Kelly says QB Golson gave fans a glimpse of future


Kelly says QB Golson gave fans a glimpse of future

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Everett Golson has played spectacularly and struggled just as spectacularly for fourth-ranked Notre Dame, doing both in last week's triple-overtime victory against Pittsburgh.

Golson has a powerful arm and quick feet but also makes mistakes that are sometimes hard to overcome. But the mistakes have been dwindling and the big plays increasing, especially as he uses his speed to elude defenders.

Coach Brian Kelly is counting on him to be a key factor with the Fighting Irish (9-0) trying to make a push for their first national championship since 1988, starting with Saturday's game at Boston College (2-7).

The sophomore from Myrtle Beach, S.C., showed just how dangerous he can be in rallying the Irish back from a 14-point deficit against Pitt. Of the final 31 plays in regulation, Golson either ran the ball or passed 25 times, including on 18 straight plays. He amassed 55 yards on the ground and 113 through the air during that span with two touchdown passes, and a bad throw that was intercepted in the end zone. He also plunged in for the two-point conversion to tie the game.

``That's what he's capable of,'' Kelly said. ``We want it to be a lot cleaner, a lot more efficient, and there are so many little factors in there. But it's the big picture of what we want. Now we really want to start to refine that. That's the next step for us.''

The Irish also are depending on Golson increasingly as a ball carrier. Through the first four games, Golson averaged more than five carries, losing a total of 11 yards. Through the last four games, he is averaging more than nine carries for 58 yards.

Kelly said he was worried about the durability of the 6-foot, 185-pounder and was concerned about him fumbling.

``As the season has progressed, we've looked at him a little different in terms of running him,'' Kelly said.

Kelly is most pleased, though, by the maturity Golson showed when he was replaced by Tommy Rees late in the second quarter against Pitt after making some bad decisions. In the past when he was yanked, Golson would become so upset that Kelly wouldn't even consider putting him back in.

Golson wasn't happy with Kelly's decision to pull him, but instead of sulking, he watched and learned.

``Me actually seeing my mistakes, and kind of seeing it from the sideline and seeing what they were doing, it helped me kind of come back in and lead us,'' Golson said.

Kelly turned back to Golson after Rees, who played key roles in victories over Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and Brigham Young, threw a terrible interception in the third quarter. Kelly said at that point he felt the Irish needed a mobile quarterback.

With Notre Dame's season on the brink, Golson showed why he won the starting job by using his speed to get out of trouble and make big plays. Kelly said Golson staying focused on the sideline was key.

``He could have kept his head down and said, `I can't help us.' He wanted to go back in there and help his football team. So that's a learning step for him,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said it's a learning curve for a player who has probably never been benched before this season for poor play.

``He's walked through every game he's played. He's been the best player on the field,'' Kelly said. ``But he's such a competitive kid. He wants to do so well. He's growing and he's maturing as we move along.''

Golson said one of the reasons he played well late against Pitt is he plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder.

``I definitely felt like it was my chance to prove what I can do. I was confident that we could do it,'' he said. ``You never want to be comfortable with where you're at. Personally, I want to be 12-0 or 13-0. So you've got to keep going one game at a time.''

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”



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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”