October 21, 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 I: Grade the Offseason

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.

Dave: C+. The biggest immediate acquisition, obviously, is Barry Trotz and the biggest long-term acquisition is Brian MacLellan. Trotz brings instant credibility to the on-ice product, while MacLellan’s impact is less certain and probably not fully realized until several seasons down the line.

Player-wise, the Caps biggest need was to add two NHL-caliber defensemen, and MacLellan went out and bought what he thought were the best options in Niskanen and Orpik. Nisky is a player entering his prime, while Orpik may be on his last legs and will end up as an albatross — probably sooner rather than later. But for this season, the pair significantly upgrade the balance of the blueline.

I would have liked to seen a scorer added, but the team will rely on a pair of rookies, Burakovsky and Kuznetsov, to help in that department.

Katie: B.The hiring of Barry Trotz salvaged what could have been a disastrous offseason for the Capitals. Can you imagine if Dan Bylsma had been a free agent? I suspect the promotion of Brian MacLellan was spurred by Trotz’s sudden availability and reluctance to hire a head coach without a general manager in place.

The Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signings undoubtedly shored up a thin defense, and though they probably should have just signed Niskanen and not Orpik, it was a bold move that might pay off. Or it might be a bust. That’s the nature of risk. Good teams take risks, but it’s a fine line between good risks and bad risks. Thus far, this risk seems to be working out okay. I’ll get back to you in about 30 games.

Eric: I’d grade the offseason an A based on what Brian MacLellan was able to do with such little experience on the job. He improved the blueline immensely by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen away from Pittsburgh, although that came at the cost of not bringing back Mikhail Grabovski. Initially, I thought losing Grabovski would be a serious detriment to the team’s offensive potential, but the top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer has proved plenty capable thus far.

J.J.: B. Barry Trotz was a fantastic hire and I already love the things he’s done since coming in. I’m not yet sold on Brian MacLellan as GM. Right now he looks like the easy hire, but  I don’t know if he was the right one. He came in and immediately tried to address the need for defense, but at what cost? The Caps are certainly better in the short term, but I am wary of the long-term effects of the Niskanen/Orpik contracts, especially Orpik’s.

Abram: Obviously the biggest acquisition was a new head coach, Barry Trotz, the team’s fourth in four years.Trotz brings significant experience as a head coach – 15 years on the Nashville Predators – which goes far, considering the last time the Caps hired a veteran head coach it was Ron Wilson, seven coaches and 18 years ago. Other than that, the team overhauled its blue line with Matt Niskanen and USS Brooks Orpik, and added phenom Andre Burakovsky as well as grinder Liam O’Brien and backup goalie Justin Peters, while losing Michal Neuvirth and Mikhail Grabovski.

There’s no question the 2013-14 roster is a better on-ice squad than the 2012-13 team. That said, the team’s salary cap situation has a far bleaker outlook thanks to the massive amount of money being plugged into the defensive corps. Which is a long way of saying that the offseason gets a 79%, graciously rounded up to a B-. Room for improvement.

Harry:  I give the offseason a C. The Capitals signed a good defenseman in Matt Niskanen to a reasonable contract but gave Brooks Orpik a very scary one.  They also let their third-best forward walk in free agency. Even with the hiring of Trotz, which was smart, they didn’t really move closer to a Stanley Cup championship.

DSP’s Washington Redskins Postgame Show: Game 7–Tennessee Titans

Dave Nichols and Andy Holmes of District Sports Page discuss the Washington Redskins 19-17 win over the Tennessee Titans and consider the state of the roster and rest of the schedule.

Check Out Football Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with DSPs Redskins Radio Shows on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Capitals Game 4 Recap: 6 Caps score in trouncing of Devils

OVECHKIN SCORES 5TH OF THE SEASON IN CONVINCING WIN

Just three games into the 2014-15 campaign, the Washington Capitals had already fallen in shootouts twice. They made sure to avoid that distinction Thursday night, scoring early — and often — trouncing the previously unbeaten New Jersey Devils 6-2.

Six different Caps players scored, handing the Devils their first loss of the season. New Jersey entered play 3-0-0.

