Capitals

Tigers eager to try for 2nd straight pennant

Tigers eager to try for 2nd straight pennant

DETROIT (AP) The last two American League MVPs stood about 10 feet apart in a club at Comerica Park, each surrounded by a small pack of reporters.

Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera know the drill by now - the anticipation of a new season and the sizeable expectations that come with it. Manager Jim Leyland is also familiar with high winter hopes after leading Detroit to back-to-back division titles and a spot in last year's World Series.

``There's no perfect team. We're not perfect, but we've got a good team,'' Leyland said. ``I think the biggest challenge for most teams, when you're a good team, is just don't self-destruct. If we don't self-destruct, we'll be pretty good.''

There were times in 2012 when the Tigers seemed destined for an underachiever's label, but Leyland and his team never fell apart when they trailed Chicago in the AL Central. Detroit finally overtook the White Sox, then the Tigers beat Oakland and the New York Yankees before being swept by San Francisco in the World Series.

Detroit will try to take that elusive final step this year, led again by a collection of stars that would make pretty much any team envious. Verlander was the MVP two years ago and nearly won a second consecutive Cy Young Award last season. Cabrera was voted the 2012 MVP after becoming baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

They were both at the ballpark Thursday to kick off the team's winter caravan.

``This is always fun for me,'' Verlander said. ``Getting the opportunity to come up here and see the fans again and get people excited about baseball.''

The Tigers have had little difficulty keeping their city interested the last couple seasons, and 2013 is expected to be no different. In addition to Verlander and Cabrera, Detroit also welcomes slugger Prince Fielder back for his second year with the team, and designated hitter Victor Martinez returns after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.

``Victor is a big part of our family,'' Cabrera said. ``We missed Victor a lot last year.''

Detroit made two major moves this offseason, signing free agent Torii Hunter to play in the outfield and re-signing right-hander Anibal Sanchez. There could still be more roster shuffling to come. Sanchez's return leaves Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly to compete for the final spot in the rotation - if they're both still with the team in spring training. Porcello went 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA last year, but although he's pitched four seasons in the majors already, he didn't turn 24 until last month.

That means he could be an attractive trade candidate.

``Those decisions - that's not my job,'' Porcello said. ``My job's to prepare and get ready and help the Tigers win. If something changes, then I'll adjust accordingly, but right now I'm getting ready to go down to spring training and work.''

Detroit also faces some uncertainty in the bullpen after letting Jose Valverde go. Bruce Rondon, who posted a 1.53 ERA in 53 minor league innings last year, is a candidate to close.

``He's going to have to blow a save to find out how he responds,'' Leyland said. ``Hopefully he'll save a lot of them, but if he blows one, I think we learn more about the guy after that. That's one of the things about being a closer. You have to have the ability to bounce back.''

The biggest question facing the everyday lineup is the left field spot. Andy Dirks hit .322 in 88 games last year. Leyland says Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry will compete for playing time. Berry gave Detroit some much-needed speed last season, stealing 21 bases as a rookie without being caught.

``Nobody's been mentioning Berry,'' Leyland said. ``This guy did a heck of a job for us last year. He gave us some spunk at the right time.''

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.