Capitals

Falcons have history on their side against Seattle

Falcons have history on their side against Seattle

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have more than home-field advantage to help them against Seattle in the playoffs.

The Falcons also have history on their side.

The Seahawks won their wild-card game at Washington and will have to make another cross-country trip for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

According to STATS LLC, the 1989 Los Angeles Rams are the only West Coast team to win back-to-back postseason games on the East Coast - at Philadelphia and the New York Giants. STATS' research included teams from Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Arizona.

Falcons offensive tackle Tyson Clabo downplayed the Seahawks' repeat trip across the nation.

``It's not like they're going to be going to the moon or anything,'' Clabo said Monday. ``They have a schedule they follow when they travel and I'm sure they're going to keep it the same.''

The Falcons claimed the top seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. They also held the top seed two years ago before losing at home to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay. They lost last year's playoff opener at the Giants to fall to 0-3 in the postseason under coach Mike Smith.

Smith said he adjusted last week's practice schedule based on lessons learned in the bye week two years ago. Players had more time off before the loss to the Packers.

``We did it a little bit different this time,'' Smith said. ``We worked a little bit longer. I think one of the things we had to do was to get some work done between playing games. We needed to work on some things fundamentally that we didn't do well at the end of the season.''

Fundamentals were emphasized in four practices Wednesday through Saturday. The team was off Sunday and met Monday morning for its first briefing on the Seahawks.

``I think if you do it the same and you didn't get the results you want, that's probably not the right way to approach it,'' Smith said. ``We approached it differently this time.''

Clabo said there were no complaints from the players.

``We needed to work on some things,'' Clabo said. ``We're not perfect. As a player and as a team you're always striving to find things you can improve. We did a little self-scout and said `Let's do this.'

``It was good but it was quick. Coach Smith wanted it to be quick so it didn't run us into the ground or anything like that. I think everyone was on board with doing whatever it took to win this game.''

Smith said he hopes the bye week gives three defensive starters a chance to play against Seattle: defensive end John Abraham (left ankle), cornerback Dunta Robinson (concussion) and safety William Moore (hamstring).

Abraham and Robinson were hurt in a 22-17 loss to Tampa Bay to close the regular season. Moore missed the last four games but returned to practice last week.

Smith, who doesn't provide a full injury report before Wednesday, said Abraham will participate in Wednesday's first practice of the week.

``We will have almost a full boat,'' Smith said. ``We won't have everybody there.

``The workload for some of these guys was limited last week and this week we'll limit some early in the week and hopefully we'll have everybody ready to go by the end of the week.''

Smith said the three postseason losses in his first four seasons left this Falcons team better prepared for success.

``We're a much more mature team because of our experiences,'' he said. ``I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs. This is a team that has been very focused from the very beginning of the season and we've got a lot of guys who have experienced the playoff atmosphere. They're going to be able to help some of the younger guys who haven't.''

The playoff losses have raised the pressure on Smith and the Falcons to end the drought, even if the coach insists his approach will not change.

``To me it's no different than any other game,'' Smith said. ``It's 100 percent on our football team to go out and play our best, whether it's a preseason game or regular-season game or whether it's the postseason.

``I think every team that's in this tournament respects every other team. I don't think there's anybody not respecting other teams. This is a very good football team. We feel like we accomplished what we needed to accomplish to get here and we are looking forward to playing against Seattle this weekend.''

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Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

With Alex Ovechkin serving a one-game suspension, the Capitals still were able to pull out a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday in the team's return from the all-star break.

The power play contributed a goal despite the loss of Ovechkin and Braden Holby played well late in the game to preserve the win.

Here is how Washington won.

The power play

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had the 30th ranked power play since Dec. 1 striking at only 14.1-percent. With no Ovechkin, it seemed unlikely that the power play would be able to suddenly find success against Montreal. Yet, the power play looked much improved with crisp puck movement that kept the Canadiens guessing. The puck movement was much quicker and more deliberate than the power play had shown of late which has looked far too slow and indecisive.
Washington cashed in with a goal from Tom Wilson as Jakub Vrana fed him from behind the net and he beat the defense to the slot.

Petry’s second goal

Jeff Petry opened the scoring with a goal for Montreal in the first period. Wilson tied the game at 1, but Petry scored again early in the second period...for the Caps.

