Capitals

Dependable Barth has made 25 straight FGs for Bucs

Dependable Barth has made 25 straight FGs for Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Connor Barth is proving his worth to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The fifth-year kicker arguably has been the team's most dependable performer during a 1-3 start, converting all nine of his field goal attempts to extend the longest current streak in the NFL to a franchise-record 25 straight dating to October of last season.

Barth is also 7 for 7 on extra points through four games, keeping him perfect in 102 career tries - consistency that shows why the Bucs used their franchise tag to avoid losing the 26-year-old to free agency last winter, then subsequently rewarded him with a four-year, $13.2 million contract.

Coaches and teammates are astounded by his accuracy, including three kicks of 50-plus yards already this season.

``I've never been around a guy like him. We're blessed as an organization to have him,'' said Schiano, who watched Barth kick field goals of 50, 57 and 47 yards during a 24-22 loss to Washington two weeks ago.

The 57-yarder was the longest of his career. The 47-yarder gave the Bucs a late lead that the defense couldn't hold in the final two minutes against Robert Griffin III.

``I've always said I don't have the strongest leg, but I've always prided myself on my leg swing and my consistency. From 50-55 and in, I usually feel confident I can make it every time,'' said Barth, a former North Carolina star whose younger brother, Casey, recently broke the Tar Heels' career record for field goals made.

Barth's last miss for the Bucs came on a 55-yard attempt against New Orleans last Oct. 16. The NFL record is held by Mike Vanderjagt, who made 42 in a row for Indianapolis from 2002-04.

The Bucs kicker, second in the NFL with a 92.9 field goal percentage (26-28) a year ago, said Vanderjagt's mark is the farthest thing from his mind.

``That's a long way away. My goal is to take it one kick at a time,'' said Barth, who's in his fourth season with Tampa Bay after beginning his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. ``If I keep doing what I'm doing, you never know what might happen.''

And while some kickers might be reluctant to talk about their success for fear of jinxing themselves, Barth welcomes conversation about the streak.

For the first time in his career, he's working with the same snapper (Andrew Economos) and holder (Michael Koenen) two straight years and Barth also gives Tampa Bay's offensive line its due, too, for providing excellent protection.

``I've never been superstitious. ... You might think about it during the week, but when you go out there to line up you don't think about making another one to extend the streak, you try to go out there - and like coach always says - do your job,'' said Barth, who has taken up yoga in the offseason and also attributes part of his success to that.

``If you can extend your range of motion with the same kind of leg speed, it's going to go that much farther,'' the kicker added. `` It's pretty simple physics.''

Three years ago against Miami, Barth became only the fourth kicker in NFL history to make three field goals or more in a single game. Last December, he joined Morten Andersen and Rob Bironas as the only kickers to make four of 40-plus yards in a single half when he converted kicks of 50,47,46 and 44 yards against Carolina.

It hasn't taken Schiano long to develop a deep appreciation for Barth's range.

In addition to his two long field goals against Washington, Barth booted a 52-yarder against the New York Giants last month.

``It's a weapon, make no mistake about it,'' Schiano said. ``Certainly we want to score by sixes, not threes. But when you don't score by sixes, it's nice to get a three.''

Barth said the first-year coach often talks to him in an effort to rattle the kicker during practice, however Schiano knows better to suggest any changes.

``I'm not an expert on kicking. I know enough to be dangerous,'' Schiano said. ``But I know enough to stay away from him and let him do it the way he's doing it.''

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Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

The Capitals’ season ended a month ago, but Alex Ovechkin has yet to take his break.

That will happen soon enough, but for now Washington’s captain is leading Russia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Slovakia. After that, he gets his first real rest since the end of the 2016-17 season. He has played in 194 NHL games, including the postseason, in 18 months.  

Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17 and the questions now start in earnest: How long can one of the world’s greatest goal scorers keep up his pace? Ovechkin recorded his eighth 50-goal season this past season. And while it ended in disappointment with a first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin deserved little blame after adding four goals and five assists in the series.

