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Thomsen tapped as interim for Texas Tech's bowl

Thomsen tapped as interim for Texas Tech's bowl

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) Texas Tech says offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will serve as interim coach of the Red Raiders for their bowl game this month against Minnesota.

Thomsen got the nod Monday, two days after Tommy Tuberville left to take the head coaching position at Cincinnati. Also on Monday, Neal Brown, the team's offensive coordinator the past three years, resigned to take the same job at Kentucky.

The Red Raiders play Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 28.

Thomsen was 51-21 in seven seasons at Abilene Christian and led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division II playoffs six consecutive seasons. He arrived at Texas Tech in February.

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Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

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Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

WASHINGTON -- It has been a tough run for the Capitals of late, but for one day at least all of that was cast aside in a cathartic 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The win vaults Washington back into first place in the Metropolitan Division and, for the moment, silences all the doubt that has surrounded Washington over the team's recent skid.

Here is how the Caps won.

Vrana's speed

Jakub Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead with a tremendous individual effort. On a defensive zone draw, Vrana picked up the puck and turned on the jets. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson wasn't ready for him and Vrana was able to turn the corner to create his own breakaway. Goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but Pettersson slid in a desperate sweep attempt. He slid into the puck and knocked it into his own net shortly before knocking the net off its moorings.

After a quick review, the play was confirmed as a goal for Washington.

Improved defense

Overall this was one of the better defensive games the Caps have played in a while and it's a good thing because the offense took an extended nap in the first period and into the second.

After Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead, the Caps were outshooting Pittsburgh 5-1. They would then go 16:57 before getting another shot on goal, from 7:27 into the first period to 4:24 into the second.

Through two periods, Washington had only 10 shots on goal. And for anyone thinking, well, they had some chances, they really didn't. In addition to having only 10 shots on goal, they also had only 28 total shot attempts.

Heck, the Caps had more hits (31) through two periods than shot attempts.

That allowed Pittsburgh's offense plenty of opportunity to get back into the game, which it did. A bad misplay by Radko Gudas left Patric Hornqvist wide open in front of the net for Pittsburgh's first goal. Brenden Dillon joined the offensive rush on the next shift and the Caps could not recover on the counter-attack by Sidney Crosby, who was able to get in behind the defense and score just 26 seconds after Hornqvist.

Allowing two goals in 26 seconds is bad, but we did not see nearly as many of the egregious turnovers that have been a trademark for Washington throughout its recent cold spell. Had the team that played Saturday's game in New Jersey or Thursday's game against Montreal showed up to this one, Pittsburgh would have torn it to pieces and this one would have been a blowout before the Caps finally got shot No. 6 on the board.

You also have to give credit to Holtby who put up another strong performance in net as he turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced on the day.

The third period response

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control.

But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. The Capitals even responded after Evgeni Malkin made a dazzling play to tie the game at 3.

The Wilson-Backstrom connection

Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third period on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson then did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

A relentless shift by the third line

Washington restored its lead just over three minutes after Wilson's tying goal as Carl Hagelin scored against his former team. 

The third line battled in the offensive zone to keep control of the puck. Richard Panik won it back from Pittsburgh behind the goal line then kicked it out to John Carlson. Carlson fired from the blue line and Hagelin tried to deflect it but missed. His stick was high, however, and likely affected the vision of Murray who missed what should have been an easy glove save. Instead, Lars Eller got to the loose puck and crashed the net. Murray stopped him, but Eller cleared some room for Hagelin who finally poked it past Murray.

Hagelin would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the game.

Another response

You have to tip your cap to Malkin for his game-tying goal. He took the puck in the neutral zone, put it between the legs of Carlson, then shot it past Holtby for the fantastic goal.

Instead of boosting the Penguins, however, it was the Caps who responded less than two minutes later. Oshie took the puck from behind the goal line and would not be denied. He fired a backhand shot on Murray, then found the rebound through traffic and managed to chip it in for the game-winner.

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