Can Caps Uncork A Run In NHL Playoffs?

It’s hard to be a Capitals fan.

To love Washington’s entry in the National Hockey League is to love a team of immense gifts — Alex Ovechkin is perhaps the greatest scorer in NHL history — and immense heartbreak.

Since Ovechkin was the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2005-06, the Capitals have won their division seven times and have been to the playoffs nine times. In that span they’ve never so much as reached a conference final. Three of those times, they’ve led the league in points and lost a Game 7 in the first or second round of the playoffs.

Moreover, after first making the playoffs in 1983, the Caps have missed the playoffs only seven times. In 27 postseason tournaments, Washington has reached exactly one Stanley Cup Final — getting swept by Detroit in 1998.

So, here they are again, in first place entering March. What reasons are there to think the Capitals will avoid a fourth straight second-round ouster?

Not many, it appears.

Deadline Doldrums

The Caps more or less stood pat at the trade deadline, giving up third- and fifth-round draft picks for a couple of players best described as “defensive depth.”

The moves were underwhelming, considering Washington’s woes on the back end this season. Among the eight teams who would be in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket as of March 1, the Caps’ save percentage of .908 ranked sixth, their goal differential average of .08 ranked seventh, and their shot differential average of -3.8 was dead last.

It hasn’t helped that first-string goalie Braden Holtby is trending in the wrong direction. He’s carrying a save percentage of .908 — well off his career mark of .920 — and he’s even dipped since the halfway point of the season, when he was at .917.

At least his backup, Philipp Grubauer, has been on a hot streak of late. After posting a first-half save percentage of .909, he’s up to .922 (better than his career number) and won his last four February starts while allowing one goal against 29 shots in two relief appearances for Holtby.

Ovechkin and the Offense

True, at age 32, Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s leading the league in goals — if he finishes the season in that spot, he’ll tie Bobby Hull’s record of topping the league in that category seven times.

25-year-old center Evgeny Kuznetsov has blossomed after starting the season playing beside Ovechkin on the top line.

T.J. Oshie, after scoring 33 goals in a contract year last season, had just 12 entering March. And Nicklas Backstrom, feeding Ovechkin since 2007, has seen his assists dip as his ice time with the Russian superstar has become less consistent.

Now What?

February was a strange month. First place in the Metropolitan Division was briefly ceded to Pittsburgh as the Penguins won six straight. But Pittsburgh lost its last two of the month and the Caps won two of their last three to enter March atop the heap, with Philadelphia sneaking ahead of the Penguins.

Despite their spot in the standings, expectations for the Capitals are low. A TSN midseason poll — which last year had 15 coaches picking them to reach the Finals — saw the Caps earn not so much as a single mention.

Maybe sneaking up on the competition is their best bet.

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online hockey shop offering authentic pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.

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Spring [Training] Is In The Air

While the weather in DC continues to be more “Winter Olympics in PyeongChang” than “opening day baseball at Nats Park,” the countdown is officially on and with just over 2 weeks left before the first regular season pitch is thrown, spring is definitely here and consequential baseball is right around the corner. This year looks to be a pivotal and historic year in our nation’s capital for baseball, with the 2018 All-Star game hosted at Nats Park, a World Series or bust roster, and potentially the final season of DC’s most iconic superstar over the past 5 years, Bryce Harper. There is no shortage of storylines for this team so I did what any reasonable local Nats fan turned beat writer/podcaster would do: I went to West Palm Beach to check out the team in person during spring training.

The pilgrimage to spring training is a rite of passage for any avid baseball fan. But this trip was extra special as I brought with me my 3 year old son, who celebrated his 4th birthday on the trip. Now there will be plenty of time to discuss batting orders and pitching rotations, which young CF should be playing over the other, and what to do with #34’s impending historic free agency and contract. But for now, I thought I would share some thoughts about the overall fan experience at Nationals Spring training complex in West Palm Beach.

The first thing that strikes you upon entering the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is the sheer beauty of the entire facility. From the larger than life “curly W” to the pristine practice fields and stadium, the whole thing looks completely brand new, which is how it should look being only 2 years old now. But it’s clear the Nationals (and Astros) spared no expense in making this a world class facility for their players and fans.

