Capitals

Braves bench C Brian McCann for wild-card game

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Braves bench C Brian McCann for wild-card game

ATLANTA (AP) Plagued by injuries, Brian McCann endured the worst season of his career. He'll watch the Braves' wild-card playoff game from the bench.

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez announced that David Ross - not McCann - will start Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. But Gonzalez stressed that it's not a permanent move if the Braves advance past the one-game playoff.

``I think going forward Mac will catch, obviously, in a longer series, a five-game series or even a seven-game series if we get that far,'' Gonzalez said Thursday before a workout at Turner Field. ``We'll play the matchups.''

Gonzalez said he made the move primarily for defense, believing Ross has a better chance of keeping the Cardinals from attempting to steal. Also, Ross was behind the plate for two of the most dominant performances by starting pitcher Kris Medlen: a 12-strikeout effort against Colorado on Sept. 3 and a career-high 13 Ks against Washington on Sept. 14.

``You feel like (Ross) gives you a good chance to win the ballgame,'' Gonzalez said. ``Defensively, we know how well he can throw people out. The Cardinals have a tendency to put people in motion a lot. And with the combination of Rossy and Medlen, maybe it gives you an opportunity to shut that down a little bit.''

Slowed by a knee injury and an ailing right shoulder, McCann batted just .230 with 20 homers and 67 RBIs this season. Ross hit .256 with nine homers and 23 RBIs.

Gonzalez said it was difficult to tell McCann that he wouldn't be starting the wild-card game.

``I've been thinking about this for three or four days,'' the manager said. ``He's a very important piece to our team and he's a warrior.''

Gonzalez said Ross, a right-handed hitter, could start again if the Braves advance to face Washington and left-hander Gio Gonzalez, since McCann bats lefty. But the manager stressed that McCann will get the bulk of the playing time if Atlanta makes an extended postseason run.

``He's beat up. He's been banged up for a while,'' Fredi Gonzalez said. ``Again, a one-game series, you go with Rossy. In a longer series, (McCann is) going to play. He's not that banged up.''

McCann said he understood the decision.

``I wish I was playing. But I'm not. That's it,'' he said. ``Rossy's been playing unbelievable. I'm his biggest fan. He's one of my best friends in the world and he's been playing great.

``I'll hopefully get in there somehow, maybe pinch-hit late. We'll see.''

Ross called it the biggest game of his career, but stressed that McCann is still the team's primary catcher.

``He's done some things that are second to none in this game,'' Ross said. ``I'm going to go out there and give it my best, but I don't want to take anything away from Brian McCann.''

McCann said there's a good chance he's going to need shoulder surgery in the offseason. He's already had two cortisone shots, but doesn't plan on taking another one.

``I've been battling a shoulder injury for a while,'' he said. ``My production hasn't been where it needed to be to help the team win.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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