October 31, 2014

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s full comments on RGIII starting

In his normal media availability Thursday, Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden indicated the team plans to start Robert Griffin III at quarterback Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Below are his full comments about the matter.

From the team press release:

On the quarterback situation:

“We’ve moved Robert [Griffin III] along at a pretty good clip. We started him out in individual drills, monitored him. Last week he got some team drills, obviously. He did very well and the progress that he has made has had us put him in with the ones and prepare to be the starter. He’s coming along great. We wouldn’t put him in with the ones if we didn’t feel like he was 100 percent physically. Now it’s a question of ‘let’s get him some reps with the ones to see where he is mentally, see how he’s throwing the ball with the group, see if his timing is there, if his reads are there, see how comfortable he is back there,’ and he looks fine. So, every intent right now is moving forward we have to prepare him to be the starting quarterback. If there a fallback, if there’s a drawback whatsoever as far as the injury, if he’s sore at all, then we’ll go back to Colt [McCoy]. But right now, he looks pretty good moving forward but we still have another day tomorrow.”

On if quarterback Robert Griffin III will start:

“If everything goes well, he has got a great chance to start. Right now he looks great, his ankle looks great, you know what I mean? Today, he missed a few throws. We’ll get them corrected. Colt had some good throws today obviously. But, we have a good choice of quarterbacks, but Robert’s the starter. We want to make sure when he came back that he did come back – he’s got to be 100 percent, No. 1, physically, and I feel like he’s at 100 percent physically right now. We still have another day left and to make sure that’s the case. All the doctors are onboard, the trainers are onboard. As far as physically, he looks great. He looked great last week. This week he looks fine. Now it’s just a matter of seeing him with the team drills and how he throws and going from there.”

On what he wants to see from Griffin III prior to Friday:

“I’ll see him decisive with the ball, accuracy, decisive, feet in the pocket, very important. Make sure he’s not jittery, make sure he’s not tentative with his reads and decisions. Make sure he’s confident, plays with that confident air that he has that everybody loves moving forward and we’ll make the final decision, but everything looks good so far,”

On the advantages and disadvantages of playing Griffin III:

“There’s no cons of playing him now if he’s healthy, which we think he is. The problem with the bye is everybody thinks you’ve got a bye, you ‘ve got all this extra time to work. The bye week, the players get like five days off. It’s not like we can come out here and have two-a-days and get them ready for next week. If he’s ready physically, then I think he should play, and that’s what it comes down to. Physically, we think he’s ready, and then like I said, after the physical part, I want to make sure he’s comfortable in the pocket with all the throws and all of his reads, the new plays we’ve added since he’s been gone, some of the new concepts we’ve added since he’s been gone, try to get him up-to-date on those, try to get him up to speed. And if he’s up to speed making the right decisions, we have another day tomorrow, then there’s a great chance he’ll be the starter. But there’s really no benefit to if he is healthy to really sitting him and waiting for the bye. It’s not like his leg’s going to get stronger. His leg’s fine. So, what the heck?

On his expectations of Griffin III moving forward:

“We expect a lot from our starting quarterback whoever it is. We expect a lot from Kirk [Cousins], we expect a lot from Colt [McCoy], and that won’t change with Robert. We have high expectations for him because he is our starting quarterback. He’s a very good athlete, very talented, and he’s played five quarters of football as a starting quarterback here for me since I’ve been here. He’s got a lot to prove as we do, but he’s our starter and we feel like he gives us the best chance to win and that’s the bottom line, which quarterback – all three of them are healthy – gives us the best chance to win, and we made the decision back in training camp that it was Robert. He deserves a chance to prove us right.”

On if Griffin III is taking the majority of the reps with the first team:

“Yes.”

On simulating game situations:

“We can’t worry about the simulation of hits because that comes from the doctors as far as him being cleared physically from them. If they feel like his leg is as stable as it was before he got hurt, then he is going to be out there and playing. There’s nothing more he can do to get it better. Now the decision is on me, and that was what I said before was once he gets cleared from the doctors, then I want to make sure he’s ready from a mental standpoint. Out there today, from a mental standpoint he’s fine. It’s just a matter of he was off a little here and there with some of his throws, but we have got another day to get him back comfortable in the pocket and see where he’s at. So, he’s cleared from the doctors. Now, it’s a matter of getting him ready as far as what we talked about from the quarterback’s skillset.”

On how the decision will be made:

“Yeah, it’ll be pretty much my call. I’ll talk about it with the rest of the coaches and Bruce [Allen] and we’ll go from there. Everybody’s on board as far as from a physical standpoint, everyone’s on board. He’s 100 percent. You can see him running around. You saw him running around last week. He was running scout team cards for Tony Romo. He was running around like a banshee, and he’s more healthy than most of the guys we have playing right now. So, from a physical standpoint he is ready, but like I said, for a young quarterback who has missed this much time in a new system, the big thing is getting him back from a mental standpoint. He’s right there. Watching it on film and looking at it on a chalkboard and talking through it in the meeting rooms is a little bit different than doing it live out there in practice. He’s going to have his bumpy times, but hopefully he’ll correct them and do better tomorrow and better Saturday and we’ll be ready to roll.”

On if there is any hesitation to allow Griffin III to run:

“No, if there was any hesitation as far as that is concerned I wouldn’t be thinking about playing him. That is part of my decision going in. He has got to be 100 percent, and by 100 percent I mean able to do everything – run all the plays that we want, the boots, whatever he’s got to do, the quarterback draws, whatever the heck it is outside the pocket. That is what makes Robert, Robert. So, when he is cleared, he is clear to do everything. We can’t hold back because of any past injuries. He has got to play the position the way he plays it.”

On how reliable athletes’ words are when saying they are ready to return:

“Everybody is different. Everybody wants to get back and play. Every great competitor wants to play but you have to really… We do a great job in here with the trainers. Larry [Hess] as much as he bothers me, he does a really good job with rehabbing these guys and the doctors to a good job of monitoring them, watching all his movements out there and the strength tests in there. There is no way they would think about clearing Robert unless they knew for sure he was 100 percent. They feel good about where he is from a structure standpoint as far as not re-injuring that thing, stability standpoint, it’s stable. So there really is nothing holding him back as far as worrying about what might happen if he gets tackled. It’s intact, it’s steady, it’s structurally good, so there is no reason not to play him from a physical standpoint.”

On how the offense has changed since Griffin III was injured and how he has kept up with those changes:

“He’s done a good job. He has been in all the meetings. He prepares like he is playing. That is the responsibility of all quarterbacks and all players when they are not playing. They have to make sure they are ready. But like I said, chalkboard stuff and watching tape is a little bit different than going out there and going through your progressions live. But he has done a good job, man. He is a very, very, very bright guy and I think that is one of his strengths. He picks up everything in the protection adjustments that we’ve had, the route concept changes that we made. He has done a good job with it, he understands them. Made a few mistakes today but, you know, we’ve all done that on Thursdays. We’ve just got to get them corrected before Sunday if he is going to play.”

On how many changes have been made to the offense:

“Quite a few. Every week it’s game plan dependent depending on who we play. Some teams play more man, some teams play more zone, some teams blitz more and every play is game plan dependent upon the concepts we like and who are going to go after, who we are going to target and you just have to be ready to adjust.”

On a scenario in which Griffin III would not start on Sunday:

“I think if something happens where he steps on someone’s foot or something like that or comes up lame for whatever reason, which shouldn’t happen, or if he just comes and tells me, ‘Hey, I might need another week for it to settle in,’ which probably won’t happen. But for me to say he won’t play if he is 100 percent healthy, which we know he is, just his comfort level out there, but he looked fine today. All systems look like they are go. So we will just prepare and watch him again tomorrow and then make a final decision after tomorrow hopefully.”

On if he will name Griffin III the starter now:

“He is taking the starting reps. We have every intent of him starting, you know what I mean? Who knows, he should be fine… If everything goes well tomorrow, he should be the starter, yes. He should be the starter. I might just change my mind now and just start Colt for the first play of the game just to tick everybody off [laughter].”

On the importance of having a quarterback when taking a head coaching job:

“Well, it is important to have a starter in place that you feel good about and try to build your team around. Instead of trying to have two or three of them, you’ve got to compete and figure out who your starter is, that is a tough job. They drafted one, they had a couple in house that they thought are pretty good and that’s a little tougher on them. Here we felt good coming in when I first got the job that Robert would be the guy and we prepared our team for Robert being the quarterback. Unfortunately he got hurt after five quarters and now that he is better, he is going to be the starter. But every team is different, every system is different and you just have to adjust to your personnel.”

Washington Nationals exersize option on Span; decline LaRoche and Soriano

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals exercised their $9 million team option on Denard Span on Thursday, ensuring the team’s leadoff hitter and Gold Glove caliber center fielder will remain on the roster for at least the next year.

