Capitals

TCU headed to new conference with new coach

TCU headed to new conference with new coach

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) TCU is going into a new conference with a new coach, someone who's been where the Horned Frogs want to be.

Trent Johnson has been to the NCAA tournament at each of his three previous head coaching stops. Big 12 newcomer TCU is coming off its first winning season in seven years but hasn't played in the tourney since 1998.

Before thinking about what happens in March, Johnson wants his TCU players to focus on what they need to do now.

``My expectations have always been the same, whether it's a new year, a new team or I've been in a program for three or four years,'' Johnson said. ``It's concentrate on competing and getting better every day.''

The Horned Frogs have nine returning lettermen, but the only starters back in that group are 6-foot-7 senior forward Garlon Green (9.9 points per game) and sophomore guard Kyan Anderson (9.3 ppg, 2.8 assists per game), the Mountain West Conference's top freshman last season. Gone are Hank Thorns and J.R. Cadot, the top two scorers and only players to start every game during an 18-15 season that ended with an opening-round loss in the College Basketball Invitational.

Amric Fields, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, was selected the Mountain West's top sixth man last season when he averaged 9.6 points while shooting 51 percent from the field. He will have a more prominent role this season.

Johnson became TCU's new coach right after his resignation from LSU, where he spent the past four seasons. He replaced Jim Christian, who left the Frogs after four years to return to the MAC as Ohio's coach.

In a preseason poll by the Big 12 coaches, TCU was picked to finish last in its inaugural season in the league.

``Everybody wants me to make a comparison to the SEC or the Pac-10,'' said Johnson, who also coached at Nevada and Stanford. ``My last two years in the Pac-10, there's like 25 guys that are starting in the NBA. ... But you look at Big 12 basketball, and it's so physical. Therein lies the challenges.''

The Frogs got a huge boost when 6-8 sophomore forward Devonta Abron was granted an NCAA wavier that will allow him to play right away this season after transferring from Arkansas to be closer to home. Part of a highly touted recruiting class at Arkansas, Abron started 22 games as a freshman last season for the Razorbacks. He averaged 5.7 points and led them with 4.2 rebounds while playing only about 16 minutes a game.

``He's going to help us,'' Johnson said.

Freshman center Aaron Durley also had a chance to make an impact this season. But the 6-10, 270-pounder tore his ACL during a non-contact drill the second week of preseason practice.

During the final weeks of the last season, the Frogs beat Top 25 teams UNLV and New Mexico at home. They took another ranked team, San Diego State, to overtime in the regular season finale before losing.

Johnson, 226-185 in his 13 seasons as a head coach, hasn't watched any of those TCU games on film. The only Frogs game he saw was one against Houston, a team LSU was playing.

``The past has always been in the past for me,'' the coach said. ``I tell these guys that is the past, and leadership and toughness is what we develop and what we grow into. ... Everybody here has a fresh start.''

TCU opens the season Nov. 9 against Cal Poly, the first of five consecutive home games that include an early meeting against SMU and new coach Larry Brown. The Frogs play their first Big 12 game Jan. 5, at home against Texas Tech.

``We're going to play as fast as we can play well,'' Johnson said. ``This team, I fully expect to play like all of my teams. I don't know how good a team we're going to be in terms of wins and losses but people are going to look out there and they're going to say, you know what, they play together, they act right, that's a good team.''

Quick Links

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

capsothriller.png
USA Today Sports

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

 

Quick Links

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: