Capitals

Big Ten shows it can put up the points, too

Big Ten shows it can put up the points, too

The rough-and-tumble Big Ten can put up gaudy score lines, too.

Ohio State scored 63 points last weekend, Michigan 44. After a paltry start, Penn State is pouring it on with 34 points or more in three of its last four games. Nebraska has yet to dip below the 30-point mark. As the season approaches its midway point, half of the teams in the conference so gritty the colors of its logo are black and blue are averaging 30 points or more.

``I think that's where college football is today,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. ``Just to watch the way everybody is in a spread mentality, is playing with tempo, it's just a matter of time until teams score when you've got the defense out there as long as you are.''

Scoring has been on the rise across the nation, thanks largely to the proliferation of spread and pro-style offenses and the introduction of the running 40-second clock. Three years after Boise State and Houston were the only two teams to average more than 40 points a game, at 42.2 each, 17 schools are scoring 40 or more. Five teams are scoring in the 50s, led by Oklahoma State with 55.8 points per game.

It's not only the traditionally prolific schools piling up the points, either. Texas A&M, better known for its ``Wrecking Crew'' defense, is averaging almost 45 points a game, eighth most in the country.

``Football is a trendy sport, by nature,'' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.

Yes, but trendy and Big Ten don't usually go together.

Scan the yearly list of the Big Ten's leader in scoring offense, and you'll see a lot of numbers in the 20s and 30s. Oh, sure, a 40 would show up every once in a while (40.0 by Ohio State in 1969 or 48.1 by Penn State in 1994). Most years, however, reflected the conference and its grind-it-out nature.

Then, in 1997, Joe Tiller arrived at Purdue, bringing his ``basketball on grass'' offense - and a kid named Drew Brees - with him. Pretty soon, that old notion that pro-style, pass-happy offenses couldn't work in the snow and cold of the Midwest had been turned on its head. Same for the idea that the only good football game was a 9-6 slugfest.

Wisconsin led the league with 43 points per conference game last year, and 45.2 the year before that. It was the first time ever the league's scoring average leader had topped 40 in back-to-back years. And it could be three in a row, with Nebraska currently averaging almost 44 points a game, 10th highest in the country.

``With the rise in talent level offensively and the things people are doing conceptually, it's been a big positive,'' Michigan State coach Mark D'Antonio said. ``The defense is working in those same realms. But ... since I was a defensive coordinator back in `02, 03, the game has changed dramatically.''

Now, not every Big Ten team looks like a WAC wannabe. Wisconsin's offense is still built around the ground game, and probably always will be. Yes, the Badgers had Russell Wilson last year, but that was an oddity. The year before, when Wisconsin was scoring in bunches, it was thanks to a behemoth offensive line that bulldozed such big holes the Badgers almost couldn't help but score.

But the league is no longer running different own versions of the same offense, either. Look at Ohio State. The school that produced Eddie George and Archie Griffin has opened things up under Urban Meyer, and is scoring 30 or more points in all but two games this year with its spread offense.

Nebraska runs a lot of option out of the shotgun. Illinois' aim is to run the spread. Michigan State and Iowa are more traditional.

And then there's Michigan, which changes from week to week depending on the kind of game Denard Robinson is having.

That variety, rather than the offenses themselves, are what has the most impact, D'Antonio said.

``It's not that one particular philosophy is good, bad or indifferent. It's that every week in college football, offenses change dramatically,'' he said. ``You only have three, four days max to prepare for that offense, and what you're seeing is people not executing on the defensive side of ball as well due to the complexities and changes. ... It's tough for a young player to (adapt).''

In the end, though, good football will always trump glitzy schemes. Just look at last year's Big Ten title game, which featured Wisconsin and Michigan State, two of the conference's most traditional offenses.

``If you can control the football and play good defense, play great on special teams, good things are going to happen for you,'' D'Antonio said. ``There are all different ways of getting to the top. It's just a matter of, philosophically, what direction you're going to take. In the end, it's about how you execute and your ability to adapt.''

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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.”

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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.

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