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Vikings' Peterson wants to play special teams too

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Vikings' Peterson wants to play special teams too

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Adrian Peterson has been Minnesota's most irreplaceable player for years, piling up 2,097 yards rushing this season alone to put himself in the mix for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award.

This unparalleled contribution to the Vikings and their success, however, hasn't been enough to satisfy Peterson. One of the sport's most relentless competitors, he would like to play on special teams, too.

``For the past two years I've been trying to get in on field goal block. Come in off the edge, you know? It's just going to take one block for them to really be like, `OK, you know what? Let's take the chance and let you go out there and get it done,''' Peterson said. ``Kickoff return, I wouldn't mind getting back there. I'm in it to win.''

Peterson was only asked about this Wednesday because special teams coordinator Mike Priefer revealed Peterson's constant request to reporters a few minutes earlier.

``He always asks,'' Priefer said. ``He's a football player. Gunner, field goal block, returner. The guy is awesome. I always say yes, and then I ask the head coach and he says no. I know what the answer is going to be. I don't even have to ask.''

Peterson actually returned 16 kickoffs as a rookie in 2007, averaging 25.8 per attempt including a 53-yard gain at Chicago, where he had his first 200-yard game that afternoon. The Vikings used him in that role once during the regular season in 2008 and again that year in the playoffs, but never since.

He's too valuable to risk injury on one of football's most dangerous plays, so approval from coach Leslie Frazier is unlikely. Even Percy Harvin, the team's primary kickoff returner until he sprained his left ankle in November, was given breaks from that role to keep him fresh and safe. But Peterson has that rare blend of speed, power and instinct that could pay off with a game-changing touchdown, should the Vikings ever decide to surprise their opponent.

Priefer said he has the play cards with him on the sideline in case a scenario arose that persuaded them to put Peterson in for a kick return.

``We would show him exactly where the return is supposed to hit and let him do his magic. There's absolutely an opportunity for him to go back there, I would think, in a crucial situation,'' Priefer said.

Peterson beamed at the podium Wednesday when the subject of special teams came up.

``I believe in having your best players on the field, especially in critical times. You never know what can happen,'' he said. ``That's what I would do.''

Even if Peterson never gets his chance as a kickoff returner, he's served the Vikings well with more than just running the ball. He served as a counselor of sorts for Christian Ponder, whose two interceptions deep in Packers territory cost the Vikings the game at Green Bay on Dec. 2. Seeing a look of defeat on the quarterback's face, Peterson approached his teammate and encouraged him to keep his spirits up, telling Ponder how much he's appreciated the passion he plays with.

``I just did what I felt I needed to do to help him get over that. Because this is the guy we're rolling with, and we need him to continue to improve each week,'' Peterson said, adding: ``I feel like he got back on track, got his mind right, didn't let it dwell on too long.''

Coming off a career-high 34 carries, and playing through some abdominal soreness, Peterson was also asked how his body is holding up, one year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

``My body feels great,'' he said, smiling. ``I could play for 12 more games if I have to.''

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS