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Rams looking for winning season

Rams looking for winning season

ST. LOUIS (AP) Jeff Fisher recognizes his St. Louis Rams have plenty of goals to reach in their final game of the season.

They can finish with a winning record for the first time since 2003. They can finish without a loss in the NFC West.

Steven Jackson, who might be in his final season with the team, can finish with at least 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth consecutive year.

While all of that might be important, Fisher said Monday the season finale at Seattle cannot serve as the lone measuring stick to the success of the season.

Even if they lose to the Seahawks, the coach said there are plenty of successes this season. He also said if the Rams had been a bit better, it might have turned Sunday's game into a warm-up for the playoffs.

``There's been some good things, but we're playing our final game this final weekend but that's not what you set out to do,'' Fisher said as he gets ready to close out his first season at St. Louis.

The Rams are 7-7-1 heading into Sunday's game against Seattle and 4-0-1 in divisional play. They went 15-65 in the previous five years, including a two-win season last year.

The seven wins match the total from 2010 when St. Louis finished 7-9. But the 12-4 regular-season record in 2004 represents the Rams' only winning season in the past 10.

Fisher appreciates what a win at Seattle would mean.

``It's very important, but it's not going to suggest this season was a loss if we weren't successful in Week 17,'' he said. ``We can make a case, going back to several of those games and or that tie, that we played .500 ball this year regardless what happened this week. But from a statistical standpoint it's something good to talk about.''

The Rams lost their season opener at Detroit after the Lions scored the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining. Greg Zuerlein missed 3 of 5 field-goal attempts in a 17-14 loss at Miami. A delay of game penalty at San Francisco turned a successful 53-yard field-goal attempt in overtime into a 58-yarder that Zuerlein missed.

Jackson has the option of getting out of his contract at the end of the season to explore free agency. But after rushing for 81 yards in the Rams' 28-13 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, he didn't sound like a player ready to find a new team after 10 years with St. Louis.

He needs 10 yards against Seattle to reach 1,000 for the year.

``We have a lot to play for, a winning season, undefeated in the division,'' he said. ``It's something to build off of and go into the offseason feeling happy and strong and make it appealing to free agents as well.''

Fisher isn't ready to put a bow on the season, yet. Nor did he suggest that this season was a total success even if the Rams are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history and playing with one of the youngest rosters in league history.

``We had a few in the past that we had a chance to win and didn't. That takes the front page as far as we're concerned,'' he said. ``But, we saw tremendous improvement from our rookie class. We got tremendous from the rookies and from the second-year players. I think we improved in a lot of areas.

``We still have a long way to go.''

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The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

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NBC Sports

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

Alex Ovechkin's assist to Brett Connolly in Game 5 started when Carolina Hurricanes defender Dougie Hamilton shied away from Ovechkin's imminent check.

To start Game 6, Ovechkin tried to ram Hamilton along the boards again, but Hamilton sidestepped him to get the puck to safety.

After Ovechkin tumbled to the ice when he missed the hit, he made his way back to the bench, when he appeared to, well, you decide.

Ovechkin's mocking did not go unnoticed by the broadcast crew on NBC Sports Network or by fans on Twitter. "And there it is, that's what Eddie was talking about," chuckled Pierre McGuire as Ovechkin appeared to raise his arms like a clucking chicken.

The Hurricanes would respond with a goal to even the game 1-1, but Ovechkin answered back at 15:12 of the first period on an assist from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen to make it 2-1 Capitals.

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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