<![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 Mon, 22 Dec 2014 08:45:11 -0500 Mon, 22 Dec 2014 08:45:11 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Caps Assign Burakovsky to AHL]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 08:40:29 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459732008.jpg

The Washington Capitals assigned rookie forward Andre Burakovsky to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Friday.

Burakovsky, Washington's 2013 first-round draft pick, parlayed an impressive development camp, rookie camp, training camp and preseason into an opening-night roster spot. His inclusion was made even more noteworthy by his successful transition to center, an organizational experiment implemented this summer.

After a torrid start that saw him record eight points in his first nine games, Burakovsky has significantly cooled. The 19-year-old, despite still leading the Capitals with 2.07 even-strength points per 60 minutes, has five points in 17 November and December games. Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch in five of Washington's past eight games, his ice time plummeting to as low as 5:37 and mostly hovering around 10 minutes. In the three games he has played in, Burakovsky has not been trusted in late-game situations, taking six total third-period shifts

Coach Barry Trotz had been adamant about Burakovsky working through the rough patch in his development with the Capitals, recently balking at the idea of loaning him to Sweden for the World Junior Championships later this month. Thursday, however, Trotz vocalized potentially sending Burakovsky to the minors for the first time this season. 

“If he’s not playing in the next games here on a fairly regular basis,” Trotz told reporters after Washington's morning skate in Columbus, "then I’m going to have him go to Hershey for a bit and play lots of minutes.”

Burakovsky will play for the Bears on Friday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.


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<![CDATA[McCoy's Season Over, Placed on IR]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:47:21 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/460462774.jpg

The Redskins' season is virtually and mercifully almost over, but quarterback Colt McCoy's season ended Tuesday when he was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a neck injury.

Robert Griffin III will start Saturday against the Eagles and presumably in the season finale against the Cowboys barring injury or yet another substantial collapse in his play.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rendering of Braves Stadium Depicts Loss to Nationals]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 10:12:24 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/183*120/B477oD1IcAAJ_Yl.jpg

The Atlanta Braves are opening a new stadium, scheduled to be ready for the 2017 season.

They recently released an updated rendering of SunTrust Park, which features them losing to the Nationals. 

The Nationals lost six of their nine games at Turner Field last season, for what it's worth. 


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Photo Credit: Braves]]>
<![CDATA[Robert Griffin III to Start Against Eagles]]> Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:21:40 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/460467062.jpg

Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback for the Redskins Saturday against the Eagles, coach Jay Gruden announced.

"This is Robert's team right now," Gruden told reporters Monday. "From there, we'll take it one game at a time and make our judgments and conclusions after that."

Griffin replaces Colt McCoy, who aggravated a neck injury on the opening series against the Giants Sunday. Griffin went on to complete 18-of-27 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.

This is the Redskins' fifth quarterback change of the season.

"It's not what you want," Gruden said. "You want somebody to take the position and play and have success, obviously. I have nothing against all three. I think all three quarterbacks have a good future. I just want somebody to take the position and run with it, and hopefully we'll see something like that this week with Robert."



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Nats, Harper Agree to Deal: Report]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 09:37:22 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/456820488.jpg

The Washington Nationals and slugger Bryce Harper have agreed to a two-year deal, avoiding what would have likely been a fierce arbitration hearing, according to several reports.

A bit of background from The Washington Post on the disagreement that was reportedly settled:

Harper and the Nationals had been at odds over how his salary would be determined because of a rare dispute over the contract he signed as a first-round draft pick in 2010. If the sides had not settled, the Nationals and their most recognizable player would have engaged in a potentially contentious hearing Tuesday.

Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, believed Harper had the right to opt out of his prescribed 2015 salary ($1.5 million) and into baseball’s lucrative arbitration system. The Nationals contended his contract did not include the ability to opt out because it had never been included in the deal,

The two-time All-Star and 2012 National League Rookie of the Year will be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season.


