stay atop the AL Quintet…with Trey Mancini making his case to stay and play every day.  The 25-year old leads the team in homers and RBI….while playing perfect defense in the field.  Before we begin a season-long tango with the Orioles and Red Sox, we have to notice the New York Yankees.  Their +30 run differential just happens to be the best in the major leagues and maybe this team is closer than a year away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .550 with 10 runs scored while notching 3 homers and 7 RBI en route to taking NL Player of the Week honors.  He’s off to a better start than he was last April when he was the player of the month (when do they visit the Cubs?).   Ryan Zimmerman hit .500 with 10 RBI.  Last year the veteran had just one month where he drove in more than 12.  Max Scherzer tallied 16 strikeouts while going 2-0 and posting a 1.80 ERA.  Koda Glover saved two games over the weekend.

Last Week’s Humbled- Michael A. Taylor’s opportunities are few and far between…but to go 1-for-10 with four strikeouts over five games is not going to inspire confidence in the Nats’ brain trust.  Adam Eaton hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .321 isn’t an issue- it’s doing that from the leadoff spot.  And after dealing with the spotlight of being the team’s closer, Blake Treinen meets a different spotlight as the ex-closer.

Game to Watch- Same teams, different weekend.  After sweeping the Mets at Citi Field, the Nats try to push their NL East rivals further back in the standings.  Max Scherzer allowed a pair of home runs in his most recent start while Jacob deGrom struck out ten Nationals the day before.  They’ll meet up this Friday at Nationals Park.  Break out the Rick Astley fan safety video.

Game to Miss- With Scherzer pitching Friday and Stephen Strasburg (after paternity leave) slated to start Sunday, Joe Ross matches up with Zack Wheeler and his 5.40 ERA.  Meanwhile, a certain hockey team in the district will be hosting a certain nemesis that night.  While Game One is Thursday, I want to see Gio Gonzalez and his 1.35 ERA at Coors Field in the late-afternoon air.  Plus, the Caps are 8-1 in Game Ones against Pittsburgh while just 3-6 in Game Twos against the Penguins.  Rock the Red…

 

 

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM in 2016…and re-dressed with last year’s Second Round Stumble.  Apologies to the 1986 Caps Collapse to a sub-500 Rangers team.

It happens every spring… beauty and awe before they’re gone all of a sudden.  The Cherry Blossom season more often than not mirrors the Caps postseason:  heavy anticipation, attention-grabbing quick bloom,  and then after one or two rains it’s all gone.

The Capitals have enjoyed a checkered postseason in their history…unfortunately getting double-jumped by Pittsburgh, the Islanders and Rangers on multiple occasions while having to hear the refrain “King Me” a lot more than they’d prefer.  But in the middle of the wreckage of many a spring on ice they have also had their moments–it’s just tough to locate the highlights amongst the heartbreak.  Two provide a nice bookend to get us started…

Highlight Honorable Mention: 1983.  In Bryan Murray’s first full season as head coach, the previously hapless Caps (8-67-5 in their first year…and it took six seasons to post a winning percentage above .400) actually make the playoffs and lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.  Just like being nominated for best documentary, it was simply an honor to be the first speedbump that season for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith & company.

Heartbreak Honorable Mention: 2015.  Losing to the Rangers is never fun…and blowing a 3 games to 1 series lead is even more painful.  Thank you, Curtis Glencross for your contribution to Caps Collapse History.  Still, they bounced the Islanders (although losing game 6 meant they couldn’t close out Nassau Coliseum).  They won a game the same night the Wizards and Nats prevailed…and it was coach Barry Trotz’s first season.  Of course, the key to getting over heartbreak is rationalization.

Highlight #5: 1994.  Sadly, it’s a little bit of a challenge to find roses amongst the playoff thorns for this franchise.  But in 1994 they bounced recent nemesis Pittsburgh (who beat the Caps en route to Stanley Cups in 1991 & 92) in six games…outscoring the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr from the get-go.  Don Beaupre stood on his head for four games…while Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka led a balanced attack that more than took advantage of their opportunities.  The Caps won the series clincher 6-3 and had other games where they lit the lamp 4 and 5 times.  What happened to that NHL?

Heartbreak #5: 1989.  Finally, a Patrick Division regular season championship.  This would be the team that would finally emerge from the early rounds…only to learn that in the divisional playoff format turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s often expected.  The Caps got bounced by an aging Philadelphia team in six games.  These weren’t the Broad Street Bullies…or even the Cup runners-up from 1987.  How bad were these Flyers?  Their 80 points was the team’s fewest since 1972 and they’d go on to miss the playoffs the next five seasons.  Which brings to mind the question about banner protocol.  Do you have to return the regular season championship banner if you lose in the first round?

