Capitals

LB Matthews, S Woodson among sidelined Packers

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LB Matthews, S Woodson among sidelined Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Mike McCarthy likes the forecast for Sunday night.

``Well, we live in Green Bay, Wisconsin, so snow's going to happen,'' the Packers coach said Friday. ``I hope it does snow. I think it'd be great. It's a great setting. Personally, I think snow's fun to play in, so I think our players will enjoy it.''

The Packers host Detroit on Sunday night and Green Bay will try to stay atop the NFC North without five starters.

The team has ruled out linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), safety Charles Woodson (collarbone), receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) against its NFC North rival.

Woodson returned to practice on a limited basis this week after being sidelined since suffering his injury Oct. 21. Matthews, who leads the team with nine sacks, still hasn't been cleared to practice after he reinjured his hamstring Nov. 4.

``We're getting close (with Matthews),'' McCarthy said. ``But I think it's very important for Clay, no different with Charles, that when we do bring those guys back it's not potentially just a one-week situation.''

And in the big picture, the Packers are vying for a second straight division title with a first-place showdown against the Bears looming Dec. 16 in Chicago. Having playmakers such as Matthews and Woodson back for that game would be ideal for Green Bay, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn't looking that far ahead.

``I've always felt that when we get them back let's have them because every game is critical for us,'' Capers said. ``There's not one (game) that's more critical than another. The game Sunday night is the most critical game for us. We've got to find some way to go play our best.''

After rallying in the final minutes for a 24-20 victory at Detroit (4-8) three weeks ago, Green Bay (8-4) will try to extend its league-best home winning streak of 21 games over the Lions with a depleted offense as well.

Right tackle T.J. Lang returned to practice Friday in limited fashion after suffering an ankle injury in the Packers' win over Minnesota last Sunday.

Lang is questionable to play against the Lions. But McCarthy indicated after practice Friday that undrafted rookie Don Barclay would make his first pro start at Lang's spot.

``That's the way we've prepared all week,'' McCarthy said.

McCarthy confirmed Alex Green would be the starter at running back after Starks suffered his injury in the last game.

Green, a second-year player, had been splitting carries with Starks the last few games. Before that, Green was the primary back in a three-game stretch after Cedric Benson suffered what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury in early October.

``It's a blessing to get a second chance to make a first impression again. That's rare,'' said Green, who leads the team with 360 rushing yards.

Veteran Ryan Grant also will see action in the backfield after the team re-signed him earlier this week.

If McCarthy gets his wish for a snow game Sunday night, he could be compelled to take a long look at Grant. He ran for Packers postseason records of 201 yards and three touchdowns on a snow-covered Lambeau turf in their rout of Seattle in the 2007 divisional playoffs.

``He plays well in the snow. History would tell you that,'' McCarthy said. ``I'm comfortable with Ryan Grant.''

Notes: Packers DE Mike Neal didn't practice this week and is doubtful for Sunday. But McCarthy said the news on Neal's injured shoulder from the last game was better than what team personnel initially feared. If Lang and Neal aren't cleared, the Packers would be down to six offensive linemen and four defensive linemen healthy enough for the game. Making a roster move this weekend to provide depth at one or both position groups is possible, McCarthy said. . Green is looking forward to potentially playing in snow for the first time. The West Coast native played in college at Hawaii and missed the final two months of his rookie season with the Packers last year because of a knee injury. ``It's one thing I looked forward to when I was being drafted here - we play in the snow,'' said Green, a third-round pick. ``I know that's a big thing around here.''

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Caps make second blue line addition, acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps make second blue line addition, acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal

The Capitals continued to retool their scuffling blue line on Wednesday, acquiring 26-year-old defenseman Jakub Jerabek from Montreal in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

The move comes a couple of days after GM Brian MacLellan dealt a conditional third-round selection to Chicago for swift skating Michal Kempny.

Both Jerabek and Kempny are left shot, puck-moving defensemen who move well and make crisp outlet passes. Both also hail from the Czech Republic.

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The team sees Jerabek as a No. 5 or 6, I’m told.

On Wednesday, the Caps also officially said goodbye to Taylor Chorney, who was claimed off waivers by Columbus. Chorney will report to the Blue Jackets.

The Caps were off on Wednesday as they made their way Florida for Thursday night’s meeting with the Panthers, so it’s unclear how Coach Barry Trotz intends to deploy his new defensemen.

But it’s probably safe to assume that Kempny will move into a spot within the top four with John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

MORE CAPITALS: GET TO KNOW MICHAL KEMPNY

That figures to leave Brooks Orpik and Jerabek on the third pair, while rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey jockey for position as the next man up.

Kempny is expected to make his Caps’ debut on Thursday night.

Is the Caps’ D corps better? Well, that remains to be seen. But it had become clear to MacLellan and Co. in recent weeks that the status quo was not going to cut it. This month, in fact, the team has allowed 39 goals in 10 games. Only the Rangers (40) have allowed more in the same span.

With the trade deadline looming next Monday, the Caps now have roughly $617,000 in cap space, according to www.capfriendly.com, and are at the roster maximum of 23 players. So they would need to make a move in order to add another body.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

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In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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