April 20, 2019

Five Takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams

Here are five takeaways from the Redskins’ 24-10 win over St. Louis on Sunday at FedEx Field.

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OPINION: Capitals’ Brian MacLellan making championship-caliber moves this offseason

Once the raw emotion of another difficult ending to the season passed, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan made his priorities clear. A winger to bring regularity to the Capitals’ top forward line was in high demand, so as to slam shut the revolving door that had been so active in the 2014-15 season. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played with a total of nine forwards over the course of the year, but any worries about seeing similar inconsistency when this season arrives were extinguished on July 2.

MacLellan engineered a blockbuster trade, sending longtime Capital Troy Brouwer, along with goalie prospect Phoenix Copley and a third-round pick, to St. Louis in exchange for T.J. Oshie of 2014 Sochi Olympics fame.

Joel Ward proved a worthy linemate to Ovechkin and Backstrom in the playoffs, with nine points in 14 games — including a pair of goals that bridged the team’s series against the Islanders and Rangers — but it’s hard to argue that Oshie isn’t an upgrade to the team’s most valuable offensive unit. Just look at this highlight video if you need to get an idea of his hockey sense and the way he works on the ice.

Those pessimistic about the potential that Oshie has to make a positive impact might point to his relatively paltry playoff numbers (5g, 4a in 30 career postseason contests), and that would be a fair critique. But on the flip side of that, the Blues have generally underachieved in the playoffs, with a series record of 1-5 since 2009. Moreover, Oshie has never had linemates of Ovechkin’s and Backstrom’s quality. While that’s not intended a slight to guys like David Backes and Alexander Steen, Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of his generation and Backstrom is hockey’s equivalent of an elite five-tool baseball player.

Personally, I think the Williams signing is the strongest addition of the offseason because it adds an edge to the team that might not have existed before. Brouwer’s leadership in the room will be missed, but there is absolutely no void with a guy like Williams coming to town. His seven career Game 7 wins are nearly double the amount the team has (four), and he’s never lost one. I see him, as does MacLellan, in the second-line right winger role on a completely healthy Capitals squad, serving as a highly effective mentor to Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The latter of those two appears to have finally solved Washington’s second-line center puzzle that took years to complete, and the flashes of brilliance he showed in the playoffs were highlighted by the series-winning goal in Game 7 against the Islanders. In the teleconference the day after he signed, Williams called his Game 7 successes “a product of the teams [he’s] been on,” but his 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy confirms, in my opinion, his ability to succeed as a pressure player on his own. He had the overtime goal in Game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final and the first in their title-winning Game 5. Did I mention that he has an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s?

He spoke to Caps head coach Barry Trotz the night he signed, and he told the media the next day that it was that conversation that pushed him over the edge. Even before that, the nation’s capital had been high on the list for him, his agent and his family, so much so that he took a pay cut to come to the Capitals. He believes that the ingredients are in place for a championship in Washington; he said so a couple weeks back. I happen to agree with him.

I won’t go so far as to say that 2016 will see Lord Stanley’s Cup lifted by Ovechkin & Co., but the window is wide open for that to happen. Two bona fide top-six forward lines are there, with a balance of snipers, playmakers, heavy hitters and speed. The bottom six forwards — Marcus Johansson (yes, I do think he’ll be re-signed), Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Michael Latta — are all more than capable of stepping up into their roles as needed, whatever they may be.

Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov can hold down the fort on the blue line, while generating clean breakouts and even directly creating offense when asked to. Last but certainly not least, Braden Holtby has been locked up as the team’s franchise netminder for the foreseeable future. His steady presence helped guide the Caps to within a goal of their first Eastern Conference Final since 1998, and with a good bounce here or correct officiating call there, they would have reached that point and matched up well with Tampa Bay (to be fair, surviving the final two minutes of Game 5 or simply showing up in Game 6 against the Rangers would have gotten the job done).

For longtime Caps fans, it might feel like just yesterday the organization was fading fast under the direction of former GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. MacLellan and Trotz have quickly revived them back into Stanley Cup contention, and this observer has no qualms about pegging the current iteration of the roster as the best of the Alex Ovechkin Era. Time will tell how much this summer’s transactions help the team come playoff time, but don’t be surprised if the barn on the corner of 7th and F is rocking in late May – and even into June.

Reports: Capitals’ Braden Holtby asking for $8 million in arbitration filing

Washington Capitals restricted free agent goaltender Braden Holtby has asked for $8 million in his arbitration filing, according to Tim Wharnsby of Reuters.

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D.C. United Analysis: United face tough five-game run prior to World Cup break

For a team that, through 10 matches, has only played Western Conference opponents twice, separating a five-game part of the schedule and highlighting it as not only difficult, but key to D.C. United’s season, might seem a little much given how it compares to the schedule D.C. has already played.

But after failing to beat Major League Soccer’s worst team in Saturday night’s 1-1 home draw to the Montreal Impact, United now faces a five-game run of Eastern opponents that ends on June 10 in Montreal, United’s final match before a two-and-a-half-week World Cup break. The stretch starts at home Wednesday night, when United takes on the Houston Dynamo. [Read more…]

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 5 – Management

It raised a few eyebrows around Washington when it was announced in the offseason that both D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper and head coach Ben Olsen were going to remain in their jobs after the club went an atrocious 3-24-7 in 2013, one of the worst Major League Soccer seasons ever recorded.

After an offseason filled with almost as many transactions as United scored goals in the league last year (22), the roster was remade through a variety of means. It’s far too early to judge Kasper and Olsen’s success in changing the team. When a club only wins three of 34 games one season, it’s not necessarily the biggest feather in anyone’s cap when that club surpasses its win total the next season, even when it does so in nine matches. [Read more…]

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 4 – Forwards

Looking at the performance of D.C. United’s forwards is an exercise of examining extremes. On one hand, the one that United fans would rather focus on right now, there’s Fabian Espindola, the offseason acquisition who has four goals and three assists in nine matches. On the other, of course, is Eddie Johnson, the much more notable and expensive offseason acquisition, who has yet to score at all.

The overall performance of the position so far during United’s 4-3-2 start to the 2014 Major League Soccer season is somewhere in the middle. But it should be noted that Espindola already has more league goals this year than any United player had for all of the 2013 season. Espindola’s production (his three assists are tied with Nick DeLeon for the team lead), being involved somehow in seven of the 13 goals United has scored this season (not to mention involvement in scoring plays later counted as own goals), hasn’t necessarily masked Johnson’s struggles, but it has allowed United to succeed somewhat so far despite them. [Read more…]

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 3 – Midfielders

Of all the pieces of this week-long series evaluating D.C. United through about the first quarter of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, considering the value and effectiveness of the midfield might be the most difficult. Unlike defense and forward, the midfield wasn’t completely plowed over in the offseason, as the intention was to have relative veterans Nick DeLeon, Chris Pontius, and Perry Kitchen anchoring the middle of the field, supplemented by new acquisition and MLS veteran Davy Arnaud.

Nine matches into the season, that plan has already undergone a significant adjustment due to Pontius being unavailable due to injury. With the Washington Post reporting in late April that recovery from a hamstring injury will likely keep Pontius out for most of the regular season, midfield is one area where United’s best plan has already been rubbished. [Read more…]

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 2 – Defenders

A year after giving up 59 goals and sometimes conceding in ways that any professional coach or manager would find laughable, things had to change on the D.C. United back line. Players like Ethan White, Dejan Jakovic, and James Riley were dispatched or left the club via various means, and the front office completely revamped the defense in an attempt to have United not repeat 2013, which was one of the worst seasons by any club in the history of Major League Soccer.

Nine games into United’s 19th MLS season, the defense is still a work in progress and there are things that can be corrected. While there may have been a couple glimpses of last year on a few of the goals allowed, United’s defense is doing a much better job considering the attack hasn’t necessarily been solid at keeping the ball and taking pressure off the defense when United is level or on the lead in a match (especially of late). [Read more…]

D.C. United Analysis: First-quarter evaluation, part 1 – Goalkeepers

Simply based on results, it would have been massively difficult for D.C. United to be as bad (or worse) than it was in 2013. A 3-24-7 record, just 16 points in the standings, and a goal differential of -37 added up to one of the worst seasons by any team in Major League Soccer history, even if it was capped off by a victory at Real Salt Lake in the U.S. Open Cup final – the team’s 13th major trophy.

So to say United has surpassed expectations in this first quarter or so of the 2014 MLS season isn’t necessarily earth-shattering. But even with several new acquisitions and the departure of multiple players from last year’s clunker of a squad, it’s not likely that many would have had United sitting tied for third place in the Eastern Conference after nine matches, with a winning record (4-3-2) and almost as many points (14) as all of last season. United carry a modest +2 goal differential, a serious step up to this point last season, when United was 1-7-1 (4 points) and had a goal differential of -13. [Read more…]

D.C. United ANALYSIS: Club trades Ethan White to Philadelphia in odd deal

D.C. United today announced it had traded defender Ethan White and the top spot in Major League Soccer’s allocation order to the Philadelphia Union for veteran defender Jeff Parke and Philly’s sixth position in the allocation order.

White appeared in 14 regular-season matches for United last season, and 38 overall in three years with the club. He turned 23 on New Year’s Day and joined United after being part of the club’s U-18 Academy team and playing two seasons at the University of Maryland. White was one of several homegrown players on the D.C. roster. [Read more…]

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