The Washington no-conference title/LCS (yes, including the Capitals and Nationals) streak is bonkers

ICYMI: The Washington Nationals season ended on Thursday with another choke job, blowing an early three-run lead to fall to the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLDS. Another year, another Washington team coming up short.

Among the 4 Washington teams (Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, Redskins), none have reached the final four (conference final/LCS) since the Adam Oates/Peter Bondra/Olaf Kolzig Caps reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, where they lost to the Red Wings.

NBC Sports Washington went through what has been nearly two full decades of futility. Here are some highlights:

*Only city with three or more pro sports teams to not reach final four of league playoffs since 2000.

*16 straight losses in elimination games, where said Washington team would’ve advanced with a victory.

*Among the 13 cities with four teams, every team but Washington has made at least five appearances in a league final four.

It’s surprising but it’s not when you think about it. Yes, the Ovechkin Capitals inability to advance past the Second Round is well-documented, as is the Nationals “if they don’t underperform in the regular, just wait until October” thing they’ve had going on during the Bryce Harper era that stretches back to 2012. But if I wasn’t entrenched in that baseball/hockey world, where maybe my eyes are more untrained, I’d say ‘yeah, they’ve been good long enough to have made a run at some point.’ Meanwhile the Wizards and Redskins have ranged from anywhere from playoff one-and-done to mediocre to downright terrible.

Of course, this could all come crashing down come spring if the Capitals were to make a run, which is all entirely possible. While they lost a little bit from last year, there’s still plenty in the tank to make a run. No pressure, Ovi.


Man behind the Golden Knights Twitter, unveiled

At this point you’ve probably heard of the Golden Knights Twitter account. It’s about as amazing as advertised. I don’t think this franchise has done anything wrong yet (especially on the ice, where they’re currently a perfect 6-for-6 in points), and social media might be the thing they do best.

The Athletic did a nice dive into how it all came about, profiling the man behind the account, Dan Marrazza. It was a good look at how the sausage was made and essentially how the account found its voice.

Unless I’m wrong, the Vegas Twitter account really broke through during the preseason when it chirped the Canadiens. Here’s some other gems the account has been churning out.

And that’s just a few of many.

I love everything the Golden Knights are doing. Especially given the state of things in Las Vegas over the past couple weeks, and the franchise has hit all the right notes to lift that community up in a brutal time.

As I said last week, I don’t know how they project on the ice long-term, at least as far as this season goes. I still say they’re not a playoff team. But they’re doing a lot of really, really good things.

Could Houston finally be entering the expansion/relocation ring?

I’ve been curious for a while about where Houston stands in the NHL expasion/relocation process. You hear so much about Seattle, Quebec City, and Las Vegas (before it got a team), but little about Houston, the fourth-biggest city in the country behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago as well as the eighth-largest television market. It’s the only city among the top-nine TV markets that doesn’t have an NHL team, and only city among the six most populous in the U.S. that doesn’t have the NHL.

Despite those facts and figures, you’ve heard nothing about the NHL possibly going to Houston before Tilman Fertitta, who recently bought the Houston Rockets, said he’s interested in bringing the NHL to the city. Yes, it’s a warm weather city, there’s already one franchise in Texas, and the sport is unfamiliar to many in the area. Which hasn’t stopped the league from going to Nashville, Phoenix, South Florida, Anaheim, or Atlanta (where the NHL is now 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, infamously swinging its shoulder out the second time), but whatever.

Should Fertitta believe the NHL is worthwhile, there’s an owner with deep pockets ready to buy a team and would have a complex ready in the Toyota Center, which hosted the Wild’s AHL affiliate from 2003-13 before it moved to Iowa when the Wild couldn’t come to a lease agreement with the facility. I’m sure there’d be others lining up willing and able to sign what would be a steep expansion or relocation fee. It’s a solid sports market  with a lot of major companies. The city is also growing rapidly, with lots of transplants coming down from the Northeast, Minnesota, Michigan, Chicago, i.e. place where there’s lots of people that like hockey.

Meanwhile, Seattle – which is currently Most Likely To Get the Next NHL Team – has plenty of money, influence, and big companies (particularly in tech) but doesn’t have a facility ready to go. Nobody debates the place hockey and the Nordiques hold within in the heart of Quebec City, but it isn’t half the size of Houston.

This only leads to the exhausting traditional/non-traditional market debate. You know those people – “hockey shouldn’t be in warm weather cities.” If only we had the technology to build an indoor facility where we could keep a sheet up when it’s 70 degrees outside.

I’m for anything that grows the game, makes the league more popular. The NHL spreading its footprint to cities across the Sun Belt and the west coast – which it did throughout the 1990s – endears itself to more fans, more business partners which leads to greater revenue (Shoutout “THE NHL ONLY CARES ABOUT THE MONEY AND NOT THE REAL FANS” crowd), greater influence, and new players that would’ve never thought about playing hockey (Shoutout Auston Matthews).

So I’m all-in on Houston. Get the rivalry with the Stars and Predators going, get J.J. Watt waving the towel. I like where it’s going.

Flames/Kings, Tkachuk/Doughty feud is what the NHL needs more of

Not unlike his father Keith, who logged 1,201 NHL games from 1992-2010, Matthew Tkachuk is a big, skilled forward who plays with an edge and thrives upon getting under the skin of opponents. He refuses to back down from anybody.

The game of Big Walt’s first-born was best displayed last season when he laid a dirty hit on Kings defenseman Drew Doughty then responding by going right at the Norris Trophy-winning blueliner the next time out while taking on Brayden McNabb early in the game.

Doughty and the Kings don’t care for the 19-year-old, who was selected by Calgary with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Chances are better than not the Kings are not alone in that sentiment, and the list will only grow as the years go on.

It all exploded on Wednesday night, the first meeting between the two clubs (which Calgary won, 4-3, in overtime), when Tkachuk did a little digging after Kings goalie Jonathan Quick covered the puck late in the third period. A post-whistle scrum ensued. Doughty and Tkachuk went onto exchange pleasantries from their respective penalty boxes in the aftermath.

This is what the game needs more of. Player feuds, heated rivalries, heated emotion from a game that is built more on emotion than any sport on the planet. And here you have this feud surrounding two of the better players on division rivals. It’s the perfect storm.

Don’t get me wrong, I love where the NHL has gone. There’s more skill, more speed, more talent from top-to-bottom in the league as there has ever been. It’s as fun to follow as ever. And I’m not looking for games with 150 penalty minutes, and five line-brawls, or guys going around slew-footing and running guys from behind. The Tkachuk elbow on Doughty last season that started all this has no place in the game.

But the back-and-forth drama, teams hating each other? There’s not as much of it right now. The league is better and more entertaining when it has that.

PS – Tkachuk’s younger brother, Brady, is a freshman at Boston University and is projected to be selected high in the first round of next year’s draft. If Matt plays like he has a bee in his bonnet, Brady has a full hornets net. The Tkachuk brothers should be fan favorites for a long time.

Matt Niskanen sent apology text to Crosby following playoff cross-check

This was probably a top-five dumbest hockey story of all-time back in the spring.

In case you don’t remember, here’s a refresher for you. During the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round between the Penguins and Capitals last season, Sidney Crosby was going to the net, gets slashed/high-sticked/lacrosse-style stick-checked (whatever it was it was nothing major) by Alex Ovechkin then loses his feet, runs into Matt Niskanen whose stick meets his face. Niskanen goes to the box for cross-checking, Crosby leaves the game and goes into concussion protocol (then missed Game 4 of the series, which Pittsburgh won in seven games) and all hell breaks loose everywhere but inside the glass of this hockey game.

To sum it all up, it was essentially an Internet Outrage Industrial Complex special.

It also gave us this beauty.

So Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of the first Pens-Caps showdown of the season, Crosby told reporters he received an apology text from Niskanen in the aftermath, basically saying it was all water under the bridge and, well, a complete non-issue, upon which few would disagree.

Again, there was so little to this story yet it somehow managed to gain legs and spread like wildfire, something not uncommon to say the least.

Hopefully this closes the book on this story. Until the next “wow, why are we dedicating so much air time and column inches to this” saga…

Rest in Peace to the Flames winless streak in Anaheim

The streak is over at last. The Flames finally managed to win a game in Anaheim.

Calgary beat the Ducks on Monday night 2-0 to record their first regular season win at the Honda Center since 2004, snapping a 29-game skid. It was a 25-game winless streak when you include the playoffs, with the Flames winning a game in Anaheim during the Western Conference quarterfinals in 2006. They had come up empty-handed in two playoff series since, the most recent, of course, being back-to-back losses to open the First Round series last season that the Flames were ultimately swept out of.

This was a surprising streak based on the length of it – you’d expect a team to pull at least one or two out over a sample that consists of more than one-quarter of the regular season. Throw in the fact the clubs have played in the same division for the past four seasons you can make a case for shock.

If you were put out a poll to the tune of ‘Did you know Calgary hasn’t won in Anaheim since 2004?’ you’d get a lot of ‘Yeah, I believe it’ answers from the masses. Anaheim has been a really good team over the past 13 years in which this streak has been in existence. The Ducks won a Stanley Cup in 2007. They’ve knocked on the door a handful of other times. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are two names in the pantheon of the best players in the NHL since the 2004-05 lockout. Meanwhile, take away a couple seasons at the height of Jarome Iginla’s power and the last couple seasons, the Flames have been mired in mediocrity. Even when they have been good, their level hasn’t stacked up to that of the boys from Orange County.

And while they’ve been in the same division the past few seasons, Calgary has spent a majority of this span in the Northwest Division that was dissolved following the 2012-13 season when the league went from six to four divisions. So you’re talking two trips to Anaheim tops in a given season.

The Flames are a very good hockey team that – if three games is any indication – may have finally found the goalie they’re looking for in Mike Smith, who has been airtight in this early stretch that I once again emphasize makes up exactly 3.7 percent of the season. Regardless, Calgary has buried themselves with bad starts the past two seasons, much in part due to bad goaltending, and Smith has prevented a three-peat of that in the early going. Meanwhile, the Ducks are banged up with two of their three best defensemen out in Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen while up front they’re missing Ryan Kesler and Getzlaf is playing through some things despite playing 22:14 last night.

So it was pretty predictable that this streak was going to end. Either way, it’s not going to be another 29 games.

Here comes Vegas

Can’t really draw up a better way to begin a franchise than going into the building of a preseason favorite to win the Stanley Cup and coming out with two points off the back of a nice third-period comeback.

That’s exactly what the Golden Knights did on Friday, with the help of 45 saves by Marc-Andre Fleury and a pair of third-period goals by James Neal to beat the Stars 2-1 in Dallas to kick off the expansion franchise. Vegas is just the seventh expansion franchise in NHL history to win their first game, and just the third to do it on the road.

Pretty impressive stuff, and comes with an added feel-good touch given what has happened his Las Vegas this week.

I don’t think Vegas is going to win a ton of games this season – they’re not strong down the middle and defensively they’re not great – just a lot of guys that would play key roles on good teams but aren’t guys you want being you’re top option. But there’s plenty of veteran DNA on this club and that’s going to make them at the very least competitive most nights. It also helps their best player is their goalie, as evidenced by Fleury’s 45-save performance.