Capitals

Tide's kid stars Yeldon, Cooper prep for huge game

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Tide's kid stars Yeldon, Cooper prep for huge game

MIAMI (AP) T.J. Yeldon opened his Alabama career by rolling through Michigan's defense for 111 yards, and fellow freshman Amari Cooper took note.

Performing in the face of huge crowds and big, fast college defenders wasn't so hard after all, he figured. It's still football.

``He was like, `Oh, this is easy,''' Cooper said. ``I didn't have a big game that day, but I could see it was easy.''

Cooper didn't break out as a freshman star until later for the Crimson Tide. But both have shined this season and get their biggest opportunity on Monday - against the terrific defense of top-ranked Notre Dame with a BCS championship on the line.

The tailback Yeldon and receiver Cooper have already put up nice numbers and plays that helped put the Tide into this position.

Alabama beat LSU on Yeldon's 28-yard screen pass in the last minute. Cooper's late 45-yard touchdown catch was the final score of a 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship, when Yeldon ran for a season-high 153 yards.

Kids today.

It's nothing unusual for Nick Saban to call on the youngsters to play pivotal roles. Yeldon follows 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and 2011 finalist Trent Richardson in a string of quick-learning tailbacks.

And Cooper is challenging Julio Jones' freshman receiving records for Alabama.

``Coach Saban always says, `If you're good enough, you're old enough,''' Cooper said. ``If you're good enough to play and you show the maturity, then they'll allow you to do that.''

Their freshman finale will be the biggest test to their maturity.

Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards as Eddie Lacy's backfield-mate even though he hasn't started a game. Together, they lead a running game that has produced 35 touchdowns and 225 yards a game.

They'll face a sturdy front seven on a defense that has yielded just two rushing touchdowns in 12 games.

Both freshmen spoke to reporters for the first time this season at Saturday's BCS media day because Saban doesn't allow freshmen to do interviews - title game rules force them to be available. Their abilities have been on display all season, though.

Lacy, a junior, has worked through nagging early-season injuries to rush for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns. Alongside him, Yeldon's 6.5-yard average per carry is tops among the SEC's 15 leading rushers.

Both Yeldon and Cooper enrolled a year ago and went through spring practice. The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Yeldon capped it with an MVP performance in the spring game that didn't just impress fans but teammates.

``I didn't really know much about him because he hadn't really been running much with the (starters) in the spring,'' Alabama center Barrett Jones said. ``I was just kind of like, `Who is this guy?' T.J. is just such a freak specimen.''

Surrounded by cameras and tape recorders, Yeldon acknowledged that he's ``not really a people person.''

``I don't even like talking,'' Yeldon said, meaning Saban's policy probably came as a relief.

As for playing before millions for college football's biggest prize, he doesn't offer much insight.

``It's very exciting, but I don't know how to explain it,'' said Yeldon, who has received occasional postgame counsel from both Richardson and Ingram. ``It's pretty fun.''

Cooper lets his excitement show a little more. He said he's spent time this week envisioning himself making big plays, but added he always does that before a game.

``It's a great opportunity,'' Cooper said. ``That's what we've worked so hard for all our lives. It's a great opportunity and I'm happy to be able to showcase it here in Miami for the national championship.''

He has 53 catches for 895 yards and a school freshman record nine touchdown catches. Cooper needs five receptions and 29 yards to break Jones' marks set in 2008, and the Atlanta Falcons receiver is a fan.

``He's a great player,'' Jones said on Friday. ``He's just got to stay focused and continue to do what he's doing. Stay humble, stay humble and keep working. The sky's the limit, especially coming from a program like Alabama because you know he's going to be coached great there and (know) how to handle success.''

After all, Ingram won the Heisman as a sophomore. If Lacy leaves for the NFL - he said Saturday he will make up his mind after the game - Yeldon would be the lead man with whoever takes over his ``backup'' role.

Cooper will be joined by fellow freshman Chris Black, who was a little more highly rated but missed the season with an injury.

``It's going to be pretty scary for the defenses that are going to be defending us,'' Yeldon said.

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AP Sports Writer George Henry in Flowery Branch, Ga., contributed to this report.

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

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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 4-3 overtime win. “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.”

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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.

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