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Huff excelling at cornerback for Raiders

Huff excelling at cornerback for Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) After a rough adjustment when he first made the move from safety to cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, Michael Huff is now starting to feel right at home at his new position.

Huff has provided lock-down coverage on the outside the past few weeks to bolster a banged-up secondary that has been missing both starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer because of injuries since midway through the second game of the season.

That led to the Raiders moving Huff from free safety, where he could survey the entire field, to cornerback, where his main responsibility was shutting down one receiver.

He has made quite the adjustment.

``It wasn't quick enough for me,'' Huff said. ``I had those couple of rough games early. I knew I'd go through some growing pains. I had never really played outside for a whole stretch. I knew I'd go through some growing pains and I'm starting to learn from them.''

After being picked apart for 12 catches on 17 attempts by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Denver's Peyton Manning in his first two games, according to game charting by Pro Football Focus, Huff has shown marked improvement since the bye week.

Atlanta's Matt Ryan went after him repeatedly three weeks ago, but Huff more than held his own, allowing five catches for 62 yards on 12 attempts. He also intercepted one pass and broke up three others as his increased confidence showed up on the field.

``I kid him all the time. I think he's a lot better corner than he is safety,'' Bartell said. ``I've been impressed with Huff. That's tough to ask a guy to do. He hasn't played a lick of corner all camp and all OTAs and then guys go down and he's able to go in in a pinch. He's gotten better every game, and he takes pride in it. I'm really impressed with him.''

Huff said going up against accomplished passers like Roethlisberger and Manning his first two games has paid dividends. He has had nearly airtight coverage the past two games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Huff has been in coverage for 84 snaps the past two weeks and allowed just one catch for 2 yards on seven throws his direction in that span.

``I'm not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, all right,'' coach Dennis Allen said. ``I don't think Willie Brown has anything to worry about yet. But he has improved. That's what we expect and that's what we will continue to expect, that every day he has an opportunity to go out and work he'll get a little bit better every week.''

Huff said he still tries to take in the entire formation before each play as he did as a safety, observing the alignment of receivers on the opposite side of the field for any clue about what type of play will be run.

But once the ball is snapped his vantage point changes and he is focused almost solely on the receiver he is responsible for and the quarterback.

Many players have made the opposite move that Huff did as they get older and no longer have the speed and athleticism to play on the outside. Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, who is playing the Raiders this week, made the switch this season after playing primarily cornerback his first 15 seasons.

``That's not a transition you see very often,'' Barber said. ``Actually, I can't think of any that have actually done it off the top of my head. He's a good enough athlete to play out there. I'm sure he's adjusting, but I think it's a lot easier transition to go from corner to safety.''

Whether Huff remains outside all season remains to be seen. Bartell practiced for the first time Wednesday since breaking his left shoulder blade in the season opener.

Bartell, who is on the short-term injured reserve list, worked with the scout team and is trying to get back into football shape after being sidelined for the past seven weeks. Bartell is first eligible to play on Nov. 11 against Baltimore. The Raiders have a 21-day window to activate him, put him on season-ending injured reserve or cut him.

``I'm good enough to play,'' Bartell said. ``The shoulder is not a concern. I just need to get back in shape and sharpen some things up and go from there.''

Oakland's other starting cornerback, Spencer, remains sidelined. He sprained his right foot in the second game of the season in Miami and initially targeted a return after the bye against Atlanta on Oct. 14. But he has yet to return to the practice field and it is uncertain when he will be able to play again.

NOTES: RT Khalif Barnes (groin) remains sidelined. DT Richard Seymour also did not practice to give his sore knees a rest. ... C Stefen Wisniewski (left ankle) and RB Mike Goodson (turf toe) practiced despite injuries in last week's game. ... LB Aaron Curry practiced again but Allen has not decided whether to activate him from the physically unable to perform list this week. ... The Raiders signed G Jason Foster to the practice squad to replace released DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

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USA TODAY Sports

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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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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