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AP Sources: Shafer to take over at Syracuse

AP Sources: Shafer to take over at Syracuse

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Four years ago, Scott Shafer's football sojourn almost seemed at a dead end.

Fired after only one year as defensive coordinator at Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, a victim of one of the worst seasons in Wolverines history, Shafer was down and out after stops at five colleges in a five-year span.

Then came a phone call at Christmas time in 2008 from Doug Marrone, who had just been hired as coach at Syracuse. The two clicked and Shafer was hired as defensive coordinator. He quickly transformed a woeful Orange defense into an intimidating unit, becoming fast friends with Marrone as both became key cogs in turning around a program that had reached the depths of despair.

Now, with Marrone suddenly leaving this week to coach the Buffalo Bills, Shafer has landed his first job as a head coach. He will officially replace Marrone, two people familiar with the selection process told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not been an official announcement from the university.

The school was expected to schedule a press conference for Thursday.

With national signing day looming, acting quickly to find a replacement was of the utmost importance. Dr. Daryl Gross, the athletic director, hinted in a radio interview Monday that the choice would come from within the staff.

``We want to move fast and make sure we get things in place,'' Gross said.

Syracuse has received 14 commitments so far, nine of them from three-star athletes, including quarterbacks Zach Allen of Texas and Austin Wilson of Pennsylvania, according to Rivals.com. The site ranks the Orange class at No. 71.

Though an official announcement has not yet been made, Shafer was congratulated by his son and former players Rob Long and Antwon Bailey on Twitter.

Shafer, a 1990 graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, was one of Marrone's first hires. Though he's never been this high up the coaching chain, Shafer expressed interest in taking that next step and was a candidate for the Western Michigan job that went to P.J. Fleck last month.

Marrone preached discipline, accountability, character, and integrity, and Shafer will have to follow that lead if the team is to remain on the upswing. Marrone rejuvenated a team that went 10-37 under his predecessor, Greg Robinson, and transformed it into a two-time bowl winner.

Syracuse finished 8-5 this year and 5-2 in the conference. The latter mark was good for a four-way tie in the race for the Big East title.

``I think we have an outstanding bunch of individuals on the (Syracuse) team,'' Marrone said Monday in Buffalo after being introduced as the Bills coach, indicating the staff he picks there will have NFL experience. ``I think we have an outstanding bunch of coaches, support staff, and I think everything's in place. And I really think that moving forward toward the ACC, there are things that are going to go on that are going to push this program forward.''

Stability and continuity are big deals at Syracuse. Basketball coach Jim Boeheim is in his 37th season at his alma mater and his three assistant coaches - Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry, and Gerry McNamara - are Syracuse graduates, as are lacrosse coaches John Desko and Gary Gait and football assistants Rob Moore and Bob Brotzki.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, a 2002 graduate of Cal-Davis, was in charge of an offense that set numerous school records in 2012 with fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib at the helm. Hackett, just 33, has limited coaching experience, but retaining him on staff is paramount going forward.

The up-tempo spread offense Marrone and Hackett installed in August at the end of preseason camp has piqued the interest of quarterback prospects like Allen and Wilson. Hackett developed Nassib and transformed Syracuse's offense into one of the best in the nation. Syracuse finished 2012 first in the Big East in total offense with an average of 473.4 yards per game, and Nassib is being projected as an early-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

The Orange will play eight ACC games next season, as well as non-conference dates with, among others, Northwestern and Penn State.

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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