Span, who will be 31 on opening day, hit .302/.355/.416 last season, leading the Nats in hits and setting team marks for hits and multi-hit games. He was 31-for-38 in stolen base attempts and hit five home runs to boot.

Bringing Span back reduced the Nats decisions on potential free agents down to five (ages on opening day).

Adam LaRoche (35, .259/.362/.455, 26/92): LaRoche had a mutual option for ’15 of $15 million with a $2 million buyout, but declined the option. With Ryan Zimmerman’s limitations in the field, it would be very surprising if the Nats re-upped with LaRoche.

Rafael Soriano (35, 4-1, 32 svs, 3.19/1.129): The veteran reliever looked like the Nats’ All-Star rep at the break, but was atrocious in the second half before going lights-out in the playoffs in a very limited role. Team option for $14 million was declined and considering the way things ended, very unlikely he re-signs in DC.

Asdrubal Cabrera (29, .229/.312/.389, 5/21 in 49 games for Nats): Cabrera became free agent at conclusion of World Series. Was excellent defensively and had a couple of offensive highlights, but his age and already diminished results suggest Nats will let him walk.

Scott Hairston (34, .208/.253/.299, 1/8): Hairston has outlived his usefulness as a Major League Player. That might sound harsh, but it happens to everyone. Was once known as a “lefty-killer” (even if it wasn’t entirely true, but his .293 OBP against lefties this season seal his fate.

Nate Schierholtz (31, .195/.243/.309, 1/4): The “other” Nate, Schierholtz was a waiver wire pickup midseason when Nate McLouth went down for the season to injury. Schierholtz was even worse than McLouth at the plate overall, though did chip in in the playoffs. With another $5 regrettably due McLouth, Schierholtz rides off into the sunset.

Gruden indicates “intent” to start Griffin Sunday

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden announced Thursday the team intends to start Robert Griffin III at quarterback Sunday on the road against the Minnesota Vikings.

At his normal Thursday media availability, Gruden said, “He’s taking the starting reps. We have the intent of him starting.

“If everything goes well tomorrow, yes, he should be the starter.”

Gruden dismissed the idea of waiting until after the following week’s bye, pronouncing Griffin healthy and ready physically.

“There are no cons to playing him now if he’s healthy, which we think he is,” Gruden said. “The problem with the bye is everyone thinks you’ve got all this extra time to work. The bye week, the players get like five days off. It’s not like we can come out here and have two-a-days and get them ready. If he’s ready physically, I think he should play. Physically we think he’s ready.”

Gruden said it would take a physical setback or new injury for Griffin not to play Sunday.

“If something happens where he steps on somebody’s foot or something like that, or comes up lame for whatever reason, which shouldn’t happen,” Gruden said. “Or if he just comes and tells me that, ‘Hey, I need another week for it to settle, which probably won’t happen. But for me to say he won’t play, if he’s 100-percent healthy, which we know he is, [it would] just be his comfort level out there.”

Griffin injured his left ankle in Week 2 against Jacksonville.

The Redskins have a chance to ever their record at 4-4 against Minnesota with a bye week next and Tampa Bay the following week. If Griffin can return to made a positive impact, the Redskins could very well have a chance in the next two weeks to elevate themselves into playoff talk after knocking off the then one-loss Cowboys last Monday night.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VI: Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?

Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Dave: I think eventually Kuznetsov will be the most impactful player of the trio, but I think all three have solid futures as NHL players. Kuznetsov has an intrinsic, dynamic element to his play that you can’t teach and once he develops some of the secondary attributes that Barry Trotz wants out of all his players, he’ll thrive at this level.

That’s not to take anything away from Burakovsky or Wilson. In fact, I can envision the three of them playing together as a second line in the not-too-distant future. It’s not hard to look at Kuzy and Bura and not envision them developing chemistry like another Swedish center and Russian winger on the team. Wilson could be the prefect complement to the duo with his size and skill level.

Katie: At the end of last season, when Kuznetsov finally arrived in Washington, he had all the hopes of an impact player placed upon him. Now that Burakovsky has made the team, is playing second line minutes, and is clearly extremely skilled, I think Burakovsky will outscore Kuznetsov. I’m not so sure about Wilson’s role this season, once he returns from injury, but I think it would be fair to predict he won’t be doing fourth line time. Ideally, it would be nice to see all three young players in the top-6 at some point this season, and there’s certainly room for that.

