Capitals

Vikings asst coach tiring of Kluwe's activism

Vikings asst coach tiring of Kluwe's activism

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has made a name for himself as much for his willingness to take outspoken stands on issues that are important to him as he has for pinning opponents inside the 10-yard line.

He's been celebrated as a champion for gay rights, chastised for his willingness to challenge the NFL establishment and fined for altering his jersey to campaign for the Hall of Fame to enshrine its first punter.

It all appears to be wearing thin with his position coach. When asked about the $5,250 fine that Kluwe incurred for putting ``Vote Ray Guy'' over a patch on his jersey commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Vikings special teams coordinator delivered a sharp rebuke.

``I don't even want to talk about that,'' Mike Priefer said Thursday. ``Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you. Do I think Ray Guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But there's other ways of going about doing it, in my opinion.''

The Vikings have generally stood behind their renaissance man, rarely getting in the way when he has tried to use his platform to raise awareness to issues away from the field. Kluwe became an important and high-profile advocate for gay marriage during the election. He's also addressed what he sees as a problem the NFL has with drunken driving in the wake of Dallas Cowboys player Jerry Brown's death and criticized voters for not putting a punter into the hall.

With the Vikings (7-6) trying to chase a playoff spot in the final three games of the season, Priefer thinks it's time for Kluwe to cool it with the activism and concentrate on his job.

``To me, it's getting old,'' Priefer said. ``He's got to focus on punting and holding.''

The timing of Priefer's comments seem a little odd, given that Kluwe is coming off a stellar performance in a victory over the Chicago Bears. Facing dangerous returner Devin Hester, he averaged 45.7 yards on seven punts and twice pinned the Bears inside the 5-yard line.

Kluwe has always taken pride in not being defined by being a football player. He plays in a band, is a voracious reader and throws himself into civil rights discussions. So it's no surprise the pointed words from his coach were met with a shrug.

``All I can do is go out and punt to the best of my ability each game, and that's how I've always approached things,'' Kluwe wrote in an email to The Associated Press. ``If the team ever wants to replace me, they will; I'm under no delusions as to how this business operates. We all get cut eventually.''

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he has had conversations with Kluwe about buckling down as the games get more important.

``We've had some conversations, Chris and I,'' Frazier said. ``Right now he knows the focus has to be on the St. Louis Rams. He's assured me that's where his focus is and we just have to keep moving forward.''

At least one person is thankful that Kluwe has been willing to speak up.

Tracy Call, a Minneapolis advertising executive, helped recruit Kluwe into activism against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that Minnesota voters defeated last month. She formed a political group - Minnesotans for Equality - that paid to air a radio commercial where Kluwe urged defeat of the amendment.

``Chris always made it very clear there were times when we could not contact him, including Saturdays and game days,'' Call said. ``When he was on the field, his mind was on the field. He's very focused and I think it's ridiculous to think otherwise just because he expresses opinions.''

Call gave Kluwe huge credit for helping defeat the amendment.

``His message really hit home for a lot of people, a lot of people in the middle who didn't ever tune in on this issue before,'' Call said. ``Frankly, I think we should have a parade for him.''

---

Associated Press Writer Pat Condon, in St. Paul, contributed to this story.

---

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twittter.com/APKrawczynski

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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: