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Pelini: 10-tackle night just start for Huskers' LB

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Pelini: 10-tackle night just start for Huskers' LB

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) David Santos wanted to pass on redshirting his first season at Nebraska and play right away. His coaches, intrigued by his speed and tenacity, were tempted to relent and put him on the field.

The patience paid off.

Santos soaked up all he could from being around older teammates and spent extra time in the film room. When he stepped on the field against Michigan last Saturday, he didn't look like an ordinary first-time starter.

Santos made 10 tackles, including one for a loss, in the 21st-ranked Cornhuskers' 23-9 victory. Monday he was chosen one of the Big Ten's co-freshmen of the week.

``He can run, he's explosive, he can play in the open field and do some good things,'' coach Bo Pelini said. ``Now he's at a point where he's not going to hurt us. He's really helping us and doing some good things. He's nowhere near where I think he'll be in the future, but he's getting better.''

Pelini's defensive system is not easy for young players to grasp, and Santos had to put in his time. Santos didn't even play in the opener against Southern Mississippi.

The timetable for Santos was accelerated after Zaire Anderson went out with a knee injury in mid-September. Santos played some against Wisconsin and Ohio State but didn't really emerge until Oct. 20 against Northwestern.

He made three tackles against the Wildcats, including his first behind the line of scrimmage when he broke through and threw Kain Colter for a 2-yard loss.

Pelini deemed Santos ready to be a starting linebacker alongside Will Compton when the Huskers opened in their nickel package against Michigan.

When Denard Robinson handed off to Fitzgerald Toussaint on the second play, Santos was there to meet him for the first of his six solo tackles.

``He's starting to make that push to being the guy we thought he could be,'' defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.

With his playmaking ability on the perimeter, the 6-foot, 220-pound Santos is a perfect fit for the Huskers when they go against mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses.

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) will see more of a pro-set offense at Michigan State (5-4, 2-3) this week, meaning the Huskers probably will employ more of their 4-3 base alignment.

``I'm not really sure where I'll be at,'' Santos said, ``but I feel like I might get a couple snaps during the game.''

Given how productive Santos can be, it's difficult to imagine him being off the field for long stretches.

Asked what differentiates Santos from other Nebraska linebackers, senior Alonzo Whaley said, ``He's just quicker.''

``He's a smaller guy. He'll pursue to the ball. I don't want to say he gives us something another linebacker doesn't. He has (a nose) for the ball just like guys you've seen in the past. He does a good job pursuing the ball.''

Whaley has taken Santos under his wing in the linebackers' meeting room. Whaley likes to give him advice and answer his questions. Whaley said Santos' humility is refreshing.

``He's good, quiet, willing to learn, takes notes,'' Whaley said. ``He's in that stage where he's trying to consume everything. He asks questions.

``You have to respect a guy like that who doesn't get above himself because he got a lot of playing time. The name of the game is that you can never learn too much, and he understands that at a young age. That makes his future a lot brighter.''

Santos was ranked among the nation's top 15 outside linebackers by Rivals.com when he was coming out of Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas. Rivals also had him ranked among the top 40 overall players in the Lone Star state.

Arkansas, Kansas and Utah offered scholarships, but Santos picked Nebraska after making his official visit in October 2010. He attended the Huskers' game against Missouri and saw Pelini's defense sack Blaine Gabbert six times in a 31-17 win. Santos wanted to be a part of it.

A lack of depth at linebacker last year had Santos and the coaches thinking that he might step in and play immediately.

Looking back, Santos is glad he didn't, even though he found it difficult to not be able to play in games.

``It's an eye-opener, and it'll humble you real quick, realizing this is a whole `nother level of play,'' Santos said. ``Watching the first couple games and some of the tough losses, you think maybe if I had played I could have helped out. But that's not up to me; that's up to the coaches. I think everything worked out well in the end.''

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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