But let’s be honest: the most important thing for a fan’s experience at spring training is the access to the players. And once again, the Nats are second to none in this regard. The Nats have arranged their practice facilities perfectly so that players walk through rows of fans and are totally accessible. 90% of the players stopped on their way to practice to sign balls for the kids and genuinely seemed happy to do it.

And the way the practice fields are set up, you can catch batting practice on one field while watching the pitchers throw a bullpen session on the other at the same time. So it’s a fan’s dream. It’s quite clear the Nationals have prioritized the fan’s experience in everything they do, be it at the ballpark here in DC or at West Palm Beach, which is just further proof of what a top-flight organization we have here.

And of course, to top it off, we were able to catch 4 innings of the Nats take on the Mets, and more importantly, get our first glimpse of Stephen Strasburg and Noah Syndergaard. Strasburg struck out 5 through 3.1 innings and looked as dominant as he did all of last season, minus a few mistakes that allowed 2 ER. Syndergaard, to his credit, reminded everyone why he’s one of the best in the game, striking out 7 through 3.1 innings and showing off that nasty slider that produced groundball after groundball per usual I imagine we’ll see several of these pitching battles this season between these 2 clubs.

On the offensive side, the team continue to get power production from newly acquired 1B Matt Adams, who homered off of Jeurys Familia in a rough 5th inning for him. Victor Robles continues to produce at the plate as well, with 2 more RBIs, taking his total to 4 this spring. His offensive production, coupled with his flare for the dramatic in CF makes him a tough sit coming off the bench and as he gets better, he’ll push MAT at the CF position. Not a bad problem to have on March 13th.

While this whole trip was a first for me as it relates to spring training, this will definitely become a regular staple of my winter and can’t wait to bring the whole family back for an incredible experience. Kudos to the Nats organization and let’s get this season started!

Free Agency 2018 Day 1

Kirk Cousins is officially a member of the Minnesota Vikings (LP was proven right all along), Case Keenum to the Broncos, and Teddy Bridgewater to the Jets. Join LP and FP to recap day one of NFL Free Agency where we saw several Redskins leave for more $$$ elsewhere. Who are the winners and losers of Free Agency? Redskins bring in Paul Richardson to help the offensive passing attack lead by Alex Smith. We can now officially welcome Alex Smith to Washington DC. It’s time where we all root for Alex, the new quarterback here in DC. Oh yeah March Madness is about to start, less than 24 hours to join the DTC Bracket Challenge! Join us here:

Cousins to Cleveland Makes Too Much Sense to Ignore

FP and LP discussed NFL Free Agency but Joe had to get them on the record about a few things including why they think Kirk Cousins wouldn’t go to Cleveland. In this 30 minute podcast dedicated to Kirk Cousins FP, LP, and Joe jump back into the Cousins lottery and debate why the Browns would make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t winning 5 or 6 games in Cleveland be equal to making the playoffs for any other team? Wouldn’t spending the 1st and 4th pick on an offensive and defensive lineman plus resigning Isiah Crowell be enticing enough for free agents to consider the Browns as a team with true potential? The more Joe talked the more LP seemed to come around but FP was adamant; Cousins wants to win and win now…. Joe just isn’t convinced that this is his last big contract and predicted a 6 year, $200m contract with 3 years and $100 guaranteed as the kind of offer Cleveland may offer!

Wizards Win; Capitals Go West; MLS Replay is Horrible; Netflix Shows

The Wizards needed a win and they got it against the Heat! LP, FP, and Joe discuss the Wizards struggles over the past week while watching and discussing the Wizards vs Heat game in real time. Sessions is back, Wall is almost back, Morris is playing better, but Beal and Porter look tired and in need of rest heading down the stretch towards the playoffs. Join the boys as they discuss the big win for the Wizards and chat about instant replay in MLS soccer, the Capitals upcoming west coast trip, and what shows they are currently watching on Netflix/Hulu. This is a unique show recorded in real-time, don’t miss it!