<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - Capital Games]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/capital-games http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:21:03 -0500 Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:21:03 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Report: RGIII Could Be Benched]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:55:40 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/182*120/459437488.jpg

If Robert Griffin III struggles against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden is prepared to bench him, according to a report from ESPN.

"That means Griffin could be yanked Sunday in favor of Colt McCoy, who is 2-0 as Griffin's sub, or an evaluation will be made to make a move next week," Chris Mortensen reported.

Gruden criticized Griffin's "fundamental flaws" earlier this week and told NFL.com that "He's auditioned long enough" for the starting role in regards to elevating his play. NFL.com also reported that Gruden received support from upper management regarding those comments

"We want Robert to excel, we really do," Gruden told Albert Breer. "But the last two games, it hasn't been very good, anywhere. We gotta play better around him. And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he's comfortable with. That takes time. But we don't have a lot of time."

Since Griffin returned from a dislocated left ankle, the Redskins are 0-2 and Griffin's QBR through four games is 34.2. Of course, a coach has the power to bench any player he so chooses, but as always, an anonymously sourced pregame report has the Redskins in the news for the wrong reasons.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Bemoan Lack Of Crease Presence]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 07:57:34 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459431636.jpg

The Washington Capitals pelted Jhonas Enroth with shot after shot Saturday, a season-high 44 reaching the Buffalo Sabrss goaltender, but dominant possession performances don't always equate to victories. 

In the contemplative moments following a 2-1 loss to the suddenly streaking yet still woebegone Sabres, the Capitals bemoaned the overall absence of difficulty that their shot attempts presented.

"The one thing that probably stands out is that we threw 77 pucks roughly to their net, so it wasn't like we weren't trying to throw pucks there, but we need to have a little more net presence," coach Barry Trotz said. "We talk about that all the time. Their goaltender was good and when a goaltender is good and seeing the puck, you've got to make him not see the puck.

"We need a little more traffic, we need second efforts, hunger around the net a little bit more. We're sort of one-and-done type things. ... You've got to just create those second and third efforts around the net, create a little more havoc for them. That's an area that we'll have to get better at."

Trotz has outfitted each of his lines with at least one big-bodied forward, particularly on the right side, that should gravitate toward the crease and obscure the opposing goaltender's vision. That interior play, however, has been absent. A rough estimate provided by the website Some Kind of Ninja totals 42 Washington shots within 10 feet of the goal at even strength. At least six teams -- Calgary, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Florida and New Jersey -- have fewer (Arizona wasn't included).

Both Buffalo goals, each scored within 11 feet according to the official play-by-play sheet, typified the kind of ugly effort Trotz is seeking from his skaters: flurries generated by scrums in front of the net. Colleague Alex Prewitt counted three pairs of shot attempts within five seconds of each other for the Sabres, including Torrey Mitchell's game-winning rebound goal. The Capitals, despite a distinct shot advantage, did only twice. 

"We threw a lot of pucks at the net. We could get more bodies in front of the crease," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who scored Washington's lone goal. "Their goalie was good tonight, but I think he saw too many, more than we would like. We've got to start working that into our game a little bit more. Goalies in this league, if they see shots, they're going to stop them most of the time. We had some whacks at rebounds, guys are going there, but we've got to take away his eyes a little better."

The Capitals, more than most teams, are capable of scoring breathtaking goals, but dull goals count just the same. 

"We had a great chance to score goals, but the second opportunity was right there but we didn't put our body in front of the net," forward Alex Ovechkin said. "It was a good lesson [of] what we have to do when we're going to have that kind of opportunities, that kind of chances to score goals."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Report: Adam LaRoche To Sign With White Sox]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 20:29:42 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/456817646.jpg

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has reportedly signed a two-year contract with the Chicago White Sox, according to USA Today. 

LaRoche spent four seasons in Washington, batting .249 with 82 home runs and 269 RBIs. With Ryan Zimmerman expected to become the Nationals' everyday first baseman, LaRoche was expendable and the team did not exercise his option for next season. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Yorker Lampoons Redskins On Latest Cover]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:20:30 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/1121-newyorker.jpg

Just in time for Thanksgiving, The New Yorker will lampoon the Washington Redskins name controversy on the cover of its Dec. 1 edition. 

“This is 2014, and it seems a little late to be dealing with that stuff,” artist Bruce McCall explained. “It should have been quashed a long time ago. We did everything to the Indians that we could, and it’s still going on. It seems crude and callous. Names like the Atlanta Braves come from another time. So, in my cover, I’ve brought the cultural arrogance of one side back to the sixteen-hundreds and the first Thanksgiving dinner, just to see what would happen.”

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: New Yorker]]>
<![CDATA[FedEx Field Won't Host Jets/Bills Game]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:15:05 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/160*120/B21TwLDIMAAXKeQ.jpg

UPDATE: News4's Dianna Russini is reporting that Detroit will serve as the host of the game.

Western New York has been blanketed by several feet of snow, forcing the NFL to relocate the Bills' scheduled game against the New York Jets on Sunday. 

"Due to public safety concerns in light of the ongoing weather emergency in Western New York, Sunday's Jets-Bills game will not be played in Buffalo," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in a statement. "We are in the process of rescheduling and relocating the game as part of Week 12. We will provide additional information as soon as possible.

According to a report from NFL Network, FedEx Field is being considered as one of two alternative venues for the game. 

The Redskins will be in San Francisco to face the 49ers Sunday afternoon.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: @BuffaloBills]]>
<![CDATA[Zimmermann Gives Souza Best Buy Gift Card]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:53:03 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/178*120/456311144.jpg

Remember when Steven Souza, Jr. made an incredible diving catch to preserve Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter against the Marlins in September? Zimmermann said after the game that Souza could have anything he wanted as a reward.

"I'll buy him anything," he said.

Souza previously joked about Zimmermann purchasing him a BMW, but the outfielder revealed to MLB.com on Wednesday that the pitcher bought him a Best Buy gift card instead.

"I cannot disclose the amount," Souza told Bill Ladson. "He gave a gift certificate to help me out for my house. It was very thoughtful." 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Capital Letters: Mile High Club]]> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:58:39 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/175*120/459209162.jpg

Welcome back to "Capital Letters," an aptly titled and sporadic feature in which I answer any and all questions regarding the local professional hockey team. Please send all questions to @AdamVingan and follow me anyway because my mother will think that I'm more popular.

As I write this, I'm currently hopped up on Advil Cold & Sinus. And with the Capitals in Denver on Thursday to face the Avalanche, I could use that particular headline without being completely smutty!

Your questions.

This is a great question and a currently intriguing development for the Capitals. Coach Barry Trotz has frequently spoken of how Laich's injury-induced absence (and previously Tom WIlson's) has prevented him from properly balancing his lineup and rolling four lines, echoing that sentiment following practice Wednesday.

"We miss him," Trotz told colleague Alex Prewitt. "There’s no question, he’s a piece that balances everything out for us really well. To this point in time, when he’s not in the lineup, you can tell.”

Laich, who injured his shoulder against the Panthers on Oct. 18, has played once in the past month: a 3-2 Washington victory against Chicago on Nov. 7. He has since admitted that he rushed back in order to help the Capitals snap their five-game losing streak, which they did, but at the cost of delaying his recovery. 

“He’s obviously gone through a tough period injury wise,” general manager Brian MacLellan said last week. “He has the attitude he wants to play through injuries too. He almost demands himself to come back as soon as he can and sometimes that might hinder his progress as far as injuries. I think we have to make choices on when guys should come back, and possibly prevent further aggravating things, or what’s the best thing for a player.

“I guess in my mind now, we need to get him 100 percent. The shoulder has to be 100 percent. The other issues seem to be fine. We just want him healthy, because he’s going to be a contributor to our team, so we’ve got to quit doing these false starts with him.”

According to Trotz, “there’s a good chance for the weekend" when the Capitals host the Sabres on Saturday that Laich could return. If and when he does, his insertion into the lineup will have a sort of domino effect.

Personally, I like Laich as the third-line center in between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, which is where he played in his last game against the Blackhawks. While that particular trio hasn't been incredibly effective in very limited ice time this season, I can't imagine Trotz tinkering with his top six (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Wilson, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer) to accommodate Laich.

It really leaves questions about the bottom half of Washington's forward corps. Can Eric Fehr be the "finisher" the Capitals are looking for on the fourth line next to Evgeny Kuznetsov? Who becomes the regular forward scratch or gets assigned to the American Hockey League: Liam O'Brien, Michael Latta, Jay Beagle or Chris Brown?

The Capitals are a better team with a healthy Laich, but unfortunately they have had very little of that in the past two-plus seasons; he has missed 82 regular-season games since the start of the 2012-13 season. I think he can thrive under Trotz's tutelage, but we need to see him on the ice first. 

As I alluded to in the previous question, I think Kuznetsov is a third- or fourth-line center for the foreseeable future. With the right skaters surrounding him, he can provide matchup nightmares for opposing teams. That should allow him to produce more at even strength; Kuznetsov has just two 5-on-5 assists in 17 games. 

In regards to Wilson, since joining Ovechkin and Backstrom on Washington's first line, he has steamrolled everything that moves, but the offensive production hasn't materialized. In roughly 69 minutes of even-strength ice time with Wilson, Ovechkin and Backstrom have recorded about 48 percent of total shot attempts and combined for one goal. When apart from Wilson, that percentage increases to about 54 percent.

Against the Coyotes on Tuesday, those three were the Capitals' worst possession players, though they also started the fewest shifts in the offensive zone. I am guilty of wondering whether it was time to try someone else in Wilson's place. but a few more games are probably needed before anyone can make a true determination. 

Watching Filip Forsberg flourish for the Predators this season -- nine goals, 22 points and an NHL-best plus-20 rating, among other strong statistics -- has left Capitals fans absolutely apoplectic.

