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Receivers struggle as part of Arizona offense woes

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Receivers struggle as part of Arizona offense woes

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Larry Fitzgerald is the most formidable receiver struggling in Arizona's impotent offense, but the whole group is contending with problems often beyond its control.

Bad passes and missed blocks in the protection have thwarted big plays that seemed ripe for the taking. Sometimes when that goes right, the receiver drops the ball. It's been that kind of year in Arizona, where the Cardinals take a seven-game losing streak into Sunday's road game against the New York Jets.

Now injuries have added to the problem. Andre Roberts, the No. 2 receiver behind Fitzgerald, missed practice for a second straight day Thursday with an ankle injury, although he said he was ``very optimistic'' he would be able to play Sunday. Early Doucet, usually the No. 3 receiver, missed Sunday's home loss to St. Louis with injured ribs and has been limited in practice this week.

Asked to assess the receivers as a whole, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, ``It's hard to assess any position. We haven't had enough consistency or continuity offensively this year.''

``Our guys are trying, we've got to get better,'' he said. ``Last week we had a good half of football. If we don't turn the ball over, it could have been a very good day for us offensively. We've just got to build off of that.''

Doucet's injury opened the way for the NFL debut of undrafted rookie LaRon Byrd, who took a vicious hit against the Rams and left the game with dizziness. He said he has been cleared to play this week.

One player who has taken advantage of his opportunities is first-round draft pick Michael Floyd, who had seen his playing time grow even before Doucet was hurt.

Floyd had dropped some passes early and said he took it to heart. After eight catches in his first seven games, Floyd has 16 for 169 yards in his last four.

``I'm always my worst critic,'' he said. ``I mean, I'm yelling at me, I get down on myself more than anybody else could. But it's always motivation because I expect a lot out of myself to be productive and make plays when they come my way.''

A critical flaw for Arizona is the inability to get the ball to Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game.

In the last two games he has four catches for 42 yards and had none in the second half against St. Louis, when the Rams outscored the Cardinals 17-0 en route to a 31-17 victory.

Rookie Ryan Lindley got his first NFL start on Sunday and completed 31 of 52 for 312 yards and no touchdowns with four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns.

On two of the interceptions - including one brought back for a TD - Fitzgerald was open for big gains but Lindley badly underthrew him. In the previous game at Atlanta, Whisenhunt benched quarterback John Skelton when he missed a wide open Fitzgerald in the end zone.

Fitzgerald has taken pains not to criticize anyone for his situation.

``You've got to maintain your professionalism,'' he said. ``It was like my son when we were home and eating dinner and I'm trying to get him to eat his vegetables and he's doing everything he can to not eat them. That's frustrating, but I know we're trying to do everything we can to make sure we have big plays. It's not a conscious effort that, `We're not going to get Fitz the ball' or `We're going to overthrow him on this one or not call his number.' We're just not executing.''

One thing for certain, Fitzgerald is sick of this losing streak.

``Seven weeks, the urgency is like if you would be drowning,'' he told reporters on Thursday. ``You ever been in the pool and you're struggling for air, how hard do you fight to get to the top? That's kind of how we all feel right now. We're struggling and fighting and doing anything we can to get to the top. If we're close enough I'll pull you down to get to the air.''

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

While this year’s Capitals roster brought home the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup – it’s no secret that the team won’t be able to stay together as it is.

Despite the NHL salary cap rising from $75 million to about $79.5 million, the team will have less than $20 million to re-sign 19 active NHL and AHL affiliate players.

Challenging seems like an understatement when considering that key players like John Carlson, Jay Beagle, and Devante Smith-Pelly are due for some significant raises from their previous contracts. 

Similarly, the organization has to maintain depth, keeping its core roster strong while still offering smaller two-way contracts to their minor-league players in Hershey. 

With this in mind, this summer’s development camp seems especially crucial. For die-hard fans and new arrivals alike, all eyes are on how management will keep the team’s momentum next season.

Here’s what you need to know about attending Capitals Development Camp –shortened as dev camp – including who to watch and what events are most worthwhile.

What should I expect for Capitals development camp?

Development camp is fairly self-explanatory.

For one week every summer, as offseason contract negotiations take place, prospective players, minor-league players, and junior league players gather for a week for assessment, scrimmaging, fitness testing, practice, and publicity events. However, it's important to realize that the roster will not be finalized until the last minute, and depends on who the Capitals select or trade for in the 2018 NHL draft this Friday and Saturday.

Practices are free and open to the public at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, with coaching and managerial staff assessing players. Fan Fest will take place on Saturday, June 30 featuring the final camp scrimmage.

The Alumni Summer Classic game is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Kettler. The event is also free and open to the public.

Who should I be looking out for?

Former Hershey Bears on entry-level contracts like Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey provided essential depth to the Capitals through this historic season. Several of their colleagues may be next in line.

Defensemen 
Following last years’ development camp, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Hershey Bears, showing promise on the team’s blue line. 

Hobbs, 21, spent two seasons with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League before coming to the Bears this past season. In November 2017, Hobbs suffered a wrist fracture, missing 32 games of the Bears’ 76-game season. Despite the injury, Hobbs put up a total of 16 points in 44 games.

Assuming he stays healthy, he only stands to get better. Like Siegenthaler, we’ll likely see him in the preseason lineup.

Johansen, 20, also came to the Bears from the WHL – Kelowna, to be exact. The 2016 first-round pick put up a respectable 27 points over 74 games this season. Though this may seem like a significant drop from his previous season’s 41 points in the WHL, the decrease is fairly typical when transitioning from junior to professional hockey.

Siegenthaler, 21, has the most impressive resume of any Capitals defensive prospect. Siegenthaler struggled to produce with the Bears this season, but did finish the full season in Hershey after spending 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions and joining the Bears for their spring playoff push. He’s also made appearances on the international stage at the U20 World Junior tournament, adding his name to Switzerland’s national team roster this season.

It will be interesting to see if he could push for a spot with the NHL club.

Forwards
On the offensive side, Brian Pinho, 23, seems to be poised for a change. Coming off a four-year career with the Providence College Friars, Pinho captained the team to the NCAA quarterfinals this season.

It’s uncommon, yet not unsmart, to finish out a college degree before joining the NHL. Pinho will likely join the Bears next season.

Garrett Pilon, 20, was traded from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to the Everett Silvertips. The star child of Everett’s historic playoff run, he proved his indispensability as a scorer who works well under pressure, racking up a whopping 80 points in his final junior league season.

With contracts up in the air for several of the Capitals’ bottom-six forwards and favorable testimonies from management, Pilon might be the strongest chance to crack the lineup.

Goaltending
The Caps’ depth and future in goal looks a bit wonky, with general manager Brian MacLellan strongly hinting at shopping backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to teams who may be able to use him as a starter. Braden Holtby isn’t going anywhere, but you need more than one goalie for an entire NHL season, plus playoffs.

What to do? We’ll have to see how this year’s draft shakes out on June 22 and 23. But for now, keep an eye on Ilya Samsonov. The 21-year-old posted a 0.926 save percentage across 26 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season. Even if he moves up to Hershey next season, it’ll be interesting to watch his development.

What else should I know?

If this dev camp is your first time at Kettler, get excited!

Note that for all practices except scrimmages, forwards will be dressed in red or white practice jerseys and defensemen in blue.

Since most players are new and/or under watch by management and coaching, all players will have names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys to make them easier to identify.

Keep in mind that whoever the Caps chose – or trade for – with their six picks in Friday and Saturday’s draft will also affect the dev camp roster. It often isn’t finalized until the last minute. Dev camp provides the first and best chance to get up close and personal with the Caps' newly drafted players. The uncertainty of who you'll get to see can be a drawback, but regardless, attending can give a great glimpse into where the Caps may be headed next season.

Between the Alumni Game, practices, and final weekend scrimmages, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get your offseason hockey fix or take a step back from the Capitals’ salary cap woes. The final schedule for the week is likely to be released Sunday.

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Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

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USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

The NHL is different from the NBA and NFL. Unless you have one of the absolute top picks of the draft, chances are you are not going to see any players from a draft class for several years. That makes it pretty hard to evaluate how a team did with its picks.

As the Caps prepare for the draft to begin Friday, let’s turn the clock back five years and see how they did in the 2013 draft.

First round, 23rd overall: Forward Andre Burakovsky

The draft is all about finding players skilled enough to produce in the NHL. They certainly found that in the young Swede. There’s no question that Burakovsky has top-six talent, but we all keep waiting for that breakout season when he takes his game to the next level. Even after four NHL seasons under his belt, he still can’t quite get there. Consistency has always been an issue for him and the root of that problem comes from both his durability issues and between the ears. He should be a 20-25, maybe even 30-goal scorer if he can put it all together.

Overall though, this was a solid pick for the Caps. Judging by the players drafted after him to fill out the first round, either Burakovsky or defenseman Shea Theodore were the two best players available. Washington picked one of them and got a top-six forward out of it.

Second round, 53rd overall: Defenseman Madison Bowey

Bowey made his long awaited NHL debut this season, but the jury is ultimately still out on just how good he is. The potential is certainly there, but the growing pains of a rookie were still there as well. The Capitals have an NHL-caliber defenseman in Bowey, but time will tell if he is a top-four one.

Second round, 61st overall: Forward Zach Sanford

Drafted players can provide value in two ways: on the ice and as trade value. Sanford was a traded to St. Louis as part of the package that brought Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. Sanford was a tweener last season in that it looked at times like he was not quite ready for the full-time switch to the NHL, but was brilliant when he played in the AHL. An injury limited him to just 20 games in the AHL this season, but he looks like he could be a solid bottom-six addition in the NHL if he can get healthy again.

Fifth round, 144th overall: Defenseman Blake Heinrich

This one was a miss. Heinrich’s career has not gone past junior. He has 132 career games in the WHL, 85 games in the USHL and spent the 2017-18 season playing for the University of Manitoba.

Sixth round, 174th overall: Forward Brian Pinho

Pinho spent four years developing his game at Providence College and developed into a very strong two-way player at the collegiate level. He signed an entry-level contract with the Caps at the end of his senior year just before the end of the regular season. He skated with the team a few days before he was allowed to return home to finish his degree. He will likely start next season in the AHL, but there is some potential for him to become a bottom-six center in the NHL which would make him a steal in the sixth round.

Seventh round, 204th overall: Defenseman Tyler Lewington

A hard-nosed defenseman who is never afraid to drop the gloves, Lewington has certainly found a home in Hershey. Overall, his skillset is much better suited for that level and I do not see any extensive NHL time in his future, but to find a dependable AHL defenseman in the seventh round is a good find for Washington.

Overall Grade: B+

Picking at No. 23, there were not many superstars to choose from. The Capitals still found one of the best players available in Burakovsky. With no third or fourth round pick, Washington really needed to nail their two second round picks. It’s too early to tell exactly how good Bowey will be and the evaluation for Sanford changes now that he was traded from “how good is he?” to “was this good asset management?” It’s still a bit too early to answer that question as well. There is only one real bust in the draft class, but the fact that the Caps found value in both the sixth and seventh round including one player who still could potentially fill an NHL role gives this class a high grade.

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