Capitals

No. 10 Gonzaga holds off Santa Clara 81-74

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No. 10 Gonzaga holds off Santa Clara 81-74

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Kelly Olynyk made a key putback with 1:55 remaining on the way to a career-high 33 points, and No. 10 Gonzaga held off a late rally to beat Santa Clara 81-74 on Saturday night for its sixth straight victory.

Elias Harris added 14 points for the Zags (15-1, 2-0 WCC), determined to win another West Coast Conference crown after Saint Mary's snapped the school's run of 11 straight won or shared conference titles.

Olynyk also had 10 rebounds, scored Gonzaga's eight straight points late as the Zags shot 55 percent from the floor.

Kevin Foster scored 29 points and reached the 2,000 mark for his career and Marc Trasolini had 19 points and nine rebounds for Santa Clara (12-4, 1-1), which is off to the program's best start since 1997-98.

After Trasolini's dunk with 16:23 remaining pulled Santa Clara within 46-44, Olynyk scored four straight points and six of the Zags' next eight as his team began to pull away before one last-ditch Santa Clara rally.

Gonzaga also shifted to a zone defense and caused the Broncos problems getting to the basket.

Foster had 17 of his points in the first half with two of his team's six 3-pointers, then scored Santa Clara's initial six points after halftime before struggling to create shots.

His jumper with 6:55 left cut Gonzaga's lead to six, then Trasolini hit a pair of free throws the next time down the floor to make it 64-60.

But Gonzaga came through with the big plays down the stretch. Olynyk made a pair of free throws with 4:31 to go.

Santa Clara faced a top-10 opponent for the second time in exactly a week after losing 90-77 at No. 1 Duke on Dec. 29. The Broncos dropped to 9-3 at home.

The raucous, sold-out Leavey Center drew a standing-room only crowd of 4,907 - the largest attendance ever in the cozy arena.

Gonzaga grabbed the opening tipoff and Olynyk dunked just 4 seconds into the game, then the Zags came out in a full-court trap press.

The 7-foot, 238-pound Olynyk scored 17 points in the first half on 7-for-8 shooting, including six as Gonzaga used a 12-4 run over the final 5:35 to take a 41-34 lead at the break.

Olynyk was held to 4 of 8 shooting in a 78-62 win at Pepperdine on Thursday night.

With school still out for the holiday break until Monday and on-campus dormitories closed until Sunday, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating did all he could to ensure a packed house - offering $100 hotel reimbursements from his own bank account to those students who live on campus but had nowhere to stay Saturday night.

A dozen students took advantage of the offer sharing four rooms, and there was no lack of spirit as is always the case when the Zags come to campus.

While Gonzaga swept both meetings last season, the Bulldogs had a nine-game winning streak in the series snapped with a 73-62 loss at Santa Clara's home court on Jan. 20, 2011.

Santa Clara ended a 17-game losing streak against conference opponents by beating San Francisco 74-69 on Wednesday night. The Broncos were trying to win their first two conference games for the first time since 2003-04.

They connected on 3 of their first 5 3-pointers 5:34 into the game and limited Gonzaga to six shots in the opening 6:40. The Bulldogs held an 18-12 rebounding advantage and shot 55.6 percent in the first half.

Foster went just 2 for 12 from long range.

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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.”

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