Len, Allen power Terps past LIU

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Len, Allen power Terps past LIU

One of the most important jobs any Division One coaching staff has is in putting its schedule together. The process is a lot more art than science and entails projecting what kind of team you expect to have in a distant two or three years.

My guess is that Mark Turgeon could never have imagined the dramatic improvement in his program over the course of a single year when he and his staff put this year’s schedule together. If they had, then we might actually be seeing a different approach to the one we will see over the next six weeks. While there is certainly a fair share of challenges, what the current schedule will allow the Maryland coach to do is to continue to integrate and assimilate all of the new parts in his program.

It won’t always be pretty.

Tonight Maryland’s depth and size eventually pummeled the Long Island University Blackbirds into submission before a crowd of 13,000 at Comcast Center. The deceptive final score of 91-74 probably doesn’t reflect the efforts of a Blackbird team that found itself down by only seven points late in the second half. Even with that, one of the enduring lessons that come out of games like this is that there are an awful lot of teams on the Terps schedule this year that are going to have similar struggles with that same size and depth.

For the most part, the results from tonight’s game were positive. Sophomore center Alex Len continues to look like a different man than the guy we saw last year and finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Better than that is how active he is on the defensive end. He blocks plenty of shots and influences twice as many as he blocks.

Sophomore Dez Wells played his best game of the season by far and pitched in 15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks while playing three different positions in 33 minutes. After the game, Wells made an interesting admission about his performance in the season opener against Kentucky. When he was asked about his struggles in that game he said, “I was caught up in something I didn’t understand and something I couldn’t control. After I was declared eligible I didn’t have the chance to think about it and pray on it and it cost me in that first game.”

He went on to say that it was a conversation he had with Turgeon the afternoon of the game that changed his approach. Turgeon simply reminded him that he had plenty of good players around him and there was no need for him to feel like he had to be The Man at every turn.

Maryland’s one-two punch at point guard – junior Pe’Shon Howard and freshman Seth Allen- both excelled in different ways. Howard was almost flawless running the point and had 13 assists and committed just one turnover. Consider the second half he cobbled together: he hit is only three point attempt, made each of his two free throw attempts and had 9 assists and no turnovers. You simply cannot play the position a whole lot better than that.

Allen excelled but it may have been at the expense of a Terp who struggled. When sophomore wing Nick Faust endured a completely forgettable first half going 1-6 with 2 turnovers and a host of bad decisions he left Turgeon with little choice but to try some alternatives in the second half. Freshman Jake Layman started in Faust’s spot but it was Allen who played like he didn’t want to give it back. He shot 5-6 from the three point line (7-10 overall) and finished with 19 points with 4 assists and only one turnover.

Seventeen assists and two turnovers from your primary ballhandlers? Take it and run.

Faust wasn’t the only one who struggled in this game. Big men James Padgett and Charles Mitchell each had problem covering the mobile Blackbird big men and also had turnover issues.

Each of the three came back to make important contributions to the 52-point second half Maryland was able to fashion.

The run of non-conference games continues on Tuesday night against the Lafayette Leopards at Comcast Center. The Patriot League opponent features a wiley coach and a three point attack. More importantly it offers another chance for a young team to continue to get better.

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The Caps are hopeful Matt Niskanen avoided serious injury

The Caps are hopeful Matt Niskanen avoided serious injury

PHILADELPHIA—The Capitals are hoping the injury suffered by Matt Niskanen during Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Flyers is not serious.

The veteran defenseman’s left leg appeared to buckle after a leg-on-leg collision with rugged Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas in the second period. You can see the replay in the video above. Niskanen returned for one shift but exited the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

As he walked out of the visitors’ dressing room following the game, he appeared to have a slight hitch in his step.  

“We don’t think it’s too serious,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ll look at him tomorrow.”

Trotz added: “When he first was diagnosed by our trainers it was more precautionary. We’ll get our doctors to look at that, and we’ll see where we are tomorrow.”

RELATED: Two disallowed goals for Flyers help Caps earn first win post-bye

Trotz said he did not take issue with the play that resulted in the injury. Gudas was pursuing Marcus Johansson in the corner when he appeared to turn into Niskanen, clipping Niskanen's leg. Niskanen was also bumped from behind by Wayne Simmonds on the play.

“No, he just got tangled up on a couple of guys,” Trotz said. “I haven’t looked at it that closely, on their defenseman [Gudas] coming down. I think [Niskanen] got wedged between two guys.”

