Capitals

Buckeyes take a break before 2 biggest games

Buckeyes take a break before 2 biggest games

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Most will rest. Some will try to heal. Others will try to catch up on classwork or a personal life.

A bye week is a time to take a breath for the fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

There are also a few who will pause, knowing there are only two games left in their college careers.

``It just hit me in the locker room,'' senior defensive lineman John Simon said Saturday after Ohio State rolled Illinois 52-22. ``It goes extremely fast. The seniors, we're making every moment count. We're trying to make this season a memorable one.''

It already has been. But it could be even more memorable.

Despite a glittering start (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) to their season, what remains will determine whether Urban Meyer's first Ohio State team is an unqualified success or one that wilted when it got close to its biggest goals.

The most difficult games on the schedule await.

After taking a couple of extra days off this week (they'll still have full-tilt practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), the Buckeyes begin to prep for the showdown at Wisconsin on Nov. 17 and at home against archrival Michigan a week later.

``I need the off week. I'm still battling injuries. Any extra time I can use to rest,'' cornerback Bradley Roby said. ``The bye week is going to give us a little more time for our academic situations and things like that. It's coming at a good time even though it took a while to get here.''

Ohio State is 13-9 since 1971 in games coming off a bye week. It has won the last two (a 2010 win was vacated as part of NCAA sanctions), after losing three in a row 2003-5.

Meyer said the week will come in handy because Ohio State just moved from quarters to semesters, which has changed the academic calendar for the players. He said several players had told him the string of 10 straight games and adapting to semesters has been like ``hitting a wall.''

``We can unhit the wall for a week academically, get that in order,'' he said. ``Get their weights up and bodies right. You get (a bye) usually week six, seven. (I've) never had 10 weeks straight through.''

Ohio State will likely regain starting linebacker Etienne Sabino, who has missed the last four games after cracking a bone in his lower right leg. Almost every Buckeye who plays much has a litany of bumps and bruises, with defensive backs Orhian Johnson, Roby and Christian Bryant in particular hoping to get back to something approaching full health.

The coaches, meanwhile, will pound the pavement (or airways) doing some in-season recruiting.

Defensive co-coordinator Everett Withers relishes the chance to mention Ohio State's unbeaten record when he calls on blue-chippers.

``I'm anxious just to see. I've never been undefeated on the road recruiting,'' he said. ``I imagine it will be easy to go into that high school and talk to that high school coach and counselor with people knowing you're 10-0.''

Still, the upcoming tests will never be far from everyone's mind.

``Going to Wisconsin, it's not going to be an easy game,'' safety C.J. Barnett said. ``I've never been over there - I was hurt my sophomore year - but I heard it's a hostile environment. They have a great running back (in Montee Ball) who can run the ball, great coaches. It's going to be a tough one but I think we can do it.''

Carlos Hyde, who has become one of the top backs in the Big Ten, has solidified the tailback slot and taken some of the heat off of quarterback Braxton Miller, who was saddled with having to make almost every big play for the Buckeyes early in the season.

Hyde, who has 144 carries for 737 yards and 13 touchdowns in a breakout season, is pleased with Ohio State's lofty ranking. Sort of.

``We're pretty good, but we can be a lot better,'' he said. ``There's a lot of things to work on.''

For Roby, now is a good time to think about everything that's been done - and also everything left to do.

``It's hard to win 10 games in a row and that's what we accomplished,'' he said. ``Right now, it's a grind. The whole season is a grind. We're going to keep getting better and keep winning. Coach Meyer has given us some time off during the bye week so we can get healthy.

``That's what we're going to do.''

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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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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