Eric:  I think it’ll be Kuznetsov, barely. He looked good in the games he played toward the end of last year and has gotten some valuable advice from Ovechkin.

J.J. : Burakovsky. He is getting his shot at second line center and he has responded well. Kuznetsov will move up from the fourth line sooner rather than later, but he will likely be moved around as a wing as he continues to adjust to the North American game. As for Wilson, I would not be surprised if he spent some time in Hershey this year. The Caps want to see him develop into a top six forward, but given the number of players the Caps have on offense right now, he might be better served to get top line minutes in the AHL before taking a more significant role with the Caps.

Abram: Burakovsky. The kid has a magical touch with the puck, and will singlehandedly carry the fourth’s line offensive output, assuming he stays there. If he develops the way the team hopes, he’ll drastically improve the offense. From what we’ve seen early on, the skill is there, he just needs to not be tied down on a line with some combination of Beagle, Latta, O’Brien, or Volpatti.

Harry: I think Evgeny Kuznetsov will have the biggest impact on this team. As good as Burakovsky has looked, he will almost certainly slow down a little bit and is still learning a new position. Wilson, even when healthy, won’t see a lot of ice time with the players he deserves to play with because of how many highly-payed veterans the Caps have down the right side. Ultimately, Kuznetsov has the most polish, is probabaly the most talented, and is likely to see the most opportunities. A top-four finish among Caps forwards in scoring is not out of the question.

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s Tuesday press availability

From a team press release:

On if the play of quarterback Colt McCoy eases pressure on the possible return of Robert Griffin III: “Well, we are not going to rush Robert back no matter what happens. You know, we are going to make sure that he is 100 percent, and until we feel like he is 100 percent, Colt will still play. And Colt did a great job obviously leading us to victory against Dallas, but it’s all going to be predicated on when the doctors say he is 100 percent, when Robert feels like he is 100 percent and when I feel like he is ready to take the game time reps.”

On anything that stood out to him about McCoy’s play: “I like the way he competed, No. 1. You know, he wasn’t perfect by any stretch but he competed his butt off, made some huge throws, some good scrambles, you know, a great quarterback draw for a touchdown – dove in there. Just a great competitor, you love to have that competitive spirit at your quarterback position. You never really quite know until you see him out there with the lights on and under pressure, so I just love his competitive spirit and the way he handled the pressure.”

On if he was trying to motivate running back Alfred Morris by giving Silas Redd, Jr. a series: “No, I think it was just – if it motivated him good, but it wasn’t anything to punish Alfred. It was just to get Silas Redd a couple carries and we like to have – we feel good about all three of those backs. I haven’t been good enough to get Silas some touches throughout the game so far. I think he showed in Jacksonville he has got a great knack for finding holes, he’s got great feet and in the preseason did some really good things. We just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to get another back in there with the way Roy [Helu, Jr.] and Alfred have been playing, but I thought it was a good time to take a look at Silas. Unfortunately, he put the ball on the ground but it was reviewed and we got it back. It was nothing meant to say, ‘Hey Alfred, we are trying to replace you’ or anything like that. I was just subbing guys in there and keeping backs fresh.”

On if he is starting to feel more comfortable with the performance in the running game: “Yeah, I do, I do. It was a good night. We stuck with it and got some good clips, it was a good to see Alfred break one, had a 20-something yarder. Roy had a couple good hits, got a good one on the draw, got a good one on the one-back power-type thing. So, there is something to be very optimistic about in our running game. The most important thing is to show that we can run it. Obviously when can run it you have to make a decision defensively. Are you going to have that guy in the box or are you going to bring that extra defender which opens up DeSean [Jackson] and Pierre [Garçon] in a big way?”

On how McCoy responded to the interception: “He was upset at himself, no question about it. But, I think his demeanor was great the whole time. He was pretty much poised – I think early in the game he might have been a little bit overexcited, pumped up – You know what I mean? Playing back in Texas and Monday Night Football – but after the first couple series where he had a rough start so to speak, he still had a calm demeanor about himself and was talking about the next series. Really nothing of cause of alarm, we just had to get him settled down and play the position the right way.”

On if there was a play that stood out from McCoy’s performance: “Oh, the quarterback draw. You know, it was blocked pretty good but to find that crease and dive in the end zone is pretty gutsy, you know, to dive in head first on third down and six or seven at the seven-yard line. Makes that type of call look very genius by myself, but really he made it all happen. Great block by Jordan Reed, Kory [Lichtensteiger] got up on the safety and Colt did the rest.”