For those unfamiliar with this story, the Capitals traded Forsberg, the 11th pick in the 2012 draft, to the Predators in April 2013 for veteran Martin Erat and Latta. Of course, Erat's tenure in Washington was an unmitigated disaster, scoring twice in 62 games before requesting a trade, which the Capitals executed last season in a swap with the Coyotes, landing Brown in the transaction. 

ESPN's Craig Custance provided some excellent context to the entire situation recently. According to Custance, some within the organization weren't sold on Forsberg, who looked "timid" and "slow" at that summer's development camp. "With pressure from ownership to make the playoffs during the lockout-shortened season," the Capitals opted to trade Forsberg for Erat in a win-now move that was uncharacteristic of former general manager George McPhee.

Those internal doubters were obviously mistaken.

The trade, if Forsberg continues to develop into the dynamic player he has shown to be, will likely go down as one of the most lopsided in recent NHL history. Does it hurt my heart? No, because I'm not emotionally invested. But the Capitals may certainly be rueing that day -- April 3, 2013, to be exact -- for a long time.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The 'Skinny: Week 12 v. 49ers]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:23:04 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459078872.jpg

Welcome back to the second season of "The 'Skinny," a weekly preview of the local professional football team's upcoming game and opponent. Every Thursday, you can find any and all information* about the Redskins' next opponent in this space.

(*Sometimes, it may be some or most information.)

Week 12 opponent: San Francisco 49ers (6-4)

Game information: Sun, Nov. 23 -- 4:25 p.m. ET -- Levi's Stadium -- CBS 

Last week: The Redskins were embarrassed at home by the lowly Buccaneers in a 27-7 loss, but the more noteworthy events took place after the game when Robert Griffin III's press conference fueled headlines for days. The 49ers quietly defeated the Giants 16-10. 

What's The Skinny?

The Redskins are really focused on San Francisco, but does that really matter anymore? Washington is in full evaluation mode, particularly with Griffin, who has six games left to prove himself worthy of a future contract extension. If RGIII can revert to the transcendent talent that he once was, then all hope isn't lost, 

The first test won't be easy against the 49ers, whose defense leads the NFL with 16 interceptions. Perhaps Washington's best chance to win is if San Francisco looks ahead to division rival Seattle, which it plays twice in the 18 days following Sunday's game. 

Statistic of the Week: The 49ers have forced eight takeaways in their past two games, seven of which have been interceptions; San Francisco picked off New York quarterback Eli Manning five times last week.

What They're Saying

"I think it was a mistake on my part. After a loss like that, we're very disappointed in the way we played, and the question came up. ... I just answered it, the first thing that came to my mind, and sometimes the first thing that comes to your mind isn't the smartest thing, and it wasn't the right thing to do on my part.

"Corrections should be in-house with everybody involved. The play speaks for itself, the production on the field spoke for itself. I didn't have to really elaborate on any individual fundamental things."

- Coach Jay Gruden apologizing for his Monday remarks when he pointed out Griffin's "fundamental flaws"

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[RGIII Is Focused on San Francisco]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 13:51:07 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459073368.jpg

Robert Griffin III's comments immediately following the Redskins' 27-7 loss to the Buccaneers last weekend fed headline makers for days, so his first press conference since Sunday was understandably met with some sort of twisted anticipation.

What we got was a robotic performance, as RGIII made sure to let everyone in attendance know that he is focused on San Francisco. Like, a lot.

You sort of expected this kind of deflection after the controversy that developed a few days ago, but the reactions, which you can peruse below, were quite entertaining. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps' Orpik Measures "Shutdown" Success]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:51:17 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458506704.jpg

In justifying the five-year, $27.5 million that he signed defenseman Brooks Orpik to on the opening day of free agency, Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan referred to the steadying presence that the then-33-year-old had been known to provide as the team's "greatest need."

It's a statement that MacLellan reasserted last week during a powwow with reporters when he said the offseason additions of Orpik and fellow ex-Penguin Matt Niskanen have been "stabilizing for our defense."

Not that the more statistically inclined (compared to this reporter, that is) needed any more fodder to roast MacLellan for luring Orpik to Washington. In separate posts for The Washington Post and Russian Machine Never Breaks, respectively, Patrick Holden referred to Orpik and partner John Carlson as the "NHL's worst shutdown pair" through the first month of the season and detailed how Orpik has shackled the more offensively adept Carlson. In his weekly snapshot for RMNB, Peter Hassett compared Orpik to "consensus shutdown D" in the league, concluding that Orpik is not one, but simply being "used" as one to discouraging results. 

In his 12th season, Orpik has frequently been utilized in a shutdown role, responsible for stymying the opposition's most dangerous offensive threats.

The rise of advanced statistics has set basic parameters on how to measure a defenseman with that particular responsibility (zone starts, relative on-ice shot differential, quality of competition), but how does Orpik gauge his own success?

"Those guys, you look at the best guys, they obviously get a lot of chances," Orpik said last week of the high-end skaters he typically faces. "That's why they have as many points and produce the way they do. I think the way I measure it is those guys are going to get their chances, but what kind of chances are they going to get? Making sure there are no secondary chances is a big one.

"A lot of it is making sure their chances come from the outside, not the inside. Once guys get inside position on you, that's where those guys with their finishing ability usually hurt you. That's what I measure it on. Now you've got all those fancy advanced stats, which I don't completely understand."

Those looking at Orpik's "fancy advanced stats" will see that he has a team-worst relative Corsi-for percentage of -7.34 percent at even strength, which simply means that the Capitals allow more shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots, blocked shots) when Orpik is on the ice than when he isn't. 

Orpik, though, doesn't subscribe to that ideology. As an example, he recalled the Capitals' 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 7, a game in which Washington allowed a season-high 40 shots. 

"I think in Chicago, I think we gave up like 40 shots, but especially like [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews, I don't think they had a lot of good looks," Orpik said. "I know they had a lot of shots from outside the circles and you ask the goalies too, that's what they want and not a lot of second chances."

The Capitals held Kane and Toews to two combined shots. For reference, here are Kane, Toews and the Blackhawks' even-strength shot charts from that game, courtesy of Sporting Charts:

"Lot of times, just looking at like shot totals isn't a very good factor for me," Orpik said. "It's more of the quality of chances you're giving up. I don't know if they have an advanced stat for that yet. That's something that's probably, I think, a more accurate indication for defensemen."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gruden: RGIII "Needs To Worry About Himself"]]> Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:56:53 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458295356.jpg

Let's be honest with ourselves: The Redskins are much more entertaining when they're terrible.

The "good" times continued to roll Monday afternoon as the Redskins began to sift through the aftermath of their 27-7 loss to the equally terrible Buccaneers.

As a refresher, Washington lost badly at home to a 1-8 team. Then Robert Griffin III overshared during his postgame press conference.

"We’re 3-7, and everybody in this room knows that, and everybody in that locker room knows that," Griffin told reporters. "We can’t do what 3-7 football teams do. We can’t throw knives and stab each other in the back. I think we have good people in our locker room, men of God that are going to stick together and stay strong. ... I have to do better. I need every man in that locker room, players and coaches, to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’

"It takes 11 men. It doesn’t take one guy, and that’s proven. If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. They don’t. We need everybody. I need every one of those guys in that locker room, and I know they’re looking at me saying the same thing.”

Then DeSean Jackson Instagramed his frustrations and shared it via Twitter. Coach Jay Gruden, as expected, was asked about it all:

“First of all, Robert needs to understand he needs to worry about himself, number one, and not everybody else. It’s his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position. It’s my job to worry about everybody else. And yes, everybody else needs to improve. There’s no question about it. But it’s not his place. His place is to talk about himself, and he knows that. He just elaborated a little bit too much. He’ll learn from it; he’s 24 years old. He wants everything to be perfect around him, and yesterday was far from perfect. He’s gotta improve, the offensive line has to improve, everybody has to improve; myself. I mean, you’re 3-7."

Griffin then posted on Facebook that his remarks at his post-game press conference were taken out of context. 

Fun, right?!

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jackson Calls Out RGIII on Instagram?]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:45:46 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459081912.jpg

(Before I begin the story, I never thought that four years of journalism school would lead to the headline I just crafted above.)

The Redskins' 27-7 loss to the lowly Buccaneers on Sunday led disgruntled fans to chant for Colt McCoy at FedEx Field after another uninspiring effort from Robert Griffin III.

After the game, RGIII shouldered some blame, but also called for a full team effort to salvage whatever is left of this disastrous season.

“It takes 11 men. It doesn’t take one guy. That’s proven," Griffin told reporters. "The great QBs — the Peytons [Manning] and Aaron Rodgers, they don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. They don’t. We need everybody. I need every one of those guys in that locker room. And I know they’re looking at me saying the same thing.”

DeSean Jackson may have chosen to "say the same thing" on Instagram on Monday morning, sharing a quote via Twitter that has been perceived to be a thinly veiled shot at his quarterback. (The quote features explicit language, so consider this your NSFW warning.)

Last week, Jackson publicly supported Griffin after several media reports indicated that Griffin had alienated himself within Washington's locker room

"I've never been a vocal guy to yell at a player or get on another player," Jackson said. "That just wasn't me. Now I'm in my seventh year, I've been through a lot and I understand how things can be portrayed. That's the wrong impression you want to give when you have a young guy like RGIII being the quarterback and what he's been through in his career so far. I wanted to stand up and let him know I'm supporting him, and hopefully everyone else can support the situation, too."

So much for that, apparently.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Burned by Faceoff Goals]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:35:50 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459051616.jpg

While Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz fielded questions from reporters about his team's 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, he asked a rhetorical question of his own. 

“How many faceoff goals are we going to give up?” Trotz wondered aloud. 

Jaden Schwartz's goal, scored five seconds after Jori Lehtera bested Eric Fehr in the faceoff circle, was the fifth faceoff goal the Capitals have allowed this season and third in the past four games.

