Monday, October 16, 2017

Steelers' James Harrison defies time, delivers sack

By Kevin Gorman
October 15, 2017
Steelers linebacker James Harrison beats the Chiefs' Eric Fisher on the way to sacking Alex Smith late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium.
James Harrison beats Eric Fisher en route to sacking Alex Smith late in the fourth quarter of yesterday's game (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review)

In what has been anything but a storybook season for the Steelers, they got a fairytale finish from a man who continues to defy his age.
Father Time is supposedly undefeated, but so were the Kansas City Chiefs before James Harrison and the Steelers visited Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, the Steelers turned to the 39-year-old Harrison to rush Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith from the right side.
And Harrison did to former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher what he has done to so many NFL left tackles, which is repeatedly overpower him on his way to the passer.
Harrison hit Smith on second down, forcing an incomplete pass, then sacked him for an 8-yard loss to help the Steelers seal a 19-13 victory.
It's what we have come to expect from Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowl pick and the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“Just for him to get that sack in a critical moment of the game,” Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier said, “that's why he's been playing for so long.”
Not a bad moment for a 15-year NFL veteran who spent the past two games wearing shorts on the Steelers sideline, making the adjustment to being a healthy inactive on game day.
“It's a good feeling any time you get out there and play,” Harrison said. “That's what I do. I like to compete. Anytime I'm on the sideline, of course I'm not happy with that. I want to go out there and compete. I'm not playing this game because I want to stand on the sideline.”
How Harrison hooked his left arm under Fisher's and powered past him was reminiscent of the play that drew a holding penalty on the Chiefs' 2-point conversion attempt in the AFC divisional playoff here in January.
It's no coincidence, as Harrison professes to pray harder than he prepares. If you've seen his workout regimen on social media, you know that Harrison prepares harder than players almost half his age.
“I had a plan before I went there what I was going to do, so it happened to work,” said Harrison, who finished with three tackles. “I'm 39 years old, and I'm still playing a young man's game. I'm extremely blessed and highly favored. This is all God's doing. I'm just sitting back, riding the bus.”
Harrison might sound humble, but Fisher had him ready to rumble after throwing him down by the helmet on one pass rush. Harrison had some harsh words with his counterpart, whom he has now registered 3 12 sacks against in the past five meetings.
Not that Harrison keeps count.
“I don't know why you guys keep saying I have his number,” Harrison said. “I think I've played well against some other tackles, too.”
But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wasn't shy about saying how much they like that matchup.
“I told you guys we were going to play him, and you see why: He delivered a significant play in a significant moment,” Tomlin said. “That is why we value him, not only in terms of what he does in the stadium, though.”
Don't underestimate the power of Harrison's leadership on these Steelers. His insertion into the starting lineup last season coincided with the start of a nine-game winning streak, and Harrison is as respected as any player in their locker room.
Listen to receiver Antonio Brown, known for his work ethic: “I don't know another guy who works as hard as him.” He called Harrison a “true professional who leads by example.”
Listen to left tackle Alejandro Villanueva: “He's mastered a skill. That's exactly why James Harrison was a defensive MVP. That's why he's still playing football, because he's so valuable and works so hard and is doing his job on the field.”
For Harrison, the most satisfying part was getting the win. That made all of his work worth the while and his performance worth the wait.
Get used to it, Father Time.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Le'Veon Bell runs wild, Ben Roethlisberger back on track as Steelers top Chiefs

