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.

Photo Credit:

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!

What we’ve learned about the Wizards

The Washington Wizards played on Christmas day, on prime time television. Not only did the Wizards win but they knocked off the first place team in the east, the Boston Celtics. It was an impressive win, but it’s still just a 1 game win, which puts the Wizards at 19-15 and only the 6th spot in the east. Here are 3 things we’ve learned about the Wizards thus far.

The Wizards NEED John Wall. To no surprise the Wizards win and lose by the play of John Wall. John was recently sidelined with a knee injury in which he received PRP injections. The Wizards went 4-5 without John in the lineup. While yes, Thomas Satoransky played really well during that span, the team just isn’t the same. If this team is going to make any kind of January, February or March run the game has to be put on John’s shoulders. During the span of John’s injury, individual players still played well but there was just a missing piece and that of course was John.

The Wizards STILL play up and down to their competition. I feel like this point is made over and over again, season after season. Until this gets fixed this is the single most concerning part of this team. The Wizards came out today and played like a top seed team. Just 3 days ago this team got crushed by the Nets. A Nets team without Jeremy Lin, D’Angelo Russell and their newly acquired center Jahlil Okafor. The Nets are 12-20 and are not very good, yet their kicked Washington’s butt. I don’t know what it is with this team but they really play down to their competition. There is just no excuse for getting beat by many of these teams that are beating them. Defense is the first thing that comes to mind in these games, then it comes down to execution. The Wizards need to be laser focused now that January is right around the corner and they need to dominate the teams they should dominate or else it’s going to be a long end to the season.

The DC to DC crave should just stop. Demarcus Cousins is a talented player, he may be a top tier player. I don’t see how it would work with (this) Cousins in DC. Cousins is taking on average 19 shots per 36 minutes, where are these shots going to come from in DC? Are you going to ask John, Brad, or Otto to shoot less so Cousins can get his touches? What’s the price you would have to pay for Cousins? I don’t see a way the Wizards can make this trade happen without giving up a key piece such as Otto or Oubre, not to mention a Center, which likely won’t be Mahinmi. The price is too steep for a rest of the season guarantee for someone who consistently hasn’t been on a winning team and who would take shots away from our home grown stars. Not to mention March (Marcin Gortat) is quietly having a decent year. Yes, he gets slammed by fans on twitter but there is something to be said about his chemistry with John Wall in the pick-n-roll/pick-n-pop. It will be interesting to see if Ernie Grunfeld makes a move at the trade deadline but unless it’s going to put the Wizards at the top seed THIS year, then I am out on the move.

Yes, the Wizards are having a mediocre year thus far, but yes, they can still make a deep run. The starting 5 is playing good to great and the bench can finally score and hold their own. The defensive game needs to step up, and John Brad and Otto need to all play like all-stars night in and night out. Let’s go Wiz! #DCFamily

Did Kirk just play his last Redskins home game?

It’s Christmas Eve and all we Redskins fans want is a Kirk Cousins long-term deal. However, it’s very unlikely. So much so that almost everyone, media and fans, in DC feels that the LTD ship has sailed. Let’s take a step back, remove our hardcore Redskins fan hats and take an analytical look at the situation.


First, let’s take a look at all the tag options:

Exclusive Franchise Tag – This tag option is the same tag options the Redskins used on Kirk cousins the past 2 years, and is essentially a 1 year lease agreement again. Which would cost the Redskins 34 million for 1 year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag – This tag option is usually a lower cap hit but it allows the player to go out and negotiate with other teams. If an agreement is reached with another team, the gaining team has to provide compensation of a minimum of 2 first round picks to the losing team. This would be an option for the Redskins however there is a rule in the CBA that says a player franchised 3 times is unable to negotiate with any team other than the team who has franchised them. So this ultimately throws this option out the window.

Transition Tag – This tag option allows Kirk to talk to other teams and come to an agreement. If/when an agreement is made with another team, the Redskins have 7 days to match the offer. If no offer is matched the Redskins have the rights to negotiate compensation with the gaining team. If no other teams make offers or Kirk decides not to negotiate then the Redskins would be an another 1 year lease but at 28 million.