As detailed in Hockey Plays and Strategies, written by former Capital Ryan Walter and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston, Washington employed the standard "Five Across" method in lining up for and defending this particular draw: 

When C loses the draw, he stays with the other team's center. RW shoots through the inside of the circle and pressures the point. LW moves out to the high slot and is ready to go after the other D if a pass is made. D1 and D2 stay with their forwards.

The Capitals, for the most part, run the play correctly. Fehr (C) ties up Lehtera immediately, pushing him toward the high slot. Joel Ward (RW) charges at Carl Gunnarsson, who then passes the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk. Jason Chimera (LW) shadows Shattenkirk to prevent the shot, which gets through, and Karl Alzner (D) is beaten inside by Schwartz, allowing for the easy rebound goal.

Here are the rest of the goals in question:

Cam Atkinson, Nov. 11 against Columbus

Elias Lindholm, Nov. 8 against Carolina

Jason Garrison, Nov. 1 against Tampa Bay

Matt Irwin, Oct. 14 against San Jose

The Capitals are the very definition of middling in regards to winning defensive-zone draws, ranking 15th of 30 teams at 51.1 percent, slightly above the league average of 50.8 percent.

Interestingly enough, Nicklas Backstrom, who lost three of the five faceoffs that led to the goals highlighted above, is one of the NHL's better players in that regard at even strength with a 61 percent success rate, fifth-best in the league

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Skins Fans Chant "We Want Colt!"]]> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:46:04 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459081186.jpg

Let's talk about the Redskins' embarrassing, atrocious, despicable, pathetic and asinine loss to the 1-8 Buccaneers at home Sunday. 

With Robert Griffin III throwing two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and being sacked six times, fans have seemingly had enough of the quarterback most of those same fans anointed as the franchise savior two years ago, chanting "We Want Colt [McCoy]!" during the game.

McCoy, who started the season as Washington's third-string quarterback, usurped Kirk Cousins after the backup could not go more than two plays -- a rough estimate -- without turning the ball over, leading the Redskins to two victories against the Titans and rival Cowboys. Since Griffin returned from his ankle injury before the bye week, the Redskins have lost both games.

NBC analyst Rodney Harrison has seen enough of Griffin, saying on-air Sunday evening that "If you need six more games to determine if he’s going to be your future quarterback, you need a new coach and a new scouting department." Griffin himself recognizes that he has to be better as well

What do you think? The season is a disaster and Griffin is not the transcendent franchise-altering talent we hoped he would be. What would you do?

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The 'Skinny: Week 11 v. Tampa Bay]]> Sun, 16 Nov 2014 10:42:52 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458704122.jpg

Welcome back to the second season of "The 'Skinny," a weekly preview of the local professional football team's upcoming game and opponent.

Week 11 Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)

Game information: Sun., Nov. 16 -- 1:00 p.m. -- FedEx Field -- FOX

Last Week: The Redskins didn't play, but that didn't stop them from commandeering headlines! Meanwhile, the Buccaneers lost, because that's what they do. Their most recent defeat, their fifth straight, was a 27-17 loss to the Falcons.

What's The Skinny? 

This is probably the last game that the Redskins have on their schedule that they will be favored in: a home game agains one of the few teams in the NFL that's actually worse than they are. The Buccaneers give up the second-most points per game (30.2) and their offense averages 311.6 yards per game, 29th in the league. They've won one game. In theory, this should be the closest thing to a sure thing for the Redskins. Yet in theory, communism works too, so...

Very little has gone right for Washington, and a loss to hapless Tampa Bay will justify a descent into the dregs of the NFL with the likes of Jacksonville and Oakland. Rock bottom, dude. 

Statistic(s) of the Week: Running back Alfred Morris has gone 16 straight games without rushing for 100 yards; he's rushed for 1,055 yards during this stretch. By comparison, in his first 25 games, he rushed for 2,438 yards, hitting triple digits 10 times. 

Also, the Redskins have lost five of their past six games coming off the bye week.

What They're Saying

“I know it’s been pushed and pushed and pushed, and everyone thinks [the rumors of division are] from the inside out. But we’re strong in that locker room. We feel like we can’t let any of these reports or anything divide us. Right now, we have to be responsible for what we do. Right now, we’re 3-6, and I think everybody in this room knows it. We have a hunger to win.”

- Robert Griffin III addressing recent reported locker-room strife 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.Md.'s Basketball Coach Waits for a Good Cause]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 19:00:16 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000008526056_1200x675_358483523553.jpg While Maryland men's basketball has been waiting to start the season, the head coach has been waiting on customers at Ledo's for a good cause.]]> <![CDATA[One-on-One With Jay Gruden]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 19:16:37 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000008514924_1200x675_357660227799.jpg From growing RGIII to the team name to answering to owner Dan Snyder, first-year head coach Jay Gruden is learning on the job. She sat down with Jay Gruden.]]> <![CDATA[Caps, Green "Going Through Evaluation Period"]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 21:15:26 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458506844.jpg

The Washington Capitals will eventually have decisions to make on 11 pending free agents (seven unrestricted, four restricted), the most publicized of which involves defenseman Mike Green.

Washington's fortified defensive corps has allowed Green to flourish in less stressful on-ice environments. Simultaneously, that same stability has also made the 29-year-old a frequent subject of trade conjecture. With his three-year, $18.25 million contract set to expire this summer, the Capitals are taking a wait-and-see approach regarding potential negotiations.

"He's had a good year," general manager Brian MacLellan said Thursday during a 30-minute interview with reporters. "Coming into the year, I think he had an off year last year. I think we're probably both going through an evaluation. Is he comfortable with his role and does he want to stay and play in that role? Are we comfortable with him in that role that he's playing in now? Is it going to work for us as an organization, as a team? Are we going to have success with Mike Green playing where's he playing and doing what he's doing and is that a big part of our team moving forward?

"Just as he needs to evaluate, 'Do I like this coach? Do I like this situation? Am I comfortable here?' I think we're both going through an evaluation period and we'll come to a decision at some point."

With offseason additions Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik handling tougher assignments, Green has functioned as one-half of Washington's third pairing with Nate Schmidt. He's starting significantly more shifts in the offensive zone as compared to last season (60.71 percent to 54.34) and facing the weakest competition at even strength since his 2006-07 rookie season. He has thrived so far, with 11 points and a Corsi-for percentage of 57.2

While Green's impressive start has spurred outside demand for Green to be re-signed as soon as feasibly possible, MacLellan is cautious not to rush into anything binding. 

"I think that's a key decision," MacLellan said, speaking about his general approach to handling contract talks. "I think we need to let it sort itself out, let people settle into their roles and see where we are as a team, what level we're at."

Green's representation did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Want to "Build" Fourth Line Around Kuznetsov]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 08:32:03 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458825168.jpg

The Washington Capitals envisage a future lineup featuring Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov patrolling the middle of the ice.

Kuznetsov's usage in particular has been an early-season storyline. Coach Barry Trotz "absolutely [sees]" the 22-year-old, who starred in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League as a wing, as a center. He has seesawed throughout the lineup, settling predominantly on the fourth line, not a place where players of Kuznetsov's ilk are often utilized. 

Cognizant of that, Trotz spoke after the Capitals' 4-2 vixtory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday of his intent to "build a line around" Kuznetsov that would better complement him. While "grinding types" like Michael Latta and Liam O'Brien personify the fourth-line mentality, Trotz would like to form a more dynamic group with Kuznetsov as its nucleus. 

“Kuzy’s more a pretty good distributor of the puck,” Trotz said. “He’s not I would say a high cycle guy. He’s not a guy that [Joel Ward] and [Jason Chimera] play with a lot, because that’s not really his game. He’s probably more with [Andre] Burakovsky and [Marcus] Johansson and [Troy] Brouwer-type of line, where they’ve got speed and give-and-go. We don’t really have that, because of the injuries to [Tom] Wilson and [Brooks] Laich.

“Once we get healthy, I think we have that. We just haven’t had a healthy Brooks Laich, and Willy hasn’t been healthy. Once we do that, I think we can get more of that into Kuzy’s game. Then we’ve got to balance it out."

As Trotz alluded to, injuries to Wilson (lower body) and Laich (shoulder) limit the options available to him. In a Wednesday conversation with Monumental Network, general manager Brian MacLellan mentioned that a "Tom Wilson kind of a player" would be the "ideal teammate" for Kuznetsov, "someone that forechecks, that's physical, that can get the puck to the middle of the ice for the centerman." 

That theoretically fills the hole to Kuznetsov's right. As for the left... 

"On the other side," MacLellan told Mike Vogel, "you'd want a finisher, someone who can shoot the puck and finish some of the plays and get to the net for him."

How to properly flank Kuznetsov presents an intriguing puzzle. Because of his limited ice time and the almost nomadic nature of his deployment, miniscule sample sizes exist to measure his success with different linemates.

One skater that comes to mind is Eric Fehr, who like Kuznetsov has yet to find a permanent home. 

Fehr, currently centering the third line, may be replaced by a returning Laich, but has the offensive instincts to be the finisher MacLellan is seeking. He and Kuznetsov have had success together with a 78.6 Corsi-for percentage, which measures shot-attempt differential. Yet their combined ice time is just 12:25, too small of a time frame to truly gauge their chemistry at this point.

Trotz did not rule out utilizing a prototypical, "grinding" fourth line -- O'Brien, Latta and Jay Beagle, for example -- when certain opponents call for it, but he knows that to be successful, the Capitals need to be a four-line team. That begins with finding greater opportunities for Kuznetsov.

"I think Kuzy’s best assets are his abilities to skate and distribute pucks," Trotz said. "I don’t see him as a wall guy. You saw that [Wednesday] in practice. That’s not really his strength. He’s best when he’s in the middle of the ice. He’s got great vision and hands."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Johansson's Promising Start Continues]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 10:00:43 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458825186.jpg

The question was raised in varying forms to members of the Washington Capitals following their 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday: If someone were to tell you at the beginning of the season that Marcus Johansson would be tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in goals at this point, what would you say?

"I would not believe it," Nicklas Backstrom said.