It didn’t take long for the Caps (2-0-2) to get engaged in this one. In fact, it took just 34 seconds for Alex Ovechkin to gather a loose puck and snap one past Cory Schneider for the quick 1-0 lead. Kind of ridiculously, it was only the sixth fastest goal Ovechkin has scored in his career.

Ovechkin has scored in three straight games, amassing five goals in that timeframe.

New Jersey answered a little past the midway mark of the frame. The Devils did a good job creating traffic in front of Braden Holtby, and defenseman Damon Severson’s wrist shot got through a maze of bodies to tie it up.

But a lackadaisical Devils turnover on the next shift was corralled by Brooks Orpik near center ice. He tossed to Mike Green, who moved the puck ahead for Chris Brown on the right wing. Brown fired on Schneider essentially to trigger a line change, but slap shot got past the New Jersey goalie for a 2-1 Caps lead.

With 3:24 left in the period, the Devils tied it again on another shot by Severson from the point through traffic. It’s the second consecutive game the Caps have given up a two-goal period to a defenseman.

Marcus Johansson broke the tie 6:18 into the second period as he took a pass from Brooks Laich off the half-wall and beat Schneider with a wrist shot for his second goal of the season.

The Caps got an insurance goal 56 seconds into the third. Matt Niskanen fired from the point and Nick Backstrom redirected the slap slot while camping out in the low slot to make it 4-2.

Moments later, Joel Ward fired one in from the blue line that bounced off the back wall, off Schneider’s back and into his skates. The goalie fell trying to cover and pushed the puck into the net to give the Caps a 5-2 lead. Schneider was promptly lifted in favor of Scott Clemmensen.

The Caps added insult to injury later in the third. With Jaromir Jagr off for tripping, Andre Burakovsky sniped the top glove corner on Clemmensen from the right wing dot to provide a four-goal cushion.

Braden Holtby was spectacular in the first period, despite the two screened goals. He was rarely tested after and made 26 saves in total for his second win of the season.

Capitals Game Day Notes: Green on skating, Schmidt on fitting in

Much has been made of Mike Green’s resurgence so far this season for the Washington Capitals since his return from the injured list. For the veteran defenseman, it’s been about making adjustments and confidence in the systems that new coach Barry Trotz has put in place.

Asked why it appears he’s skating so much better this season, Green answered quickly.

“Change in system. Everybody’s skating a lot better, to be honest,” Green said after Thursday’s pregame skate at Kettler. “I think that has a lot to do with the structure of our system and being confident within it. It’s just a matter of being consistent throughout the year.”

Green played with Nate Schmidt in his first game and much of the next, but in the third period in Tuesday’s shootout loss to San Jose, Green found himself with veteran Brooks Orpik for a few shifts.

For his part, Green said he’d prefer a regular partner, but realizes the practicality of the situation.

“It’s tough,” Green started, “but you know, it is what it is. This league is all about adjustments and being able to adjust in certain situations. I’d rather have one partner, but it is what it is. I really enjoy playing with Nate [Schmidt] right now. Great young player, good energy, makes smart plays. He’s got all the tools in his trunk. He’s been great.

Schmidt has just tried to soak it all in after making the team out of camp with injuries to Jack Hillen and Dmitry Orlov. “Mike’s just tremendous with the puck. He does a lot of things that hopefully I’ll be able to learn one day, but the last two games that he’s been able to play in he’s been awesome. We played a little bit together last year but we’re just trying to get even more familiar with each other so I can let him do his things. He’s an extremely talented guy. We talk a lot on the bench, a lot of communication. He’s been here for ten years, he knows the ropes, and for me just to soak up as much information as I can from guys like him can only be beneficial for me in the long run.

Schmidt watched with interest this past offseason as the team brought in two veteran blueliners, but he’s taken a “best case scenario” approach to his position on the depth chart.

“Both those guys have been extremely helpful,” Schmidt said of Matt Niskanen and Orpik. “With Nisky being a fellow Minnesotan, just to have that connection with him is really helpful. And Brooksy, is the definition of a pro. He comes to the rink every day, he does everything the right way whether it’s on or off the ice. For me, I don’t even have to talk to him every day to pick up something new because he’s been around and has so much experience.”

Schmidt is realistic about where he stands, but he’s looking to make a good impression while he’s given the opportunity.

“We had those two guys [Orpik, Niskanen] come in and at first glance you’re like, ‘Aw man, I’m gonna be too far down [the depth chart],’ but it opened up a door for me to learn from these guys and go out and contribute to this team. My goal coming into camp was to make the team and try to make it real hard for them to push me down.

I think it’s been going well so far. We have been growing as a D corps each and every day. We had two great games. Last game might not have been our best but we learned a lot from it so I’m excited going forward.”

While his status might be in question when Hillen and Orlov eventually return, he’s going to make the most of wearing the Caps sweater while he can.

“For a guy like me, that’s as much as I can do is take up as much experience of being around those guys. They’ve been through it all — what works, what doesn’t work — those are the types of things that you need to learn as a young player, hopefully at an earlier age than later on.”

Schmidt had a unique view of the organizational struggles last season, being a tweener between the big club and AHL Hershey, both of which failed to qualify for the postseason.

He said the tension could be felt throughout the organization. “It’s kind of a trickle down effect,” Schmidt said. “We were pushing for the playoffs too at Hershey last year and we didn’t make the playoffs. It was kinda tough. I think it was the first time ever both teams missed the playoffs in a long time so it’s a disheartening thing.”

“You want both teams in, you want both clubs to win, cause when you win, good things happen for everybody. Wherever it may be, whether it’s AHL guys getting NHL time here or anywhere else, but this is a great group of guys and it would be special to get back to that here.”

Caps comeback against Sharks could be biggest point earned all season

To say the Washington Capitals came out flat in the first period in Tuesday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks is an understatement.

As well as the team played in its first two games, it was quite a shock to everyone — including the team — to see it come out so poorly against the travelling Sharks, a team this franchise historically has had its fair share of problems with.

There were problems all night on the blue line. John Carlson, in particular, played poorly and ended up demoted in the third period as Mike Green — who actually had a fantastic game — joined Brooks Orpik on the second pairing.

But the Caps were able to comeback, tie the game, and force overtime to earn a point against one of the better teams in the Western Conference — after falling behind 3-0 midway through the first period.

Considering the situation, then, could erasing a three-goal deficit — and a two-goal margin with less than six minutes left in the game — be one of the biggest single points the Caps pick up this season?

“Yeah. It’s pretty incredible we found a way to come back there and score some goals against a team that hadn’t let a goal in [yet this season],” defenseman Karl Alzner said afterwards. “That’s gotta say something.”

“We started the game playing the way we did in the first two games there in the second period. If we play three periods like that, it doesn’t matter what team it is you’re gonna have a chance to win. We’re happy that we came back against a great team, but we like to think about ourselves and what we did tonight wasn’t enough.

Coach Barry Trotz agreed. “We got a point where we probably could sit here and go ‘We shouldn’t deserve points tonight’, but we got one.”

Trotz also brought up that the Caps have picked up four points in the first three games — all against playoff teams.

It’s problematic for this team to dig a hole for themselves and have to score their way out of it. And they’d especially like to avoid going the shootout route they took so much last season. But a point is a point, and considering their absence form the playoffs last season, they need to accumulate points wherever and whenever they can.

“You gotta commend us for coming back but we definitely had a slow start,” Green said. Green had a goal and an assist, and has scored in both games he’s played thus far.

“You know, we can’t be doing that. We realize how we have to play to be successful. It took us about a period to figure it out. Barry had some words of encouragement in the second and third [periods].  We put our minds to it and we got the job done as far as getting the one point. But we can’t be going to shootout most nights.”

Backup goalie Justin Peters was called on by Trotz to relieve Braden Holtby after the Sharks’ third goal in the first period. It was a tough situation to come into for his first action of the season, but he acquitted himself well under the conditions.

“We were a resilient group tonight,” Peters said. “We were real flat in the first period. I guess now you realize how valuable points are and we’re lucky to come away with a point but it just shows when we get playing we’re a pretty good team.”

Washington Capitals Game 3 Recap: Caps earn point against Sharks despite 3-0 hole

OVECHKIN SCORES TWICE TO LEAD CAPS IN THREE-GOAL COMEBACK

Despite trailing one of the best teams in the Western Conference 3-0 after the first period, and facing a two-goal deficit with 5:51 left in the game, the Washington Capitals earned a point by forcing overtime on Troy Brouwer’s late third period goal.

Unfortunately, the Caps were shut out in the shootout, and fell to the San Jose Sharks 6-5. But considering the start, it could end up being one of the biggest points the Caps earn all season.

The Caps found themselves in an early hole. Just 1:23 into the contest, Joe Thornton won a draw in the left wing faceoff circle to defenseman Matt Irwin, who blasted a long-range shot past Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Sharks lead.

Moments later, fourth-liner Michael Latta was called for elbowing. Though the Caps did a credible job killing the advantage, San Jose struck again with two seconds remaining in the infraction, as Irwin lifted a backhander past Holtby. Irwin was a healthy scratch in the Sharks’ first tow games.

Things got out of hand with just over 10 minutes left in the first, as John Scott — known primarily for beating people senseless — snuck a shot past Holtby on an odd-man rush as Brooks Orpik got caught out of position.

Just like that, the Caps trailed 3-0 and Holtby found a seat on the bench, in favor of Justin Peters making his Capitals’ debut.

“The first period I didn’t like at all,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I just didn’t like our commitment. We were a pass-first team in a shoot-first league in the first period. You’re not going to give a team like the Sharks a three-goal lead and expect to come back.”

The Caps got on the board at 2:51 of the second period. With Tomas Hertl off for interference, the power play put on an impressive passing clinic, with Troy Brouwer feeding Alex Ovechkin at the high point, to John Carlson on the wing, back to Ovechkin and finally to Marcus Johansson, who was camped on the right post.

After a battle for the puck. Johansson tapped it past Antti Niemi for the first goal against the Sharks in three games this season.

San Jose killed the momentum at 14:33, as a harmless looking shot bounced off Eric Fehr and past Peters to make it a three goal game again. Joe Pavelski, who took the initial shot, was credited with the goal.

But as quickly as that came about, the Caps righted the ship. Following an odd-man rush, Mike Green collected the puck in the corner, played keep-away until he could settle into a good shooting spot in the center of the ice, and whipped a wrister past Niemi to make it 4-2.

Moments later, Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and did what only Ovi can do: make a world-class goalie look bad, as he rifled a shot through Niemi to cut the deficit to one at 4-3.

But San Jose made it a two-goal game less than two minutes into the third. Chris Tierney broke up a Caps rush at the Caps’ blue line and fed Tommy Wingels streaking in all alone on Peters. Peters made the save on Wingels’ first shot, but the Sharks winger got another whack at it and snuck it through.

The Caps got another power play with 6:15 left and made good on it, as Ovechkin registered his second of the game and fourth of the season with a wicked wrister from the left wing circle, bringing the Caps within one at 5-4 with 5:51 remaining in the game.

“We had some big efforts,” Trotz said. “I thought [Ovechkin] was the best player on the ice today. He had a couple goals. He’s blocking shots. He’s running over people. He was a beast out there.”

Brouwer tied it just over a minute later, as he took an outlet pass from Green, faked out Irwin who fell, and beat Niemi high glove side to even things up.

Overtime came after a few nervous moments as Backstrom took a high-sticking penalty with less than two minutes left in the third period.

CAPS NOTES:

  • With his assist tonight, Ovechkin passed Mike Gartner (392) for second place on the Capitals’ franchise assists list. Ovechkin now sits 26 assists shy of passing Michal Pivonka (418) for first place on the Capitals’ assists list.
  • Andre Burakovsky earned an assist, extending his point streak to three games (10/9-10/14: 1g, 3a). Burakovsky is the first Capitals player to start his career with a three-game point streak since Alex Ovechkin started his career with an eight-game point streak in 2005.
  • Liam O’Brien earned an assist, marking his first NHL point.
  •  The Capitals scored two power-play goals for the second consecutive game.
  • Washington outshot San Jose 34-23 and outhit the Sharks 26-13.

Washington Redskins Game 6 Review: Cardinals dump Redskins in desert

Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions, including one which was returned for a touchdown with 29 seconds left in the game, and the Washington Redskins lost to the Arizona Cardinals 30-20 on Sunday.

The Redskins (1-5) committed four turnovers, all in the fourth quarter.

It was the Redskins’ fourth straight loss and 13th in 14 games.

[Read more...]

OPINION: Washington Nationals might have blown best chance for this group to win championship

It’s never easy, the end of the baseball season. And make no mistake, it’s over. Sure, you can follow the rest of the playoffs until its conclusion, but for fans of the Washington Nationals, the end of the baseball season came late Tuesday night in San Francisco.

It came in a bitter, frustrating, disappointing manner — they weren’t so much defeated, but done in by their own mistakes and mismanagement.

It’s an unimaginable conclusion, after winning their way to the best record in the National League to be dumped in the division series, unceremoniously, on the road, practically in the middle of the night.

Most fans would like nothing better than to praise the winners for a job well done, victors in a meritorious fashion. But the bottom line of this NLDS is that the Giants, while victors, were no better than the Nats. Neither team hit at all, rather the Nats continued to make errors and mistakes, and as one of the analysts on the terrible postgame shows said, “If you aren’t scoring runs, you can’t give away outs.”

The Giants didn’t, the Nats did.

Both teams scored nine runs in the series. Four of the nine runs came via solo home runs, three of which came from the youngest player on the team — who could be the youngest player on the majority of AA teams.

It just wasn’t enough.

Manager Matt Williams was criticized — rightly — in three of the four games for decisions he made with his pitching staff, most notably how he managed his bullpen. Veterans Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were non-existent.

Werth and LaRoche, the three-four hitters combined for two base hits in 35 at bats in the four games. In the game Span reached twice, the Nats won. Other than that, he was transparent. Desmond and Ramos are still swinging at sliders away.

It’s hard to fault the pitchers that didn’t come through, considering they gave up just nine runs in four games. Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark looked in over their heads. Gio Gonzalez got rattled after a physical error. Drew Storen gave up base hits when he needed strikeouts. But it’s nit-picking.

They gave up NINE RUNS IN FOUR GAMES. They should have won all of them.

Yes, this one’s gonna hurt. They all do. But this will hurt differently than 2012 did. The Nats were one pitch away from advancing on several occasions in a ten minute period and it was ripped away from them. Most thought they weren’t ready.

This year, they were ready. Full of veterans. Playoff tested. Best record in the league. Young players coming into their own. The best starting staff and bullpen in the league. Yet, it all blew up. Rather, they just didn’t show up.

The window’s still open with this group of players, but it won’t be forever. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche both have team options for next year. We don’t know if either will be back. Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are free agents after next season.

We have no idea where — or even if — Ryan Zimmerman will be able to contribute in a meaningful way the rest of his career.

For a team that’s as veteran as this is, there are a lot of questions. The sobering conclusion is that this very well might have been the Nats best chance to win a championship with this group of players.

And they blew it. It’s hard to type that. I’m sure it hard to read it. But it’s true.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4: Nats fall short in San Fran; eliminated from playoffs

The San Francisco Giants scored three runs — without the benefit of a base hit — and beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to eliminate the Nats 3-1 in the five game National League Divisional Series.

The game was filled with poor umpiring, bad defense by the Nats, and questionable managerial decisions. [Read more...]

Washington Redskins Game 5 Review: Wilson runs rampant as Seahawks win 27-17

Russell Wilson ran for 122 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns and the Seattle Seahawks knocked off the Washington Redskins 27-17 Monday night at FedEx Field.

The Redskins defense just had no answer for Wilson. Seemingly on every play, Wilson was escaping a rush, or outrunning a linebacker, or buying time and finding a wide-open receiver.

He led Seattle on a 6-play, 65-yard drive on its opening possession which ended on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse. [Read more...]

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