Capitals

...while the Orioles could win the AL East!

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...while the Orioles could win the AL East!

From Comcast SportsNetBALTIMORE (AP) -- For the second time in three games, the Baltimore Orioles had an uplifting victory marred by an injury to a key player.J.J. Hardy homered twice, doubled and drove in five runs, and the Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 9-2 Tuesday night to move into a tie for the AL East lead.But starting pitcher Jason Hammel left in the fourth inning with an injured right knee. The right-hander underwent arthroscopic surgery on that same knee in mid-July and was making his second start since returning from the disabled list.Hammel will be examined Wednesday by the team surgeon. He said the sensation was exactly identical to what he felt in a July 13 game against Detroit, his last start before going on the DL."It's a very sharp pain in the knee in the same spot," Hammel said. "I'm hoping it is just scar tissue. I've been told scar tissue can react like that."On Saturday, Baltimore lost right fielder Nick Markakis with a broken left thumb while defeating the New York Yankees. Both Hammel and Markakis were on the DL earlier this year."We've been down this road many times this year with a lot of different challenges," manager Buck Showalter said. "We've operated a good portion of this season without Ham and without Nicky, so we're kind of experienced at it anyway. It's not the kind of experience you want to have."Hammel had no problem with the knee on Thursday night against the Yankees, and retired 11 of 13 Tampa Bay batters before exiting."Against the Yankees, I felt great," Hammel said. "I felt like I was back on track, and I know I can help this team when I am healthy. So it's very frustrating."Steve Johnson (3-0) got the win with 1 1-3 innings of hitless relief.With Markakis out, Hardy picked up the slack. He went 4 for 5 to help Baltimore pull even atop the division with the Yankees, who lost 4-3 at Boston. The Rays are two games behind the co-leaders.Hardy hit a two-run homer in the third inning, doubled and scored in the fifth, singled in a run in the sixth and added his 21st homer with a runner on in the eighth. It was his ninth career two-homer game, the second this season."I got a couple pitches to hit and didn't miss them," Hardy said.Chris Davis homered and Matt Wieters had three hits and two RBIs for Baltimore.Ryan Roberts and Elliott Johnson hit solo homers for Tampa Bay. It was the first time since Aug. 4 that the Rays lost by more than two runs; eight of their previous 12 defeats were by one run."Anybody can get beat by a lot of runs any night," Roberts said. "It didn't go our way tonight, and that's how it happens sometime in baseball."Roberts left in the sixth inning with a left forearm strain, the result of a tag he made at second base. X-rays were negative, and he held out hope of playing Wednesday in the next game of the three-game series."I'm just glad it isn't broke," Roberts said. "If it's up to me, I'm playing. We're in a tight race and these games mean a lot, so I definitely want to play even if it's going to hurt a little bit."Tampa Bay left-hander Matt Moore (10-10) threw 94 pitches over four innings before being lifted by manager Joe Maddon. Moore allowed two earned runs on four hits and three walks.Burke Badenhop entered with a run of eight straight scoreless appearances and promptly gave up a double to Hardy, a single to Adam Jones and two-run double to Wieters that provided Baltimore with a 5-1 lead.Hardy's sixth-inning RBI single came off Cesar Ramos and Davis hit his 25th homer in the seventh off J.P. Howell.Johnson connected against Darren O'Day leading off the eighth, and Hardy homered off Dane De La Rose in the bottom half.The victory improved Baltimore's record against AL East foes to 33-24 compared to 28-44 last year.Baltimore broke on top with an unearned run in the first inning. Jones walked and scored when Matt Joyce fumbled Wieters' two-out single to right.Hammel retired the first eight batters before Roberts connected in the third. It was his fourth homer with Tampa Bay since in coming over in a trade with Arizona on July 24.In the bottom half, Robert Andino led off with a double and Hardy homered to put the Orioles ahead for good.NOTES:Baltimore leads the season series 7-6 and took the lead in the all-time series, 127-126. ... The Orioles purchased the contracts of OFs Endy Chavez and L.J. Hoes and designated RHP Kevin Gregg and INF Ryan Adams for assignment. ... This was the first of 15 consecutive games against AL East foes for the Rays, who head to Yankee Stadium after this series. ... The Rays will send Alex Cobb to the mound Wednesday night and the Orioles will start rookie Miguel Gonzalez, who's 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts against Tampa Bay.

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

 

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here is the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

 

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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