"I'd be happy," Johansson replied sheepishly. 

"I don’t want to say I called it, but you could tell right from the start, or I could notice it, he was a different player this year," Braden Holtby said. "And he’s really getting rewarded for it. Pretty humble guy, so he’s blaming it on good bounces and stuff, but he’s going to the right areas, he’s going hard, every shift, using his phenomenal skating ability and getting rewarded for it. He can be a huge player for us."

The previously deferential Johansson, naturally a pass-first player, has been shooting the puck more this season, adhering to an edict issued by coach Barry Trotz.

His shot rate per 60 minutes at even strength has doubled (8.85 from 4.05 last season) and after his first multigoal performance since Jan. 9, 2012, he has already matched his eight-goal total from last season

"He has that will, he wants to score a little bit more this year," Backstrom said. "I would say pretty much all-around, he's improved."

In particular, Johansson has been a revelation at even strength. Despite sharing the majority of his ice time with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin during the previous two seasons, Johansson rarely scored, totaling five 5-on-5 goals in 114 games. The 24-year-old book-ended Washington's scoring Tuesday with his sixth and seventh even-strength goals of the season, which also leads the team and has been a boon for his confidence.

"Maybe it gives you an extra second to hold onto the puck before you shoot it or try to make a play," Johansson said. "I think confidence plays a big role in hockey. The more goals and points you get, the more confidence you get, but especially when the team wins, that really boosts your confidence."

A fruitful second-line partnership with rookie and fellow Swede Andre Burakovsky has certainly aided in Johansson's transition. When skating together, Johansson's Corsi-for percentage -- a measurement of on-ice shot differential -- is 55.6, compared to 45.7 when separated from Burakovsky. So too has more favorable deployment; Johansson is starting more shifts in the offensive zone and facing the weakest competition of his career so far

Johansson has traditionally started fast before slowing down as the season progresses, so whether he maintains his current pace -- which would shatter his previous career-high in goals by 30 -- through the rest of the season will be key.

Regardless, his promising start has been the early surprise of the season.

"I think I've always said you work on everything," Johansson said. "Everything can still always get better. I think it's paying off a little bit. You get a couple bounces and it boosts your confidence a little bit and I think that's what's been going on a little bit. Hopefully, it can keep going."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Report: Cubs Trying to Acquire Zimmermann]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 08:14:04 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/456654928.jpg

Baseball's general managers are gathered in Phoenix this week for an annual meeting, which expectedly leads to plenty of hot-stove chatter. 

An interesting rumor surfaced Tuesday when The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs have spoken to the Nationals regarding acquiring pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.

Zimmermann, due $16.5 million next season in the final year of his contract, was arguably Washington's best pitcher last season. He finished 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in nearly 200 innings. He struck out 182 batters and held opposing hitters to a .244 batting average. Most notably, Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in Nationals history in the final game of the regular season

The Nationals have tremendous depth in their starting rotation, which in theory would allow them to trade Zimmermann without tinkering with the lineup too much. The initial report, however, has been refuted by other outlets, so Zimmermann remains a member of the Nationals. For now. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[WADA Appeals Backstrom's Silver Medal]]> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 08:11:56 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/4702418011.jpg

Tuesday afternoon, The Hockey News reported that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed the decision made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to award Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I don't really have anything to say about it," Backstrom said after the Capitals' 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. "We'll see what happens. I thought it was over, but I guess not. I don't really think about it. We'll see what's going on."

Backstrom was withheld from Sweden's 3-0 loss to Canada in the gold-medal game on Feb. 23 after testing positive for elevated levels of pseudoephedrine caused by Zyrtec-D, an allergy medication Backstrom has taken intermittently for several years. Pseudoephedrine is not a banned substance in the NHL.

The IOC defended Backstrom's suspension, but ultimately exonerated him after ruling that Backstrom did not intend to enhance his performance, placing the blame on Sweden's team physician. Backstrom received his silver medal in late August.

More from Ken Campbell:

WADA would not say on what grounds it is appealing the ruling, nor would it speculate on whether a successful appeal would mean Backstrom would be once again stripped of the silver medal he received about a month after the Olympics. If the appeal succeeds, it would stand to reason Backstrom would lose his medal and be suspended from international competition. In any event, WADA is either not buying the notion that Backstrom was an innocent victim or believes athletes are responsible for what they put in their bodies regardless of the circumstances.

The NHL is supporting Backstrom; deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN's Darren Dreger that "WADA is an organization that has clearly overgrown its original mandate and purpose. It's a travesty."

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Williams Is NL Manager of the Year]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:32:52 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/456815844.jpg

Matt Williams was named National League Manager of the Year on Tuesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America after leading the Washington Nationals to 96 victories and an NL East title.

“On behalf of the Lerner Family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, I want to offer heartfelt congratulations to Matt on this well-deserved award,” Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “His first year in the dugout was excellent, and it was a pleasure to watch him grow throughout. He is a respected leader, and the steady hand that navigated our team through many challenges this season.

“What we accomplished this season would not have been possible without the right man at the helm. That was Matt this season, and we’re all looking forward to 2015.”

Williams is the second Nationals manager to win the award, joining Davey Johnson in 2012, and the fourth first-year manager to do so. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cale Chimera Joins Dad at Capitals Practice]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 16:37:56 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000008486293_1200x675_356576323751.jpg Washington Capitals forward Jason Chimera's son Cale tagged along to practice Monday, and some of Chimera’s teammates were a little intimidated.]]> <![CDATA[Caps' Wilson, Laich Could Return From Injuries Fri.]]> Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:22:23 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458599418.jpg

Injured Washington Capitals forwards Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich sported powder-blue, non-contact jerseys Tuesday morning while the rest of their teammates prepared for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Neither will play, but both could return Friday against the New Jersey Devils if their respective recoveries remain on schedule. 

"Based on what the trainers have said, if they had a good day today, Friday is a possibility, yes," coach Barry Trotz said.

Wilson sustained a lower-body injury late in the first period of Washington's 4-3 overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. He skated one shift in the second period before leaving the game.

"It happened late in the first, then tried to see how it felt at intermission, tried to go out in the second, then came up a little sore, so I decided to stay off it, take a couple days here," Wilson said, "[and] hopefully get it back to 100 percent for sometime this week."

The 20-year-old, who graduated to the first line last week, said that his current ailment is unrelated to the fractured left fibula that required surgery this offseason. He spent Sunday, an off-day for Washington, resting, and is waiting for the "tweak" to be completely healed before attempting to re-enter the lineup. 

"If you're not 100 percent, then you won't be 100 percent for a long time," he said. "It's the sort of thing you want to take care of. So many things can happen in a game, you can get hit so many different ways, you never know. You want to be pretty close to 100 percent if you're going to be battling night in and night out. That's what we’re waiting for.

"If I can't play my game effectively, it's not really helping anyone," he said. "I'm going to make sure I feel good before jumping back in there."

Meanwhile, Laich returned Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks after missing seven games with a shoulder injury. He, however, was a late scratch Saturday after aggravating said injury. He did not speak to reporters after participating in extra conditioning work with fellow injured forward Aaron Volpatti and scratched defenseman Jack Hillen.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Burakovsky's NHL Education Hits Rough Patch]]> Sat, 08 Nov 2014 09:09:58 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458394608.jpg

There was very little that Andre Burakovsky could have done to author a better start to his NHL career.

The 19-year-old scored his first goal on his second-ever shot, punctuating the milestone by excitedly leaping into the boards. He amassed six points in his first six games, the most by a Capitals rookie to start a career since Alex Ovechkin, and was the team's best possession forward over the span, the Capitals controlling 62.50 percent of shot attempts when he was on the ice at even strength. 

With Washington mired in a funk (one that is ongoing), coach Barry Trotz elevated Burakovsky to the first line alongside Ovechkin for two games last week. Not bad for a kid who began playing center during development camp scrimmages in July.

Burakovsky, however, faced his first adversity Sunday in the Capitals' 6-5 loss to the Coyotes, skating a career-low 7:42 (though that was partially a product of a penalty-riddled game). Trotz has spoken of ice time as his primary instrument of change, which he wielded after repeated instances of lax defensive-zone coverage by Burakovsky. 

"I thought that he's got too much drift in his game, drifting off pucks," Trotz said Tuesday following Washington's morning skate. "Good example was the fourth goal [against Arizona], he drifted off the puck and they had an easy walk to the net. Those are things that he's learned. I've talked to him."

For Trotz, ice time at the center position is affected by two things: faceoffs and defensive play. Neither have been Burakovsky's strong suits. He has won 39.6 percent of his 91 faceoffs, of which only nine have been in the defensive zone. Through 12 games, Burakovsky is one of the Capitals' most sheltered players with a 66.15 offensive-zone start percentage at even strength

"Offensively, you can put people 200 feet away from your net and if they're good offensively, you can use that time," Trotz said. "But managing the game a little bit, that's where centermen lose ice time: defensively on draws or defensive zone if they're not as sharp as they can be."

Since transitioning to center, adjusting to the different and heightened defensive responsibilities required of the position has been Burakovsky's foremost focus. 

"I've got to work on that every single day," Burakovsky said. "I watch all my shifts on video and I need to really work on it and get better. I've got to work on that a lot everyday to get better on it. What's surprised me most is that if you do like small mistakes, it's going to end up in your net, it's going to be a dangerous scoring opportunity for the other team."

Burakovsky learned that lesson the hard way against the Red Wings last Wednesday during a third-period frenzy in front of the Capitals' goal. Burakovsky swooped into the slot to corral a Brooks Orpik turnover, but attempted to curl out of danger instead of making a safer play. Justin Abdelkader pickpocketed him and immediately put the puck past Braden Holtby to tie the game. 

"It happened fast. The league is fast," Burakovsky said, recalling the aforementioned sequence. "I just got the puck in the middle and I saw the guy coming at me and tried to take it to the corner and go from there, but he got a good stick on it. When I look at it now, when I think back on it, I should probably just shoot it out, get an icing or something, something like that.