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer 15, 2017
Le'Veon Bell rushed for 179 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win in Kansas City (
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- And all is normal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to another heady Antonio Brown play.
Brown's wild, game-clinching touchdown bounced off Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines' hands and head and into Browns' arms, who did the rest for a sideline-streaking, 51-yard score with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left. Brown's description of how he got the ball was as miraculous as the play itself.
"Called God and asked him," he said.
After weeks of anthem drama, Gatorade-cooler drama and does-the-QB-still-have-it drama, the Steelers put it all to sleep by defeating the Chiefs 19-13, and looking like themselves again behind Le'Veon Bell's staggering 179 yards and a late-game sack by James Harrison.
The Chiefs' 5-0 start didn't faze the Steelers, who liked this matchup to start the week. They felt their offensive line could win up front on Kansas City's 20th-ranked rushing defense and let Bell exhaust the defense. Roethlisberger had won five straight against Kansas City and getting a sixth would calm the storylines about his poor play.
"I guess this old cowboy's got a little bit left in him," Roethlisberger said when asked if he had a told-you-so response coming off his five-interception performance in Week 5 against Jacksonville.
But the Steelers didn't need vintage Big Ben -- at least not Sunday. They needed steady Roethlisberger, which they got. The Steelers had a stingy defense that allowed one first down in the first half. And they had Bell, who was right when he said last week that dedicating to the run is "a formula for winning."
That's how this team won last year, and that's mostly how it'll win this year.
Need evidence that Bell is all the way back? Five of Bell's first 19 carries went for 10 yards or more. The Steelers utilized pulling guards and two-tight end sets to spring Bell open on the perimeter, giving him the chance to work the outside or cut back inside.
“He was in the hole all night,” guard David DeCastro of Bell. “He was making those cuts and running like the Le’Veon we know.”
The defense looked inspired after Leonard Fournette rushed for 181 yards on it last week. In response, the Steelers held the league's leading rusher, Kareem Hunt, to 21 yards.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt was getting consistent pressure up front, linebacker Vince Williams was an effective blitzer and linebacker Ryan Shazierand Artie Burns each recorded key pass breakups.
The Steelers' defensive players barely got any sleep this week thinking about their poor showing vs. Jacksonville, Tuitt said.
"We just wanted to show the world what we really are," he said.
Roethlisberger (17-of-25, 252 yards, one touchdown, one interception) made his share of impressive throws. Touch passes to Brown and Vance McDonald over the middle created crucial first downs. Roethlisberger's only interception came on a miscommunication with Brown, who ran a hitch instead of a slant for an easy first down.
But the uninspired Chiefs were all but asking the Steelers to put them away early in the second half. The Steelers couldn't quite do it, opting for a punt on the Chiefs' 35-yard line on fourth-and-2 with a $12 million running back with 124 yards at that point. Coach Mike Tomlin likely didn't want to give the Chiefs any momentum, but the game felt like Pittsburgh was up by 25, even though it never was.
The Steelers had two touchdown chances in the second quarter but messed around in the red zone, which has become an odd habit. An ugly defensive sequence on third-and-8 didn't help: Safety Mike Mitchell missed on a sack, then drew a penalty for going low on Alex Smith after the pass, gift-wrapping the Chiefs into the red zone.
That's when the Steelers punctuated a dominant defensive day. The Steelers' defense faced fourth-and-2 from their own 4-yard line, up 12-3 early in the fourth. The Chiefs decided to go for it, threatening the Steelers’ near-shutout of one of the NFL’s best offenses. Smith dropped back, rolled to his left and targeted Demetrius Harris over the middle. Safety Sean Davis made a clutch, body-contorting play to knock the ball out as Harris was landing. He nearly had an interception, but no matter: The stop punctuated a dominant day for the Steelers.
Now, at 4-2, the Steelers remain atop the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals coming to town Sunday.
"We are excited about being in the thick of it," coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Chiefs stunk against the Steelers but are still a very good team (honest!)

