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Trotz: Richards may be ready for Caps' debut

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Trotz: Richards may be ready for Caps' debut

From the sights and sounds of the Capitals’ optional practice on Friday, center Mike Richards is close to making his long-awaited and much-debated debut with the Caps.

Richards skated for the eighth straight day on Friday at Kettler and said he’s starting to feel like an NHL player again.

“You don’t want to be that guy messing up the drills or chucking pucks at people’s feet,” said Richards, who has not played an NHL game since April 9 for the Los Angeles Kings. “My legs are feeling better, my hands are feeling better. It’s just the progression of a shortened training camp maybe, but I feel good.”

Asked if he’s ready to play this weekend, when the Caps visit the Sabres on Saturday and return home to face the Rangers on Sunday, Richards shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I just do what I’m told,” he said. “If he needs me to play I’ll play.”

“He” would be Capitals coach Barry Trotz, and after allowing Richards to go through a game-day routine on Thursday, which included a pregame skate, Trotz seems willing to put the 30-year-old center into action in Buffalo.

“He’s getting used to how we do things,” Trotz said. “He’ got to feel real comfortable so when we throw him on the ice he’s just thinking about playing hockey.

RELATED: Friday Six-Pack: Richards could play this weekend

Trotz said he’s not adverse to Richards playing in back-to-back games this weekend, especially if he keeps his ice time to a minimum Saturday night against the Sabres.  

“I may have to say, ‘Go into one and see where it’s at,’” Trotz said. “He’s going to start on the fourth line, which is natural, and we’ll try to increase his minutes. But if his minutes aren’t too high to start, I wouldn’t be too hesitant (to play Richards on Sunday). I want him to succeed and I know he’s going to be a good fit for us.”

Trotz said he’s considered letting Richards play in the Capitals’ six games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, then sending him to the AHL Hershey Bears for back-to-back games on Saturday, Jan. 29 in Syracuse and Sunday, Jan. 30 at home, also against Syracuse. Richards also has a hearing scheduled for Jan. 28 in Manitoba for allegedly taking a controlled substance across the Canadian border last summer. It is unclear if that hearing will be postponed.

“He’s made great strides,” Trotz said. “The first few days you get a little humbled. You think you’re in pretty great shape and you find out you’ve got some work to do. If you’re passing with your brother and a couple of your buddies (in Kenora, Ontario) they’re not going up the ice like Kuzy and Burakovsky and Ovi. He’s caught up to that.”

After six seasons in Philadelphia and four more in Los Angeles, Richards says he’s impressed with the pace he’s seen in his short stay with the Capitals.

“The biggest thing is just the work ethic every day, it really is amazing,” Richards said. “The high tempo of the practices; everybody’s in the gym working out together; the fun they have doing it. It’s pretty impressive to be honest to come to a team doing so well. Sometimes you get complacent, especially around the halfway point of the season, but it seems like they’re not satisfied, they’re pushing for more.”

While others may question why the Capitals would add Richards to a team already 16 points ahead of the rest of the Metropolitan Division, Trotz is not. He knows Richards’ hockey history, which includes a Memorial Cup in 2003 with the OHL Kitchener Rangers, a World Junior Championships gold medal in 2005 with Team Canada, a Calder Cup in 2005 with the Philadelphia Phantoms, an Olympic gold medal in 2010 with Team Canada and two Stanley Cups with the 2012 and 2014 Kings.    

“In your business there are people you look at and you go, ‘That is an outstanding journalist,’ Trotz said. “I’m saying he’s an outstanding hockey player. They love to be playing the game, they compete at a very intense level. All those things I like about Mike and I think he’s going to be a real fit for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: Canucks on Caps: Good teams wear you down

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.

READ ALSO: SEE HOW THE DMV OLYMPIANS ARE FARING AFTER WEEK 1

"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.

RELATED: MEN'S HOCKEY GETS PIVOTAL WIN IN POOL PLAY

Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.