First-place Caps are D.C. sports pioneers
Two months into their season, the Washington Capitals have the most points in the NHL. This is some sort of groundbreaking occasion, though it's hard for me to know exactly how groundbreaking it is. At a minimum, I believe it's the first time in the 21st century a D.C. pro sports team has led its league standings this far into a season.
(I'm not counting the Mystics, Freedom, D.C. United, etc, because it's a lot easier to lead a league that has fewer than 20 teams.)
I'm flying a bit blind here, so if anyone has any corrections please have at it, but it's been a long time since a big-four D.C. sports team was the sole league leader this far into a season. I'm pretty sure it hasn't happened since the Bandwagon Redskins. Here are the closest calls.
The plucky Nats have never had the best record in the Major Leagues two month into a season. I'll let Phil Wood chime in with the last time the Senators accomplished such a feat, but the best the Nats have done was keep a share of first place in the NL East all the way up until July 26, 2005. They still had a half-game lead over the Braves on July 20, 2005, following a loss to the Rockies. But on the last day they were still tied for the lead, people weren't thinking happy thoughts.
"Something is missing here with this ballclub now," Manager Frank Robinson said, after a loss to the Astros. "Something is missing. Whatever it is, I've got to try to find it or figure it out. This is not the same ballclub that played most of the first half of the year. And I don't mean personnel-wise. I mean the way we're going about our job and our results."
Not sure about the regular sseason, but the Wizards/Bullets haven't finished a season with the best record in the NBA since 1979, when their 54-28 record and .659 winning percentage was two games better than the Seattle SuperSonics, who won the league title.
Of course, everyone remembers that weird blip in 2007, when the Wizards briefly had the best record in the Eastern Conference, but they never led the entire league. Still, let's find some quotes from those heady days. I guess the headiest of the days was January 31; that's when the Wizards beat the Pistons to improve to 27-17, putting them a game and a half up on Detroit for the top spot in the East. Antawn Jamison got injured that night, but it was no big deal.
"We have the personnel to keep the ship afloat," Jarvis Hayes said. "It's up to us to maintain this momentum we have going."
"We have a little swagger going and everyone is playing well," DeShawn Stevenson said. "We have a team that believes in each other and as long as we play hard, we will win games."
They began the 1996 season 7-1, but so did the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers. So I'm not sure that really counts. Still, it led to some happy quotes, like this one, from Jack Kent Cooke: "We know we're going to the playoffs; that's as inevitable as tomorrow, but not quite as imminent." The Skins finished 9-7, and missed the playoffs.
The last time they really had sole possession of the NFL's best record was, I believe, 1991, the Bandwagon year. That team started 11-0; its closest competitor for the early part of the season was the New Orleans Saints, who started 7-0. So from Oct 27, 1991 until they won the Super Bowl, the Redskins had the NFL's best record.
Of course, people were talking about perfection that year, until a late-November loss to the Cowboys.
"It's just a hunch, but I don't think we're gonna go undefeated anymore," Skins linebacker Matt Millen said on that day. "It was nice while it lasted and you hate to lose, but it was just one of those days.
"You have to keep it in perspective," he said. "We're out here 16 weeks. We're out to get to the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. All those are still out there, they're all still attainable. All the things that got us here are still there. Guys have been here before. We've lost before, and we'll win again."
And they did, obviously.
"I have so much pride in Joe Gibbs and the coaching staff," Jack Kent Cooke said after the Super Bowl. "And we have the best bloody fans on the face of the earth."
Which brings us to the Capitals. In 1997, the team started 3-0, which The Post said was the NHL's best record; not sure if there were any other undefeated teams at the time.
But the last--and only--time the Caps had the league's best record this late in a season was also 1991, when they and the Redskins were both atop the league standings at the same time. That team started the year 8-1, which was the best start in franchise history. Through 33 games, they were 23-10. (This year's team is 20-7-6, for an identical 46 points.)
On Dec. 2, 1991, they made Sports Illustrated, under this headline: "Newly explosive offense has elevated Washington to the best record in the NHL."
"The traditionally plodding, low-scoring, defense-minded Caps have been on a goal-scoring orgy since the beginning of the season," Richard O'Brien wrote.
The good times lasted until late December, if I'm reading this correctly. The Caps lost three straight from Dec. 22-28, giving up 18 goals in that span. Montreal passed them for the league's best overall record, and then the Rangers equaled them for the Patrick Division lead with an absurd 8-6 win, in a game Washington once led by five.
"I'm not worried about first place after the way we played tonight," Caps coach Terry Murray said after that loss. "If we keep playing like this, we'll be in second and looking up for a while."
Eighteen years, to be precise.
(In truth, the Caps would later regain the Patrick Division lead, but Dec. 21 was the last time they would be alone in first place atop the NHL standings. For the record, Caps PR ace Nate Ewell points out that two weeks later, on Jan. 3, the Caps moved back into a tie for the most points with Montreal, but they never again re-took sole possession of the lead.)
Posted by: theamazingmouse | December 14, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Section104 | December 14, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | December 14, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bauschz | December 14, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: theamazingmouse | December 14, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dancy1 | December 14, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LouLewis | December 14, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: leopard09 | December 14, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FlyersSuck | December 14, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: twoeightnine_ | December 14, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | December 14, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sitruc | December 14, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: HowdyDCU | December 15, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: vmrg1974 | December 15, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.