On if he has grasped the magnitude of this win and what it could mean for the season: “I read somewhere after we lost our fifth game that we were playing meaningless games from here on out, which is pretty far from the truth. You know, we wanted to come out against Tennessee and get a win, and then obviously come out and compete against Dallas on Monday Night Football and prove that we aren’t dead, you know? We still have a pulse, our heart is still beating, and we have a lot to play for still. And that’s what that game meant for us, man. It showed the hard work that we put in. The resilience that we’re showing is paying off, and we’ve just got to keep it going. You know, we dug ourselves in a mighty hole at 1-5, and we understand that moving forward, but we’re not dead. We still have a little bit of a pulse left.”

On if Griffin III and McCoy will likely split first-team reps in practices this week: “Yeah. Tomorrow’s a typical Wednesday for us, but we can’t really go full speed. Because we played Monday night and we got in so late, we’ll probably have to have more of a jog-through, walkthrough-type tempo tomorrow. So that’s going to take a little bit off. It’ll be a little bit of an issue. But Thursday we’ll get some really good work, Friday we’ll get some real good work, and then we’ll make the decision. I think Robert is very, very, very close, and we just have to decide if he’s ready. Physically, I think he’ll be ready to go. Doctors are feeling pretty good about it — they still want to see him running around this week until they make their final determination as far as clearing him, but I just want to make sure he feels good in the pocket moving forward with everything.”

On if he can look forward to a possible opportunity to continue the momentum the next couple of games: “That’s what the intent is. You know, we’re not looking really beyond the Vikings. You know, they’re obviously a very good defensive football team. I know Mike Zimmer very well and what he does with those players on defense. I was with him the past three years in Cincinnati, and he coaches them extremely well, and they have some good personnel over there. And then offensively they have a rookie quarterback, but he’s very talented, and they’ve got some skill over there. So for us to look past the Vikings at 3-5 would kind of be pretty stupid, so we have to focus all our energy and time on the Minnesota Vikings this week, and then what happens after the bye happens after the bye. But this is a huge game for us — they all are because we dug ourselves into this hole. We were 1-5, and we’ve got to pretty much win and win often to have a chance. So one game a time is our motto. I know it’s cliché, but that’s the only way we can go about things.”

On using motivational techniques for the Cowboys and how he can motivate the team against the Vikings: “I just think you have to continue to build off what you were doing. You know, the success that we had against Dallas, you know, our ability to come back against Tennessee… Like I said, get that big stop for our defense, and I think to get the ball back and go down and get the winning field goal against Tennessee, build off of that momentum, go to Dallas on the road, win on Monday night. We just have  to continue to build off of the momentum. You know, the blocks that we’re paving — we’ve just got to continue to build and get better and better, and I think when you start seeing success, you start seeing the work that you’re putting in paying off. The concepts that are working offensively; defensively, the blitzes, the coverages, all that stuff — when players see, ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to be done, when you do it right, this is what it’s supposed to look like,’ it’s pretty exciting, and guys are excited to come to work and see what’s next — ‘Hey, what plays you got in for me this week? What defense you got? What blitzes you got?’ So I think we can continue to build on that moving forward. I think guys are excited to come back in here to work and, you know, success can really do wonders for players’ psyches. You know, they come in with a little bit bounce in their step and they’re ready to roll. I think every pro football game — I know the Dallas Cowboys is a special deal; Monday Night Football, at Dallas, division rivalry, all of that good stuff — but every game is very, very important. Every game is very, very hard, and if you overlook anybody, you’re going to do is get beat. We’re not in a position to do that by any stretch.”

On the delay of game penalties: “I think one time we caused it, we were late getting the play in early in the game, and that was on us. But the other one, the last one at the end, you know, we had 18-19 seconds left as they broke the huddle, and the quarterback’s got to know the play clock at some point. We just were really slow getting to the line, and that’s something that’s got to be addressed — our tempo, breaking the huddle, calling the play, breaking the huddle, getting to the line. Getting the play in isn’t the issue. It’s breaking the huddle, the receivers’ have got to get to the line quicker, we’ve got to send our motion quicker, and we always, as a quarterback, have to know what the shot clock is, and get the play off. I mean, that’s what the quarterback – that’s one of their responsibilities. And when I saw it going down to 3, 2, 1, I had the one timeout left — I wanted to save it — but I thought we were going to get it off, and then I was too far from the referee to call a timeout with one second and we got a delay of game. That’s one, in my mind, if you’re going to critique Colt for his interception, and then the two delay of game penalties, you can’t have as a quarterback. You don’t see veteran quarterbacks take delay of games very often.”

