Capitals

St. John's wins 4th straight

St. John's wins 4th straight

NEW YORK (AP) St. John's coach Steve Lavin called a timeout when the Red Storm's 16-point lead over Seton Hall had been cut one with 4:21 to play. He was surprised with what he saw.

``The kids looked despondent. They looked like we just lost the game or were down 25,'' he said. ``I said, `Fellas, this is the Big East. I would have liked to see the lead go to 25 or 30 but inevitably teams make runs.' Part of a young team is teams get down on themselves. We have to remind them to not be concerned with what just happened. Go for the win, but don't get carried away.''

One player who heeded Lavin's advice was sophomore D'Angelo Harrison, who scored 10 of the Red Storm's final 12 points in a 71-67 victory over Seton Hall on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Harrison finished with 24 points and seven rebounds and freshman JaKarr Sampson added 19 points as St. John's won its fourth straight game.

Harrison, who is second in the Big East in scoring with a 19.6 average, started his burst with 9 minutes left and helped keep the Pirates, who closed within one point with 4:21 to play, at bay.

``That's our captain stepping up and doing what he does best,'' Sampson said of Harrison. ``He scores the ball in tough situations.''

Seton Hall used an 11-2 run to get within 60-59, but Harrison took over, hitting two jumpers and two free throws in the final 2:24.

``He plays all 40 minutes. He plays hard and makes free throws which is so important,'' Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. ``What's tough about him is he can score off the dribble. He's a heck of a guard.''

Phil Greene had 10 points for St. John's (13-7, 5-3 Big East) while freshman Chris Obekpa, who leads the nation with 4.6 blocked shots per game, had four blocks. He finished with four points, the last two a tip-in with 41 seconds left that gave the Red Storm a 67-62 lead.

Eugene Teague had a career-high 22 points for Seton Hall (13-7, 2-5), which has lost five of six. Fuquan Edwin, the fifth-leading scorer in the conference at 17.2 points per game, was hounded by the Red Storm into a 4-for-15 game from the field, including making one of six 3-point attempts. He finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.

``Fu's taking a lot of shots. He has to take better shots,'' Willard said. ``If you don't double-team him he'll abuse you. He'll be back. He's the least of our worries.''

Seton Hall had won three straight over the Red Storm and four of the last five. This was Seton Hall's first game against St. John's in Madison Square Garden since 2006.

St. John's closed the first half on a 17-4 run and the Red Storm scored the first six points of the second half for a 44-33 lead. The Red Storm's biggest lead was 16 points, the last time at 53-37 on a jumper by Greene with 14:46 to play.

``We haven't started or finished halves well,'' Willard said. ``With all we're talking about, we shouldn't have been down 16.''

Lavin said the winning streak, which also includes wins over Notre Dame, DePaul and Rutgers, has been filled with games which have been a lot alike.

``The last four games have had similar themes,'' Lavin said. ``There have been stretches where we play brilliantly and stretches where teams will make runs on us. There are plenty of things we can improve upon both offensively and defensively. I'm most proud we found a way after Seton Hall went on a run. We went on a run of our own. That's the trend that is emerging now.''

The Pirates made eight of their first 10 shots from the field and was ahead 29-21 with about 9 minutes to play. The Red Storm started their closing 17-4 run with a by Harrison who ended it with a 3 at the buzzer. He was standing alone near midcourt letting the clock run down and with 5 seconds left took a step back then dribbled across to his right and hit the shot at the buzzer for a 38-33 lead.

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

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USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”

 

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

Like it or not, the NHL is becoming younger, louder, and more personable. And as its young stars begin to gain leadership positions, the demand from a younger subset of fans grows larger: Make hockey fun again. Let players have personality on the ice and off, be it through social media engagement, game-day fashion, or creative goal celebrations.

Some say that hockey was always fun. True, to an extent. 

Minute per game minute, you arguably can’t find a faster, more action-packed major sport. But among the North American leagues, and internationally, the NBA still dominates on Twitter activity and in its social media. 

One of the biggest factors that helped basketball succeed in the social age wasn’t the NHL’s commonly preached conformity.

The NBA found huge success in marketing its star players as larger-than-life, letting them have public personas that tied into larger, richer narratives spanning careers, teams, and decades.

Superstar Auston Matthews, the up-and-coming 21-year-old face of American hockey, has taken note, citing NBA star Russell Westbrook’s individuality as a source of inspiration in a recent GQ feature

He’s well met by former USA National Team Development Program teammates Jack Eichel, who was recently named captain of the Buffalo Sabres; Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s hometown darling who’s stepping up as an assistant captain for the Red Wings; and Matthew Tkachuk, who’s also wearing an A in Calgary.

It’s not only the born and bred American youngsters who are ready to stand out. The team responsible for the resurgence of the debate about how much fun is too much is none other than the Washington Capitals, whose summer celebrations led to the ban of the legendary Cup Stand.

Though the publicity of their championship celebrations was revolutionary, the Capitals hold more promise in amount of fun per sixty. After a title win, their petty grudges are only transforming into a bold sense of self-confidence.

Alex Ovechkin is already a superstar on a mission to grab the attention of all the boys and girls and babes in the hockey world. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s interviews and celebrations reveal a player growing into the spotlight, ready to embrace a downright devious kind of skill against his opponents. Braden Holtby is already a league-recognized style icon whose meticulously chosen plaid suits and well-groomed beard have woven into the hype of game-day coverage. And Nicklas Backstrom is finally smiling on-camera.

(This isn’t even mentioning highly polarizing figure Tom Wilson, whose aggressive approach on the ice has earned him the marking of a player everyone hates unless he’s on their team.)

If the NHL wants to appeal to new viewers, it can gain ground by marketing its stars outside of a bland, monotone mold for success. 

With high-scoring, chaotically delightful games that happen almost every night all across the continent, an audience needs something to anchor them.

Individuality isn’t a bad place to start.

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