Niskanen, 30, plays a vital role for the Capitals, skating an average 22:26 per game, including important minutes on the power play and penalty kill.

If his latest injury causes him to miss any time, the Capitals will not need to make a move as they have six healthy defensemen on the roster. The team could, however, call up veteran Tom Gilbert, whom they acquired last week via trade as injury insurance.  

Niskanen missed one game earlier this season due to an upper-body injury.

MORE CAPITALS: Breakdown of the Flyers two no-goals vs. Capitals

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Two disallowed goals sink Flyers as Caps earn first win after the bye

Two disallowed goals sink Flyers as Caps earn first win after the bye

Final score: Washington Capitals 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1

How it happened: The Flyers scored just 23 seconds in, but Barry Trotz came up with a heads up challenge for goalie interference that revealed that Dale Weise pushed Braden Holtby. In the second period, the Flyers had what they thought was their first goal, but replay showed the shot hit off the crossbar and never crossed the line. After two disallowed goals, the Flyers could not recover.

Washington responded to the lifeline in the first period with goals from Nicklas Backstrom and a laser from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Brayden Schenn pulled Philadelphia back within one in the second period, but Kuznetsov's second of the night put the Caps back in control. T.J. Oshie would add an insurance tally in the third.

What it means: The Caps earned their first win after the bye week and seventh in their last nine game. Washington now sits three points ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the top record in the NHL and the Metropolitan Division by five.

Goals

Capitals goal: Nicklas Backstrom from T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin at 6:33 in the first. Oshie and Ovechkin teamed up for a fantastic forecheck effort which forced the puck to the boards. Backstrom eventually emerged from the scrum with it and wristed a knuckler into the top shelf. Caps 1, Flyers 0

Capitals goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov (power play) from Justin Williams and John Carlson at 16:28 in the first. With the Caps set up on the power play, Kuznetsov just squared up and wristed a lazer into the top shelf. No one saw the puck go in but Kuznetsov and the ref. Caps 2, Flyers 0

Flyers goal: Brayden Schenn from Brandon Manning at 6:54 in the second. The Caps failed to clear the puck out of the zone allowing Manning to collect. He fired the slap shot and Schenn got his stick on the puck for the deflection. Caps 2, Flyers 1

Capitals goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Justin Williams and Taylor Chorney at 17:59 in the second. Taylor Chorney was quick to get the puck up ice to launch the Caps on the counter attack. Williams carried it into the offensive zone and Kuznetsov tried the quick pass, but the puck hit off of defenseman Radko Gudas’ stick and deflected into the net. Caps 3, Flyers 1

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom at 15:23 in the third. A fantastic pass by Ovechkin sparked the rush. Oshie returned the favor to Ovechkin who nearly beat Neuvirth for the goal with the deke. The puck trickled its way to the goal line and Oshie tapped it in for insurance. Caps 4, Flyers 1

3 Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov can be a hit or miss player sometimes. He was an absolute hit on Wednesday. Kuznetsov's first-period goal was an incredible shot lasered into the top shelf. It was in and out so fast only he and the ref knew it was in. When a player is playing well, he is often rewarded with good puck luck as well and that was true of Kuznetsov as his second goal came on a pass that was deflected through the five-hole of Michal Neuvirth by the stick of Gudas. And that's just what you see on the scoresheet. Kuzy's hands were on display all night as he deked and dangled all over the ice.

2. T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the insurance tally in the third period, but Oshie gets the second star for his effort on the forecheck, not the offense. The top line was all over the Flyers every time they were on the ice to the point that Philadelphia struggled to exit their own zone. The Caps' first goal of the game came as a result of the turnover generated by Oshie's work on the forecheck.

3. Taylor Chorney: Playing in his first game since Jan. 26, Chorney did not look like he was working through any rust. He had a few offensive opportunities as well and his quick reaction in the second period sparked a counter attack that led to Kuznetsov's second goal.

Look ahead: The Caps finally return home to host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. Then, it’s another quick turnaround on Saturday as Washington will play the Predators in Nashville on Saturday at 5 p.m., 22 hours after the start of Friday’s game.

Tell us what you think: Philadelphia thought they had taken the lead 23 seconds into the game, but Trotz's challenge restored the score to 0-0. How important was that challenge for the Caps and how much did it determine the outcome of the game?