On the learning curve for the quarterbacks in gauging DeSean Jackson’s speed: “We throw to him plenty in practice, but sometimes he gets on that fast track – that turf out there – and then he’s rolling. We’ve just got to get them out there. We’ve got to get them out there to him and continue to work him. Sometimes he gets jammed at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t get going quite as fast, but when the ball’s in the air, he’s got unbelievable speed and tracking ability to go get it. So we’ve just got to understand as quarterbacks, all of them, they can lay it out there a lot farther than they think they can. I think we’ve only overthrown him maybe twice since I’ve been here in practice. It’s pretty incredible. That’s an incredible guy tracking the ball. The first deep one, if he throws it out there, it’s a touchdown, but at least we completed the dang thing.”

On what he said to the offense to quell their frustration at halftime: “It’s a tough deal. It’s Monday Night Football and everybody wants to show up and show that they’ve put in the time and work and they really want to help this football team win. When their number’s not called and they’re not getting looks, getting the ball thrown to them, they get frustrated. So would I if I was playing wide receiver. I probably would’ve been in the same situation with them. As competitors, as football players, you want to have every opportunity to help the team win and move the ball. When you have three points and you’re 0-for-4 on third down and you haven’t got a touch or get the ball thrown your way, you’d be mad if you’ve had success that some of these guys have had in their careers. It’s just a matter of calming them down, trying to tell them to hang in there, we still have another half to play and we’ll get it to them. They have to trust that. Sometimes you’ve got to let them vent a little bit, but ultimately it’s a 60-minute game and we had to have them for the second half play at a high level and I think they all did that despite being a little frustrated in the first half.”

On cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson: “They were outstanding, both of them. Not so much in the cover ability, which they both covered extremely well, but tackling. They were great tacklers. There were some open field tackles, and really you look at Breeland, you see all the plays that he had were good – the pass breakups, the tackles – but I thought the most impressive play he had was coming all the way over from the other side of the field and tackling DeMarco Murray at the five-yard line on his long run. A lot of players might have taken that one off, and if he wasn’t hustling and flying from the other side of the field, he scores there. Instead of him scoring, we held them to three points on that possession. That’s the two plays that Breeland broke up on [Dez] Bryant back to back. That whole series right there was very impressive for Breeland. Amerson was steady, as always, but the guy who really didn’t get a lot of love was [Brandon] Meriweather. He had probably his best game since I’ve been here. He had tackles. He had sacks. He had fumbles, fumble recoveries, forced fumble, he was all over the place so it was great to see him show up in a big way the way he did.”

On the backup quarterback if Griffin III returns: “That’s a good question. We’d love to dress three quarterbacks. They’re all worthy of playing, man. I said this before, Kirk’s did some great things, man, and I think his career is still going to be very good in the NFL, it’s just that Colt has shown – you see what Colt does. He’s done that every day in practice that he’s been out here. He’s a viable option, also. When we’re struggling with the turnovers and the third down percentage, I thought Colt had earned the right to have a crack at it and he proved that he can do it. If Robert comes back, then we’ll have to make a decision the second quarterback, whoever that it is, or dress all three of them and that’ll be determined when Robert comes back.”

On if he could feel confidence building for a team throughout a game and if he could feel that last night: “Yeah, you could feel it. I think that really, to me, it stemmed from our defense. Our offense did some decent things – the first half we weren’t very good – but when your defense is flying around, sacking the quarterback, doing what they were doing, it’s pretty exciting. Then our special teams did some good things. You just feel you always have a chance to win the game when your defense is playing like that. It gave our offense a chance to get going. We were a little slow started – offense – in the first half. We took the ball and drove 80 yards to start the third quarter which really gave our defense even more reason to fly around to the football. It gave everybody confidence. I think the opening drive in the third quarter was huge, but that wouldn’t have been possible without the defense playing the way they did in the first half to keep us in there.”

On if there were any noteworthy injuries from last night: “No, not really. Like I said, [Ryan] Kerrigan’s going to be fine, [Kedric] Golston’s got some stitches in his nose, Colt came in and his calves were sore, but he’s going to be fine. Nothing really of note.”