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<![CDATA[Caps Experience Vintage Night At Verizon]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 11:56:48 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/4604317981.jpg

As the Washington Capitals transformed into a regular-season powerhouse and Stanley Cup contender several seasons ago, Verizon Center naturally paralled that evolution.

Once a haven for opposing fans, the arena overflowed with red-clad, cacophonous supporters, providing the Capitals with one of the NHL'a most pronounced home-ice advantages. Only the San Jose Sharks could boast the same success between the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons, matching the Capitals' 110 wins in 164 home games. 

Lately though, the Capitals had given their fans very little to cheer about. Five wins in 14 games prior to Washington's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the team's worst start at Verizon Center in seven years, produced little excitement. The silence of indifference was often met by frustrated sighs of resignation, sounds that had become more distinctive than the wail of the Capitals' goal horn.

Yet there was a throwback feel Saturday. The Capitals, in a scoreless tie with the Lightning midway through the second period, were forced to kill a two-minute two-man disadvantage. Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, hugging the left post, poked at a rebound that skittered toward the goal line, inches away from siphoning the energy out of the building. Braden Holtby contorted himself, scooping the puck with his stick blade and quickly freezing it.

For the first time this season, Verizon Center truly erupted. "Holt-by" chants were followed by thunderous roars with each successful clear. Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green charged out of the penalty box. The Horn Guy trumpeted his trademark cadence, the deafening "Let's Go Caps!" call-and-response functioning as fuel at ice level. 

"People sometimes [don’t] realize how much energy they can give us, but we’ve got to give them something to get excited [about]," coach Barry Trotz said. "If it’s a great hockey game and we need a boost, we’ll take any energy they can give us.

"It was loud. It was loud and it was fun. I think they recognized the commitment and the detail and the hard work of those guys at that critical moment in the game and we thank them for that because to tell you what, after that [the five-on-three penalty kill], those guys were pretty gassed and they can feed off that energy.”

With momentum firmly seized, Nicklas Backstrom flung a backhand past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop less than two minutes later, the first of his three goals in a 4-2 victory. Of course, it wouldn't have been a Capitals game without cardiac-arrest-inducing anxiety; Tyler Johnson and Matt Carle scored twice in the final five minutes to give Tampa Bay an unexpected opportunity to tie the game. 

Eric Fehr relieved the mounting tension with an empty-netter from just inside the red line with 39 seconds left. The crowd exhaled and cheered once more, a vintage night complete. 

"The energy was great," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "When you have that kind of energy in a game, it makes a big difference. It gets everybody into it. The fans into it, us into it."


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Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Washington Capitals Help Grant 8-Year-Old's Wishes]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:41:31 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000008817956_1200x675_371541059716.jpg This morning the Washington Capitals helped an 8-year-old girl have her wishes come true on the ice.]]> <![CDATA[Wilson's Ability to Agitate Assists Caps]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 08:46:53 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/460336586.jpg

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson glided toward the goalmouth midway through the second period Thursday, adhering to the net-front directive of the coaching staff. There he met Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski, who proceeded to snap his stick across Wilson's face, the left side of which still felt sore the next morning.

That lingering discomfort stung a little less knowing that it gave the Capitals an opportunity to win. Wilson resisted the urge to retaliate and drew two penalties on the play as a result, handing Washington's second-ranked power play four minutes with the score tied 1-1.

"Last night, he knew we were running into a goaltender that was keeping them in the game and he knew that our power play's been pretty good all year, that that would give us an advantage," coach Barry Trotz said of the Capitals' 3-2 overtime loss. "He was thinking about the team over himself. Trust me, I tell him, 'Just take a number and there will be a time and a place where you can say, 'OK remember when you got me there? Let's settle a score here.'

"I think he understands that role and he gave us a chance to win a hockey game. That's being a very good teammate, understanding the moment, understanding the situation and to me, that's a young player who gets it."

Wilson's ability to agitate opposing skaters has been an asset this season. Excluding coincidental minors (of which there have been a few), Wilson has drawn 1.8 penalties per 60 minutes this season, a figure that leads the Capitals and ranks 10th among NHL forwards with at least 10 games played.