"That is stuff that I have to get used to. I'm in a learning process. I'm not a pro yet. There's stuff I have to work on and stuff like that is one part of it. It's a learning process."

Trotz is not concerned about Burakovsky, knowing that most young players tend to hit a proverbial wall within the first month of their careers. Burakovsky received more of a normal workload Tuesday in Washington's 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary, skating 13:11, 11:19 at even strength. 

"That's what you see in the National Hockey League," Trotz said. "You see that almost all the time, there's exception to the rule. You'll see guys get off to really quick starts as young guys, and then they sort of hit I'll say a 10-game sort of transition period where, 'Now I'm here,' but then all of a sudden, they're not scoring. ...You see younger players sometimes fall off a little bit. 

"I'm not worried about Andre. Andre's a great skater, he's got great offensive instincts, he's a sharp kid. I'm not worried about him all. ...To me, he's going to be a top player in this league and a centerpiece, one of the centerpieces of our team for a long time."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps' Niskanen Discusses Stick-on-Puck D]]> Tue, 04 Nov 2014 09:11:32 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458058788.jpg

In the stick room that acts as a foyer to the Washington Capitals' locker room at their Arlington practice facility, Matt Niskanen's sticks sit in a stall to the left of the door, No. 2s carefully drawn in black marker on the taped-up knobs.

Laying dormant, the defenseman's stick is simply one of dozens nestled into numbered cubbies. In his hands, it is what teammate Jason Chimera recently called "one of the best sticks I've seen for a long time."

An active stick, reinforced by proper body positioning and skating technique, is an undervalued skill which Niskanen has gradually cultivated throughout his career. 

"If you have a tight gap and you're confident in your skating, it's literally just having an extended reach," Niskanen said. "It's kind of an art form where you don't want to have too active of a stick, swinging it around everywhere out of control. It's the timing of when to poke and when to just hold your reach. ...The biggest thing is just having a tight gap with your feet and then having stick on puck as much as you can."

When the NHL emerged from the 2004-05 lockout, the league produced a comprehensive set of rule changes that emphasized "entertainment, skill and competition on the ice." There would be zero tolerance on interference, hooking and obstruction. For defensemen, that meant no longer clutching and grabbing opposing forwards in an attempt to stop them.

With the speed of the game ratcheted up, being a defenseman required more nuance. 

"Back in the old days, if you couldn't skate, you could maul your way to being a pretty good defenseman in the league," coach Barry Trotz said. "You still had to have some puck skills and all that, but you didn't have to be the fastest guy. You could still get away with it and be pretty effective. ...The game for defensemen is about being able to skate a lot now."

Assistant coach Todd Reirden was actually introduced to the "stick-on-puck" concept several years earlier while playing for the St. Louis Blues in 1999-2000. Coach Joel Quenneville, now in charge of the Chicago Blackhawks, was and still is a proponent of the method, which Reirden later adopted as a pillar of his coaching philosophy.

When Reirden's widely recounted partnership with Niskanen began in Pittsburgh four years ago, Niskanen's stick detail was one skill that Reirden felt needed to be honed. Niskanen's skating ability, arguably his greatest asset, allowed him to quickly pivot into position. A smaller defenseman, a more developed stick would assist Niskanen in derailing opponents' rushes.

"He's taken a liking to it," Reirden said. "As anything, if you believe in something strongly, you're always going to be better at it. And he now knows that that's a fixture to how he needs to get better and defend and he's quickly climbed to one of the better guys in the league at it."

Niskanen studies opposing skaters on video to glean their tendencies. In practice, he mirrors the puck with his stick as he follows forwards up and down the ice.

"Just knowing when you have to have an inside stick or when you can be directly on it and have an aggressive stick," Niskanen said, explaining the different approaches to certain in-game circumstances. "Sometimes, a guy is more than 10 feet from you, it's not going to do much good to have your stick straight at him so you might have to back off and kind of try to intercept a pass, whatever it may be. A lot of it is reading situations."

Upon being hired by Washington in June, Reirden began underlining stick-on-puck with the rest of his new defensemen, incorporating the technique into practices. One of the more notable changes, according to defenseman Karl Alzner, is the defensemen are encouraged to outstretch their sticks from the outset when defending the rush as opposed to "surprising" opponents with poke checks.

"When we're at our best, you can see Capitals defensemen getting a lot of stick on puck, deflecting passes from opponents, just getting a piece of plays, forcing players to make plays sooner than they wanted to," Reirden said. "It's something that's broken down often and some of the things that I think that we'll continue to work on and continue to help us improve as a group."

Trotz has been impressed by Niskanen's all-around acumen. With the overall blue-line mobility that the Capitals possess, stick-on-puck should develop into a successful way for all of their defensemen to defend. 

"I think he's learned that you use the combination of your legs, your stick and your gap or your smarts, angles, all those things," Trotz said of Niskanen. "They come with reps, they come with understanding the game a little more and understanding how moving two feet here, two feet there could make a huge difference in that. That's what he learned.

"I think young guys sometimes blow those little details off. Even old guys, guys that aren't catching onto what's really effective, how much it matters to have your stick just on the ice and presenting it and making it more difficult than up around your ears. It's totally different. I think guys realize that's part of enhancing the game, part of getting the puck back, part of transitioning, part of defending and all that. It might sound very minor. It's like the faceoff, how crucial it is in the game to puck possession and starting with it, and doing that, where some people don't put a lot of value into it."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Frustration Overtakes Caps' Patience]]> Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:12:18 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458307656.jpg

The double doors to the Washington Capitals' locker room remained closed 10 minutes after their loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, their fourth straight and fifth in six games.

"A few more minutes, guys. Thanks for your patience," a team spokesman told the assembled media, a sentiment that surely couldn't be shared within the dressing room.

Inside, the Capitals piled up their troubles during a players-only summit, the nightmarish residue of reemerging problems staining the freshly installed carpet. The doors opened at roughly 10 p.m., leading into an eerily silent locker room, the unraveling of tape and exasperated sighs providing the only soundtrack. 

"Little grim," forward Troy Brouwer said, describing the mood. "Little grim."

As they struggled over the past week-plus, the Capitals were steadfast in their assertion that their record was not indicative of their overall effort. To their credit, they weren't completely wrong. They weren't being dominated by any stretch. But every imaginable mistake that they were making -- and there were a lot of them -- was being taken advantage of.

A 3-1 lead entering the second period, padded by Alex Ovechkin's first goal in six games, seemed safe against the hapless Coyotes, a road-weary team that was the worst the Western Conference had to offer. The two-goal lead evaporated by period's end, a painful reminder of the 13 two-goal leads that the Capitals squandered last season.

Two turnovers within 90 seconds of each other in the defensive zone, a 75-by-85-foot house of horrors for Washington a year ago, led to goals against early in the third period that sealed yet another avoidable loss.

"We need to be better, period," defenseman Mike Green said. "We let a game slip away, 3-1 lead and here we are, we lost a game. That's unacceptable. Us as guys in this dressing room need to figure it out."

If they don't, coach Barry Trotz will. In the 1,196 games that Trotz had coached in his first 15 years in the NHL, surely he had seen everything. He preached patience to his players, maintaining that adversity would test them. The inevitable upsurge of frustration, try as he might to stem it, was too much for even Trotz to handle. 

"It’s an old story already," he said. "It’s too old for me.

"That behavior has to change or we have to change people, it’s plain and simple. Ice time, look at different people in different situations. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix their behavior. It’s my job to fix the behavior. I don’t like the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, individually, then I’ll make sure I fix it."

Trotz spoke of an uneasy feeling that he had recently been having about his team. It felt like "we want to play as hard as we just need to," which significantly clashed with his industrious ideals.

It's a reputation that dogged the Capitals long before Trotz arrived and one that they will now have to work even harder to shed.

"We need to work," Brouwer said. "We need to work harder. We need to work smarter. We’re a good team in here, but we have to prove it. We have to show it."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Skins Lose 29-26 To Vikings]]> Mon, 03 Nov 2014 08:27:02 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/185*120/4582903361.jpg

Amid the bus crashes, anonymous reports and pregame protests, the Redskins did actually have a game to play Sunday, which they dropped in a 29-26 loss to the Vikings.

In his return from a dislocated left ankle, Robert Griffin III completed 18 of 28 passes for 251 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but was sacked five times. Alfred Morris ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns. 

After a first-quarter field goal, the Redskins jumped out a 10-0 lead seconds into the second quarter on Morris' 14-yard run. A Griffin interception in Washington territory with a minute left in the first half allowed the Vikings to cut their deficit to 10-7 before halftime on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Chase Ford.

Washington and Minnesota traded touchdowns in the second half with Matt Asiata's two runs sandwiching DeSean Jackson's 13-yard catch. The Redskins responded when Morris scampered into the end zone with 9:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, set up by Jackson's 56-yard over-the-shoulder catch. Asiata's third score gave the Vikings their final lead of the game. All nine of Asiata's career touchdowns have come in three-touchdown performances.

The Redskins enter their bye week 3-6. They return Nov. 16 against the Buccaneers at FedEx Field.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Report: RGIII "Alienated Himself" From Locker Room]]> Sun, 02 Nov 2014 19:56:49 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/179*120/457229126.jpg

Robert Griffin III will start for the Redskins on Sunday against the Vikings after missing six weeks with a dislocated left ankle. According to a report from ESPN, multiple sources in the organization believe that Griffin starting over Colt McCoy, who led the Redskins to two straight wins, "is an owner- and general-manager-driven decision."

Redskins executive Tony Wyllie denied those allegations, telling Adam Schefter that it was "coach [Jay Gruden's] decision, and the owner has nothing to do with it -- scratch that."

More from the report in question:

Griffin III's support with players, however, is not as strong as it is with the highest levels of the organization, according to sources. 

When Griffin began addressing the media in the locker room on Friday for the first time since dislocating his left ankle in Week 2, about 15 teammates began shouting. It was so loud and distracting, the franchise quarterback -- and reporters -- had to leave the locker room so Griffin could speak someplace where he could be heard. That's when the cheering got even more boisterous.

A source who familiar with the incident told ESPN's Britt McHenry that Griffin has "alienated himself" from the locker room.

This sort of anonymous sniping regarding Griffin was prevalent during the end of Mike Shanahan's coaching tenure. Among the complaints was Griffin's relationship with owner Daniel Snyder and how Snyder "openly esteemed him above all other players." Reportedly, that has resurfaced to some degree.

Members of the local media have vehemently refuted ESPN's assertion:

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nationals Keep Span; Soriano, LaRoche Free Agents]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:45:09 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/185*120/454564046.jpg

The Washington Nationals announced Thursday that they have exercised outfielder Denard Span's $9 million option for next season and declined the respective options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and closer Rafael Soriano.

Span's 184 hits this season were a franchise record and tied for the most in the majors. He scored 94 runs and stole a career-high 31 bases. 

"Denard was arguably our most consistent offensive player in 2014, keying so much of our offensive production, and his defense in center field is Gold Glove-caliber on a nightly basis," GM Mike Rizzo said in a statement. "We're excited to keep him in the fold for the 2015 season."

Meanwhile, LaRoche and Soriano will become free agents. LaRoche's place at first base will likely belong to Ryan Zimmermann next season. Soriano lost his role as closer late in the season after a horrendous second half.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sources: Robert Griffin III to Start Sunday]]> Thu, 30 Oct 2014 04:41:30 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/175*120/457530196.jpg

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return from his dislocated ankle injury and start against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, sources have told News4's Dianna Russini.

Coach Jay Gruden told reporters Tuesday that Griffin is "very, very, very close" to returning from the injury suffered during Washington's Week 2 victory against Jacksonville. He practiced fully Wednesday for the first time. Gruden said that Griffin's status would depend on how he practices Thursday and Friday, but apparently that decision has already been made.

In Griffin's place, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy have each started. McCoy replaced Cousins two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, leading them to an overtime victory before starting in the Redskins' 20-17 overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Wizards Open Season With Promise]]> Wed, 29 Oct 2014 07:27:22 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/164*120/457681984.jpg

When the Washington Wizards tip off the 2014-15 season Wednesday against the Miami Heats, they will do so with heightened expectations.

A 44-win season, their best record in nearly a decade, and a six-game appearance in the second round of the playoffs, their longest postseason stay in over 30 years, created a palpable buzz around the team. Led by first-time All-Star John Wall, Washington is once again expected to challenge the better teams in the Eastern Conference, namely the remodeled Cleveland Cavaliers and reinforced Chicago Bulls.

Experts predict the Wizards to win somewhere between 45-50 games, which would likely leave them as the third or fourth seed in the East. To fulfill that promise, Washington will have to overcome an early-season hurdle: the loss of guard Bradley Beal to a fractured left wrist. He and Wall meshed last season, evolving into one of the NBA's best backcourts (unless you're asking Dion Waiters). 

The loss of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets stripped the Wizards of their best perimeter defender and one of their outside scoring threats, but veteran and 10-time All-Star Paul Pierce will attempt to at least partially fill that void while also providing invaluable big-game experience. Wall will need to significantly cut down his turnovers after leading the NBA with 295 last season. 

The frontcourt of Nene (who needs to make it through an entire season without missing significant time with injuries, especially considering Washington is 21-43 without him all-time) and Marcin Gortat is formidable. Washington's bench, featuring Martell Webster, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair should be competent enough to provide support.

With LeBron James and Kevin Love now in Cleveland and a healthy Derrick Rose in Chicago, it seems like too daunting of a task for Washington to ascend to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards will certainly hover around it though, which should make for an intriguing season.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['No Means No': Redskins PR Pulls McCoy From Interview]]> Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:29:30 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/165*120/457968826.jpg

Amid the euphoria of the Redskins' 20-17 overtime victory against the Cowboys on Monday, no one can blame quarterback Colt McCoy's exuberance following his exceptional performance

But when ESPN Deportes reporter John Sutcliffe attempted to interview McCoy, Washington senior vice president of communications Tony Wyllie forcibly pulled the quarterback away.

From Dan Steinberg

"No no no, we gotta go guys, we gotta go," Wyllie said, hands on his quarterback, attempting to physically move McCoy toward his destination. But there was resistance from Sutcliffe.

"No means NO!" Wyllie finally shouted, which became the seminal moment for people attempting to make late-night jokes on the internet.

The interview eventually took place.

Wyllie explained the now-infamous moment to ProFootballTalk Tuesday morning. According to Wyllie, McCoy was needed in the locker room for a postgame speech from coach Jay Gruden. Sutcliffe had not set up an on-field interview with McCoy, but still attempted to speak to him. 

Wyllie told News4 he had nothing more to add Tuesday afternoon. "We were just trying to get the player into the locker room so he could hear the post-game speech," he said.

"The guy refused to listen about getting the player in."

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[McCoy Leads 'Skins on Another Game-Winning Drive]]> Tue, 28 Oct 2014 08:30:50 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/174*120/457969674.jpg

Let's be honest: it seemed highly unlikely that the Redskins would defeat the Cowboys on Monday.

Washington entered the game against 6-1 Dallas having lost eight straight divisional games (the longest active streak in the NFL), seven straight primetime games and 15 of its past 19 appearances on Monday Night Football

The Redskins were starting a quarterback, Colt McCoy, that was 6-15 as a starter, the third-worst winning percentage among active quarterbacks

Numbers be damned. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys in a 20-17 overtime decision, the second consecutive game that McCoy, making his first start in nearly three years, led a drive to set up a Kai Forbath game-winning field goal. (It was also the first time that these two teams have ever played an overtime game in Texas.)

Including the Redskins' 19-17 victory against the Titans last week, McCoy has completed 36 of his 42 passes with an average of 10.2 yards per pass. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no quarterback has ever completed at least 80 percent of his passes and averaged 10 yards per completion in his first two games with a team.

He is also just one of two quarterbacks over the past 10 years to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first two games with a team.

Coincidentally, McCoy's last appearance at AT&T Stadium -- a 13-12 win with Texas against Nebraska in the 2009 Big 12 championship game -- also featured late-game heroics. 

"Last-second wins, right?" McCoy joked according to AP. "But I grew up as the game went on. I felt more and more comfortable, and I started seeing the defense right. We made some plays down the stretch that good teams have to make to win games."

McCoy's spirited performances will surely lead some to clamor for him to remain the starter for the rest of the season. Those who feel that way will need to slow their roll.

"[Robert Griffin III's] our starter," coach Jay Gruden told reporters. "I haven't wavered off of that in my mind. When he's ready, he'll be ready to go."

Regardless, savor the moment. Dallas Week was a surprising success.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Capital Letters: Decisions, Decisions]]> Fri, 24 Oct 2014 15:01:55 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/457222258.jpg

Welcome back to "Capital Letters," an aptly titled and sporadic feature in which I answer any and all questions regarding the local professional hockey team. Please send all questions to @AdamVingan and follow me anyway because my mother will think that I'm more popular. 

I'll save Evgeny Kuznetsov -- No. 92 in your program, No. 4 on your forward lines and potentially No. 1 in your heart -- for last, as it might require the longest response. 

As for Tom Wilson (No. 43), he's expected to play 8-10 minutes with the Hershey Bears on Friday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

"Wilson is going to play 5-on-5," Bears coach Troy Mann told Tim Leone. "We'll just see how it's going. They've asked for 8-10 minutes [in Washington]. If he's playing 5-on-5, he will probably be in that range. I might throw him on the second power play unit, as well, or maybe save that for Sunday just depending on how things are going."

If all goes well, then I would anticipate Wilson making his season debut against the Detroit Red Wings next Wednesday, likely in a minor role before being gradually elevated in the lineup. 

Moving on, the biggest surprise so far this season has been Andre Burakovsky. Here's a 19-year-old rookie not only transitioning to center but also to the NHL, both of which present unique challenges. And through six games, he has certainly impressed.

Among all rookie skaters, his six points are second-most in the league and the most by a Capitals player in his first six games since Alex Ovechkin's seven in 2005. At even strength among his teammates, he has four points (tied for second with Troy Brouwer) and a Corsi percentage -- a proxy for puck posession -- of 62.5 (first). Burakovsky, to borrow from Japers' Rink, "has shown himself to be a dynamic player."

Honorable mention to Marcus Johansson, who said before the season that he was going to shoot more, and has. His 8.77 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 trail only Ovechkin and more than double his output from the last two seasons combined (4.11). 

Honestly, there hasn't been anyone whose performance thus far has negatively impacted my opinion of them. Glenn Healy may beg to differ with me, though.

Alright, back to Kuznetsov. Because Capitals fans always have to be in a huff about something (like right now when you inevitably scoff at me for telling you that you are always in a huff), Kuznetov's deployment as fourth-line center has confounded many.

He's averaging roughly nine minutes of even-strength ice time per game, three fewer minutes than he did in a slightly larger sample size last season. Interestingly enough, he is receiving favorable deployments, starting 82 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but is being roughed up in shot differential (46.81 Corsi percentage). His linemates (Liam O'Brien, Chris Brown and Michael Latta) are not doing much better, though.

Before you lambaste coach Barry Trotz for his decision-making process, read what he had to say to colleague/fellow hot dog enthusiast Alex Prewitt

"I'm looking for a guy like Kuzy to have a real strong career for the next 15 years or so," Trotz said. "What happens here in the next two weeks, or a month from now, will have what I think very little bearing on his long-term success here."

And Kuznetsov?

"It's big problem for me last season when I come," Kuznetsov told Prewitt about his ice-time preference. "Right now, I understand. Give me six minutes or eight minutes. It doesn't matter to me. All we need to do, win the game."

Rest easy. 

Speaking of Kuznetsov's linemates, one has to wonder what the future holds for O'Brien and Latta (and Brown) when Wilson and Aaron Volpatti return from their injury-induced absences.

O'Brien is a terrific story, a player passed over in multiple drafts who wows the Capitals' front office, earns an entry-level contract and wags his tongue at John Scott. Unfortunately, I believe his story will end in Hershey in the coming weeks. It won't come as an indictment of his overall play, but simply a logical move to make room on the roster. 

Latta, however, may stick around. He and Brown have split time on the fourth line, each appearing in three games, but Brown is waiver-exempt. Latta isn't, so that may give him the edge.

Schmidt, who I must say is one of the smiliest people I've ever met, seems destined for Hershey as well when Dmitry Orlov heals from offseason wrist surgery. Jack Hillen should function as the seventh defenseman.  

Last season, the Capitals allowed 29 goals within two minutes after scoring, tying the Los Angeles Kings' record set in 2010-11. The first instance this season came Wednesday in Washington's 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Ovechkin whiffed on a shot from the left point, allowing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to scoop up the puck and scoot up ice for a game-tying goal 20 seconds after Mike Green gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead.

What will it take for them not to give up 28 more? Not missing shots from the point that allow for breakouts in the other direction, for one. For what it's worth, the Capitals have been better in "close" situations this season, defined as the score being within one goal in the first and second periods or tied in the third. Their Corsi percentage is 54.9, compared to 47.66 last season.

Really though, one isn't too much to worry about. Call me when they get to five. My number is [REDACTED].

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The 'Skinny: Cowboys]]> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:56:20 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/162*120/4575177541.jpg

Welcome back to the second season of "The 'Skinny," a weekly preview of the local professional football team's upcoming game and opponent. Every Thursday, you can find any and all information* about the Redskins' next opponent in this space.

(*Sometimes, it may be some or most information.)

Opponent: Dallas Cowboys (6-1)

Game information: Mon., Oct 27 -- AT&T Stadium -- 8:30 p.m. -- ESPN

Last Week: Hey, the Redskins won a football game, defeating the Titans 19-17. How about that? Meanwhile, the Cowboys keep winning football games, their 31-21 victory against the Giants being their sixth straight.

What's The Skinny?

When the season began, few expected the Cowboys to be the league's best team nearly midway through, but here we are. Dallas is buoyed by running back DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL with 913 rushing yards on 187 carries, 61 more than any other player. To thank his offensive line, Murray purchased iMacs for each of them

If the Redskins focus too much of their attention attempting to lock down Murray, then they might get burnt by Tomo Romo. The quarterback's 69.2 completion percentage is the best in the league. Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant have combined for 10 touchdown catches.

That is a lot to handle for Washington, which cannot defeat NFC East rivals (eight straight losses) or win on Mondays (4-15 since 2000). Projected starter Colt McCoy was 6-15 as a starter for the Browns in a previous life. All of those numbers conspire against the Redskins, but obviously the numbers are not playing the games, so you never know. 

Statistic Of The Week: Murray is the first running back in NFL history to start the season with seven straight 100-yard rushing efforts. He is also on pace to break Larry Johnson's single-season rushing attempt record of 416 set in 2006.

What They're Saying

“I’m approaching this like any other game … There’s no extra emotions. I’m not going out there trying to be no hero. I’m just trying to be the player I am.”

- Defensive end and former Cowboy Jason Hatcher on facing his former team

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sources: RGIII Out Against Cowboys]]> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:45:15 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/457492620.jpg

Though Redskins coach Jay Gruden has not publicly ruled out the possibility of Robert Griffin III returning from his dislocated ankle Monday against the Cowboys, sources tell News4's Dianna Russini that he will not play and Colt McCoy will start. 

Griffin, who has not played since Week 2 against the Jaguars, received a heavier workload at practice Wednesday while wearing a protective brace on his left ankle. Gruden said that McCoy is the projected starter against Dallas "as of right now."

"I'd like to make a decision tomorrow after practice," Gruden told reporters Wednesday.

McCoy replaced Kirk Cousins in the second half of Washington's win against Tennessee last week, completing 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps Cutting Down Opponents' Shots ]]> Sat, 25 Oct 2014 16:43:55 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/457222332.jpg

No one needs to be reminded of the Washington Capitals' porous defense last season (or last season as a whole, really), but among their myriad problems was an inability to limit shots against.

As a refresher, the Capitals allowed 33.5 shots per game, 27th in the NHL, and 31.3 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, 26th. That was seemingly alright by former coach Adam Oates and then-general manager George McPhee, the latter of whom told former colleague Katie Carrera that "We play a system where teams get probably more shots the way we play but most of them are from the outside, we’ll allow those."

Coach Barry Trotz, however, does not subscribe to that particular ideology, which is reflected in his team's statistics through five games:   

Shots Against Per Game

  • 2013-14: 33.5 (27th)
  • 2014-15: 25.0 (5th)

Shots Against Per 60 Minutes 5-on-5

  • 2013-14: 31.3 (26th)
  • 2014-15: 23.8 (5th)

Blocked Shots Per Game

  • 2013-14: 14.7
  • 2014-15: 17.2 

Corsi Percentage 5-on-5

  • 2013-14: 47.7% (24th)
  • 2014-15: 52.4% (11th)

(A proxy for puck possession totaling shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots)

Limited sample size aside, early returns are encouraging. In three of Trotz's first five games, the Capitals have allowed 25 or fewer shots. In 130 regular-season games under Oates, they did so 12 times. 

There are a few reasons for that significant improvement. Trotz encourages his players to block shots, something Oates dissuaded them from doing. A stabilized defensive corps, made so by the offseason acquisitions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, has also helped.

“Nisky’s better than ever I thought he was defensively," forward Jason Chimera said. "His stick is one of the best sticks I’ve seen for a long time. And Orpi, everyone knows Orpik blocks shots. We’ve been pretty solid right now.”

Another is the Capitals, as Trotz presented Monday, "don’t spend particularly a lot of time in our end." A simple eye test proved that Washington struggled to break out effectively last season, with sloppy execution leading to prolonged shifts chasing the puck in the defensive zone. An emphasis on controlled zone exits has led to smoother transitions up ice. 

"When we get into the zone, we’re communicating better with each other and we’re finding the open lanes and we’re finding a way to get out of the zone as opposed to previous years where we got it, we just tried to rim it up the boards or tried to force plays," said forward Eric Fehr, one of Washington's best skaters at exiting the zone last season. "We do a good job of communicating with each other and finding outlets.”

As a result, less of a burden has been placed upon the goaltenders, who are no longer forced to make several game-preserving saves.  

"How we’re playing is the right way," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "It gives everyone a certain job. We know what the group expects out of us as goaltenders that we’re going to have those two or three saves a game that we need to make and it’s not seven or eight of them. It’s a controlled number because everyone’s doing their role so well that we’re keeping our shot totals down, we’re keeping those chances-against down and developing offense through it. What we’ve done on the defensive end is the reason why our record is what it is.”

In describing what his "five, five, five" on-ice philosophy looks like when working at optimum efficiency, Trotz has offered the visual of five red jerseys playing in all three zones at once. The adjustment is ongoing, but the Capitals are already seeing the benefits. 

“That’s a hard part of the game because it’s simple but very difficult to train your mind to go hard in those areas, especially the wingers to get back that extra five feet, take those extra two strides when you don’t think that they mean anything when they do," Holtby said. "The centers to get low, the D-men to get back quick for their partner when sometimes you let up naturally, it's those parts of the game that are extremely tough and people don’t notice and I think we’ve done an outstanding job of it so far.

"It’s those little things that Barry wants to implement and that’s what’s going to make us successful.”

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps' Wilson Reassigned To Hershey]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:11:44 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/185770109.jpg

His rehabilitation from offseason ankle surgery apparently nearing an end, the Washington Capitals reassigned forward Tom Wilson to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League with the expectation that he will make his season debut this weekend.

The 20-year-old Wilson, one of three rookies to appear in all 82 of his team's games last season, fractured his left fibula in what the Capitals plainly described as a "fall" this summer. The Capitals bandied about potential rehabilitation routes for Wilson, including starting the process with minimal fourth-line minutes in Washington before handling more substantial ice time in Hershey. 

After practice Monday, coach Barry Trotz predicted that Wilson "probably" would appear at some point during the Capitals' three-game, week-long Canadian road trip. 

Instead, Wilson is expected to play in two of the Bears' three games this weekend: Friday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Saturday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Hershey's home opener. 

“Obviously I want to play,” Wilson said Monday. “It’s really tough watching the guys do battle every night and watching from the press box. But you don’t want to rush it back. Hopefully, I’m going to be here for a long time and help this team win some games down the road. So I just want to make sure that when I come back it’s going to be 100 percent and I’m going to be able to help out as best as I can.” 

When Wilson returns to Washington's lineup, where he will slot in provides ample intrigue. Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan envision a significantly larger role for Wilson, who was exclusively utilized in a fourth-line role last season. In order to provide him with that opportunity, top-six tinkering will be necessary.

Wilson's assignment is not being considered a conditioning loan, which carries a maximum length of 14 days. As he is signed to an entry-level contract, he will also receive an AHL salary, listed by CapGeek as $70,000.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orakpo Out For Season ]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:50:03 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/177*120/455915850.jpg

The Washington Redskins will be without outside linebacker Brian Orakpo for the rest of the season after coach Jay Gruden confirmed that the pass-rusher will need surgery to repair a torn right pectoral muscle sustained against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Orakpo has suffered two torn pectoral muscles in the past, but both were on the left side. Making over $11 million under the franchise tag, Orakpo has a half-sack this season and 24 total tackles. WIth his lack of production and injury woes, his Redskins career is likely over after six seasons.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Laich Won't Join Caps On Road Trip]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:23:04 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/193*120/4628567231.jpg

Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich did not practice Monday with an apparent left-shoulder injury and will not join the team on its upcoming three-game road trip through western Canada. 

