Capitals

Austin Hollins leads No. 9 Minnesota past NW 69-51

201301061905687482596-p2.jpeg

Austin Hollins leads No. 9 Minnesota past NW 69-51

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Austin Hollins hit five 3-pointers during an impressive three-minute stretch in the second half, finishing with 19 points and sparking ninth-ranked Minnesota to a 69-51 victory over Northwestern on Sunday night.

Hollins missed his career scoring high by one, collecting 17 points during a 26-7 run that gave the Gophers a 45-25 lead. Minnesota (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) has won 10 in a row for its longest winning streak since it opened the 2008-09 season with 12 straight victories.

Dave Sobolewski had 10 points, five assists and four steals for the Wildcats (9-6, 0-2), who were outrebounded 47-20. That's the fewest rebounds by a Gophers opponent all season.

Reggie Hearn returned for Northwestern after missing two games because of a sprained left ankle, finishing with 11 points. But the Wildcats, missing star Drew Crawford because of season-ending shoulder surgery, couldn't keep up down the stretch.

Hollins hit his first four 3-pointers from almost exactly the same spot on the left wing. After a timeout, he moved to the right corner and swished one from there, too, drawing a chant of his name from the impressed crowd.

Northwestern hasn't won at Minnesota since coach Tubby Smith took over for the 2007-08 season.

This was an important win for the Gophers, who play at No. 11 Illinois and No. 5 Indiana next week. It was the fewest points allowed by Minnesota in a Big Ten game in almost two years, since giving up 45 to Iowa on Feb. 13, 2011.

The Wildcats were stuck with a daunting start to the Big Ten season, with five of their first seven conference games against teams ranked this week in the top 11 of The Associated Press poll, though a lot of teams will face similar stretches this year in this top-heavy league.

In a 94-66 loss to No. 2 Michigan on Thursday, the Wildcats were lured by the Wolverines into an up-and-down, faster pace they can't play. So in this one, coach Bill Carmody made sure his team stayed with the usual deliberate offensive style that complements the tricky 1-3-1 zone defense.

The strategy worked for a while.

The Gophers helped the Wildcats by missing their first five free throws, ending the slide in the final minute of the first half when Williams swished a pair, prompting a mock cheer from the restless crowd and pushing Minnesota's lead to 17-13.

What gives this Gophers team a true advantage over a lot of opponents is defense - currently the conference leader in blocks and steals - to endure a shooting slump in an ugly game. The first offensive highlight came with 14:22 remaining when Mbakwe drove into the lane and finished with a tomahawk dunk to bring the fans to their feet and put the Gophers in front 26-18. He set that up, though, by jumping in the lane and using his exceptional reach to swat a short shot by Alex Olah.

Then Hollins took over. He made two of three foul shots, and Williams cut across the lane to catch the rebound of his miss with one hand and smoothly tip the ball for a banked-in put-back.

Quick Links

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: