Capitals

Broncos stay bland but focused

201212231525555044554-p2.jpeg

Broncos stay bland but focused

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) They are 16-point favorites against a team tied for the worst record in the league. With each and every victory over the span of a 10-game winning streak, their once-narrow path to the Super Bowl has grown as wide as an eight-lane highway.

But think you'll catch the Denver Broncos looking past the Kansas City Chiefs this week? Don't bet on it.

If the Broncos have taken even a moment to think ``big picture'' this season - or think about anything beyond their next opponent - they've done a great job hiding it.

``As soon as you start thinking about the Super Bowl, you get beat so fast and you're going to be back at home before you know it,'' free safety Rahim Moore said.

From the free safety to the head coach to Peyton Manning to the 53rd man on the roster, this has been the theme all year - think about next Sunday, think about getting better every week, and let the future take care of itself.

Boring? Yes.

Predictable? Absolutely.

Effective? You bet.

And nobody has stuck to the script better in 2012 than the Denver Broncos.

``We're focused on trying to get better,'' Manning said. ``I think we've done a good job with that all season, just taking it one week at a time. I know it's a boring cliche, but I think coach (John) Fox has preached it. I think our team has bought into it, and I feel like we'll do the same this week.''

Whether they acknowledge it or not, the playoff picture has been looking prettier every week for the Broncos (12-3). By topping Kansas City and extending their winning streak to 11, which would be the second longest in franchise history, they would wrap up a first-round bye. If they win and the Houston Texans lose to Indianapolis, the Broncos would be the top-seeded team in the AFC.

The experts in Las Vegas aren't even waiting for Sunday's game to express their feelings.

The Broncos, at 4-1, are now the favorite to win the Super Bowl, followed by New England at 5-1 and Green Bay at 6-1.

They have come by that status honestly, winning their last 10 games by an average score of 31-17 and making most of those wins as predictable as the well-worn quotes about taking things one game at a time that they serve up on a daily basis.

``I grew up around San Diego and went to the horse track a lot,'' Fox said. ``There were a lot of favorites and it didn't work out that way a lot of times. You've got to earn this between the lines and it won't affect our attitude or mindset moving forward.''

Now, just because they don't get ahead of themselves this isn't to say the Broncos are completely devoid of personality.

Manning has a wry sense of humor and, when he's up to it, can be introspective; last Sunday he spoke in depth about his comeback road this season, insisting that despite the year he's having, he is not the same as he was in his prime.

Von Miller likes to dance after his sacks - all 17 1/2 of them.

Champ Bailey is almost always as thoughtful during an interview as he is good in one-on-one coverage.

Maybe it's because of well-respected, focused leaders such as Manning and Bailey that there are no troublemakers in the locker room, nobody serving up bulletin-board material and, for the most part, no complainers, save cornerback Tracy Porter, whose tweets about lack of playing time earlier this month were quickly and quietly tamped down by the team.

All of which keeps the focus on football, and the Broncos are perfecting the art of the easy win.

Home or road, tough opponent or not, Denver's wins have looked very similar week after week: They take a two- or three-touchdown lead and coast to a relatively easy win, yet still sprinkle in enough mistakes to keep the day-after film session interesting.

Bugaboos from last week's 34-12 win over Cleveland: Penalties. The Broncos committed 11 of them, a season high. Ball security. Broncos punt returners Trindon Holliday and Jim Leonhard bobbled one ball apiece but didn't lose either. Interceptions. Bad communication between Manning and Knowshon Moreno caused a second-quarter turnover against Cleveland - Denver's first inside the opponent's 10-yard line this season.

``You get concerned with everything,'' Fox said. ``The bottom line, as I mentioned yesterday, it's all about winning. You strive for perfection but they're never perfect.''

Even while he's having what will, statistically, wind up as one of his top three seasons as a pro - 103.7 passer rating, 34 touchdown passes and 4,355 yards - Manning never walks off the field satisfied. That sets the tone for the entire team.

``I think we've made some strides each week,'' he said. ``I still have to admit that it's not going to be an offense that's been together for five years. It's not going to look like that because we haven't. We've only been together for however many weeks, so we've tried to improve each week, but a lot of things just take time. We're trying to do the best we can in this limited amount of time.''

So far, that's been very good.

Lest the Broncos get complacent, especially with what looks like an overmatched opponent coming into Denver on Sunday, Fox can always pull out a number of well-worn bromides to keep his players' attention.

-''On any given Sunday.'' (Yes, he really says that.)

-''The other team gets paid, too.'' (A ready-made answer for any of Denver's shortcomings, which were more pronounced when the Broncos were 2-3 earlier this season.)

-''We don't look at the record, we look at the tape.'' (An easy one this week, because Kansas City's 2-13 record looks much less impressive than its toughly fought 17-9 loss to Denver did last month.)

``Does that translate to wins?'' Fox said of his way of keeping the players focused on the task at hand. ``Well, it has for us lately, and we'll see next week.''

NOTES: KR Holliday (ankle), CB Porter and OL Chris Kuper (ankle, headaches) all missed practice Wednesday. ... Fox is going for his 100th win as a head coach in what will be his 500th overall game as a college and NFL coach. ... RB Knowshon Moreno is averaging 3.9 yards a carry on 124 carries this season and the Broncos are ranked 25th in the league in average yards per rushing attempt.

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: