Capitals

Peterson getting plenty of good blocks by Vikings

201212091221445008282-p2.jpeg

Peterson getting plenty of good blocks by Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Jerome Felton was on the free-agent market last March, a fullback who had been with three teams in two years and was looking for a good fit.

With Minnesota in the mix, figuring out the best place to go became a simpler decision for Felton. Who wouldn't want to block for Adrian Peterson, after all?

While playing with Detroit from 2008-2010, Felton would watch Peterson run from the opposing sideline and ponder the possibility.

``I was like, `Man, if I could ever team up with him, I think it would be something special,''' Felton said. ``That was a big thing, just to have the opportunity to come here and be able to block for him. He's obviously a future Hall of Famer.''

Peterson's push for 2,000 yards rushing wouldn't happen without solid blocking in front of him, of course, and the offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks and wide receivers responsible for paving his paths are well aware of his standing. With an NFL-leading 1,600 yards, Peterson needs to average 134 yards over the last three games to become the seventh player to reach that mark in one season.

``I think it means a lot to the team. You kind of hear guys in the locker room talking about it. You hear the media talk about it a little bit. It's within reach, and I feel like it's something that he's capable of doing and I think he wants it so we want it for him,'' Felton said.

Felton might be the most unheralded of an already-under-the-radar group. Left tackle Matt Kalil was the fourth overall draft pick, sure. Center John Sullivan has been around for five seasons. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is relatively well-known, as a pass-catcher and occasional touchdown-scorer. But without any official statistics for blocking, these guys are often only known when they're called for holding or a false start.

``They brought me in here to make life a little easier on him, and I like to say I'm doing that,'' said Felton, a fifth-round pick out of Furman who spent last year with Carolina and Indianapolis. ``He gives me an opportunity to show what I can do to the league and hopefully, vice versa, I make life a little easier on him. Definitely a lot of pride in that.''

Peterson has long preferred a one-back set to better see the space in front of him, but with Felton in the game the results have clearly been favorable this year.

``He can run in any system. He's going to be a great back regardless, but all I'm trying to do is make life a little bit easier on him,'' Felton said.

Without any sustained success from the passing game, defenses have naturally stacked a safety in the box around the line of scrimmage to try to stop Peterson. This makes clearing the first level more difficult but if he gets past the linebackers in time, there's a greater chance of breaking a long gain. Three of the 10 longest carries of his six-year career have come in the last six games.

``We've been prepared offensively, and we've still been able to run the ball,'' Peterson said.

He ran 31 times for 154 yards in last Sunday's win over Chicago. That started with a 51-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage, a simple dive play the team calls ``Doctor'' that involves a double team on each side of the field. Guard Brandon Fusco and tackle Phil Loadholt handled one on the right. Tight end Rhett Ellison, in as a fullback, sealed his man. Tight end John Carlson took his took the turf. And Peterson, who picked up a little extra at the end after a hustle block by wide receiver Jarius Wright, was off.

``That's our bread and butter,'' Fusco said.

Notes: Peterson was limited in practice Wednesday because of an abdominal injury. CB Antoine Winfield was held out to rest a knee that's been causing some discomfort. CB A.J. Jefferson didn't participate, either, because he hasn't passed his post-concussion tests after a hit to the head in Sunday's game. LG Charlie Johnson, who sprained his left ankle but remained in Sunday's game, also was limited. ... Peterson was honored as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season and the seventh occasion of his career, the most among active RBs. ... If Jefferson can't play this week, rookie Josh Robinson would start next to Winfield at CB in the base defense and Marcus Sherels would play CB in the nickel package.

---

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

Quick Links

Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

usatsi_10028482.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

Caps Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the Stanley Cup Final, and any potential talks about an extension will wait until the trophy is awarded, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday.

“No,” MacLellan said, asked if a decision on Trotz’s future had been made. “We’re going to address everything after the playoffs are over.”

Trotz’s four-year contract expires at season’s end.

It’s rare for a head coach to enter a season while in the final year of his deal. But that’s how the Caps decided to handle Trotz’s situation last offseason after another strong regular season performance ended with yet another second round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins.

It was a suboptimal situation for Trotz, a 55-year-old who ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories but, until this year, had never led any team beyond the conference semifinals.

Despite his lame duck status, all Trotz did was produce his best coaching performance to date. 

Consider:

  • While visiting his son in Russia last summer, Trotz visited Alex Ovechkin in Moscow to discuss the changes he’d like to see the Caps’ captain make to his training and his game.
  • When the Caps reconvened for training camp in September, it was clear there were still some hurt feelings in the locker room. So Trotz and his assistants backed off, allowing some necessary healing to occur.
  • When the team suffered back-to-back blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado back in November, Trotz initiated a tell-it-like-it-is team meeting that many players have pointed to as the turning point of the regular season, which ended with the team’s third straight Metropolitan title.
  • Trotz also got his highly-skilled lineup to buy into a more structured, detailed style of play late in the campaign, a transformation that prompted MacLellan to call this playoff run the most defensively responsible of Trotz’s tenure.
  • In each of the two previous conference semifinals, Washington was defeated by Pittsburgh and, as a result, the Penguins had become a physical and a mental hurdle for the Caps. Earlier this month, Trotz helped direct Ovechkin and Co. past the two-time Cup champions.

Although MacLellan wouldn’t say much about Trotz’s contract, he did say that he’s noticed a big change in Trotz’s day-to-day approach to his job, a change possibly prompted by the coach’s free agent status.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure. Maybe a little more freedom about how he goes about things. He’s more relaxed, I guess would be the way to describe him.”

MacLellan also acknowledged the job Trotz’s has done this season, beginning with his delicate handling of the dressing room to start the year.

“I think he’s done a good job managing it,” MacLellan said. “To come in this year with so many questions—from my point of view, the lineup questions weren’t that big of a deal—but just the emotional state of our coming into to start the year [and] how to handle that. I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Indeed, Trotz’s situation remains unclear on the eve of the Final. But we do know this much: He’s having one of the best contract years in NHL coaching history.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS: