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Saints RB Ivory hopes he earned more action

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Saints RB Ivory hopes he earned more action

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Chris Ivory doesn't know why he didn't get his first chance to carry the ball until the eighth game of the season.

The Saints running back figured the best thing he could do during the first seven weeks of the season was simply stay sharp and focused, so that he could be relied upon when his number finally was called.

``I still don't get it. I just played the patient role,'' Ivory said on Wednesday after logging 10 carries for 48 yards - nearly 5 yards a carry - including a 22-yard touchdown in New Orleans 28-13 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night. ``It was hard to be patient but, you know, I was. ... When they needed to count on me, I was accountable. The focus was definitely there, and like I said, once they called my number I was ready to go.''

Although the bruising 6-foot, 222-pounder made major contributions against the Eagles, Ivory cannot be sure he'll have a more consistent role in the offense. One reason he saw more action last week was because Darren Sproles was out with a broken bone in his left hand. Sproles did not practice Wednesday and could be out again this week, but the Saints are deep at running back, with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram also in the mix.

In recent seasons, New Orleans coaches said they believed they could never have too many good running backs because one of more of them inevitably would be too banged up to play every week, but that was not the case during the first seven weeks of this season, leaving Ivory fourth on the depth chart.

``I feel like it's more the situation with the backs here and them trying to divvy up carries with all the guys,'' Ivory said. ``I don't think it has anything to do with my talent or if you want to say lack of talent, maybe. I don't think that's what it is. If they keep calling my number, I'm going to be ready.''

Saints coaches never indicated any loss of confidence in Ivory, simply stating that they believed Thomas, Sproles and Ingram were the three running backs performing the best early in the season. However, the ground game was rarely a prominent part of New Orleans' offense during the first seven games, only once accounting for more than 100 yards and four times accounting for fewer than 60 yards.

With Ivory in the lineup against Philadelphia, New Orleans rushed for 140 yards, its second-highest team total this season. And it's not like Ivory came out of nowhere. He was New Orleans' leading rusher as an undrafted rookie in 2010 (716 yards, 5 TDs), when he was pressed into service because of injuries to Thomas and Reggie Bush.

``We know what Chris Ivory can do. He is one of those backs that can combine power and speed and elusiveness,'' Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. ``He is doing a better job with ball security. He understands our run game. He understands some pre-snap reads now. So we like Chris. It was good to get him back involved and we are excited for him.''

Atlanta coach Mike Smith, whose team meets New Orleans in the Superdome on Sunday, said Ivory's recent performance speaks more to New Orleans' depth at running back than any fault with the Saints coaching staff not giving the third-year pro a chance this season until Monday.

``They are going to run the football by committee. I think if Darren (Sproles) doesn't play, they still have three outstanding running backs that can run the football,'' Smith said. ``When you get the running game going, everyone knows that bodes well for the quarterback because it opens up opportunities to throw the ball down the field.''

Not surprisingly, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had plenty to say about Ivory's re-emergence.

``It's impressive. We have a good problem (which) is we have all these backs,'' Brees said. Ivory ``adds a very physical component. You see his size and he's an extremely powerful running back. I think you saw his explosiveness and ability on that (touchdown) run, his ability to hit that hole and then be by the safety. He's a rare combination of speed and power.''

NOTES: In addition to Sproles, RT Zach Streif (left groin), DE Junior Gallette (left ankle), and WR-KR Courtney Roby (left shoulder) also missed Wednesday's practice. ... The Saints usually keep practice indoors when preparing for a game in the Superdome, where they play the Flacons this Sunday, but chose on Wednesday to practice outside in cool, sunny weather. ... New Orleans signed CB A.J. Davis to their practice squad and waived practice squad CB Nick Hixson.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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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?

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