"I think we're looking at probably the first game back from the trip [Oct. 29 against the Detroit Red Wings]," coach Barry Trotz said. "Not too serious but serious enough where I don't think he will be quite effective for us in the three games.

"It's not a six-week thing. I think it's a week to 10 days and he should be ready to roll."

Laich exited the Capitals' 2-1 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday with roughly five minutes remaining in regulation after a shoulder-to-shoulder collision with Shawn Thornton.

Trotz classified the injury as "upper body" after the game, perhaps a somewhat comforting diagnosis considering Laich has missed 70 regular-season games in the past two seasons with a recurring groin injury. 

Washington will place Laich on short-term injured reserve retroactive to Saturday for the time being. In his place, Jay Beagle, who missed the Capitals' first five games with an upper-body injury sustained during the preseason, will be activated from injured reserve and make his season debut against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. 

The 29-year-old is expected to serve as the right wing on a line with Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky, Laich's linemates for the past two games. Trotz, however, will shuffle his forward lines if necessary.

"It's sort of ideal where Beags can play a number of positions," he said. "I put him out there [at practice] just to see how that might work and look. I've got Plan B in order if it's not working as well as I thought."

Following the game against the Oilers on Wednesday, the Capitals play their first back-to-back set of the season against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and Sunday.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Skins Defeat Titans, Cousins Benched ]]> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:51:08 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/457502560.jpg

When Kirk Cousins relieved Robert Griffin III several weeks ago when the latter suffered a dislocated ankle, he threw a touchdown on his first pass and it was believed that he could realistically lead the Redskins to success. Perhaps even better than his predecessor. 

Then the Redskins didn't win with Cousins under center and we all found out that he's pretty terrible. That's why he was mercifully benched at halftime for third-stringer Colt McCoy against the Titans on Sunday. On McCoy's first pass of the season, he also threw a touchdown, a 70-yarder to Pierre Garcon. The Cult of Colt -- albeit a different Colt -- was reborn.

One second-quarter sequence more or less encapsulated Cousins' incomprehensible woes. Bashaud Breeland intercepted Charlie Whitehurst at Washington's 42-yard line. On literally the next play, Cousins' pass intended for Andre Roberts was picked off by Wesley Woodyard. For a change of pace, Cousins threw an interception -- his ninth of the season -- in the first half after the other eight came in the second. He also fumbled. His 11 turnovers lead the NFL.

No matter. McCoy's touchdown gave the Redskins a 13-10 lead. Tennessee took a 17-16 in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard catch by Derek Hagan, who spent last season as a sports talk radio analyst. McCoy then marched Washington up the field, setting up a game-winning field goal from Kai Forbath to end a four-game losing streak in a 19-17 victory. 

(Can't you see that I'm trying to craft a legend here? I haven't even gotten to the part where hysterical Redskins fans attempt to trade McCoy in their minds for a multiple second-round draft picks yet! Also, it's sort of ironic that Cousins' first win as a starter came in a game that he wasn't allowed to finish.)

Anyway, there is sure to be some sort of reinvigorated quarterback controversy this week leading up to next Monday's matchup against the Cowboys. You're shocked, I know. Just enjoy the win while you can.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.co

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[The 'Skinny: Week 7 v. Titans]]> Sun, 19 Oct 2014 06:11:39 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/457119396.jpg

Welcome back to the second season of "The 'Skinny," a weekly preview of the local professional football team's upcoming game and opponent. Every Thursday, you can find any and all information* about the Redskins' next opponent in this space.

(*Sometimes, it may be some or most information.)

Game information: Sun., Oct. 19 at 1 p.m. at FedEx Field. Broadcast on CBS.

Last Week: Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Redskins lost. Again. To whom doesn't matter. (It was Arizona.) Meanwhile, the Titans actually won a game, defeating the Jaguars 16-14.

What's The Skinny?

Oh, you're still here? I commend you on your resolve. They pay me to be here.

Anyway, the Redskins have lost four straight games, three of which were double-digit defeats. The equally mediocre Titans, who just snapped a four-game losing streak of their own, may provide the Redskins with an actual opportunity to win a football game.

My colleague Rick Snider at Washington Post Express has provided five reasons why you should still watch, which are five more than I can think of. 

Statistic Of The Week: Washington currently has a 0.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, so there is little to no hope that a win Sunday will catapult it back into contender status.

What They're Saying 

"I'm losing track."

- Redskins coach Jay Gruden mistakingly stating that the team's record was 1-6 during a press conference this week. The joke writes itself. 

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caps' Schmidt Happy to Be Contributing]]> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:06:28 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/454224643.jpg

Nate Schmidt strolls into the locker room after practice, almost bouncing with each step, offering a smile and fist bump to anyone he passes on the way to his stall in the back right corner. 

"Always smiling, that kid," defenseman Mike Green recently remarked, a grin creeping across his face.  

It's an infectious positivity that has characterized the 23-year-old since childhood. That sunny disposition has cheered up countless teammates and once prompted former Hershey Bears coach Mike Haviland to ask him to complement his pleasant off-ice personality with a fiercer attitude on it, something Schmidt is just now getting the hang of. 

“I just enjoy the little things," Schmidt said earlier this week. "Just coming to the rink, being up here, playing in Washington. I enjoy that. But it doesn’t change if I go somewhere else. I just like to have a very positive outlook on everything, so I try to stay positive around the guys. And it’s contagious too.

"When you are positive, it kind of comes full circle, maybe you bring someone else along who maybe brings someone else along. If you bring the right vibes to the rink or you bring the right vibes to your life, it makes a big difference, I think.”

Schmidt, as is his wont, is just happy to be here, but he earned his place on the Capitals' opening-night roster after an impressive preseason. Signed as an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota in April 2013, he appeared in 29 games last season as one of four Capitals defensemen to make their NHL debuts, a product of Washington's dubious defensive depth. 

Such an opportunity became significantly less replicable this summer. Displeased with the flimsy blue line, new general manager Brian MacLellan lured veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to Washington from the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1 for a combined cost of nearly $68 million.

With Dmitry Orlov, the presumptive sixth defenseman, recovering from offseason wrist surgery, there was realistically one spot up for grabs come training camp. 

“For me, it actually kind of made me work that much harder," Schmidt said, recalling his initial reaction to the free-agent signings. "I thought to myself like I really need to make an impression. Otherwise, I’ll be just another one of those young guys that are grouped together. With a new staff, they didn’t know much about us because there was such a limited viewing for all of us, so I thought there was something that really needed to step out to try and separate myself from the rest of the young guys."

"I had nothing to lose. The expectation was probably I was supposed to start in Hershey, but if I come in and play well, maybe I get a chance.”

So Schmidt overhauled his offseason training regimen. He began to run less and skate more, honing his signature skating ability and building lower-body strength. He revamped his diet, significantly reducing his body fat percentage. Last month, he arrived in Arlington prepared to impress. 

"The thing that jumps out at you is his ability to skate," said assistant coach Todd Reirden, who was familiar with Schmidt prior to either of them joining the Capitals organization through scouting. "He's an elite skater at all levels of hockey, but you can definitely notice it at the National Hockey League level as well. He clearly made a different commitment in the summer to his off-ice training. He's much stronger in down-low battles and his compete level is at a higher level than the games I watched from last year."

Schmidt skated 13:14 in Washington's season-opening shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday, but even more of an affirmation of the Capitals' faith in him came two days later. With Green making his season debut against the Boston Bruins after an upper-body injury held him out of the opener, coach Barry Trotz kept Schmidt in the lineup over veteran Jack Hillen.

“He’s really gotten better and played really well," Trotz said. "He’s turned some really good situations into good offense. His transitional game is really good and he’s such a strong skater.

"I just felt confidence-wise, Nate was in a good place."

Schmidt will tell you the same thing. It no longer unsettles him to be living at the team hotel next door to the practice facility. He doesn't peruse and parse his teammates' statistics looking for proof of some sort of edge anymore. 

With Orlov eligible to return early next month, Schmidt, who is waiver-exempt, may be the most logical corresponding roster move. At the very least, he can make that decision a difficult one.

"I was so nervous about every little thing that happened," Schmidt said. "This year, my experience has showed me that things will happen, you create your own luck and you determine your own destiny with how you play."

He then crosses the street toward his hotel, a spring in his step and a smile on his face.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Laich Earns Honest Abe's Beard for Sacrificing Body]]> Tue, 14 Oct 2014 19:56:20 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/brooks+like+honest+abe+beard.jpg Brooks Laich earned Honest Abe's Beard from his Washington Capitals teammates for sacrificing his body to block a shot in a win over Boston. Jason Pugh reports.]]> <![CDATA[The Cooley Report: RGIII Deserves a Shot]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 18:46:34 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/455437016.jpg Chris Cooley says it's clear Robert Griffin III deserves another shot at quarterback when he returns from injury in light of Kirk Cousins' recent play.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA['Skins Lose Fourth Straight Against Cardinals]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/174*120/457128090.jpg

The Redskins lost again, but you already knew that.

This time, they did so to the Cardinals by a 30-20 score, their fourth straight loss in a season that most of you probably wish would already end. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it isn't even half over. 

After falling behind 7-0 on a Michael Floyd 20-yard touchdown catch, the Redskins countered when Kirk Cousins threaded a pass to DeSean Jackson, who took off for a 64-yarder. All three of Jackson's touchdowns this season have been at least 60-yard catches, justifying his deep-threat reputation. He may have had another one later if not for Chris Chester, who happens to also play for the Redskins, knocking Jackson over as he charged downfield to block for the wide receiver.

Larry Fitzgerald caught a touchdown late in the second quarter to give Arizona the lead for good. Then there were some field goals, Andre Roberts fumbled and Brian Orakpo dropped a sure interception that people got mad about. Another field goal followed. Oh, and Cousins threw more late-game interceptions, the last of which was returned for a touchdown. That more or less covers it. 

The Redskins will face the Titans at FedEx Field next Sunday.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>