Brendan Leipsic tipped the puck behind the net and Lars Eller grabbed it and tried to stuff it. He couldn't. Travis Boyd then tipped the puck in front of the net where Petry was trying to cover the back door to help out netminder Cary Price. Instead of helping, however, he ended up kicking the puck into his own net giving him one goal for each team and giving the Caps the 2-1 lead.

Kuznetsov on his butt

All-star defenseman Shea Weber had the puck in Montreal's defensive zone and was pressured by Evgeny Kuznetsov. In terms of a forecheck matchup, you would have to give the edge to Weber in that situation and nine times out of 10, you'd be right. This time, however, Weber lost the puck behind him with Kuznetsov pressuring. Weber turned and knocked over Kuznetsov to try to get to the puck. On his butt, Kuznetsov still managed to get a stick to the puck, passed it to T.J. Oshie who dropped it off to Jakub Vrana. Vrana netted it for his 23rd goal of the season, but the play was all started by the great forecheck by Kuznetsov.

Holtby's third period

When Holtby is feeling it, he is hard to beat. Protecting the Caps' lead, Holtby was strong in the final frame with 14 saves on 15 shots. The save of the night came when Joel Armia tried to tip a puck past Holtby and succeeded. The puck hit the post and Armia raised his arms to celebrate. Holtby, however, plucked the puck out of the air with the glove before it could cross the line which was confirmed by review.

Holtby had plenty of struggles heading into the all-star break, but was strong in the team's return with 31 saves.

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A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

The Capitals made sure the one-game suspension to Alex Ovechkin did not cost them with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Better power play

Even without Alex Ovechkin, the power play looked much improved. The most noticeable improvement was the puck movement.

One of the issues on the power play has been slow and indecisive puck movement. The Caps were much quicker with their passes on Monday and kept the puck constantly moving which kept Montreal guessing.

Washington's power play has focused largely on position over movement which is fine and was productive for several years years. Lately, however, if the passes the players want aren't open, they freeze up with the puck, hold onto it too long, then try to force passes through covered passing lanes. On Monday, each time a player took a pass, the puck was off their stick shortly after. They already knew where the puck was going when they got the puck and quickly moved it not allowing the penalty kill to get set.

The key now will be continuing that puck movement when Ovechkin returns.

A good night for Holtby

If you're going to get all over Braden Holtby for every bad game, you have to give him credit when he has a good one. Holtby allowed only two goals on Monday. The first was a 3-on-2 with Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie playing defense and Orlov misplayed it allowing Jeff Petry wide open in front of the net. The second came as Dale Weiss was also left alone in front of the net. Holtby played it awkwardly coming out to challenge Weiss, but did not extend the pads to try to force Weiss wide and gave him too much room. Still, the defense left him out to dry in both situations.

Otherwise, it was a very strong game.

Holtby made 14 saves in the third period alone and 31 saves overall for a .939 save percentage on the night. It is the first time in eight games he has managed a save percentage over .900.

Turning point

Montreal took a 1-0 lead off a Jeff Petry goal and the Canadiens were all over the Caps to start. Then Washington earned a power play opportunity and, well, it was awful with Ovechkin, surely it would be terrible without him. Instead, Wilson scored to tie the game and the power play looked much improved. Suddenly, the Caps were back in the game.

Play of the game

This is great forecheck work by Evgeny Kuznetsov on one of the best defensemen in the game, Shea Weber. He forced a turnover then made the pass from his butt to set up the goal.

Stat of the game

Lars Eller loves playing against Montreal. He recorded one assist and was one of the Caps' best players on Monday.

Quote of the game

Holtby has had struggles in the past, but he always seems to rebound at some point and return to his dominant self. Todd Reirden called Monday's game a "response" performance for the netminder after his best performance in several weeks.


Fan predictions

Close. The Caps rebounded from a 1-0 deficit and ended up winning 4-2.

Saw a lot of predictions for two goals for Richard Panik who played in Ovechkin's spot on the top line. Panik had two shots on goal, but no points in 12:35 of even-strength ice time.

No goals for John Carlson, but Holtby did have a strong game and the Caps had a two-goal win.

Bold.

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