In the Capitals' past two games, Wilson has accounted for 8:30 of their 12:36 of total power-play time. Trotz attributed that to Wilson's willingness to, among other things, venture into the harshest on-ice environments.

"You've got to be smart about it," WIlson said Friday. "You've got to be mature and be professional because it can really change a game. A power play can win you games, it can lose you games so you've always got to be conscious of that and you always want to put our team up a man because we're so good on the power play so it's definitely a conscious thought." 

Knowing when to prod an opponent has been an ongoing topic of discussion as it relates to Wilson, who had little choice but to fight during his rookie season while affixed to the fourth line. His five fights this season still lead the team, but playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom carries a heightened level of responsibiity, including not putting Washington at a disadvantage. 

"Trust me, he's not not retaliating because he's scared to," Trotz said. "He's doing the right thing at the right time. That's showing a lot of maturity and being a great team guy. That's how teams win, when people are not selfish."

As Wilson skates or is escorted away from post-whistle scrums that he is often at the center of, a wry smile usually creeps across his face, probably more than enough to further ruffle his particular adversary. Within that grin, he communicates that he is capable of personally inflicting punishment, but would rather his teammates do so instead. 

"You see me smiling, it's just kind of letting them know like they got the better hand on the cheap shot, but hopefully our power play's going to put one in," Wilson said. "There's no worse feeling, you can get punched in the face 10 times, but if you're sitting in the box and the other team scores a goal, you ask most guys, that's one of the worst feelings in hockey."


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Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[McCoy to Start for 'Skins if Healthy]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 16:40:39 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/460110842.jpg

Colt McCoy will start at quarterback for the Redskins Sunday against the Giants as long as he is medically cleared to do so, coach Jay Gruden said Thursday.

"We've had looks at all three quarterbacks and based on what we have seen out at practice, for the whole training camp and offseason and the game situations, right now we feel Colt is in the lead," Gruden told reporters. "So if he's healthy and gets a clean bill of health then he will be our starter."

McCoy suffered a neck injury last week against the Rams, but tests concluded that there was no structural damage, according to reports. He practiced Wednesday.

"I threw the ball well," McCoy said. "It never was a shoulder. I'm just dealing with a little aggravated disc, an aggravated nerve in my neck. If that calms down, we'll be fine."

Robert Griffin III will remain McCoy's backup.

"We've seen a lot of him and if he gets another opportunity to play -- which could happen, it could happen as soon as the first quarter of this game, it could happen next week, I don't know -- but our decision is to go with Colt and see how he does," Gruden said. "The rest of it will take care of itself."


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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Roberts, Breeland Fight at Practice]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:29:01 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/215*120/B4gnMarCQAA5Myz.png

A fight broke out between Redskins wide receiver Andre Roberts and cornerback Bashaud Breeland at practice Wednesday.

NBC4's Jason Pugh was at practice Wednesday; he reported that Roberts and Breeland were going one-on-one in drills, but right now it's unclear what sparked the fight.

When asked if the disagreement between Roberts with him and Breeland had been squashed, he half smiled and declined to comment. Breeland and Roberts have yet to speak to media, but their teammates are saying the fight was no big deal, Pugh reported.

The altercation, caught on video, shows Breeland throwing two punches; Roberts threw a few as well. It's difficult to determine from the video who may have struck first.

Here's some background on the incident from CSN Washington:

Moments before the scuffle broke out, Breeland had been in tight coverage of Roberts on a deep pass from Colt McCoy. Roberts did not hold onto the ball, and both players tumbled to the turf. 

Breeland briefly grabbed his groin area with both hands as he got up. It’s possible the rookie was injured as the two players hit the ground because he bent over for a moment before returning to the drill line.

When Roberts and Breeland returned to the sideline, Roberts removed his helmet and confronted Breeland. The players squared up and then exchanged a few punches before teammates Ryan Clark, E.J. Biggers and Ryan Grant, among others, separated them.

Roberts also shoved Clark as Clark attempted to diffuse the situation.


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Photo Credit: @CSNRedskins]]>
<![CDATA["Streaky" Brouwer In Search Of Consistency For Caps]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 18:47:23 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459367926.jpg

Troy Brouwer knows that he'll likely never be a point-per-game player, though he'll certainly try. The Washington Capitals forward has prided himself on being diverse in his on-ice contributions, playing sound two-way hockey and complementing the skill of his linemates. 

In three-plus seasons as a top-six fixture with the Capitals, Brouwer has developed into more of an offensive threat. He will play in his 238th game with Washington on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning with 68 goals, 19 more than he scored in 238 games with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to a 2011 draft-day trade. 

Lately though, Brouwer's contributions have been scant, limited to two goals in Washington's past 15 games, each scored from his station in the slot on the power play. Last Tuesday marked the one-month anniversary of Brouwer's last even-strength goal, netted with goaltender Braden Holtby pulled in favor of an extra attacker in a 6-5 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 2. He has scored 0.37 goals per 60 minutes at even strength through 26 games, his lowest rate since his first full NHL season in 2008-09. 

"I've been a little bit streaky this year as far as my consistency," Brouwer acknowledged Monday. "I've got to pick that up to help our line continue to progress and be a dangerous line that teams don't want to go out on the ice against."

He later added, "I've got to be more consistent as far as being involved in the games. There's been a few games where I've kind of on the outside chasing the puck a little bit. I just need to be more of a factor in games rather than just kind of being there."

Coach Barry Trotz has spoken with Brouwer about being more of an active participant away from the puck, moving his feet more to create plays and prevent him from becoming a bystander.

Equally important to Trotz is Brouwer functioning as a stabilizing presence for rookies Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky as they work through their ongoing transitions to center. Trotz has recently implemented a platoon system of sorts in which Kuznetsov and Burakovsky share playing time between Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. Kuznetsov will likely play against the Lightning on Tuesday, while Burakovsky should be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

“The other responsibility that I’ve talked to him and Marcus is that I’ve put probably the two young centermen in between those two guys, and now you have to embrace that,” Trotz said. “We talked about that, that’s really a responsibility of the veteran guys, embrace it. That’s part of being a good leader… I thought they were pretty effective in [a 4-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday], and hopefully when that happens, you can get four lines going and be pretty dangerous.”

It is up to Brouwer and Johansson to revitalize the second line, which has scored once since Nov. 11 and received the lowest amount of even-strength ice time among forwards in each of the past two games. For Brouwer in particular, that process begins with leading by example.

"With our two young centermen that we're rotating between, Burra and Kuzy, with having one guy or the other guy each night, we have to have a baseline on our line which is consistency and being able to be good in our D-zone, being able to help those guys out in tough situations and push forward," Brouwer said. "For me, being the older guy on the line, that needs to be primarily my responsibility with the young guys on our line.

"I feel like I've been alright with it, but I've got to continue to get better. Our line needs to be a dangerous line for this hockey team and it starts with me being more consistent."


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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cooley Report: Fletcher v. Haslett and the QB Carousel]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 20:24:22 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/london-fletcher-rested-bye.jpg Chris Cooley shares his opinion on former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher's comments about defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the quarterback situation.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[EPIX Arrives to Chronicle Caps]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 08:58:03 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459852206.jpg

The corps that regularly follows the Washington Capitals, already sizable as is, will swell by about 15 beginning Friday when an EPIX film crew officially embeds with the team.

For the next month, the Capitals' preparations for the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, to be played against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 1 at Nationals Park, will be chronicled as part of a four-part miniseries. The first episode will debut Dec. 16 at 10 p.m. and all four will be streamed live as they premiere on a variety of digital platforms, including the NHL's official website. (The network will also capture the buildup to the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series against the Los Angeles and San Jose Sharks, which will air in February.)

Several of Washington's players are familiar with the all-access nature of the show, having participated in the inaugural season of HBO's "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" in 2010. The same producer who helmed that program, 52-time Emmy winner Ross Greenburg, will once again be in charge of combing through the unfiltered footage compiled during 16-hour days and formatting a week's worth into a one-hour episode. 

"I think it’s important that they know that we’re trying to be professionals, not invade their ability to do their job, but rather just be a fly on the wall, get the cameras out, put the microphones on and learn about them as people," Greenburg said. "Because as much as they’re held up as these superstar athletes, they’re all people."

When Greenburg last documented the Capitals, they were an emergent team navigating the pressure that naturally arises as a result, all while fighting the frustration of an eight-game losing streak. The cast of Capitals characters -- a charismatic superstar in Alex Ovechkin, a colorful coach in Bruce Boudreau -- made for entertaining television. 

Those elements still remain, albeit in different forms. Ovechkin is "not the kid who was flying around four or five years ago," Greenburg said, and he plans to focus on Ovechkin the "matured mentor" as he guides young Russians Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Barry Trotz, as vivid as Boudreau, will be a central figure as a coach and father.

"There’s nothing like the leading force of a coach in terms of setting the tone of his ball club or his team and in this case I think Barry Trotz is a really unique guy," Greenburg said. "He’s very down to earth, he’s a player’s coach and I think that you can already see the bonding taking place between the superstars like [Alex] Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom and others, [Jason] Chimera and others, and him. I think that he’s setting a tone and creating leaders amongst his players and we want to showcase that."

EPIX will join the Capitals equipped with a basic knowledge of the team and potential storylines to uncover; Ovechkin, Trotz, goaltender Braden Holtby and goaltending coach Mitch Korn's relationship as well as the twin-like chemistry between Chimera and Joel Ward were among those mentioned by Greenburg.

The crew is also prepared to handle the unexpected narratives that inevitably appear during an 82-game season, transforming it all into an engrossing viewing experience. 

"We’re looking at this series as go back to your roots," Greenburg said. "Make it really in-depth. Go real behind-the-scenes, dig up some really interesting humanitarian stories and focus on what makes these great athletes so unique. Not only on the ice, because I think we capture the sport like few have by bringing those cameras down and putting those microphones on them and going into those locker rooms and training rooms and seeing how a hockey player and his coaches attack this sport on a daily basis. 

"I really think we have to go behind the scenes but also create some memorable storylines and carry them through for four weeks and really rivet the viewer."


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<![CDATA[The 'Skinny: St. Louis]]> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 08:46:14 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/4597560161.jpg

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

Week 14 opponent: St. Louis Rams (5-7)

Game information: Sun., Dec. 7 -- 1 p.m. -- FedEx Field -- FOX

Last week: The Redskins lost, which I just copied and pasted from earlier previews, to be honest. The Rams obliterated the Raiders 52-0.

What's The Skinny?

Oh, you're still here? I wasn't expecting you, but since you came for a preview, a preview is what you'll get. The Rams embarrassed the worst team in the NFL last week, so naturally they play the second-most embarrassing one week later. St. Louis hasn't won consecutive games all season, so this is probably its best opportunity to do so.

Like the Redskins, the Rams have shuffled quarterbacks; Shaun Hill has started the last three games, though Austin Davis emerged earlier this season when Sam Bradford was lost to injury. Of course, Colt McCoy is starting for Washington, which previously traded three first-round picks to St. Louis for its backup quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

Statistic of the Week 

What They're Saying

"It wasn't difficult for us. We looked at our roster and it wasn't difficult to see that we had a lot of holes. So, it was easy for us to do."

- Rams coach Jeff Fisher on the aforementioned trade between the Rams and Redskins centered around Griffin


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<![CDATA[Caps Undone by Porous PK]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 10:09:54 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/179*120/459852656.jpg

As he positioned himself behind the podium after his team's 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz was asked to provide a diagnosis of his team's ailing penalty kill. 

