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Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

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Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

With 2012 Cy Young candidate Kyle Lohse having pitched in the N.L. Wild Card game, the St. Louis Cardinals will trot out right-hander Adam Wainwright against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS. Wainwright was once one of the games best young pitchers, but returned this season from Tommy John surgery and has yet to regain his form as an ace.

Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season due to the surgery and watched from the dugout as the Cardinals won the World Series without him. He had finished in the top three of National League Cy Young voting in the previous two seasons and their victory without him was a testament to their organizational depth.

Wainwright finished 2012 with a winning record and a sub-4.00 ERA despite struggling for much of the year. The Cardinals showed great patience in sticking with him after a terrible start to the season. Wainwright allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first seven starts and sat 2-4 with a 6.16 ERA on May 12.

The 31-year-old saved his season by going 7-3 with a 2.75 ERA through July and August. Still, over the course of this season he has shown he isnt the same dominant pitcher he once was.

The differences in the old Wainwright and the new one lie in pitch selection. Wainwright has adjusted to throw more off-speed pitches after a slight dip in velocity with a career low fastball usage at 41.8.

Wainwright uses a cut fastball now much more than he did in the past, throwing it 14.2 of the time. His primary breaking ball is the curveball, which he uses for almost a quarter of pitches.

In 2012, when Wainwright won he was dominant and when he lost it was at times ugly. In losses this season Wainwright allowed 56 earned runs in 69.0 innings, good for a 7.30 ERA. In games he won Wainwright held a 1.94 ERA with just 13 walks in 97.2 innings pitched.

Wainwrights two starts against the Nationals in many ways exemplified his season as one was great and one was quite the opposite.

On August 31 the Nationals handed Wainwright one of his worst starts of the season and it came in the middle of perhaps his hottest stretch. Wainwright had allowed two runs or less in eight consecutive starts before a complete disaster in Washington. The Nationals dropped six runs in 2 23 innings before Wainwright was yanked as he earned his 11th loss of the season in a 10-0 blowout at Nationals Park.

Wainwright rebounded nicely against the Nationals at Busch Stadium in his final start of the season. He worked six innings of one run ball and set the Cardinals up for an eventual 12-2 victory. The right-hander allowed just six men on base in his 14th win of the season.

His solid showing against the Nationals was a nice close to his regular season after a rough month of September overall. Wainwright had allowed at least four earned runs in three of his previous five starts.

The Nationals will face Wainwright where he had his best start against them and where he fared better for much of the season. Wainwright went 10-6 with a 3.73 ERA in St. Louis, markedly better than his 4-7, 4.20 line on the road.

One thing that may work in the Nationals favor is the fact that Wainwright hasnt pitched since seeing them on the 28th. He was much better this season on four or five days of rest as with at least six days off between starts he posted a 5.21 ERA in three games.

Wainwright missed the postseason last year, but has appeared in ten playoff games in his career. He has one career postseason start, an eight-inning outing against the Dodgers in the 2009 NLDS. Wainwright allowed just one earned run on a homer to Andre Ethier in the game, but the Dodgers ended up winning in the second game of their three game sweep.

The Nationals have had mixed results against Wainwright this year, but the pitcher may have the advantage at home if his 2012 stats hold up. But looking at how inconsistent he has been overall, they may know early which Wainwright has shown up for Game 1.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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