March 1, 2015

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 and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. 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 Wizards Game 60 Review: Wiz narrowly escape Pistons after 20-plus point lead

The Washington Wizards defeated the Detroit Pistons, 99-95, on Saturday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, breaking a six-game losing streak. Marcin Gortat scored 16 points and pulled down 17 rebounds for Washington, including a key rebound off a missed free throw that enabled the Wizards to ice the game after blowing a 21-point third quarter lead.

The Wizards had their biggest lead at 66-48 on Paul Pierce’s three-pointer with 8:58 left in the third quarter. The Pistons whittled the lead down to ten going into the fourth quarter at 80-70.

The Pistons further cut the lead down to one with a 9-0 run just over three minutes into the quarter. Then the Pistons took their first lead at 85-84 on Spencer Dinwiddie’s putback dunk off his own miss with 6:44 left. The Pistons exchanged baskets with Wizards free throws as the lead changed hands five times before the Wizards finally seized the lead for good at 90-89 on a pair of Gortat free throws with 4:45 left.

John Wall’s layup gave the Wizards a five-point lead with 58 seconds left at 96-91. Greg Monroe’s layup followed by a Dinwiddie steal and layup brought the Pistons to within one at 96-95 when they fouled Bradley Beal with ten seconds left.

Beal made the first free throw but missed the second. Gortat tipped the rebound back to Wall, who was fouled and sank his two free throws with 7.3 seconds left to give the Wizards their final margin of victory.

The Wizards jumped out to a 31-17 lead in the first quarter behind strong frontcourt play from Gortat and Nene, who combined for 14 of those points.

Gortat’s layup 17 seconds before halftime gave the Wizards a 60-44 lead. Drew Gooden’s four jumpers, including a three-pointer, were instrumental in helping the Wizards extend their lead. Pierce hitting four out of his eight three-point shot attempts was also key.

Wall led the Wizards with 22 points while Nene added 21. Beal scored eight points on 2of 10 shooting in his first game back in the starting lineup after missing eight games because of injury. Pierce was also returning after missing two games to injury.

Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 21 points and 10 rebounds while Dinwiddie contributed 20 points and eight assists off the bench.

Quick Take: Caps add more forward depth with Curtis Glencross

Washington Capitals first-year GM Brian MacLellan made another move in advance of Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, dealing a second and third round pick in the 2015 draft to Calgary in exchange for forward Curtis Glencross.

Glencross is a sturdy, rugged winger who has two 20-goal seasons to his credit in nine NHL seasons. He had nine goals and 19 assists for Calgary this season. He routinely plays long minutes against tough competition and rarely took an offensive zone draw for the Flames this season. Much like Tim Gleason, picked up Friday from Carolina, Glencross immediately upgrades the Caps toughness factor without bringing in a “dirty” player.

The problem is that Glencross’ profile matches several players the Caps already employ, and his addition will probably mean subtraction of minutes for a younger, arguably more-talented player — specifically Andre Burakovsky.

Rumors were floating that Burakovsky was going to be sent to Hershey — on paper anyway — to make the youngster eligible for the AHL playoffs. If the Caps don’t make another deal before the deadline, they’ll have to remove a forward from the roster to make room for Glencross. Maybe Burakovsky is it.

Analyzing the roster and line moves all season, it’s become obvious that coach Barry Trotz isn’t ready to trust top-six minutes to Burakovsky or Evgeny Kuznetsov — and Nate Schmidt on defense — in the playoffs. The nightly tinkering to find a running mate on the top line is more evidence that Trotz isn’t comfortable allowing those youngsters the leash to handle that responsibility.

Glencross isn’t the perfect fit there wither, obviously. He’s more skilled than Jay Beagle or Tom Wilson — at least at this point in their careers — but he brings the toughness and hard work Trotz tries to instill in that spot with an upgrade in talent.

The Caps might not be done. They’ve still been linked to Erik Cole and Joffrey Lupul, two more forwards that could be a better fit on that top line with 8 & 19.

But to this point, the Caps’ new GM had made two moves that look an awful lot like those low-to-medium risk, low-reward moves of his predecessor at trade deadlines of years past.

Glencross and Gleason are both nice players, but they hardly move the needle on the Caps’ Cup chances. They make the Caps deeper perhaps, but not more talented.

The biggest issue, then, is how the Caps see themselves. And it’s organizational, not just at the GM level. The Caps organization believes it has a Cup championship core, and they need to fill in around the edges. They’ve been operating around this premise for several seasons.

But the truth is, they don’t have enough top-line talent. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom can’t do it all by themselves. This team needs to surround that pair with more talented players, not more role players.