"For whatever it's worth, I think special teams are ebb and flow," he said. "Right now, it's not flowing well for us on the PK." 

In five games between Nov. 11-22, Washington thwarted all 14 shorthanded situations it faced. In the four since, the Capitals have allowed eight power-play goals on 13 opposing power-play chances, a paltry 38.5 percentage. Within this most recent span, no other NHL team has allowed more than four. 

The Canucks' power play, which scored three times in four chances Tuesday after netting the same amount in their previous 27 opportunities, almost toyed with the Capitals. Daniel Sedin, aided by twin brother Henrik, scored two impressive power-play goals, including the game-winner that tied a Vancouver franchise record.

Including the three power-play goals they allowed against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Capitals have now allowed at least three in consecutive games for the first time since March 22-23, 2006.

"Not one thing in particular that’s happening," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We’re giving up goals on the penalty kill in different ways. I don't know if we’re caught in between pressuring or getting out of our structure. I don't know what’s happening right now. We tried to address a few things after the Toronto game. I think there were different types of stuff. It's tough though. It’s tough to win a hockey game when you give up three."

Against the Maple Leafs, opposing skaters slipped into high-traffic areas without consequence, allowing for uncontested deflections. The Canucks feasted on that same suspect interior defense

"You look at the goals, they’re second-chance goals where pucks are bouncing, couldn’t get a handle on it, they’re able to whack it in," Trotz said. 

Daniel Sedin's game-winning blast, Trotz admitted, few goaltenders could stop. 

“It’s a pretty meat-and-potatoes type thing,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “A lot of it has to do with tying up sticks in front, my rebound control, my ability to see through traffic. Just those little things are starting to drift away a bit, and we’ve got to find a way to grab ahold of them and make sure we’re making it hard on other teams.”

The Capitals contend that the basic structure of their aggressive penalty-killing process is unchanged from the streak of success that they enjoyed prior to this recent hiccup. Yet that same structure is currently unsound and costing them victories. 

"We get scored on too much, plain and simple," defenseman John Carlson said. "We're not getting a lot of bang-bang goals backdoor when they sort of pick us apart, so to speak. When you don't do the job, it doesn't matter if that's the only shot they get in two minutes and they score on it. It's one of those things right now where we need to find some confidence in it.

“At any given time, we’ve just got to be more ready. We prepare really well. We don’t have an issue of that. It’s definitely a little bit of communication maybe, a little bit of teamwork to maybe squash some plays, but the bottom line is we played a good game and we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win because of it. Something needs to change.” 


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<![CDATA[Caps Not Eager to Dull Wilson's Edge]]> Mon, 01 Dec 2014 21:02:44 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/172*120/459626758.jpg

In the latest issue of The Hockey News, the magazine rated Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as the NHL's best cruiserweight among frequent fighters. 

Wilson developed that reputation during his rookie season, engaging in 14 fights in 82 games, a total that placed him amid the league leaders. With five fights through 13 games this season (and one in each of his past three games), the 20-year-old is there again. 

The substantial difference is that now that he plays on the first line, Wilson's proclivity for dropping the gloves has more of an effect on the lineup as compared to the minimal impact it had in the fourth-line role that he was confined to last season. 

Since returning from offseason ankle surgery in late October, Wilson has spent almost all of his even-strength ice time skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, exactly where coach Barry Trotz envisioned he would be before his delayed debut. There, Wilson's underutilized skill could properly grow. 

They have had success, recording about 56 percent of the total shot attempts (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) when on the ice. Yet they cannot improve upon that success if Wilson is serving five minutes in the penalty box.

"All the guys are standing up for each other and he's one of the toughest that we have," Backstrom said. "Sometimes that happens, I don't think he's looking for a fight, but if it happens, it happens. He's a really good hockey player without the fighting and we need him on the ice. ... That's a fine balance there." 

Wilson looks at each fight and the situations in which they arise individually. He admitted Monday that "Now's probably not a great time to ask me because I've fought in my last three consecutive games," but he nevertheless detailed how he viewed his recent skirmishes. 