On safety Ryan Clark saying he’s been playing with a torn bicep: “Yeah, he’s been dealing with that a little bit, but he’s OK.”

On how much input he had in Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett’s game plan last night: “Well, we work on stuff during the week. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, we have the periods of blitzes and coverages that they install and we watch practice and that’s what the plan is and that was the plan going in. He dialed them up. Sometimes I closed my eyes and watched them but I was ready for them and I had total faith in what they were doing because I saw them during the week and I thought they’d be successful also. So he has total control of the defense and did a great job.”

On if he feels rewarded by his faith in kicker Kai Forbath heading into the season: “Yeah, he’s done a good job. He’s one of those guys that in practice you say, ‘You know, we should probably look at another kicker,’ but game day, he rises to the occasion all the time. He tells me all the time, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m a gamer. If I miss a couple in practice or pregame warmup – I don’t think he made a kick – I’m good. I’ll make them in the game.’ ‘OK, Kai.’ Sure enough, he makes them in a game. We just have to take that into consideration, man. He’s been a gamer. Him and Tress [Way] both, man, have been very, very impressive helping out our kicking game. Obviously Akeem [Davis] did some great things covering kicks and made a big block for Andre [Roberts], so special teams has been a bright spot the last couple of weeks. They’re coming on and doing what they’re supposed to do and it’s led by the kickers.”

On the 15-yard substitution penalty: “I guess since he was in the huddle, they thought we were trying to deceive the other team. It was a deception substitution, so they gave us a 15-yard penalty. I had never heard of that one, so it was a rookie move on my part. We sent in Niles [Paul] late. We had a special play call for Niles, and [Offensive Coordinator] Sean [McVay] thought he was already in there. I thought he was already in there, but Logan was in there so we tried to make a quick substitution and got flagged for it. That was a mistake on both our parts and it was a costly one. We had coaching errors – offensively, defensively – that we need to correct also in big games like that. That substitution penalty, my not taking a timeout there at the end of the regulation when I should have been standing closer to the ref, those are costly. We can’t have those happen.”

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part V: How many games for Laich?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?

Part V: Over/under on games Brooks Laich plays? [Ed. The survey was distributed before Laich's current injury. Some answers came in before, some after.]

Dave: 45 games. Just when it looked like Laich was finally getting his wheels back after the long recovery from groin surgery, he takes a hard (but not flagrant or in anyway dirty) check in the left shoulder and is back on the injured list. It sucks, because the player the Caps signed to a six-year deal is just not that same solid two-way player anymore. Not even close.

They say that getting injured is a repeatable skill like anything else, and Laich seems to have mastered it. At some point, accumulation of injury is going to rob Laich of his usefulness in the NHL, if it hasn’t gotten to that point already.

Katie: I’m hoping his upper-body injury (looked like his shoulder) sustained against the Panthers on Saturday is relatively minor. I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t his groin, which appears to be holding up well so far. I’d bet the over he dressed for 60 or more games this season.

Eric: I’ll put the over-under at 65 and take the over.

J.J.: 55. He says he’s healthy, but we’ve heard that before. Laich has had almost no impact at all in the first four games with only one assist. Is he actually healthy? Who knows? But it is a safe bet he won’t be healthy for 82 games.

Abram: 49.5

Harry: If I worked for Bodog, I would set the over/under at 50.5. He certainly does not look as fragile in the early going and has reportedly been pushing his surgically repaired groin muscle all summer long. I would probably take the over if I were a betting man if for no other reason that Laich would probably play until he could not physically skate at this point. He wants to be a part of it that badly.

Washington Redskins Game 8 Review: McCoy shocks Cowboys in overtime

In what seems to be another season destined for being on the outside of the playoffs, this could very well have been the high point.

The Washington Redskins, huge underdogs to the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys, went on the road on Monday Night Football led by third-string quarterback Colt McCoy and beat Dallas 20-17 in overtime.

McCoy went 25 of 30 for 299 yards and hit Jordan Reed twice in overtime for big first downs to set up Kai Forbath on what turned out to be a game-winning 40-yard field goal on the first possession in the extra session. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 8 Recap: Canucks score 3 in second to drop Caps

The Washington Capitals played the last of a 3-game western Canada road trip Sunday night in Vancouver against the Canucks. For the most part, they played like they’d been on the road for the better part of a week, falling to Vancouver 4-2.

