Capitals

Ex-Saint Nicks relishes new opportunity in Tampa

Ex-Saint Nicks relishes new opportunity in Tampa

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Carl Nicks figured he was on his way out of New Orleans before last season even ended, which only added to the All-Pro left guard's motivation.

``I figured if you didn't want to talk to me then, in my fourth and final year, it wasn't going to happen in the offseason,'' Nicks said, referring to a lack of contract talks with New Orleans during the 2011 season, his last before free agency. ``So, I figured I better ball out, because I have to put my resume out there.''

Nicks said he misses his former Saints teammates, who he'll face on Sunday in Tampa Bay. Still, he is happier with the Buccaneers, even joking in his typically goofy, free-speaking manner that his new workplace is all ``lollipops and rainbows.''

One big reason is because the Buccaneers gave him a five-year, $47 million free-agent contract, he acknowledged this week.

``Honestly I've always grown up and been in the college and NFL and know the good players get paid accordingly,'' he said. ``I felt like I was a good player and it happened accordingly.''

But there was more to it than that, he insisted.

``Everybody thinks it was the money,'' Nicks said Wednesday. ``But it really wasn't. The challenge here is to be something that the Saints didn't look at me as - a premier player that could be a leader.''

Nicks did not necessarily see it as a sign of disrespect that the Saints did not see him in such a role. New Orleans already had players like fellow All-Pro Jahri Evans on the offensive line, and quarterback Drew Brees' contract holdout only complicated matters

``I knew Drew had to get his money first and that's how it should have been,'' Nicks said. ``He's a franchise quarterback and he's much more in the community. He needed to get dealt with first and I totally understand that.''

Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer, also the offensive line coach, said in losing the 6-foot-5, 349-pound Nicks, the Saints lost a blocker is simply ``overpowering.''

``He is a matchup win on almost everyone,'' Kromer said. ``That's what makes him different.''

Kromer said the Saints did as well as they could filling the void with Ben Grubbs, a former Pro Bowl guard at Baltimore. Kromer said Grubbs continues to be an elite NFL guard, and yet something has been amiss in the Saints' running game early this season. New Orleans is averaging 75.2 yards on the ground, which ranks 30th.

The Saints made Nicks their fifth-round draft choice in 2008, taking a calculated risk on a player whose draft status dropped because of off-the-field disciplinary problems. The move paid huge dividends as Nicks became a starter during his rookie season and held the spot full-time going into 2009, when New Orleans won its only Super Bowl.

Nicks also was part of last season's Saints offense that broke a slew of records, and memorable lifted Brees on his shoulder when the Saints quarterback broke Dan Marino's 1984 single-season record of 5,084 yards passing in a season.

``He picked me up pretty easily, I'll say that, too,'' Brees said.

Nicks said the Saints finally made him a competitive offer during free agency. He did not remember it precisely but said the annual average pay was more than Evans' seven-year, $56.7 million deal. By then, however, it was too late, Nicks said.

``Who knows what would have happened if they had offered me that deal ... before free agency started?'' Nicks said.

Instead, he's protecting Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman this season, and run-blocking for LaGarrette Blount and Doug Martin.

``Carl has been a great addition. He is a physically dominating player,'' first-year Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano said. ``He has been a great guy to have in the organization. He has been a leader on the offensive line. He has really been a positive addition.''

Notes: Saints TE Jimmy Graham (right ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. ``You always want to have your best players so we hope we're going to have him,'' Kromer said. ``If we don't, then we just have to adjust accordingly. ... ``Jimmy is mentally ready and he is a very tough guy. Pain doesn't affect him.'' ... LB David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and LB Scott Shanle (illness) did not practice.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Tic-Tac-Toe

The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.


Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.


A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Wizards try maintaining focus yet cannot shake inconsistencies

wiznets1.png
USA Today Sports

Wizards try maintaining focus yet cannot shake inconsistencies

 

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards were finally feeling better after that 2-9 start to the regular season. Three wins in a row with three games remaining on the homestand starting with the Brooklyn Nets Friday night. They didn’t conquer all of their problems. But at least they could breathe a bit easier, smile more natural. Heck, they were only 1 ½ games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and three back of third place.

“And we’ve been playing terrible," John Wall said to NBC Sports Washington Thursday night at the point guard’s annual turkey giveaway.  “That’s how shaky it is. You never know how it’s going to go, but we can’t look at that aspect. ... Have to take it one game at a time. Our focus is on Brooklyn right now. Try to win to make it four in a row.”

Last season Brooklyn was one of those non-contending teams that flummoxed the Wizards. Brooklyn finished 28-54, yet won two of three over Washington. While the current momentum was compelling, the reporter told Wall he’s heard such focus talk before and witnessed mixed results. The point guard nodded in acknowledgment.

“You put yourself in that situation, you have to answer (questions) and [reporters] have to ask," Wall said.

Another batch of questions came at Wall and the Wizards Friday. Brooklyn, a try-hard squad lacking high-end talent, dumped Washington 115-104.

The Nets, who lost leading scorer Caris Levert to a nasty ankle injury this week, turned a 56-54 halftime lead into a 19-point margin in the fourth quarter. They also converted 13 Washington turnovers into 19 points.

The Wizards, now 5-10, finished 3 of 17 on 3-pointers. Their defense lacked oomph at the point of attack.

“They were more aggressive than we were, offense and defense,” Bradley Beal said. “They forced us to turn the ball over. We couldn’t make shots [and] we definitely couldn’t guard them. Our one-on-one defense was suspect.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks echoed the defensive struggles.

“The problem was that we couldn’t stay in front of the basketball tonight,” said Brooks, addressing a broad topic he largely could skip during the recent winning. 

Washington no longer ranks last in scoring defense thanks to the woeful Atlanta Hawks, but the 116.9 points allowed per game serves as a reminder that Friday’s struggles were no one-off.

Brooklyn had its own defensive woes during a three-game skid entering Friday. Second-year center Jarrett Allen, the player the Nets selected 22nd overall in the 2017 NBA Draft with the pick acquired from Washington in the Bojan Bogdanovic trade, missed the previous two contests. His return fueled an interior turnaround.

Those stops led to Brooklyn’s generating offense. The Nets, who often used no more than one traditional big man, outscored the Wizards 13-2 in fast-break points. They hit 13 of 15 free throws in the third quarter and finished 30 of 38.

“I thought because we got stops, (we) got into transition, got easy buckets,” Nets forward and ex-Wizard Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Washington. “I thought they were fouling so much we were on our drives. We kept attacking. … I thought defense opened up our offense.”

Wall opened up the postgame Q&A session with reporters in Washington’s locker room. He noted Brooklyn’s constant use of pick-and-rolls with the Wizards switching one through four didn’t work. “Just about every time they drove, they got a foul.”

Wall lives a fishbowl existence. People pay good money to watch him work. That means they witness the highs and lows, the advancement and the learning. Teammates also have eyes on him. All observe the five-time All-Star reacting to some whistles or non-calls he deems incorrect, or his body language during a tough loss.

Wall, 28, acknowledges his role as the team leader. He accepts that fishbowl reality and knows when those frustrations show, everyone can see.

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge," Wall said of being a leader to NBC Sports Washington Thursday. "Every day you have to be perfect. Nobody is perfect, but you have to be good every day. You can’t take a bad day or dwell on something. You have to let that slide because when it gets bad or gets shaky, everybody is looking at you. If your head is down, everybody else’s head is down. That’s something I have to learn."

Despite the streak-busting setback Friday night, Wall stuck with his big picture, no panic approach.

“They just came out and played better tonight. That’s all it is,” Wall told NBC Sports Washington. “We didn’t make shots. We didn’t do a great job of executing. They attacked us defensively. We lost one game. We have to get past and prepare for Sunday with a good team in Portland coming in.”

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: