After recent games against the Storm and Sun, after a brutal weather system pounded the D.C. metropolitan area this weekend and with the temperatures remaining in the unbearable range, it almost seems appropriate that the struggling Washington Mystics find the Mercury next on the schedule. The Mystics (2-10) returned home following a three straight road losses, but the Verizon Center has been no magic elixir halfway for the WNBA's lowest scoring team midway through their four game homestand. Now after losses to Seattle by eight points and Connecticut by 13, Washington faces Phoenix (4-9) on Sunday (1 p.m.) in a rematch from earlier this month, yet another result that went the wrong way for Coach Trudi Laceys squad.The latest setback Washington has lost nine of 10 games - came Friday night. Trailing by four points at halftime, the Mystics offense powered down upon returning to the court, unable to score during the opening 4:20 of the third quarter. In that stretch the Sun pulled away with a 12-0 run and outscored the Mystics 27-12 in the quarter for a 63-44 lead. When you dont make shots, its a little deflating, Lacey said. We came out missed a couple of shots and turned the ball over. It takes us out of our offensive rhythm. There are two things we have to do. We have to play with energy all the time and we have to take care of the basketball.The low scoring Mystics - 68.4 points per contest on the season and 63.3over its last three games - also need to even out the recent free throw line imbalance.The Mystics have taken 22 fewer attempts in the two losses while beingoutscored at the charity stripe 51-27. Monique Currie scored 20 points in the earlier meeting against the Mercury. That output represented her season-high until the Mystics small forward tallied 21 points against the Sun, sinking two 3-pointers. Over her last four games, the former Bullis star has made half her shots (7 of 14) from beyond the arc. Washington will need more of that deep accuracy - plus steady effort throughout for a winning effort against the Mercury.We need to be more consistent, coming out in the second half ready to fight and ready to play; we just need to leave it all out there, Currie said following Fridays loss. We need to be more confident and aggressive. Teams are coming in here and theyre being the aggressive ones. The Sun came out after halftime and they hit us first.The shorthanded Mercury are coming off an impressive 84-81 win in Chicago on Friday despite suiting up only eight players. DeWanna Bonner, the WNBAs third-leading scorer (20.4), paced four double-digit scorers with 27 points. On June 20, Bonner played the entire 40 minutes and scored a team-high 19 points in an 80-77 win over the Mystics. The 6-foot-4 wing drained a clutch 3-pointer during a frantic comeback as Washington let a five-point lead slip away over the games final two minutes and 26 seconds. Crystal Langhorne led the Mystics with 21 points.Despite the win in Chicago, the Mercury have lose six of eight road games this season playing without injured star Diana Taurasi (hip flexor). Washingtons only two victories have come at home, along with five losses.
Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.
At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.
"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."
Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?
Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.
"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."
That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.
That would be just fine with Beagle.
"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."
At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.
"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."
With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.
MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON SUSPENDED 2 PRESEASON GAMES
The Caps dropped another preseason game on home ice as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Here is who stood out for Washington.
Alex Chiasson: Chiasson, who is playing this preseason on a PTO, was in good shape before this game, but he may sealed the deal on getting a contract with his first period goal. While it did come on the power play and he is not likely to see much time with the extra man this season, the fact that he was playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first place should tell you something. With another solid performance on Saturday, it looks like Chiasson will be in Washington for the long haul.
Nathan Walker: This kid is not afraid of anything. Not only will he fight for the puck in all the dirty areas, he is not afraid to mix things up with anyone. In the second period, he caught got in a scrum exchanging jabs with defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Dahlbeck is 6-foot-3. Walker is 5-foot-8. Later in the period, Dahlbeck rid him into the boards, but Walker would not give up on the play and eventually broke free, drawing a penalty from Dahlbeck as he fought for room in front of the net. He looked like everything a team would want in a fourth line, energy player and I cannot see at this point how he does not make the Caps roster.
Jakub Vrana: Good speed, good eyes and he added an assist on Chiasson's goal. Vrana has clearly established himself as the best player not already on the Caps' roster. Whatever questions there may be surrounding Vrana, there should be none about his talent on the ice. He's got it.
Riley Barber: Like Chiasson and Walker, Barber was also competing for a spot on the roster, only no one seemingly told him that because he was invisible. Actually, scratch that, he did get called for a slash early in the first period. Let's not overstate it, it was not as if Barber was horrible, but when his teammates were making their case to make the team, Barber was nowhere to be found. With another round of cuts looming, it would not be surprising to see him headed to Hershey very soon.