By Sam Mellinger
October 15, 2017
Antonio Brown scores on a 51-yard reception late in the fourth quarter on Sunday's 19-13 win. (
For any Chiefs fan under the age of 50, every bit of positivity they have felt about their favorite football team has been the lead-up to disappointment. No exceptions.
Over and over and over again, with 13-3 team after 13-3 team, from Grbac over Gannon to Matt Cassel’s Pro Bowl season to the 28-point lead in Indianapolis, each and every party has been followed by a crushing hangover.
And so you’ll have to forgive any Chiefs fan who watches the franchise’s best team in at least 20 years — still true, and more on that in a minute — lose for the first time in six games and wonders what in the name of The Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named is about to go wrong with their team.
And, you’ll also have to forgive that fan for seeing all the familiar symptoms in the Chiefs’ 19-13 loss to the Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
And, you’ll also have to forgive that fan for seeing all the familiar symptoms in the Chiefs’ 19-13 loss to the Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Porous run defense. A bad decision by the head coach. Missed throws by the quarterback. Terribly timed injuries. A laughably awful break on a key touchdown.
Really, they were a few missed kicks away from Chiefs Heartbreak Bingo.
“Seems a little bleak right here at this minute,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “But that’s not how I feel.”
You should not believe anyone who says the Chiefs did not stink, or that they weren’t as bad as it’s being made out. Because stink is a generous adjective, and whoever’s making it out to be bad is probably not making it out to be bad enough.
They were not blown out, and even had a chance to win at the end, so wrap yourself in that blanket of lies if you want. But the truth is the Chiefs just lost at home to a team that basically did one thing — and one thing only — well.
The Steelers ran the ball.
In fact, they ran the ball almost exactly as well as they did last January when they won a playoff game here without the decency of even scoring a touchdown — Le’Veon Bell went for 170 yards in 30 carries that night, and 179 yards in 32 carries on Sunday.
Bell is terrific, perhaps the best back in the world, and certainly one of the NFL’s best players. But, come on. Some of this was embarrassing.
“Their game plan was very simple,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Go punch the Chiefs in the mouth, and see what they can do.”
Beyond the obvious, that’s concerning for at least two reasons. First, the run defense is perhaps the Chiefs’ likeliest fatal flaw. It’s what ended their 2016 season, and it’s what could end their 2017 season if they face a team that can run the ball. Like, um, well, like the Steelers.
Because this is not just a Bell problem. The Chiefs’ run defense stunk most of last season, and this week’s games began with just five teams giving up more yards per rush attempt.
But, also, it’s concerning because the Steelers were otherwise ordinary. Ben Roethlisberger threw one interception, and should’ve had another, except the ball bounced off Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines’ hands and directly to Antonio Brown, who ran for a touchdown.
The Steelers also gifted the Chiefs a possession in the first quarter, when Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster miscommunicated and let a free kick drop. The ball was live, and recovered by the Chiefs’ Jehu Chesson.
The Steelers’ defense was not nearly good enough to shut down the Chiefs, either. Alex Smith missed open receivers, Travis Kelce had at least one key drop, and Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy coached like they were unaware that Kareem Hunt is both awesome and on their roster.
The Chiefs were terribly inept at creating pressure on Roethlisberger, but made up for it by being terribly inept at protecting Smith. Some of this may’ve been injuries piling up, particularly on the interior of the offensive line.
“All phases can be better,” Reid said. “Coaches included, head coach included.”
So, that’s all really bad. And now the reward is a flight across the country for a road game against a division rival four days later.
Again, you should listen to nobody who tells you this wasn’t bad.
But the Chiefs are a very good team. Still. Probably the franchise’s best in at least 20 years. Still.
Some of this is because even great teams get beat. Last year, the Super Bowl champs lost by gagging a fourth-quarter lead at home. Two years ago, the Super Bowl champs lost consecutive games twice, including a rather embarrassing afternoon at home when they benched their quarterback. Three years ago, the Super Bowl champs lost by 27 points to a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.
You get the idea (and probably know the last two references were losses to the Chiefs).
But everything that was true after the 5-0 start is still true today. The Chiefs have dynamic playmakers at every level, and on both sides of the ball. They have a quarterback playing the best season of his professional life. They have a wicked mix of youth and experience, with a very good head coach who’s been building toward this roster for five years.
All of that is still true.
Losing to the Steelers now doesn’t doom the Chiefs in January any more than beating them now would’ve guaranteed a Super Bowl.
“We ain’t worried about the playoffs,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We worried about that ring.”
If you’re looking for reasons to worry, you can have at least two. The first is the injury report. The interior of the offensive line needs to be healthy, and fast. Tyreek Hill was in concussion protocol. Houston missed some practice last week with a calf injury, and did not move around like himself on Sunday.
The second is Smith. At least on the first look, he was bad. Missed open receivers, made bad decisions, didn’t see at least a few guys break open. He had essentially been flawless the first five games. He was never going to keep the same pace, but a departure like this is concerning.
That, as much as anything, is the divide for Chiefs fans.
If you believe what you’ve seen this season, then you believe Smith is having the best season of any quarterback in the league and leading a team that is dynamic and fluid and tough and still hasn’t lost a division game in more than two years.
But if you believe what you’ve seen over the years, then you see Smith as a pumpkin and have a hard time believing in a team that can’t block the interior and can’t stop the run and hasn’t been even two wins away from a Super Bowl championship in more than 20 years.
In other words, this is still a really good team. Probably the best in the league.
But if you are a Chiefs fan and reading all of this with skepticism, with the feeling that last week was the best it’ll get and this week was a preview of your playoff disappointment, well, you come by that honestly.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Steelers vulnerable? Ben Roethlisberger shaky? Never, say the wary Chiefs

