Capitals

Dwight Howard out vs Wolves with shoulder injury

201301302214800857165-p2.jpeg

Dwight Howard out vs Wolves with shoulder injury

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Dwight Howard is sidelined again with an ailing shoulder and disgruntled Pau Gasol is back in the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup, where he believes he should have been all along.

Howard was scratched from Friday night's game at Minnesota with a sore right shoulder, and he returned to Los Angeles to receive platelet-rich plasma treatments. It's the same injury that kept Howard out of three games in January.

The All-Star center is day to day and planned to rejoin the Lakers in Detroit on Sunday. For a team struggling to scratch back into the Western Conference playoff race, it's the last thing Los Angeles needed.

``We got ourselves in this hole and we're the only ones that can get us out,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``There's going to be some bumps along the way and this is a big one. But we have enough guys where we can win games and we have to do that.''

Howard's arrival from Orlando before the season was hailed as a return to championship contention for a Lakers team that was aging with Kobe Bryant and Gasol still the focal points. But Howard hasn't been his overpowering self very often this season. He was slowed early on while recovering from a back injury that occurred last season and is now hampered by a torn labrum that isn't going away anytime soon.

``It's always going to be there,'' D'Antoni said. ``Even if we shut him down for two months, it's still going to be there. Once he gets hit, it's going to hurt. It's a pain thing.''

Howard is still averaging 16.5 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, but his level of intimidation and athleticism in the paint is not the same.

And the Lakers haven't been the same, either. They entered Friday night's game at 20-26, 10th in the Western Conference, and fresh off a loss to the lowly Suns.

The air of invincibility is not there, and Gasol's waning production is a big part of that. One of the most gifted post players of the last decade has been marginalized since D'Antoni replaced the fired Mike Brown, a process that culminated with Gasol being moved to a reserve role for the first time in his career.

Usually measured and level-headed in his public remarks, Gasol has not hidden his disappointment with D'Antoni's decision.

``Mike's been trying to get his philosophy through us and try to get our team to do it,'' Gasol said Friday. ``At the same time our personnel is a little different than probably what would fit best for that kind of system. It's a work in progress. We're all trying to get a feel for each other. We're all trying to figure things out. We're all trying to win. At the same time, it's been a struggle.''

Gasol is averaging a career-low 12.8 points while shooting a career-worst 44.8 percent. He's been bothered by tendinitis in his knees, bursitis in his left elbow and a concussion.

D'Antoni has been trying to diffuse the situation with his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor.

``I know he wants to start. I've just kind of got to coach the team the way I think is better,'' D'Antoni said. ``It's not a personality conflict. It's not a dance contest. I like him. My dance card's open.''

D'Antoni has been using Earl Clark as the starting power forward alongside Howard. He said he likes how the Lakers start with a smaller lineup.

``I still consider myself one of the best out there,'' Gasol said. ``It's a game that you can't be too self-centered and selfish. You have to put team first and have to make it work somehow. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make it work and I try not to be a negative influence at all.''

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio defended his fellow Spaniard on Thursday, joking that if the Lakers don't want Gasol, the Wolves would take him. D'Antoni fired back, saying when Rubio coaches a team he can make those decisions. And Bryant took it a step further when asked about some of the criticism Minnesota All-Star Kevin Love has received this season.

``You can send him our way,'' he said.

Asked what he can do to keep Gasol from letting the disappointment affect his play, D'Antoni cracked: ``Pay him $19 million. Y'all figure it out. That should help. I think it's fine. He wants to play. I've got it. And he's going to play. He's always going to be in there in the end of big games.''

For one night at least, it wasn't an issue. Gasol was in the starting lineup and Bryant said it was imperative the Lakers figure out a way to get him back to being a featured part of the offense.

``We haven't used him to his full potential, everybody knows that,'' Bryant said. ``That's something we're trying to figure out and something we'll have to do a much better job at if we want to reach our full potential as a team. We have to use him more.''

---

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

Quick Links

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

capsothriller.png
USA Today Sports

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: