Capitals

Western Michigan defeats Miami (Ohio) 72-68

Western Michigan defeats Miami (Ohio) 72-68

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) Shayne Whittington scored 13 points and Western Michigan won its fifth consecutive game, defeating Miami (Ohio) 72-68 Wednesday night.

The Broncos (13-7, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) overcame 23 turnovers by shooting 60 percent (12 of 20) in the second half to the RedHawks' 28.6 percent (8 of 28).

Miami (7-12, 2-5), which lost its fourth straight, led 35-32 at halftime, but the Broncos started the second half with a 14-5 run. They led 54-45 after David Brown's steal and three-point play with 9:20 left.

The RedHawks rallied to lead 63-62 with 4:07 remaining, but Darius Paul's layup and another steal and three-point play by Brown put Western Michigan ahead to stay.

Reggie Johnson missed a jumper that could have given Miami a tie with 0:13 left.

Paul scored 12 points and Nate Hutcheson and Brandon Pokley had 11 each for the Broncos.

Will Felder's 17 points and 13 rebounds led Miami.

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TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

The Capitals tried to win a 60-minute game with only a strong 20 minutes of play in the third period on Monday, but they ultimately lost to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 after spotting Vegas a 3-0 lead.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

Puck management

Here's a summary of Vegas' first goal. A stretch pass caught two Caps defensemen on the left side of the ice, allowing William Carrier in on the breakaway. Braden Holtby slowed down the puck and John Carlson was able to sweep it off the goal line. Vegas won the loose puck, cycled the puck, Tomas Nosek had all the time in the world to find an open Carrier who set up Nick Holden who was open in front of the crease.

How many ways can a team screw up on one play?

Carlson was the right defenseman on the breakaway. I don't know why he was all the way over on the left. I thought at first he got caught trying to make a line change, but his total shift after the goal was scored was 40 seconds so it was unlikely he was trying to get off the ice. The loose puck after the breakaway was immediately picked up by Vegas. If the Caps win that puck battle, there's no goal. While Vegas was able to quickly set up its offense off the rush, the Caps defense scrambled badly and never got settled.

This was really how the first 40 minutes went. Vegas managed the puck well and won puck battles. Washington did neither of those things.

There's a disconnect between the defense and offense on the breakout

Washington is awful at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone on defense. If the offense is not carrying the puck up the ice on the breakout, it leads to a turnover far too often.

There are three recurring issues I keep seeing on breakouts from the defense. First, the defense holds onto the puck and holds it...holds it...holds it until the forecheckers attack, cut off all the passing lanes and suddenly there is nowhere to go with the puck. The second thing is the passing back and forth between the defense deeper and deeper in the defensive zone until they get hemmed in by the forecheckers and turn the puck over. The passing back and forth behind the goal line without any hope of advancing the puck drives me nuts. The third recurring issue is a stretch pass that has literally zero chance of being successful. A defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, look up ice and try to throw a pass cross ice to the offensive blue line which easily gets cut off in the neutral zone.

What's the recurring issue in each of these situations? The forecheck or trap cutting between the offense and the defense.

When you get get a good stretch pass through the forecheck/trap, it can lead to breakaways. Vegas got two in the first period doing that, but those passes have to be open. The Caps are not attempting those passes because the seas are parting and there's a passing lane, these passes are getting thrown into traffic with almost no chance of success. Watching the defense pass back and forth behind the goal line is just as infuriating to watch, and both of these things happen because the three forwards are zipping up ice leaving the defense with few options while trying to get past the forecheck.

There's a disconnect here between the offense and defense in that the forwards are not giving easy passing options to the defensemen and the defensemen are taking too long to distribute the puck.

Time to change the lines

The offense has gotten stale, it's time to change things up. I know coaches like to get their lines in place later into the season, but the Caps are now 11-11-0 in their past 22 games and 4-6-0 since returning from the all-star break. The time to let them just play their way out of this has passed. Changes are needed to find a spark.

To his credit, Todd Reirden does shuffle up lines and pairings within a game, but there was none of that at least among the forward lines on Monday. Michal Kempny missed much of the first period which forced some defensive shuffling, but that was about it. It's time to shake things up to get the team out of this rut.

Turning point

There are several universal truths in the game of hockey and one of them is that if a team botches a big scoring chance on one end, it usually leads to a goal on the other. T.J. Oshie may have scored twice on Monday in the third period, but he should have scored in the first period with an empty-net yawning. Marc-Andre Fleury made a save on a shot from Nicklas Backstrom and the rebound bounced right to Oshie who swung at the puck twice and missed as he was falling to the ice. Vegas broke the puck out of the zone and on the resulting cycle scored to make it 2-0.

Washington was not playing well at all to that point, but Oshie still had a chance to tie the game on his stick. It could have been a completely different game if he buried it. He could not capitalize, but the Golden Knights could as Reilly Smith made it 2-0.

Play of the game

Both of Oshie's goals deserve shoutouts because both were fantastic snipes.

Stat of the game

Washington has looked like a completely different hockey team since Dec. 23 and not in a good way. Here are some stats from NBC Sports Washington's Caps Postgame Live:

The offense is still producing fairly well, but defense and special teams have been absolutely atrocious.

Quote of the game

T.J. Oshie was asked about why so much of the offensive has been one-and-done lately. His full answer on the struggles on the forecheck and the limited offense that comes with it was very good, but this was my takeaway:

"It's amazing how much starts from our D-zone...for the most part we know how to play in the O-zone, it's just we've got to enter the zone as a group of five whether that's carrying the puck or chipping it in so that we have speed and we can support each other."

See above about the disconnect between the offense and the defense.on the breakouts. They are not playing like a five-man unit in sync with each other. They look like a three-man forward line and a two-man defensive pair playing together and neither knows what the other wants to do.

Fan predictions

Sure felt like that's where this was headed after two periods.

Almost. I especially like the Game 4 callback on that second one.

Maybe Ovechkin was waiting for little Alexander. Congratulations!

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Sean Doolittle says Rob Manfred seems 'out of touch' after trophy joke

Sean Doolittle says Rob Manfred seems 'out of touch' after trophy joke

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Players who have won a World Series -- and those who have come up short -- seethed Monday at Commissioner Rob Manfred's reference to the sport's championship trophy as merely a "piece of metal," saying that comment reflected a disconnect between baseball's boss and those who produce the product on the field.

"It bothered me, man. I hated it. It made him sound really out of touch," said reliever Sean Doolittle, a member of the 2019 title-winning Washington Nationals. "That's the holy grail of our sport. That's what we show up for in the beginning of February, thinking about and working towards."

Added Doolittle: "I just can't believe how out of touch that is. You're the commissioner of our game. You're the steward of this game. That's a really special thing. It's an iconic symbol of our game. Please don't say that, even off-hand, even tongue-in-cheek."

As with so many things being talked about around the majors as spring training gets started, this all stems from the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scam in 2017 and 2018.

There have been calls for players involved to be punished in some way; MLB gave them immunity in exchange for cooperating with the investigation.

"I'm sure a lot of people were mad," three-time AL MVP Mike Trout said at Los Angeles Angels camp in Tempe, Arizona. "They think the punishment should be more or something."

Some think the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 championship, but Manfred said this on Sunday in an interview with ESPN: "The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act."

That phrasing did not sit well.

Doolittle and other players noted that the official name of the hardware itself is The Commissioner's Trophy.

"For him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point, the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says 'commissioner' on it," said Justin Turner, whose Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 Series.

"It's pretty obvious what everyone thinks should happen. I mean, no one in this clubhouse or in this room is asking for a trophy to be handed us, by any means. ... But at the same time, we understand how difficult it is to win a World Series. It's hard. It's really hard. And it's something that you have to earn," Turner said at LA's camp in Glendale, Arizona. "It's pretty evident to me that it wasn't earned and it's not something that a banner should be hung in their stadium (or) a trophy should be put up wherever their trophies go."

Like Turner, Evan Longoria has been to a World Series but not won one.

And as with Turner, Longoria was bothered by Manfred's words.

"Well, there's a couple of pieces of metal, right? You get a ring, too. That's a big piece of metal," Longoria said Monday after the San Francisco Giants' first full-squad workout in Scottsdale, Arizona. "I think everybody that plays the game knows it's not just a 'piece of metal.' It's the blood, sweat and tears that go into the, whatever, 175 games or whatever it is that it takes to win a World Series. The sacrifices. I don't know if he said that to make a funny or what, but it's obviously representative of something much bigger than that."

Joe Musgrove, currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitched for the 2017 Astros and said he gets others' frustration with Manfred's comments.

"They don't just hand those out; there's a lot of work that goes into getting one of those. So I can understand why they're upset about it," Musgrove said in Bradenton, Florida. "For me, personally, I think the ring is something that everyone takes with them and that's a special piece you can carry with you forever. There's only one trophy that gets made. That might be more important to the manager than anybody. But at the end of the season, as a team, getting to hold that thing up is pretty special. I understand where their frustration comes in."

Doolittle spoke Monday about the feeling of first holding the trophy Washington won by beating Houston in Game 7 in October.

"There were tears, man. ... It's hard to put into words what it is like to actually hold that trophy above your head for the first time," Doolittle said. "We saw how much that 'piece of metal' meant to the fans, going up and down the streets of D.C. We all know what it means to guys who have spent their whole career in the league, grinding, and they finally got to hold that thing."

Manfred gets to take another swing at the topic when he holds a news conference in Arizona on Tuesday.

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