October 12, 2017
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs up field during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) runs up field during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
The Chiefs’ praise of their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, would seem to be classic coach- and player-speak, false admiration for team coming off a three-touchdown loss and quarterback who tossed a career-high five interceptions.
But the Chiefs have bruises, to ego and otherwise, to prove they’re not blowing smoke.
Including playoffs, the Chiefs are 28-6 since the second month of the 2015 season and the only team to beat them twice is the Steelers, who visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is 3:25 p.m.
So, while Roethlisberger was firing back at critics in Pittsburgh this week — “They can question me, I don’t question myself … no offense to any of you guys, but it doesn’t matter to me how you guys question me” — the Chiefs were wondering how to stop the team and quarterback that handed them their two lowest moments last season.
“The last two times they beat us pretty good,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
The Chiefs’ last regular-season loss to the Steelers, 43-14 at Pittsburgh last year, was the most lopsided of the Andy Reid era in Kansas City.
The postseason defeat hurt even more. In their first home playoff game under Reid, the Chiefs fell to the Steelers 18-16 in the divisional round.
If anybody isn’t buying the Steelers as a vulnerable team …
“They’ll be riled up, ready to go,” Johnson said.
Maybe because of last week’s debacle. Two of Roethlisberger’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns in a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville that dropped the Steelers to 3-2.
“He’s got to roll up his sleeves and get back to work,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “You get to do what he’s done for the length of time he’s done it because you’re capable of bouncing back from negative performances.”
Take 2016 for instance. The Steelers had just been crushed by the Eagles and faced the Chiefs the following week. Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, matching the most ever against the Chiefs, in a blowout.
The Chiefs always seem to bring out the best in the Steelers and Roethlisberger. No AFC opponent owns a better all-time winning percentage (.677) against the Chiefs than Pittsburgh.
And Roethlisberger’s 5-1 record as a starter vs. KC is tied for the second best career winning percentage against the Chiefs, behind only Peyton Manning.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been has been scheming defenses against Roethlisberger for more than a decade, and the challenges haven’t changed.
“He can do things very few other quarterbacks can do,” Sutton said. “His ability to extend the play … he has great vision down field, when he’s moving and scrambling. He’s very difficult to get on the ground. It puts tremendous stress on the defense.”
In last season’s playoff loss, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was the Chiefs’ biggest issue, controlling the game by rushing 30 times for 170 yards as the Steelers booted six field goals. Wide receiver Antonio Brown tops the NFL in receiving yards and has surpassed 100 yards in receptions in two of his last three games against the Chiefs.
Against those historical trends, the Chiefs enter Sunday’s game as the NFL’s lone undefeated team, and are coming off a 42-34 victory at Houston. They have the NFL’s top-rated passer in Alex Smith and leading rusher in Kareem Hunt.
“They’re a group that’s rolling right now,” Tomlin said. “There’s a lot of positive things going on for them.”
No coach-speak there, either.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Capitals fall, again, to Penguins in first rematch since playoff series

October 11, 2017
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) celebrates his goal with right wing Patric Hornqvist (72), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game as Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, sits on the ice, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) celebrates his goal with right wing Patric Hornqvist (72), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game as Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, sits on the ice, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Following the Capitals’ morning skate, coach Barry Trotz described his team’s lack of postseason success against the Pittsburgh Penguins as “inching” closer each year.
In 2016, the Capitals suffered an overtime loss in Game 6. Last season, they were eliminated in seven games. Both times, the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“It doesn’t feel very good, but you have to give them credit,” Trotz said.
But before the Capitals can even think of beating the Penguins in the postseason, they will need to work through the new problems they’ve demonstrated this season.
The Penguins beat the Capitals 3-2 Wednesday and took advantage of Washington’s carelessness in committing penalties. In the first meeting between the teams this season, Pittsburgh scored three power play goals on six chances.
“The first four games, I said to the guys, ‘Let’s be real, we’ve got to get our penalties down,’ ” Trotz said. “Our 5-on-5, we’re outscoring teams. So that’s a real good process for us. We’re getting good goaltending. But today they got three power play goals.”
Entering Wednesday, Washington (2-1-1) had 14 penalties in three games. The frequency was concerning, though the Capitals’ penalty kill was among the top five best in the NHL — fighting off nearly 93 percent of all chances.
Facing a quality team in Pittsburgh, though, resulted in a different outcome. The Penguins routinely used the extra attacker to crowd the net, blocking goaltender Braden Holtby’s sight and deflecting in goals.
The latter is how the Penguins first got on the board. In the first period, Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang scored on a rebound with a wide open net as Holtby was turned in the opposite direction, blocking multiple shot attempts.
On Pittsburgh’s second goal, forward Patric Hornqvist scored 8:20 into the second period, again crowding Holtby.
“The goals [were] in tight that I would like to play better, especially the first two to give myself a better chance,” Holtby said. “They do a good job of screening up top and screen passes to the net, trying to create stuff. That’s something we’ll have to work on.”
Name a type of penalty, and there’s a good chance the Capitals committed it.
Washington were called for two tripping penalties, slashing, holding, interference and even a rare delay of game call. In the first period, Holtby rushed far past the net, almost to the blue line, to stop a puck with his glove.
In the offseason, the NHL announced they were cracking down on slashing and face-off violations. During the preseason, the whole league saw a rise in calls made, but most figured they would ease up in the regular season. For the Capitals, that hasn’t happened.
“It’s probably on us to be a little more disciplined,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Trotz said, in general, he was pleased with the team’s penalty kill, pointing out Penguins often scored late in the power play. He said he would look at the tape closer to see if the Penguins were exploiting an area around the net.
Still, Wednesday’s game was winnable for Washington.
The Capitals had moments of their own success. Defenseman Christian Djoos, making his NHL debut, scored with 52.9 seconds left in the second period on a well-timed slapshot that sailed past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray to make it 2-1.
After Pittsburgh added another goal on the power play to begin the third, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin scored his eighth goal of season to narrow the gap to 3-2.
Ovechkin’s goal gave Djoos another point after he was credited for the assist.
“First game in NHL, you get a goal and an assist, that wasn’t like my plan when I showed up to the rink,” said Djoos, who saw 13:20 in ice time.
The final six minutes echoed a similar pattern from the playoffs: the Capitals chasing and the Penguins hanging on.
“I thought from our standpoint, [the penalties] didn’t allow our players to get going,” Trotz said. “We started going in the third and maybe getting a little more ice time, but every time we started getting any rhythm, we’d get a penalty.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Capitals hear echoes of Game 7 as Penguins visit Washington

