Capitals

Friday's Sports In Brief

Friday's Sports In Brief

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban sent home two backup players from the BCS championship game for violating curfew.

A person with knowledge of the decision said the players were freshman linebackers Dillon Lee and Ryan Anderson. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the school didn't release names.

A statement from Saban announced the disciplinary action. Alabama's student newspaper, The Crimson White, first identified the players.

Lee played in eight games, mostly on kickoff coverage. He did intercept a pass in his college debut against Michigan in the season opener and made his only tackle in that game.

Anderson didn't play this season.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide will play No. 1 Notre Dame on Monday night.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M became the fourth FBS quarterback with 20 touchdowns passing and 20 touchdowns rushing in the same season.

Manziel got his school-record 20th rushing touchdown on the Aggies' opening drive of the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma when he tiptoed 23 yards down the sideline. He added a 5-yard TD run before halftime. The first freshman to win the Heisman, Manziel also has 24 passing TDs.

The other 20-20 quarterbacks were Auburn's Cam Newton and Florida's Tim Tebow, who like Manziel are Heisman winners from the SEC, and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.

Three other A&M players had 19 rushing TDs in a season, the last Jorvorskie Lane in 2006.

NHL

NEW YORK (AP) - A federal mediator held over 12 hours of separate talks with the NHL and the players' association before stopping for the night with a promise to get going again in the morning.

The sides remained apart all day, buffered by the presence of federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who shuttled back and forth between the hotel where the union is working, and the league office. He started at 10 a.m. EST and wrapped up discussions for the day shortly before 11 p.m.

Similar talks were scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

It still isn't known when the league and the union will get back together at the bargaining table. Neither side provided details, but the all-day discussions may signal progress.

NFL

NEW YORK (AP) - With the ink not even dry on the New York Jets' dreadful season, Rex Ryan fled to the Bahamas only to be photographed lounging poolside at a resort hotel, book in hand, with an interesting tattoo gracing his right biceps.

It showed his wife, Michelle, wearing an unmistakably green Jets jersey emblazoned with the unmistakable No. 6 of embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez - and nothing else.

The Daily News ran a front-page photo and by lunchtime it was an Internet sensation. That's pretty much the way the NFL team's soap-opera season played out. Ryan was criticized for sticking with Sanchez despite losing efforts when Tim Tebow was available. The Jets finished the season 6-10.

NBA

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Kobe Bryant is no longer a holdout. He's on Twitter.

With five words - ``The antisocial has become social'' - the Los Angeles Lakers guard sent the first tweet from his account. About 365,000 people were following his verified account, (at)kobebryant, within a few hours.

Bryant tiptoed into the Twitterverse last week when he briefly took over Nike basketball's account, sending out things like a photo of him hanging out with his daughter, an ice bath that he was dreading and even a suit he was wearing to a particular game.

Heat star LeBron James has 6.8 million followers, the most of any NBA player.

GOLF

LONDON (AP) - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy said he may skip the 2016 Olympics because of the dilemma over which country to represent.

McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, is eligible to compete for either Britain or Ireland when golf returns to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. McIlroy said in a BBC documentary that missing the Olympics is ``definitely an option'' because ``I don't want to upset too many people.''

McIlroy stirred controversy last year when he said in a British newspaper interview that he felt ``more British than Irish.'' He then posted a letter on Twitter saying he grew up ``a proud product of Irish golf'' and had not made a decision on the Olympics.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

NEW YORK (AP) - The seven Catholic schools that have decided to leave the Big East and form their own league continued to plot the future, retaining Proskauer Rose LLP and Pilson Communications, Inc., to aid in their defection.

St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova all decided last month to set off on their own as the Big East continues to reshape itself.

The university presidents met in New York to discuss the future of the new league. They vow to ``Honor the history and tradition on which the Big East was established.''

There is no timetable for when other schools will join the league.

CYCLING

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The New York Times reported that Lance Armstrong, who has strongly denied the doping charges that led to him being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, has told associates he is considering admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The report cited anonymous sources and said Armstrong was considering a confession to help restore his athletic career in triathlons and running events at age 41.

Armstrong was banned for life from cycling and cannot compete in athletic events sanctioned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

But Armstrong attorney Tim Herman told The Associated Press he had no knowledge of Armstrong considering a confession.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

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USA TODAY Sports

Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

Caps Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the Stanley Cup Final, and any potential talks about an extension will wait until the trophy is awarded, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday.

“No,” MacLellan said, asked if a decision on Trotz’s future had been made. “We’re going to address everything after the playoffs are over.”

Trotz’s four-year contract expires at season’s end.

It’s rare for a head coach to enter a season while in the final year of his deal. But that’s how the Caps decided to handle Trotz’s situation last offseason after another strong regular season performance ended with yet another second round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins.

It was a suboptimal situation for Trotz, a 55-year-old who ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories but, until this year, had never led any team beyond the conference semifinals.

Despite his lame duck status, all Trotz did was produce his best coaching performance to date. 

Consider:

  • While visiting his son in Russia last summer, Trotz visited Alex Ovechkin in Moscow to discuss the changes he’d like to see the Caps’ captain make to his training and his game.
  • When the Caps reconvened for training camp in September, it was clear there were still some hurt feelings in the locker room. So Trotz and his assistants backed off, allowing some necessary healing to occur.
  • When the team suffered back-to-back blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado back in November, Trotz initiated a tell-it-like-it-is team meeting that many players have pointed to as the turning point of the regular season, which ended with the team’s third straight Metropolitan title.
  • Trotz also got his highly-skilled lineup to buy into a more structured, detailed style of play late in the campaign, a transformation that prompted MacLellan to call this playoff run the most defensively responsible of Trotz’s tenure.
  • In each of the two previous conference semifinals, Washington was defeated by Pittsburgh and, as a result, the Penguins had become a physical and a mental hurdle for the Caps. Earlier this month, Trotz helped direct Ovechkin and Co. past the two-time Cup champions.

Although MacLellan wouldn’t say much about Trotz’s contract, he did say that he’s noticed a big change in Trotz’s day-to-day approach to his job, a change possibly prompted by the coach’s free agent status.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure. Maybe a little more freedom about how he goes about things. He’s more relaxed, I guess would be the way to describe him.”

MacLellan also acknowledged the job Trotz’s has done this season, beginning with his delicate handling of the dressing room to start the year.

“I think he’s done a good job managing it,” MacLellan said. “To come in this year with so many questions—from my point of view, the lineup questions weren’t that big of a deal—but just the emotional state of our coming into to start the year [and] how to handle that. I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Indeed, Trotz’s situation remains unclear on the eve of the Final. But we do know this much: He’s having one of the best contract years in NHL coaching history.

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