No. 1 Alabama coasts into showdown with No. 5 LSU


No. 1 Alabama coasts into showdown with No. 5 LSU

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) The Southeastern Conference Western Division is getting a jumpstart on the playoff system.

No. 1 Alabama won the semifinal game convincingly, 38-7 over No. 17 Mississippi State, and now moves into the championship round against No. 5 LSU, of course. The winner moves a big step closer to the SEC championship game and perhaps another national title shot.

Not against each other this time, presumably.

``I think at this point in the season it's kind of like the playoffs in a way,'' Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. ``You've got a tough game the next week. You've got a good opponent the next week. You've got somebody in your division that's a really good team.''

He never even had to mention LSU by name in the postgame news conference Saturday night.

The Bulldogs came in unbeaten but trailed 21-0 by the opening minutes of the second quarter. This certainly shapes up to be the Tide's biggest test so far.

Alabama (8-0, 4-0) marches into Baton Rouge Saturday night still having trailed all of 15 seconds in regulation in the past 13 games plus nearly 49 minutes, with few hiccups along the way this season.

Even Saban has to press a bit for issues to harp on. He had told his players and reporters last week they had played better on the road than at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where they've now outscored opponents 146-28.

The Tigers (7-1, 3-1) had an open date since a 24-19 win over No. 16 Texas A&M. The Aggies, who visit Alabama in two weeks, and Mississippi have two league losses each while the Bulldogs have only one and still play LSU.

LSU won 9-6 in overtime in Tuscaloosa last season but Alabama blanked the Tigers 21-0 in the national title game in New Orleans.

``We don't even have to talk about it,'' Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``You already know what is set for next week's game, based off last year and based off the national championship.

``We just have to treat every game like it's another game. We've just got to be ready for what they bring.''

Alabama has been awfully consistent in doing that to this point, but Mississippi State is its only opponent still in the Top 25.

Against that competition, things have looked easy.

Quarterback AJ McCarron still hasn't thrown an interception, a school-record streak currently at 262 passes dating back to last year's Mississippi State game.

Alabama has forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 17 touchdowns and two field goals. The Tide scored its only two second-half turnovers after a fumble and an interception.

And the defense continues to lead the nation in the major statistical categories despite losing last season's biggest stars to the NFL draft.

Even Saban is pleasantly surprised by that.

``Really for all of the young players we have, if you would have told me that we would be in the position statistically and scoring defense-wise that we are in right now, I would have said, probably, no way,'' he said. ``These guys have really set out with an attitude that they want to prove something and we have had some guys that have really stepped up as playmakers.''

That doesn't mean he wasn't a little steamed when the reserves gave up a late touchdown to prevent a shutout, just as it happened against Florida Atlantic. In that game, fired-up Alabama coaches drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for stepping too far onto the field before the late score in a 40-7 victory.

That's just part of coaching `em up.

``I know everybody is probably going to say, `Well, you got upset with the backup players,''' Saban said. ``I got upset with the backup players because they are better than that. They can play better than that. They need to play with poise and confidence when they go in the game and compete just like everybody else competes.

``That's being able to execute and do your job. It's not about shutting anybody out. It's not about any of that. It's about them playing their best football.''

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson


GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”


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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick


Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."