Nationals

The Kings are not Stanley Cup champions ... yet

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The Kings are not Stanley Cup champions ... yet

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After 45 years of waiting, the Los Angeles Kings' quest for their first Stanley Cup title will last at least a few more days. The Kings had a chance to sweep New Jersey out of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night, but they were done in by three third-period goals in a 3-1 loss to the Devils in Game 4. While the Kings are an amazing 15-3 in this remarkable postseason run, they have lost three Game 4s with a chance for a sweep. No worries, though, as Los Angeles bounced back in Game 5 to knock out Vancouver and Phoenix on the road. The Kings managed to sweep St. Louis in the second round. The Devils claimed their first lead of the series in the third period before Kings defenseman Drew Doughty tied it. Adam Henrique put New Jersey ahead to stay with 4:29 left, and Ilya Kovalchuk secured the Eastern Conference champions' first win of the series with an empty-net goal. Now it's back to New Jersey for Game 5 on Saturday night. "It was pretty even all the way, but they found a way to get a late goal," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We had some chances early in the third, but we didn't bury it, and we made a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on. We've just got to hit the reset button. "We've been in this situation now three times in the playoffs, and we've always come back with a big rebound game." The Kings might have to get some rebounds past 40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who has been in top form all series, and stopped 21 shots in Game 4. The NHL's career winningest goalie doesn't appear to be satisfied with the three Stanley Cup titles he already has. "Marty played well for them and made some big saves," Brown said. "Tonight was a battle out there, and now it's just a matter of having the same approach in the next game." The Kings were trying to become the first team to sweep the Devils in a best-of-seven series, and the first to sweep the finals since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. New Jersey had managed a total of only two goals in the first three games -- dropping a pair of 2-1 overtime decisions at home before losing 4-0 in Los Angeles in Game 3. Los Angeles has won a record 10 straight road games in these playoffs, and 12 consecutive postseason games away from home, dating to last year. If the Kings win one more in New Jersey, they will also own the mark for most road wins in a playoff year with 11. "Whether you win or lose, we don't have time to get down or too excited. We just have to focus on the next one," goalie Jonathan Quick said. "We've played well on the road, but at the same time, we try to play the same way whether you're on the road or at home. We're just focused on the next one, and that's all it is. This one is in the past." Quick faced 72 shots in the first three games, and the only two that got past him were a bounce off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, and Ryan Carter's deflection of Marek Zidlicky's shot. On Wednesday, he was beaten by Henrique's perfectly placed wrist shot. "They were desperate in all of the games," Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. "Everybody is bringing their A' game in the finals, and we're going to have to do it again. We have to bury the chances we get. "They seem like they had chances off the rush, and they capitalized on those. They played with a little more desperation than we did, and we have to correct that in Game 5." Teams that had a chance to win the Cup on home ice are 6-8 since 2000. The last four champions closed the deal on the road. The Kings could be primed to repeat that feat. "We didn't have our best game, and they did," defenseman Matt Greene said. "They played well. We knew they were going to come out hard, and they did. We have to be tighter in the defensive zone and tighter in our game if we want to win. "I think we played OK, but that's not going to cut it right now. We've got to do a better job of moving the puck faster out of our zone, getting more sustained pressure in theirs and disrupting their game." The Kings can take comfort in the fact that teams who led 3-0 in the Stanley Cup finals have won the series 24 of 25 times since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. The only exception is the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, who blew the big lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs. None of the Kings appeared worried Wednesday that the Stanley Cup was slipping out of their grasp. The games have been tight, and Los Angeles has effectively shut down the Devils' power play, which is 0 for 15 in the series. "I don't think we were expecting to win in four before the finals started," Kings forward Simon Gagne said. "We're in a great position, but it's going to be a big fight. We all know that fourth one is going to be the toughest one to win. "Sure, you're disappointed. You hope you could do it in front of your fans. But at the same time, it's the Stanley Cup finals, and it's going to take a lot of work to get it done. They played well, and we came up short. That's the bottom line. Now we have to focus on the next game. That's it."

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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