Capitals

Greer: Saints 'starting to see some light'

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Greer: Saints 'starting to see some light'

METAIRIE, La. (AP) After going winless in September, the New Orleans Saints have clawed back to within one victory of a .500 record, and what looked like a lost season without suspended coach Sean Payton has turned into something with more promise.

If the Saints win at struggling Oakland on Sunday, they will be 5-5 and one game out of the final wild card spot in the NFC. A huge 31-27 win against previously unbeaten Atlanta has left them in position to at least make a run at the playoffs.

``It was such a hole, and now that we're starting to dig our way out of it, we're starting to see some light,'' Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. ``When we were 0-4, it was doomsday. Nobody believed that we had what it took to be a good team. Everybody had written us off.''

Greer's performance against the Falcons symbolized the arc of the season for the Saints. Burned earlier for two big gains by Atlanta's receivers, he dove in the end zone to break up a fourth-and-goal pass to Roddy White in the final two minutes.

Beaten in a variety of ways through their first four games, the Saints have won four of their last five by making plays confident teams make in critical situations.

``This win that we had yesterday was a direct result of how hard this team has worked from Day 1, when I wasn't here,'' said interim coach Joe Vitt, who improved to 2-1 since coming off his own six-game bounty-related suspension. ``This team has weathered the storm, stuck together and not pointed fingers, and they are trying to get better every day.''

Running and stopping the run have been the largest improvements.

The Saints still are on pace to give up more yards than any team in NFL history, but they limited Michael Turner to 15 yards on 13 carries while shutting down the Falcons' running game. Their first eight opponents had rushed for more than 100 yards. Atlanta finished with 46.

``The fits were right, and the resolve was there,'' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. ``Our guys swarmed. They had an eagerness about them. I'd like to see that more often. It was a real good display of run defense there, which is great to see.''

They still rank in the bottom five of the league in rushing, but they ran for 148 yards against Atlanta, complementing Drew Brees and the prolific passing attack. Chris Ivory gained 10 more yards on his 56-yard touchdown jaunt in the first quarter than the Falcons had for the day.

After not playing in the first seven games, Ivory has 120 yards on 17 carries (7.1 average) in the last two. His long score against Atlanta came on his first attempt, and he ran 22 yards for a score on his second carry against Philadelphia on Nov. 5.

Those big plays appeared to energize the offensive line and fellow running back Mark Ingram, who has gained more than five yards a pop on 23 carries the past two weeks after averaging less than three yards before then.

``We're playing more together,'' left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. ``We're just fighting to play more consistent up front. At the end of the day, the first few weeks, we weren't getting the job done. We had too many breakdowns. If we continue to get this running game going, we can open up our playbook a little bit more.''

Atlanta's defense had no answer for the balanced offense. After Brees threw an interception on his first pass, New Orleans scored touchdowns on four of its next six possessions. The Falcons gave up 30 or more points for the first time this year as the Saints looked nothing like the team that lost at home to Washington and Kansas City in September.

``It's not a good feeling when you come into the locker room week-in and week-out and you don't win a game and you can't be joyful with your teammates the way you know how to be,'' Bushrod said. ``When we got that first win it was like, `We have got to get back here because it feels too good to win.' All that hard work you put in, you just want to see your team be successful.''

With their poor start, the Saints could have given up on the season. They had the built-in excuse of Payton's unprecedented, yearlong absence because of his bounty-related suspension.

Instead, they have guaranteed themselves meaningful games in November, possibly December and maybe even longer.

``We know we're a good team,'' Greer said. ``We know we have talent and good leadership. We are starting to develop our identity. We are looking forward to the opportunity we have.''

Notes: Saints players have said the Falcons taunted linebacker Curtis Lofton during pre-game warm-ups Sunday, and Greer said he was not surprised. Lofton, the Saints' leading tackler, played his first four years in Atlanta before signing with New Orleans as a free agent in the offseason. Said Greer: ``This is a hot-tempered game. We realize they weren't going to give him flowers and buttercups.''. Vitt refused to specify the leg injury rookie cornerback Corey White had against the Falcons. League policy allows the Saints to wait until Wednesday to provide injury updates. White was hurt two series after making his first career interception.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Golden Knights preview

Stanley Cup Final 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Golden Knights preview

It is perhaps the most surprising Stanley Cup Final matchup in league history.

Just when you thought the championship window was closed, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally exorcised their playoff demons to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the final. They will be playing the Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team in its very first year in existence that did not even have a roster just one year ago.

Who could have seen this one coming back in September?

The Golden Knights continue to shock the hockey community with every series win. They swept the Los Angeles Kings, dispatched San Jose in six and needed only five games to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets, a team with the second-best record in the regular season who had just eliminated the first place Nashville Predators.

In their very first postseason, Vegas has carried the momentum of a spectacular regular season into a 12-3 record up to the Stanley Cup Final.

But while they may have momentum, the Caps have an air of destiny about them. Not only did they rally from a 2-0 series deficit to win four straight against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they also defeated their archnemesis and the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Against a heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning squad, the Caps won three out of four road games including an emphatic 4-0 Game 7 win, thus erasing another playoff stigma for the franchise.

These two teams share some common history despite Vegas being in its inaugural season. Though general manager Brian MacLellan has certainly put his own touches on the Caps' roster and molded them into a champion, the core of Washington was still built by George McPhee. Now the Caps will take on a roster completely built from the ground up by McPhee as the general manager of the Golden Knights.

Will Vegas complete its Cinderella season or will the Caps hoist their first ever Cup at the expense of their former GM?

Stanley Cup Final: Washington Capitals vs. Vegas Golden Knights

Schedule

Game 1: Capitals at Golden Knights. Monday, 5/28 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 2: Capitals at Golden Knights. Wednesday, 5/30 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 3: Golden Knights at Capitals. Saturday, 6/2 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 4: Golden Knights at Capitals. Monday, 6/4 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 5 (if necessary): Capitals at Golden Knights. Thursday, 6/7 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 6 (if necessary): Golden Knights at Capitals. Sunday, 6/10 (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 7 (If Necessary): Capitals at Golden Knights. Wednesday, 6/13 (Broadcast on NBC)

View full detailed schedule here.

2017-18 Team stats

Washington Capitals

  • 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the Metropolitan Division
  • 3.12 goals per game (9th)
  • 2.90 goals against per game (16th)
  • 22.5-percent power play percentage (7th)
  • 80.3 penalty kill percentage (15th)
     

Vegas Golden Knights

  • 51-24-7, 109 points, first in the Pacific Division
  • 3.27 goals per game (5th)
  • 2.74 goals against per game (8th)
  • 21.4 power play percentage (9th)
  • 81.4 penalty kill percentage (11th)

Top Performers

Washington

Goals

Regular season
  1. Alex Ovechkin – 49
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 27
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 21
Playoffs
  1. Alex Ovechkin - 12
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 11
  3. T.J. Oshie - 7

Assists

Regular season
  1. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 56
  2. John Carlson – 53
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 50
Playoffs
  1. John Carlson - 13
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov -13
  3. Nicklas Backstrom - 12

Points

Regular season
  1. Alex Ovechkin – 87
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 83
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 71
Playoffs
  1. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 24
  2. Alex Ovechkin - 22
  3. John Carlson - 16
  4. Nicklas Backstrom - 16

Vegas

Goals

Regular season
  1. William Karlsson - 43
  2. Erik Haula - 29
  3. Jonathan Marchessault - 27
Playoffs
  1. Jonathan Marchessault - 8
  2. Alex Tuch - 6
  3. William Karlsson - 6

Assists

Regular season
  1. David Perron - 50
  2. Jonathan Marchessault - 48
  3. Reilly Smith - 38
Playoffs
  1. Reilly Smith - 14
  2. Jonathan Marchessault - 10
  3. David Perron - 7
  4. William Karlsson - 7

Points

Regular season
  1. William Karlsson - 78
  2. Jonathan Marchessault - 75
  3. David Perron - 66
Playoffs
  1. Jonathan Marchessault - 18
  2. Reilly Smith - 16
  3. William Karlsson - 13

Goaltending

Washington

Regular season

Braden Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4 record, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3 record, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

Playoffs

Braden Holtby: 18 GP, 12-6 record, .923 save percentage, 2.04 GAA, 2 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 2 GP, 0-1 record, .837 save percentage, 4.55 GAA, 0 shutouts

Vegas

Regular season

March-Andre Fleury: 46 GP, 29-13-4 record, .927 save percentage, 2.24 GAA, 4 shutouts
Malcolm Subban: 22 GP, 13-4-2 record, .910 save percentage, 2.68 GAA, 0 shutouts
Maxime Legace: 16 GP, 6-7-1 record, .867 save percentage, 3.92 GAA, 0 shutouts
Oscar Dansk: 4 GP, 3-0-0 record, .946 save percentage, 1.78 GAA, 1 shutout
Dylan Ferguson: 1 GP, 0-0-0 record, .500 save percentage, 6.50 GAA, 0 shutouts

Playoffs

Marc-Andre Fleury: 15 GP, 12-3 record, .947 save percentage, 1.68 GAA, 4 shutouts

Head-to-head record

Capitals finished with a 0-2-0 record against Vegas

Dec. 23: 3-0 Vegas win

The Caps' first trip to Vegas was a rough one. Washington was taken complete surprise by the speed and forecheck of the Golden Knights who built a 3-0 lead in the first period and ride that all the way to the finish line.

Feb. 4: 4-3 Vegas win

This game was part of a season-defining stretch for the Caps. Just 10 days prior, Washington was blown out by the Nashville Predators and again by the Colorado Avalanche two days after that. The Caps would rebound by winning eight of their next 10 games. A back-to-back against the Lightning, who had the best record in the NHL at the time, and the Toronto Maple Leafs looked like a daunting stretch. Philipp Grubauer got the start and was brilliant for Washington and Jay Beagle led the offense with a goal and an assist.

X-Factors

Coming on Friday!

Players to watch

Coming on Saturday!

Keys to the series

Coming on Sunday!

Expert picks

Joe Beninati, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6
Ryan Billie, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals senior TV producer: Capitals in 7
Tarik El-Bashir, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
Rob Carlin, NBC Sports Washington on-air host of Capitals GameTime and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 6
Courtney Laughlin, Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6
Craig Laughlin, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6
Alan May, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals analyst: Capitals in 6
Grant Paulsen, host of Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime: Golden Knights in 6
JJ Regan, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Digital Producer: Capitals in 6

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     
  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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