With Howard gone, sigh of relief for Wiz

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With Howard gone, sigh of relief for Wiz

All of a sudden the middle has opened up for the Wizards in the Southeast Division as Orlando shipped out all-star center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team trade. This is great news for the Wizards who always struggled defending the 7-foot Howard. Instead of facing Howard and Orlando four times a season, they only have to face him twice now that he's with a western conference team.

Howard has owned the Wizards. Last season, he went for 28 points and 20 rebounds in a Magic win over D.C. in January. Howard followed that up in February with 23 points and 18 rebounds in yet another win against the Wizards. In the 2010-11 season, Orlando never lost to Washington, with Howard leading the way averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds a game. In fact, the last time Orlando with Howard playing lost to the Wizards was in February of 2010 when Brendan Haywood started at center for Washington.

With Howard out of the picture the Magic have to figure out who is going to be the new man in the middle because right now they don't have a true center on the roster, only several power forwards like Justin Harper and Gustavo Ayon. Those are names that don't strike fear into anyone and the Wizards are just fine with that, as centers Nene and power forward Emeka Okafor should have their way with the Magic down in the interior.

The Lakers are once again an NBA title contender but at least the Wizards don't have to see Howard as much as they used to. Things are looking up in D.C.

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Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov leads team to the KHL playoffs

Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov leads team to the KHL playoffs

Hershey update: 26-16-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-2-0-0

The Zach Sanford-Jakub Vrana competition for a spot on the Caps’ third line in place of the injured Andre Burakovsky was over before it even really began. Both Sanford and Vrana were recalled by the Caps after the bye week, but only Sanford got in the lineup and Vrana was sent back down to Hershey after Sunday's game against the New York Rangers.

Vrana seems to be struggling with staying mentally focused at times in Hershey which can happen when a player knows he is on the verge of making the NHL. Still, he needs to play well with the Bears for the Caps to have confidence in him for any future call-ups.

Tarik El-Bashir and I talk about the Sanford-Vrana competition and who we think has the higher ceiling in this week’s Capitals Faceoff Podcast. We also touch on Stanislav Galiev who had another impressive weekend with three goals. As well as he has played of late, I don’t foresee any recall upcoming for him. I believe the Caps are ready to move on after this season when Galiev’s contract expires.

Forward Travis Boyd was recalled by the Capitals on Tuesday, his first call-up to the NHL. Washington was in need of an extra forward for a road game in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The recall is a reward for his stellar work in Hershey this season. He did not play in Wednesday’s game and is not expected to crack the lineup while with the Caps.

After a rough stretch for Hershey in net, Vitek Vanecek appears to be settling in again. He came on in relief of Parker Milner on Friday and stopped all 18 shots he faced. He also earned a 33-save shutout in his start against Providence on Saturday, his fourth shutout of the season.

Unfortunately, Vanecek couldn’t finish the week on a high note as he gave up four goals on 28 shots on Saturday in a 5-1 loss to Bridgeport.

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps win heated affair in Philly

Other prospect notes:

Connor Hobbs found himself in a bit of hot water on Saturday for a dangerous hit he delivered to Moose Jaw forward Brett Howden. Howden was already tied up with another player along the boards when Hobbs laid into him.

The highlights of the game offer a view of the hit, though it is very brief. You can watch it here.

Hobbs was assessed a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct.

Not surprisingly, there was a difference of opinion over the hit after the game.

“I don’t think he got him in the head at all,” Regina head coach John Paddock said.

Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter, however, said “That’s a predatory hit. That’s a major penalty. When a guy is being checked with no route to avoid another check and he’s vulnerable and someone takes liberties to try and run him over when he can’t get out of the way, that’s a predatory hit and a major penalty and a suspendable offence.”

Hobbs received a one-game suspension for the hit and missed Regina’s game on Monday. In the three games he did play in this week, Hobbs tallied one goal and three assists.

Goalie Ilya Samsonov finished off a brilliant season in the KHL with a 1-0 shootout win on Friday. He had 31 saves for the game.

Russian Machine Never Breaks does a thorough breakdown of the regular season finale. Check it out here.

Samsonov finished the season with a 15-3-5 record, a .936 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA, helping lead Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the top record in the eastern conference. Now it’s on to the playoffs where Metallurg will look to defend its championship from last season.

Samsonov helped the team get off on the right foot with a 4-2 Game 1 win against Kunlun Red Star. The young netminder turned aside 26 of the 28 shots he faced for the win. Game 2 will be played on Friday.

It was another impressive week for defenseman Chase Priskie in Quinnipiac as he tallied two assists on Saturday. Despite being a defenseman, Priskie leads the team in points this season with 25 (7 goals, 18 assists) in 30 games. He has been red hot over the second half of the season with 19 points in his last 14 games.

Priskie’s 19 power play points leads all defensemen in the ECAC. His seven goals, 18 assists and 25 points also all rank in the top four among the league’s defensemen.

MORE CAPITALS:  The Caps are hopeful Niskanen avoided serious injury

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Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

A decision on whether to cut or keep Dennis Pitta is one of many issues facing the Ravens this offseason.

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the Ravens “may balk” at the $5.5 million salary Pitta is due next season. That makes sense, considering Pitta was just 28th in the NFL among tight ends in yards per catch (8.5) despite leading all tight ends with 86 catches. Pitta only had two touchdown catches, and there is concern he no longer has the speed to make explosive plays after two major hip surgeries.

Free agency begins March 9, but cutting Pitta with a June 1 designation would create the most cap space for the Ravens - $5.5 million.

However, if the Ravens release Pitta, they would turn the tight end position over to a question-filled group that includes:

Ben Watson – He is 36 years old, and missed all of the 2016 season with an Achilles injury. Cutting Watson and saving $3 million in cap space might make more sense than cutting Pitta. Especially if Pitta agrees to a pay reduction, as he did before last season.

Nick Boyle – He missed 10 games last season due to his second suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Another suspension could lead to the end of Boyle’s career.

Crockett Gillmore – He must prove he can still healthy after missing seven games in 2016, and 15 games over the past two seasons.

Darren Waller – He was suspended four games in 2016 for his first PED violation, and he has caught just 12 passes in his first two seasons.

Maxx Williams – He is coming off major knee surgery.

Pitta remains a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, and even if Pitta struggles to make splash plays, he is still a chain-mover as a possession receiver. You can make a case for cutting or keeping Pitta. The Ravens will soon make their verdict.

MORE RAVENS: Stanley and his adopted dog from BARCS to be on Animal Planet