Capitals

Drew Brees now has 100 million reasons to smile

611536_617x262.jpg

Drew Brees now has 100 million reasons to smile

From Comcast SportsNet
METAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Drew Brees took some time out of his Sunday to sign autographs on items ranging from a black jersey handed to him by a fan to a 100 million contract handed to him by the New Orleans Saints. The star quarterback, who had agreed verbally to his historic deal Friday, visited team headquarters to take a physical and put pen to paper on the five-year contract that gives him the highest average annual pay (20 million) in NFL history. Brees then grabbed a sandwich to go at a Jimmy John's sandwich shop he owns, where he posed for photos, shook hands and signed autographs for star-struck fans before hopping in a white sport utility vehicle and heading for the airport. Looking satisfied and relaxed in a black T-shirt with (hash)NOLALOVE printed across the front, the clean-cut Brees said he was eager to rejoin his teammates after a protracted contract holdout that ran parallel to a bounty scandal that has swirled around the Saints since March. "It's been a little surreal just because of the process throughout the offseason, and just how challenging an offseason it's been for everyone, obviously everyone within the Saints organization, this city," Brees said. "It's just been a crazy offseason and I think we're all just ready to get back to work and excited that it's all starting here in a week. It's hard to believe." Brees, his currently pregnant wife, Brittany, and their two young boys spend parts of offseasons in southern California. Brees will be back in New Orleans again soon, though, as the Saints report for training camp July 24. A year ago, Brees was organizing and running a voluntary minicamp at Tulane during the NFL lockout. This offseason, he missed all of the voluntary practices and mandatory minicamp while his agent, Tom Condon, and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis worked on a new long-term contract that gave Brees a payday on par with his record-setting performances on the field. Brees said he had been training hard on his own in California and had maintained close contact by phone with teammates and assistant head coach Joe Vitt throughout the offseason. Vitt is handling most big-picture head coaching duties in the absence of Sean Payton, who has been suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with the bounty investigation. "I talked to coach Vitt all the time. I talked to (backup quarterback) Chase (Daniel) quite a bit," Brees said. "For me, I certainly wanted to keep up on my team and my teammates and make sure everybody was doing OK. Guys were texting me all the time, so I was in constant communication with many guys on the team." Brees also expressed confidence that, after six years in the same offensive system, he was "absolutely" ready to pick up in training camp where he left off last season, despite the offseason work he missed with the club. He added that he was eager to test his skills in camp against the scheme being installed by new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "I just look forward to getting back to work," Brees said. "It does feel like it's been a while since I've been out there with my guys and we were running our offense. "Camp, for me, especially now with Spagnuolo and a new defensive scheme, that's fun for me because just as a competitor, you go through about a four-week period where you're competing against your own defense and they're scheming you up and you're scheming them up," Brees added. "I missed the guys; I missed the competition. I'm just excited to get back to work." In 2011, Brees set NFL single-season records with 468 completions, 5,476 yards passing and a 71.2 completion percentage. His prolific passing numbers helped the Saints set an NFL high for total offensive yards in a season with 7,474. Brees' yards passing record shattered a mark of 5,084 set by Dan Marino back in 1984. Brees also has been highly active in the community through his Brees Dream foundation, which has sponsored more than 8 million in projects primarily aimed at improving schools and athletic facilities for children, along with supporting the arts and cancer patients. For all of those reasons, fans like Gerald Hebert, 40, of Slidell, were delighted to share a moment with Brees in the parking lot outside his sandwich shop. "It's a big relief going into training camp," Hebert said. "It's a huge win for the city all the way around. With him being here, it's one less thing to worry about, especially with a lot of the negativity that's come up this offseason. ... It was pretty cool to actually see him and it shows how much interaction he has with the community."

Quick Links

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

Quick Links

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES: