Capitals

Colts seek consistency after rollercoaster start

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Colts seek consistency after rollercoaster start

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Colts look competitive and tough one week, inexperienced and out of sync the next.

The learning curve for a young NFL team can be steep.

A little more than one month into the first season of a massive rebuilding project, Indianapolis' biggest battle is getting everybody to play at the same level all the time.

``To me, it's more about confidence in themselves and doing their job,'' center Samson Satele said Wednesday. ``They're young guys, but they play good. It's just learning the process.''

Honestly, things aren't that bleak in Indy (2-3) compared with last year's 2-14 debacle.

Andrew Luck is the NFL's first rookie to top 1,200 yards passing and win two of his first four games, and he's still on pace for a record-breaking rookie season. Reggie Wayne is sixth in the league in receptions and third in yards even though he's already had his bye week. Indy's pass defense is ranked No. 3 in the NFL.

A win Sunday over Cleveland (1-5) would not only put the Colts back at .500, but also would surpass last season's victory total.

What has raised eyebrows, however, is the disparate performances the Colts have had.

At home, Luck is a solid 73 of 132 for 899 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. In two road games, he is 45 of 89 for 589 yards with one touchdown, five interceptions and two lost fumbles - three of those turnovers coming in last weekend's 35-9 blowout loss to the Jets.

That's not good enough, and the No. 1 draft pick knows it.

``We're trying to find a level of consistently playing well,'' Luck said.

The Colts are one 80-yard TD pass away from being 3-0 in Lucas Oil Stadium, where they have outscored opponents 70-69. On the road, they've been blown out twice - 41-21 at Chicago and last week.

Indy's defense limited its first two opponents, Chicago and Minnesota, to a combined total of 209 yards rushing. Over the last three weeks, the Jaguars, Packers and Jets averaged 192.7 yards per game.

And those dramatic shifts have not just shown up in different games, but also different halves and different series.

Initially, there were questions about Indy's slow second-half starts. Everything changed against Green Bay when the Colts put themselves in a 21-3 halftime hole and then could almost do no wrong over the final 30 minutes as they rallied for a shocking 30-27 win.

Part of the explanation may be the continually evolving roster.

``The challenge (for consistency) is the difference in the faces, guys having to learn to different jobs,'' offensive coordinator and interim head coach Bruce Arians said. ``If we put the 11 guys we started with out there, it wouldn't be much of a challenge.''

Indy has certainly had its share of injuries, especially on defense.

Cornerback Vontae Davis has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Inside linebacker Pat Angerer has yet to play a down after fracturing his right foot in the preseason opener. Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney tore his ACL in the preseason and went on season-ending injured reserve in August.

Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, now converted linebackers, have been on the field together for exactly two series this season. Freeney hurt his ankle in the season-opener and didn't return until the Jets game. Mathis sprained his left knee late in the Packers game and didn't even travel to New York.

On Wednesday, the Colts added another new name, signing Lawrence Guy off the Packers practice squad.

Davis and Angerer are both listed as questionable this week along with Mathis, who is healing faster than anybody anticipated.

``Actually, it was supposed to be three or four weeks,'' Mathis said when asked about the initial prognosis ruling him out two to three weeks. ``But I don't take it too well when people say I can't be on the field.''

Mathis didn't like watching the Jets game on tape, either.

While Arians acknowledges getting everybody on the same page for every play takes time, he's hardly the patient type. The 60-year-old longtime NFL assistant has repeatedly said he doesn't intend to spend years fixing the offense, he wants to win now - a line that has often been uttered by the likes of Freeney, Mathis and Wayne.

So instead of waiting to get it right, Indy is trying to find ways that will smooth out this bumpy early season ride.

``It really boils down to the details and just doing your job,'' Mathis said. ``Whatever the coaches put forth, you have to do. If they're putting forth a game plan, you have to understand that it's really to let you know if you do this this weekend, you'll win.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.