Quick take: Caps add Gleason, more toughness, to defensive corps

With Monday’s trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Washington Capitals made what could be the first of a couple of moves on Saturday, acquiring defensive defenseman Tim Gleason from Carolina in exchange for defenseman Jack Hillen and a fourth round pick in this year’s draft.

Gleason, 6’0″, 215, is a 32-year old left-handed shooting defender. He represents a slight upgrade over Hillen as the Caps sixth defenseman, but in wildly contrasting styles.

Hillen is slightly built, and nominally a puck-mover, though hardly a prolific scorer. Gleason, on the other hand, plays with toughness and will bring (another) mean streak to the Caps blue line.

According to all indications, Gleason will be paired with Mike Green, which means two things: 1) Green isn’t going anywhere at the trade deadline; and 2) The Caps really felt like they needed “protection” for Green getting run in the playoffs.

Gleason really is built in the Brooks Orpik mold. Neither defender is huge in stature, but they are both tough, willing to block shots and do the “dirty” work to protect the crease. Reasonable folks can argue all day about the value these types of players add to a team, but if you believe in the concept of “playoff hockey”, both Orpik and Gleason fit the mold as to the type of player that encompasses.

The Caps are also expected to be in the market for a “top six” forward before the deadline, and have been linked to varying degrees with veterans Patrick Sharp, Curtis Glencross and Erik Cole.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

FIRST STAR: Alex Ovechkin. Fully engaged Ovi in this one. A goal, which gave the Caps late life, five shots on goal, three blocked, five more missed and eight hits.

SECOND STAR: Jason Chimera. Two assists, though took a bad penalty during a string of bad penalties in the second period.

THIRD STAR: Troy Brouwer. Goal and an assist. 7 of 11 in the dot.

Goat of the game: Tom Wilson. Hate to kick a guy when he’s down, but there’s no place in the game for instigating contact during warmups. Total bush league move by a guy whose luster is starting to come off.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 2, Philadelphia Flyers 3

FIRST STAR: Braden Holtby. Hard to fault him for the generally lousy play in front of him in this one.

SECOND STAR: I’m struggling here. Cam Schilling? One shot, another attempt blocked, two hits. Cam Schilling it is.



Washington Wizards acquire Ramon Sessions

From the team press release:

Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld announced today that the team has acquired guard Ramon Sessions from Sacramento in exchange for guard Andre Miller.

“Ramon is a proven veteran who will bring an up-tempo style to our second unit and give us quickness, energy and defensive presence,” said Grunfeld. “He can make plays for himself as well as others and will help to solidify our bench as we head into the final 28 games of the season and the playoffs.”

Sessions (6-3, 190) holds career averages of 11.3 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 503 career games (134 starts) in seven-plus years with six teams. He has shot .435 from the field and .797 from the line. The 56th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has averaged 5.4 points, 2.7 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 36 games (seven starts) with Sacramento this season. In seven games as a starter this season, he averaged 9.6 points, 4.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds. Sessions enjoyed his best season during the 2012-13 campaign when he averaged 14.4 points, 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 61 games with Charlotte. In 12 career playoff games with the Los Angeles Lakers, he holds averages of 9.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds.

Miller was originally acquired by Washington on February 20, 2014, in a three-team trade with Denver and Philadelphia. In 79 games with Washington in parts of two seasons, Miller averaged 3.7 points and 3.0 assists (including 3.6 points and 2.8 assists in 51 games this season).

“Andre was a consummate professional during his time with the Wizards and gave us great veteran leadership,” said Grunfeld.  “We wish him and his family the best.”

Alex Ovechkin rediscovered his “edge” by ditching the razor

Remember back when Alex Ovechkin played the swashbuckling superhero, scoring goals at a pace no one else in the league could, slamming bodies to the ice and boards like a wrecking ball, and grinning that gap-toothed smile through a scraggly beard with shaggy hair flowing out from underneath his helmet, infuriating opponents, officials and the Canadian media at every turn?

What’s that you say? Everything old is new again?

In his past two games, Alex Ovechkin’s on-ice actions have been met with derision from his opponents and media across the country. First, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf called him a “diver” in response to this retaliatory slash.

Then, in Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh, Ovechkin gave Kris Letang a pretty healthy slash across the ankles and the diminutive Letang crashed hard into the end boards, which caused the Penguins to really get off their game chasing the Caps around instead of concentrating on winning the game. Arguably, Ovechkin could (should) have been called for a two minute minor on the play, but the on-ice officials really let the game get out of hand.

By the reaction of the Penguins media contingent, you’d think Ovechkin assaulted Letang a la Todd Bertuzzi, instead of chopping at a puck in the offensive zone and ending up on Letang’s boot.

Regardless, until recently Ovechkin has kept his nose fairly clean with regards to this type of activity. But it seems as if Ovechkin has his “edge” back, for lack of a better term.

For the first several years of his career, Ovechkin was a devil-may-care dervish, playing with reckless abandon. He was suspended several times for roughness as he plowed through defenders as often as he scored goals, making enemies across the league.

The Great 8 was often criticized for his rough play, and specific members of the Canadian media took every opportunity to tear down Ovechkin for anything the Russian player ever did — namely, being non-Canadian.

For the past several seasons, though, until very recently, Ovechkin has been a much more mild-mannered version of himself. As early playoff series losses mounted, as coaches came and went, as schemes became more and more defense-oriented, as he was asked to change positions, at times Ovechkin seemed joyless, a lesser version of himself.

Gone was the gap-toothed smile much of the time. Gone was the leap into the glass after scoring big goals. Gone, mostly, were the bone-shattering questionable hits.

A search for “What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?” yields 32 million hits.

Sure, Ovechkin still scored goals and delivered hits by the dozen. But it just didn’t seem like he had his old swagger, beaten down by playoff and Olympic losses.

At the start of this season, he was scoring, but not at his normal rate, as he — as well as the rest of the team — adjusted to Barry Trotz’ systems. But over his last 27 games, Ovechkin has 24 goals. He’s simply carrying his team.

And now, he’s getting under the skin of his opponents as well. It seems like he’s enjoying himself more and more on the ice. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his contract with Gillette ran out over the winter and Ovechkin had returned to the scruffy look. Maybe it’s not.

Maybe that stupid shaving contract was a metaphor for Ovechkin being forced into something he was not. Maybe now, after several seasons of “What’s Wrong with Ovechkin” we’re seeing the “real” Ovi back on the ice.

It’s been too long.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Pitchers and catchers report

For baseball fans all around the country, it’s time for those four words that — despite how much snow they might be under — signal spring is just around the corner.

Pitcher and catchers report.

For the Washington Nationals, reporting day for the players that will make up the battery is Thursday. With all the excitement of the offseason signing of Max Scherzer, Nats fans will finally see him in a uniform, albeit in snips and clips, throwing bullpen sessions and glad-handing with the privileged media members enjoying the warmer weather from Viera, Florida while most of us are still digging out from under snow.

There’s plenty of excitement to go around, though. Scherzer is just one of many aces the Nats have in the starting rotation. It’s been the common theme around baseball hot stove this winter: the Nats rotation is the best in baseball, and could be historically great. At the onset, they’ll have to banish 15-game winner Tanner Roark to long relief.

It’s a glut of riches.

Still, it guarantees nothing. Baseball is a notoriously funny game, and just when you think you have it figured out, it changes the rules on you again.

I usually take a more measured approach to my analysis. I like to have stats and figures to back up my opinions and viewpoints. It’s easier to defend a position armed with the proper ammunition.

But reporting day, and opening day mere weeks behind it now, is more for the romantic side of baseball fandom. These days mark significant milestones to the long winter fans must endure without their pastime. If that’s not a time for waxing poetic, I’m not sure what it.

So for now, I won’t bog you down in numbers or analysis. I won’t issue my standard caveats about regression, small sample sizes or hidden injuries. I will not purvey gloom and doom on one of the simple pleasures of being a baseball fan. There’s plenty of time for that during the long, hot summer.

For today is reporting day. And spring is right around the corner.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

FIRST STAR: Alex Ovechkin. Should we just change this to the Ovi Star? Pretty goal, assist, seven SOGs, another four that didn’t make it that far. Also, though his chop shot on Letang should have been a penalty, the Pens spent the rest of the third looking for retribution on anything in white instead of playing the game. Seriously, MVP anyone?

SECOND STAR: Nick Backstrom. His assist on Ward’s 5-on-3 goal was perfection. Again.

THIRD STAR: Braden Holtby. He’s allowed one goal to the Penguins this season on 91 shots over three games. Huzzah!

HONRABLE MENTION: Shouts out to the defensive corps. Except for on Pitts’ sole goal, they did a very nice job of keeping the crease clear for Holtby and limiting what Crosby and Malkin were trying to do.

Washington Captials Game 58 Recap: No shutout, but two points again against Pens

Braden Holtby had not allowed a goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins in two previous games this season. The Pens finally got into the scorebook against him — though it took a collision pushing him into the net to do so — but the Washington Capitals had more than enough answer, emerging victorious at Consol Energy Center 3-1.

After winning 3 of 4 on the long road trip, the Caps are now one point behind the Rangers and Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Joel Ward scored on a 5-on-3 with 4:13 left in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and lift the Caps to a win which caps a most successful four-game road trip.

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist for the Caps (31-17-10), to go along with seven shots on goal and John Carlson added an empty-net short-handed goal very late in the third. [Read more…]

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