"The first one [against New York Islanders forward Anders Lee on Wednesday], I drew a penalty, he jumped me, put their team on the [penalty kill], that's a huge goal for our team," Wilson said. "Anytime I can do that, or anyone can do that, it's a good thing especially with the power play that we have.

"Second one [against Islanders forward Matt Martin on Friday], we were up 2-0, they scored, got a little bit of the momentum, obviously it didn't work out but that's not a bad time to fight, trying to get the crowd back into it on our side a little bit. Didn't work out in our favor, they scored right after again.

"And then in the third one [against Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Korbinian Holzer on Saturday, which resulted in a linesman being struck by an errant punch], it was a 6-2 game, I felt like he cheapshotted me. I was on my knees and he kind of shoved me into the dasher and just frustration, but maybe not the third one as much, but the other two were at important times in the game."

It is a matter of knowing when to "pick my spots" as Wilson described it. He has the confidence of the coaching staff, which is not eager to dull his edge.

"Tom Wilson needs to play like Tom Wilson," Trotz said. "If Tom Wilson starts to play like someone else, then he won't be on the first line.

"I think Tom Wilson is one of those unique players, he's young, that can have a big effect on a game. He can play a skill game, he can play a very physical game, he can play a game where if people want to take advantage of our top two players, then there will be someone to answer to rather than someone who's maybe a non-fighter. I think Backy and Ovi can take care of themselves, but that's not what they do. Willy does that.

"I want him to be an elite power forward in this league. I think he has that capability. He's got a good work ethic, he's got a good sense of the game and being consistent and hard. That's a big line when he's out there. There's a couple of big men out there with skill. You can take over games like that. Really happy with where he is. If he wants to go, let him go. You don't want to take that spirit out of him."


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<![CDATA[Caps' Second Line Unconcerned by Drought]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:16:56 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/458598364.jpg

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has noticed a trend among his forward lines through 20 games. One line carries the bulk of the offensive load, while the other three vanish from the scoresheet. 

"I think for the most part, our team, we haven't had a stretch where I would say Line 1-4 has been chipping in and productive," Trotz said after the Capitals prepared for the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday morning. "We need production through the lineup. Obviously we get production from the [Alex] Ovechkins and [Nicklas] Backstroms of the world, but the next group of players needs to step up and produce. They've been pretty dry for a little while here."

That group includes Washington's second line: Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer. In the Capitals' past five games, they have not produced a single point at even strength despite receiving the largest percentage of offensive-zone starts. In the three games prior to their recent slump, Johansson, Burakovsky and Brouwer combined for four goals and nine points. 

Each member's even-strength Fenwick percentage -- a measurement of on-ice differential accounting for unblocked shot attempts -- is above 54 percent since Nov. 14, suggesting that the sustained pressure will eventually lead to a renewed offensive effort. 

"The production isn't there because of a few things we need to work on, but all in all, I think we've been pretty dependent and pretty consistent on [having] a good offensive game," said Brouwer, who has two 5-on-5 goals this season. "We just need to be able to score. It'll come."

The primary areas in need of improvement, according to Johansson, are breaking out of the defensive zone more efficiently and knowing when to resist the prettier play when something simpler would be more effective. 

"There were a couple games that we could have played better, but for the most part, I think we're creating enough chances to score a couple goals every game and we're doing the right things," Johansson said. "That's what's good about it. I think it would be worse if we felt that we didn't get anything out of anything we did. 

"We're feeling good about it and we're creating chances and I think we've been spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Just keep doing that, I think the goals are going to come. I don't think we're worried about that."


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<![CDATA[Caps Discuss Makings of Good Starts]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 09:08:48 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/459427636.jpg

With regularity, hockey players and coaches will praise a 60-minute effort or lament the lack of one depending on the outcome of a given game, usually to a hackneyed degree.

Those same players and coaches will also often stress the importance of the first few minutes and "getting off to good starts." So inside the Washington Capitals' locker room, what constitutes a good start? 

"Good pressure, good momentum, being able to get everybody into the game early, everybody feeling the pace of the game and more so than anything else, dictating the play early on in the game," forward Troy Brouwer said. "Whenever you're back on your heels to start the game, the other team is determining the way that you're playing and you just want to be able to get out there, get a good feeling, get some momentum and have them be on their heels and be worried about what we're doing."

Andrew Thomas of war-on-ice.com provided raw shot-attempt data at even strength carved into six 10-minute increments. According to said data (when score effects are minimal), the Capitals have recorded 49.2 percent of the total shot attempts -- shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots -- in the first 10 minutes this season, 20th in the NHL as of Sunday.

Washington is among the league's highest-scoring teams in the first period with 19 goals. Yet of the 14 that they have allowed in the opening period, nine have been scored within the game's first 10 minutes; it should be noted that three of the nine were scored in one game: a 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 14. 

"I think we went through a little bit of a patch early where we weren't getting off to good starts; we were coming from behind and having pushes," coach Barry Trotz said. "And then I thought our starts were pretty good.

"I think a good start is when you're managing the puck, you're playing in the other team's end, you're pushing forward, you're taking shots. You're not turning puck overs, you're not playing slow, those type of things."

Trotz highlighted Washington's 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 15 as a "good example of a bad start." The Capitals were outshot 13-7 in the first period with a 22-12 shot-attempt disadvantage

"We were standing around," Trotz said. "We were trying to play a slow, puck-management game against a team that's not going to allow you to do that." 

Conversely, Trotz was pleased with how Capitals started their most recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, controlling what he believed was 70 percent of the shot attempts. Washington, however, lost by a 2-1 score. 

"We've had what I think are pretty good starts, but we haven't come out on the positive end of those," Trotz said. "You could be playing poorly and score three easy goals and feel like you had a good first period and you really didn't. You put everything into perspective." 


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<![CDATA[RGIII Benched Against Colts]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 07:25:59 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/176*120/459568564.jpg

The Washington Redskins will bench Robert Griffin III against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, News4's Dianna Russini confirmed Wednesday. Colt McCoy will start in his place.

"While Griffin is not a part of Washington's plan for Sunday's game, he still appears to be a significant part of the Redskins' long-term plan, according to another source," ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. "Yet right now, the Redskins are hitting the reset button, though it might not last long, a source cautioned, as Washington has high hopes for the coming offseason."

According to The Washington Post, coach Jay Gruden met with the quarterbacks individually and intended to inform the team of his decision Wedesday.

Griffin has struggled since returning from a dislocated left ankle, including his 106-yard performance against the San Francisco 49ers last week. He was sacked five times and has been 16 times in three games since being reinserted into the lineup. 

"The coaches viewed that in part as a function of his inability to develop as a pocket passer," Schefter said.

So what does this mean for the future of RGIII, considered by many to be a franchise savior two years ago, in Washington? 

"With a player of his skill level, it's probably best to get rid of him too late rather than too early," ESPN's John Keim said. "Make this decision in the offseason, devoid of emotion (one way or another). It's not uncommon for quarterbacks making this transition to get it later in their careers -- Steve Young and Rich Gannon come to mind.

"But if you don't think he'll ever develop to where the investment is worth the time -- or that it will simply take too long --then you have to cut ties after the season. If you're worried that the combination of the drama surrounding Griffin -- not all of his own making -- and a lower-than-perceived ceiling, then it's time to call it quits." 


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<![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.


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<![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."


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<![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. 


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<![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.”


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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.


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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." 


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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.


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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"
 


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<![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. 


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<![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."


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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?!


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<![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.


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<![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


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<![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?


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<![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 


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<![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. 


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<![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."


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<![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."


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<![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. 


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<![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."



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<![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. 


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<![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.


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<![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."


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<![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."


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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."


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<![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.


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<![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:


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