October 10, 2017
The Penguins celebrate Patric Hornqvist’s third period goal that put them up 2-0 in Game 7 last May 10. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
The afternoon after the Washington Capitals’ latest postseason heartbreak, several players met for lunch. They sat around a table with stunned expressions and little to say. The same question lingered on all of their minds, and the absence of an obvious answer made it worse.
“That Game 7 is a big question mark for me: like, why [did] that happen?” Evgeny Kuznetsov said in May. “For me, I feel like it’s totally different team played that game.”
“I thought about a lot of it,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, now with the Montreal Canadiens. “I talked about a lot of it with friends, family, guys on the team. Everyone is asking that question. You can speculate, but you don’t exactly know.”
It’s been five months since the Capitals were shut out in a Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their home ice to again bow out of the playoffs in the second round. Players, coaches and management acknowledged that the team was still in the process of moving on from that disappointment during a training camp that Coach Barry Trotz described as “miserable.”
With the Penguins back in Washington for the first time since that game, visiting the White House on Tuesday to celebrate a second straight Stanley Cup championship before playing the Capitals on Wednesday night, what happened in that fateful Game 7 is still hanging over the Capitals. It was perhaps the most defining 60 minutes in the franchise’s recent history, a waste of one of its best chances to get past the second round of the playoffs for a first time with Alex Ovechkin. It’s now another piece of history the Capitals will have to overcome if they’re ever back in that position.
“I don’t know how to comfort anybody,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “We don’t know how to comfort ourselves. The only thing we can do is we’ve got to keep moving towards it. We’ve got to become more resilient. We’ve got to address things.
“We’ve got to get to the point where that when you feel that point of pressure in Game 7 from the whole history of it — the building, everything — that you overcome it. Somebody steps up.”
In discussing that 2-0 loss, the Capitals remember their electrifying start, how they nearly scored in the opening minutes. On just the second shift, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury played a puck behind the net, but forecheck pressure from Kuznetsov created a scramble in front of the goal. Kuznetsov and forward Justin Williams couldn’t knock the puck past a sprawled Fleury. Maybe if Washington would have scored there, the outcome would’ve been different.
Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust scored 8:49 into the second period, a first blow to the psyche of the Verizon Center crowd. Then with 5:40 left in the second, Capitals forward T.J. Oshie hit the side of the net with his rebound effort at the right post when he appeared to have several feet of empty net in front of him.
“If there’s any moment in the game that I can remember, it’s the rebound on the side,” Oshie said two days later. “It was a tough angle, and I was going to shoot it, I felt it start flipping over my blade. I can still feel it. If there’s any part of the game that I can still remember, it’s that. I can still feel the puck going off my stick. That one is probably going to haunt me for a while.”
Less than two minutes later, Ovechkin dropped down to one knee as he fired at the net. Fleury slid across the net to stop the shot, and the puck bounced off the shaft of Fleury’s stick, somehow staying out of the net. Behind his mask, Fleury was smiling, rubbing his stick after the good fortune.
In the press box, MacLellan could feel the energy in the arena shift to one of despair, even though it was still a one-goal game. It was as if the ghosts of repeated second-round exits were suddenly on the ice with the Capitals.
“You tell me in that Game 7 that you couldn’t feel it,” MacLellan said two weeks later. “It felt good, and then we didn’t score in the first part of the first period and then you could just feel it coming. And that’s the history in there. That’s in the fans, that’s in the past players. Even if you were there just for that game, you would feel it.”
Four minutes into the third period, Ovechkin and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk failed to clear the puck out of the Capitals’ end, and then Patric Hornqvist lifted the Penguins to a 2-0 lead with a backhand shot in front of the net.
The Capitals managed just five shots on goal after Hornqvist scored, unraveling at this point in the postseason like they had so many times before.
“We’ve got to own the big moments,” Trotz said. “We haven’t done that yet. If there’s a cure for that — I wish there was a pill for it, but there isn’t. You’ve got to plow through it. Some way, we’ve got to plow through it, and we’re going to continue to do things the right way to win hockey games, as many as we can, so that we can put ourselves again in that position and try to break through.”

Trump needles Capitals while toasting Penguins

October 10, 2017
Image result for penguins white house trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to honor the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Tuesday Oct. 10, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) 
President Trump’s only been a D.C. resident since January, but he sounds as skeptical of the Washington CapitalsStanley Cup chances as a jaded 20-year season ticket holder.
The president, who welcomed the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House Tuesday, one day ahead of their first regular season rematch with the Capitals, predicted a three-peat for Sidney Crosby and Co. — while gleefully rubbing a little salt into the wounds of Washington hockey fans.
“Are they tough, the Washington Capitals?” a jovial Trump asked the Penguins, who have sent the Capitals home the last two years. “Are they tough? What do you think, huh?”
The Penguins and the Capitals meet Wednesday for the first time since May’s heated seven-game series — a playoff loss that left Washington with a hockey hangover that lingered into the NHL preseason.
But a 2-0-1 start to the regular season — along with seven Alex Ovechkin goals in those three games — has helped the Capitals close the door on last spring and refocus on the season at hand.
This is still, however, the Penguins.
Wednesday’s contest will be the Capitals‘ first nationally televised game of the season, and there is intrigue beyond being just the fourth game of 2017-18.
“I don’t think anybody has to pile on more in terms of the significance of the rivalry,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them.”
As for the timing of the matchup, Trotz and players said it doesn’t matter — everyone will be up for playing the champs.
“They certainly get your full attention when they come on the schedule,” Matt Niskanen said.
“You always get some emotions there, for sure,” Andre Burakovsky said.
Matching up against Pittsburgh will be an early test of what is and isn’t working for the Capitals. Washington’s top two lines have emerged as an offensive strength through three games — thanks in part to Trotz’s decision to split up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Defensively, the Capitals remain much more of a work in progress. Washington’s third defensive pairing of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney have barely seen the ice, leaving Trotz to rely heavily on his top four defensemen.
Washington is also dead last in the league in shot differential. Teams have taken 38 more shot attempts the Capitals through three games. After a 4-3 overtime loss on Monday to Tampa Bay, Trotz noted how tired his defensemen looked.
“It takes some time to get back in the rhythm of things,” Niskanen said Sunday. “Get your feel back for the game. … The season is marathon, so keep working at it and try to be consistent in your approach.”

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is working through problems of its own. They are 1-1-1 to start the year, including taking an uncharacteristic 10-1 beatdown in Chicago. The Penguins rebounded with a win in a Stanley Cup-rematch (against) Nashville (on Saturday).
At the White House, the Penguins were in a celebratory mood. Trump singled out the efforts of each Penguin and highlighted the return of a healthy Kris Letang, the Penguins‘ top defenseman.
He noted the “bad damage” the Penguins would always do to his hometown New York Rangers.
“It’s called winning, right Sidney?” Trump asked, calling out the Penguins‘ star.
Near the end of Trump’s remarks, the president said, “I know the Capitals will be looking for payback [Wednesday], so we will let you get back to practice.”
Payback in the regular season? That’s hard to argue. But it wouldn’t be a rivalry without the playoff history.
“They’re usually fun games against them, usually spirited and competitive,” Niskanen said.