Though the Caps scored first, the Canucks registered three goals in a less than two minute span and the Caps never really rallied.

After a ragged, scoreless first period, the goals fell like rain in the second. The Caps (4-2-2) broke on top as Marcus Johansson took a nice feed from Andre Burakovsky and buried it for the 1-0 lead — Johansson’s third of the season at even strength, which matches his total from last season.

Vancouver then scored in rapid-fire fashion, dropping three goals in the span of 1:47.

Henrik Sedin removed the Canuck goose egg, banging home a rebound from a sharp angle on the power play, in which John Carlson failed to clear the puck twice.

Just 1:22 later, the Canucks took advantage of an awkward line change by the Caps, and as a result Nick Bonino came in on Justin Peters alone as beat him cleanly to put the Canucks up by one.

Finally, 25 seconds after the second tally, Luca Sbisa held a puck in at the point and fired a slapshot past a screen Justin Peters to make it 3-1 Vancouver and the Canucks were making the Caps look tired and slow.

But the Caps didn’t quit despite the deficit. In fact, less than two minutes later, Liam O’Brien niftily redirected Mike Green’s centering pass past Ryan Miller (20 saves) for his first NHL goal and the Caps went into the dressing room for the second intermission down one at 3-2.

 Unfortunately, the third period saw no more goals except for Vancouver’s empty net goal with 1:01 left after John Carlson committed a delay-of-game penalty, throwing a puck over the glass with 1:38 remaining in the game.

The Caps return to DC to host the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

  • The Caps were outshot 34-22. It’s the first time this season the Capitals have allowed more than 30 shots on goal.
  • It seemed like the men wearing striped shirts were in the last game of a 3-game road trip as well. They called the Caps for five minor infractions and the Canucks just two, including a too-many-men call. But both of Vancouver penalties came while they had a man advantage already, so the Caps never did get a full power play on the night.
  • Alex Ovechkin managed just two shots on goal and four hits. it’s the fourth straight game Ovi’s been held pointless. Ovechkin led the forwards in ice time with 19:00.
  • Justin Peters made 30 saves and several terrific ones in the first period. But he was cleanly beaten on Bonino’s goal and while Sedin’s came on the power play, it bounced in — and out — of his catching glove.

Washington Capitals Game 7 Recap: Ward twice as nice after demotion

After dropping the first of the three-game western Canada swing Wednesday in Edmonton, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz jumbled the lines again, moving Joel Ward down to the fourth line for Saturday night’s tilt in Calgary.

Perhaps the motivation worked, as Ward had two goals to pace the Caps over the Flames 3-1 in the Saddledome.

The Caps (4-1-2) got on the board midway through the first. Calgary turned the puck over trying to kill a penalty and Ward collected the loose puck along the left wing and beat Karri Ramo stick side for a 1-0 lead.

Calgary tied it up late in the period. Troy Brouwer took an unnecessary retaliation roughing penalty and with just 10 seconds remaining in the frame, Dennis Wideman slipped one past Braden Holtby. It was Wideman’s fifth goal in six games.

In the second, the Caps re-took the lead and it was Ward again. Michael Latta took a stretch pass from Brooks Orpik and raced into the zone and behind the net. He centered the puck and Ward kicked it from his skate to his backhand and beat Ramo to go up 2-1. It was Ward’s seventh career multi-goal game.

Nick Backstrom made it a two-goal game just 41 seconds into the third. Karl Alzner sprung the Swedish centerman and Backstrom used a Calgary defenseman as a screen in the middle of the ice and whipped a wrist shot past the screened Ramo and a 3-1 cushion.

Braden Holtby made 20 saves, none bigger than the kick save he made on Paul Byron on a breakaway midway through the third.

The Caps move on to Vancouver to face the Canucks Sunday night at 9:30 pm Eastern.

  • Brooks Orpik had a tremendous game on the blueline, registering an assist and 10 hits. He was a physical force all night.
  • Alex Ovechkin didn’t factor in the scoring, but played another solid game all around with four hits and a terrific backcheck on what would otherwise have been a short-handed breakaway for Calgary.
  • Troy Brouwer had a noticeably tough night. The veteran winger took the bad penalty which led to the only Flames goal of the night, he made a pair of turnovers on consecutive shifts in the third when he stopped skating, and whiffed on a wide open empty net late in the third. Smashed sticks at the bench = 2.
  • Caps were 52% in the dot and outshot Calgary 30-21. They were credited with just five giveaways on the road.
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