Highlight #4: 1984. You never forget your first series win.  Especially when it’s a sweep.  Against the team less than 3 hours up I-95.  And especially when it ends the career of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.  Long before he was ruining the Flyers on a short-term (as General Manager) and long-range (as Senior VP) basis, Clarke was one of the scrappiest (some will say dirtiest) players in the league.  He was the face of the franchise in Philadelphia…and to sweep him into retirement by beating the Flyers in the Spectrum was the extra onions on the cheesesteak.  Yes, they lost to the Islanders in the next round.  But still…

Heartbreak #4: 2009.  After winning the Southeast Division (let the record show that it was called the SouthLEAST for much of its existence), the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 1 before taking games five, six and seven (so it does happen the other way sometimes!).  A thrilling conference semifinal showdown against Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby brought three overtime affairs and a 3-3 series tie heading into a Game Seven at Verizon Center.  Sadly, this finish would be more floundering than fantastic and the Penguins won a 6-2 clincher that wasn’t as close as the score looked.  That Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup would be little consolation this time.

Highlight #3: 2012.  A team in turmoil fires its coach early in the season and brings in a legend (Dale Hunter) to put the house in order.  After finishing two games over .500…the grittier version went into Boston and won a game seven (thank you Joel Ward!) before taking the #1 team in the conference (Rangers) to seven games in the next round.  The foundation was set.  And Coach Dale Hunter would be back to take this franchise to the next level.  Only he didn’t…choosing to return to his role as president and owner of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.  The team would stagger and then crumble under Adam Oates.  But we’ll always have that spring…

Heartbreak #3: 2016.  Last year’s Second Round loss in six games to Pittsburgh offered up a little of everything Caps fans have grown to expect.  Losing to Pittsburgh on the Penguins’ path to another Stanley Cup?  Check.   A President’s Trophy banner that gets to hang from the rafters, highlighting not the great 82-game marathon won but reflecting on the 6-game sprint lost?  Check. A guy who scored just nine regular season goals ending your postseason in overtime? Check.  What separates this from the 2009 defeat was that team’s best days were seemingly ahead of it (as evidenced by the 2010 President’s Trophy)…while the 2016 club can definitely see the day when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom skate for the final time.  From here on out every spring stumble carries extra weight.

Highlight #2: 1990.  An underwhelming regular season saw the Caps finish with a losing record for the first time in eight years.  Naturally there was a midseason coaching change.  Oddly enough, coach Bryan Murray was replaced by his brother Terry.  Thankfully Bryan didn’t go all Fredo (he remains smart and deserves respect).  Despite an 18-14-2 finish under Murray 2.0, little was expected.  And with low expectations comes a surprising first round triumph over New Jersey.  Followed by shocking the first place Rangers in five games.  Even after getting swept by a better Boston team in the Cup Semis, the team’s first and only Patrick Division banner remains a high point during their stay in Landover.

Heartbreak #2: 1987.  Again, sometimes its how the movie ends that enhances everything before it.  The seven-game showdown with the Islanders was one for the ages.  Another 3 games to 1 lead with a game five at home.  Haven’t we written this script before?  Yes…but only this time the game seven went down to the wire and beyond.  A late one-goal lead disappeared with 5 minutes left in regulation.  Four overtimes later Pat LaFontaine ends the Capitals’ season…and a game that began at 7 p.m. concludes at 1:58 a.m..   Easter morning was a groggy one for many families in the area.

Highlight #1: 1998.  After finishing third in their division, the Caps rode hot goaltender Olaf Kolzig to the finals for the first time in franchise history.  Never mind that they got swept by Detroit.  And never mind that they took advantage of a busted bracket (upsets of Pittsburgh and New Jersey meant they would have better records than each of their playoff foes in the first three rounds).  Even the teal eagle jerseys couldn’t ruin this run.

Heartbreak #1:  2010.  After winning the President’s Trophy, the high-flying offensive juggernaut looked as though it was ready to finally crown Alex Ovechkin (career high 59 assists), Nicklas Backstrom (career highs in goals and assists) and Mike Green (before the injuries).  After taking a 3-1 first round series lead over Montreal (and posting 19 goals)…they somehow forgot the league changed the format to best-of-seven back in the 1980’s.  Yes, the Canadiens Jaroslav Halak somehow conjured up the spirits of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy to limit the #1 offense in the league to 1 goal in games 5, 6 and 7.  But to lose in the first round after 82 games of positive reinforcement?  The Bruce Boudreau regime would never be the same–making its eventual departure less than 20 months later.