Kirk has maintained that he wants market value for this contract. There is only 1 way to know what the market is, that is to hit the market. The only option of the tags that allows Kirk to hit the market is the transition tag. The problem with this? A team can front load a contract with say 50+ million in 2018 where the Redskins will have no chance of matching. Let’s take a look at NFL teams who have more projected cap space than the Redskins:

Team Projected 2018 Cap Space
49ers $116,114,127
Browns $111,719,592
Colts $84,467,477
Jets $80,931,976
Buccaneers $66,120,552
Vikings $57,594,809
Titans $54,489,041
Texans $54,312,683
Lions $54,268,605
Redskins $54,031,714

One thing to note is there are certainly teams who would be interested in Kirk who have less cap space than the Redskins. I’ve left these teams off because if they do hand Kirk an offer sheet it’s less likely that it’s some massive front loaded contract. In that case it would be ideal because then the Redskins have a reasonable market price contract they can choose to match.

Of this list, let’s throw out the following teams just because they have a QB and probably wouldn’t be interested in paying an arm and a leg for Cousins: Colts, Bucs, Vikings, Titans, Texans, and the Lions.

That leaves the 49ers, Browns and the Jets that could out bid the Redskins in a Transition Tag bidding war. If you noticed I left the 49ers in the running just because of the unknown, however I think this is very unlikely and would be absolutely stupid to trade for Jimmy G., start him for 5 games. then decide to let him go. That really leaves the Browns and the Jets as the teams who have more cap space and who need a quarterback in 2018. I’ll take my chances that Kirk would rather stay in DC.

There should be no other option than a transition tag. A one year lease at any price to me is considered a failure. I think we all have Redskins contract fatigue and the goal for this offseason should be long-term deal or no deal at all and move on. The transition tag allows Kirk to test the market, allows the Redskins to decide if they want to match market price, and ultimately should end this one way or another.

Update: After the Jameis Winston tirade during today’s game, the Bucs may be in on a new QB. A team to watch as it will largely depend on who comes in at coach.


Caps Heating Up Snowy D.C.

As the weather begins to change and temperatures are dropping in the nation’s capital, the city’s hockey team is beginning to heat up. With a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Capitals won for the fourth straight game. The win moves Washington (18-11-1) into a first-place tie with Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. The victory also moves the Capitals past their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are one of six teams in the division with 32 or more points.

Screenshot 2017-12-09 at 20.10.18.png

The Capitals have won eight of 10 games since they embarked on a short two-game road trip to Nashville and Colorado. One of the big reasons why is the play of goalie Braden Holtby. The seven-year NHL veteran stopped 27 shots on Friday night against the Rangers to give him 16 wins for the season. That ties him for second among all NHL goaltenders.

Aside from Holtby who gives the Capitals a chance every night, the play of star Alex Ovechkin has been impressive thus far this season. The perennial All-Star continues to lead the NHL in goals with 21 and has a total of 33 points to lead the Capitals. Ovechkin is the heart and soul of the Capitals, who will go for five in a row on Monday night when they take on the New York Islanders.

Ovechkin and Holtby have received plenty of help from C Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is second on the team with 31 points. In Friday’s win, Matt Niskanen scored his first goal of the season, the game-winner with less than four minutes to play.

“Hockey’s a lot more fun when you’re playing well, playing hard for each other like we are right now,” said Niskanen, a 10-year veteran who has been in Washington for four seasons now.

Niskanen’s goal was a big one coming with 3:22 to play after the Rangers had tied the score at 2-2. There are six teams in the Metropolitan Division that are separated by a mere five points. A regulation win was needed to push the Capitals further up in the standings. Washington coach Barry Trotz is not concerned where his team is in the standings just yet.

“I’m not getting too excited about where we are,” Trotz said. “This whole Metro division is a monster. We’re going to have to deal with it all year.”

Another plus for the Caps has been playing at home. The four straight wins all came in the confines of the Capital One Arena. Since Nov. 2, Washington is 10-2 at home and the team has won 13 of its past 18 games. Only five of those games have been on the road and the Capitals lost three of them.

Washington is going to have win on the road if they are serious about continuing their success. The Capitals have 10 games remaining in December – beginning with the Islanders on Monday – and six of those are on the road. The Caps will face nine different opponents – they play Boston twice – and just one can equal Washington’s 37 points. That is the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

The Caps continue to start fast. For the fifth game in a row, Washington scored first. Jay Beagle scored just 14 seconds into the win over the Rangers. The Capitals are ninth in the league in scoring averaging 3.1 goals per game. The power play is eighth (21.2 percent). Washington won the last two games without RW T.J. Oshie who is third on the team in scoring with 23 points (13 goals).