“As a captain and as a leader, I thought he took another step this year from how he showed up to training camp to how he played all year long two-way hockey, commitment and when the games mattered the most,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said last month. “He scored big goals and showed fantastic playmaking ability. A physical force. I'm excited to see what he comes back with now after a little extended time away because he was tremendous this year.”

Washington won the Stanley Cup on June 7 in Las Vegas last year and after a hectic summer of celebrating and, eventually, training, players were back less than three months later for another grind of a season that ended after 89 more regular-season and playoff games. Ovechkin missed just one of them. 

Next year could be another one filled with milestones for Ovechkin. He doesn’t even need 50 to reach them. With 42 goals he reaches 700 for his career. Only seven players have ever hit that mark.  

Ovechkin passes Mario Lemieux (690) with 32 goals and moves into the top 10 all time. He has a reasonable chance to catch Brett Hull for second-most power-play goals (265) in NHL history. Ovechkin has 247 right now and has averaged 17 per year each of the past four seasons.     

At some point, even for Ovechkin, scoring 50 goals will be too much. Only Johnny Bucyk (36) and Jaromir Jagr (34) have ever topped 50 goals at an older age. But if he could just do it one more time he would tie Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons ever (nine). We’re at the point where nothing should surprise, but we’ve gone off the known map. 

“That's the best I've seen him play in my three years here,” teammate Lars Eller said. “He just took some games over. It was impressive. He was our best player. Him and Nick, but especially O, he just took it to another level. Physicality-wise, he enforced his will out there and when he decides to do that, he's almost unstoppable. That was exciting to see."

Almost everything Ovechkin does now is unprecedented. In the past 20 NHL seasons dating to 1998-99, there have been 28 different 50-goal seasons as scoring has become harder thanks to better goalie play, equipment and more tactical defensive systems. And yet Ovechkin owns 29 percent of those 50-goal seasons. His 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) were his most since 2009-10.  

For now, Ovechkin will settle for another IIHF World Championship. He has helped Russia win gold at the event three times (2008, 2010 and 2014). 

But Russia was 6-0 heading into the matchup with Sweden on Tuesday night and had outscored its opponents 29-3 in Group B despite just a goal and an assist from Ovechkin. 

There can be wild fluctuations in the competition level during the group stage at Worlds. The Russians beat Italy 10-0 last week. And the United States, Canada and Finland are all formidable opponents in Group A. 

Russia will likely play one of those teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday so nothing is guaranteed. The semifinals would be Saturday if they do win and then the gold-medal game - or the bronze-medal game - would be Sunday. Then, finally, Ovechkin can rest and get ready for his 15th NHL season with two years left on his contract with the Capitals. 

“[Ovechkin] elevated his game in the first round. He's just got a hunger to him to contribute and to score goals,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “You could tell that he was committed and that he was going to give everything he had to win it again. He was great last year and arguably even better this year….This fan base is very lucky to watch what he does on a consistent basis. You're not going to see that ever again. So, enjoy it while it's here.” 

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Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly sat down with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis about the head front-office opening on Friday.

On Monday, NBC Sports Washington confirmed that he decided to stick with his role as president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets

A day later, he spoke to the media at a press conference and answered questions about his meeting with Washington.

Clear in Connelly's comments were his respect for Leonsis, but commitment to continuity in Denver. 

"I had a really nice conversation with Mr. Leonsis and his staff. He's a fantastic owner, I think a real visionary. I was really impressed by who he was and his thoughts for the team. That team's going to be special quickly under his leadership. We just had a conversation and not much more than that."

As for the reason for the discussion with Leonsis, Connelly said it came down to his love for the franchise. 

"I spent 14 years there. Certainly it's where I'm from, it's where my wife's from, so I just wanted to have the conversation because I care about the organization," he said.

"I'd never had an audience with [Leonsis], so to have that conversation and exchange of ideas, you know, it's flattering." 

Ultimately, however, the Baltimore native emphasized that Washington couldn't entice him away from the franchise he'd spent the last six years building. 

"Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that's here in spades. Those things matter to me," he said. "I had a hard time envisioning myself elsewhere."

With Connelly out of the picture, the list of candidates for the Wizards front-office opening is narrowing. Currently, Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver remain in the conversation. 

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