What is Bryce doing? You decide.
The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.
But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.
For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Islanders.
The surprise team of 2018-19 is back to prove that was no fluke. It was the Islanders who finished second to the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division last season, not the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Barry Trotz who won the Jack Adams Award. It was New York who shook off the loss of star center Jonathan Tavares and somehow made the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before a getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Metro appears tougher on paper this time around and the Capitals and Penguins still are formidable opponents. The Islanders also swapped out their best goalie (Robin Lehner) for more of a talented question mark (Semyon Varlamov). And they lost in the Artemi Panarin free-agent sweepstakes to the rival New York Rangers.
None of that bodes well, but the Islanders do have plenty to build on. They have a balanced top six with Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson centering solid lines. Anders Lee led the team with 28 goals and he was re-signed. Josh Bailey had 56 points, which was second only to Barzal (62).
And don’t forget about maybe the best fourth line in the NHL (Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck), which combined for 34 goals last season. Cizikas alone had 20.
Without an 80-point game-breaker - though Barzal has the talent to get there - New York has to be steady in its own end and get close to the fantastic goaltending it received last year from Lehner and Tomas Greiss.
This time it will be Varlamov and Greiss. In front of them is a fine top pair in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. But the blueline overall features almost no household names.
The Islanders, thanks in large part to Trotz and some of the same assistant coaches who helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018, shocked the NHL last year. It shouldn’t be a surprise this time if they remain in playoff contention most of the season.
But the Metro has gotten better and New York at best remained in place. The Islanders won’t sneak up on anyone this time around. Just making it back into the postseason tournament would be a win.
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Scoring is up around baseball as home runs fly out of ballparks at a historic rate. The Nationals have been riding that wave and especially lately. They scored 43 runs across three games from Saturday through Monday, as they continue to bash their way through the National League playoff hunt.
Those 43 runs are a franchise record for a three-game stretch. So are the 15 homers they launched against Brewers and Pirates pitchers.
After their most recent barrage, the Nationals are now on a scoring pace never seen before in franchise history. They are averaging 5.29 runs per game, which if it holds would establish a new record for a Nationals or Expos team. The current mark is 5.13 held by the 1994 Montreal Expos, who were famously a juggernaut seemingly destined for a World Series ring before a labor strike ended their season.
The 1994 club remains the best offense in franchise history based on a per game scoring average. But the most runs ever scored by a Nats or Expos team was in 2017 when the Dusty Baker-led Nationals put up 819 runs across 162 games. This year's Nats are on pace for 857.
The Nats, in fact, are already climbing the charts despite having 38 games remaining on their schedule. Through 124 games, they have 656 runs which is more than they had total in 23 separate seasons. They have already scored more runs than the 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011 Nationals. The 2005 Nats won 81 games and the 2011 club won 80. They already have as many runs as the 2013 Nationals who won 86 games.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the 2019 Nats' offense is that there are no historic standouts in terms of runs scored. Anthony Rendon is on pace for an impressive 116 runs, but that would only place him fifth in franchise history.
Adam Eaton is also on pace for 100-plus runs, but he's the only other one. Having two 100-run players isn't that out of the ordinary in Nats history. Bryce Harper and Trea Turner did that last year.
Now, Rendon is on track to join some special company in franchise history when it comes to driving in runs. He could challenge the RBI record of 131 set back in 1999 by Vladimir Guerrero.
Rendon is on pace for 127 RBI despite missing 14 games this season. He also currently has the third-best slugging percentage in franchise history.
But what stands out most is that these Nats are doing it collectively. Despite not featuring an elite home run hitter, they are averaging the most homers per game and RBI per game in franchise history. They have the highest OPS and slugging percentage ever for a Nats/Expos team.
Rendon, Turner and Juan Soto have been the stars. But this has been a group effort with many carrying their weight.
The Nats are also doing this in the first year since Harper left the team in free agency. When Harper signed away with the Phillies, there were questions about whether they could replace his production and power. Those aren't questions anymore.
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