Capitals

Cowboys have chance to make big move in NFC East

201210211412511221474-p2.jpeg

Cowboys have chance to make big move in NFC East

IRVING, Texas (AP) This time, being a .500 team gives the Dallas Cowboys a chance to make a significant move in the NFC East.

Without that imperfect win at Carolina after consecutive losses, the Cowboys (3-3) really would have been in a scramble going into a stretch of four division games over the next six weeks.

``I looked at it last night, I saw the games we have coming up and how big they are for us,'' linebacker Anthony Spencer said Monday. ``If we can get a couple of wins here in a row, it's going to help us out more toward the end of the season.''

The Cowboys play Sunday against the NFC East-leading and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (5-2), who have won five of six since their season-opening home loss against Dallas.

It's the only home game in a six-week span for the Cowboys, against the only division opponent they've already played this season.

While acknowledging the importance of division games, coach Jason Garrett said his focus is solely on this week's matchup against the Giants. Not the upcoming stretch when Dallas has both of its games against Philadelphia (3-3) and plays division rival Washington (3-4) at home as well.

``That's how we do things around here. We're focused on cleaning up yesterday's game in our meetings today, getting our lifts in, our run in, and pointing our attention to the Giants,'' Garrett said. ``They're in our division, so there's no reason to look anywhere else but this game.''

The Giants have never lost at Cowboys Stadium, winning three games there. The facility opened in 2009 with New York winning the first-ever regular-season game.

DeMarcus Ware knows this is a big week for Dallas, and is aware of the significance of a potential sweep of the Giants.

``When you think about NFC East games, the way that they are playing, if you're not able to get wins early against big teams, it can come back to haunt you,'' Ware said. ``So when you have the opportunity to get big wins against NFC East teams, we have to do it.''

Dallas got a sorely needed 19-14 victory Sunday despite being outgained by the Panthers and scoring only one touchdown.

Dan Bailey kicked four field goals, including a go-ahead 28-yarder with 3:25 left. The defense stopped Carolina on fourth down with just over 2 minutes left, and Bailey added another field goal before Cam Newton and the Panthers got one more chance.

``Just lean on each other. We got to depend on each other,'' Spencer said. ``We know that our offense is going to have to put points on the board and we're going to have to stop teams from scoring. It's going to come down to when our offense is going to have to put points on the board to win the game and it just happened be that we had to stop them to win the game.''

Spencer was back after a strained pectoral muscle shelved him for two games over a three-week span when Dallas had its bye week. He said he felt good and was having fun, including a sack of Newton that set the Panthers up for a game-ending fourth-and-20 play.

The Cowboys got back to .500 for the season and improved to 123-123 in regular-season games since 1997, a span when they have won only one playoff game.

Running back DeMarco Murray missed the Carolina game because of a sprained left foot. There is a chance he could be back to practice in some capacity Wednesday.

``We'll wait and see on that. We're certainly optimistic,'' Garrett said. ``He's proven to be someone who heals quickly. We'll monitor him day by day but we'll have to wait and see.''

Garrett said the Cowboys were still waiting late Monday for results of an MRI on linebacker Sean Lee's sprained right toe that knocked him out in the third quarter of the Carolina game.

Center Phil Costa had to be taken off the field on a cart Sunday because of a right ankle injury. Garrett said the injury may not be as bad as it looked at first, but still didn't elaborate on the extent of what he called a sprain.

``We are more optimistic about Costa now than we were yesterday. When that injury happened during the game everybody was concerned as he was being carted off,'' Garrett said. ``By the end of the night last night and by today, we are a little more optimistic. It's a significant injury. We are not saying anything but that.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

The Capitals boast a roster full of superstar forwards including players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not.

As a team, Columbus’ offensive output is more spread out among the team, except for one offensive focal point: Artemi Panarin.

Traded in the offseason to Columbus from the Chicago Blackhawks, Panarin has proven this season to be a star in his own right rather than just someone hanging on to the coattails of his former linemate in Chicago, Patrick Kane.

Defensively, shutting down Panarin was priority No. 1 for Barry Trotz and company heading into their best-of-seven first-round playoff series

“We went into the series knowing fully well how good of a player Panarin is,” the Capitals head coach told the media via a conference call on Sunday. “He's a leader for them. It's no different than what they would do with Kuznetsov, Backstrom or [Ovechkin]. It's got to be a team game.”

Initially, things did not go well for the Capitals, as Panarin tallied two goals and five assists in the first three games. In Game 4 and Game 5, however, he was held off the scoresheet and finished with a plus/minus rating of -3.

For the series as a whole, Washington has actually done a good job of shutting Panarin down. Four of his seven points came on power play opportunities, meaning the Caps limited Columbus’ top forward to only three even-strength points in five games.

Washington’s strategy coming into the series was to give Panarin a healthy dose of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. At 5-on-5 play, no two defensemen have been on the ice against Panarin anywhere near as much as the Orlov-Niskanen pairing. That’s been true all series. The offensive line Panarin has been matched against, however, has changed.

In Game 1, the Caps’ second line of Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie matched primarily against Panarin’s line. That changed in Game 2. Since then, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have been on Panarin duty.

There are several ways to approach matching lines against an opponent. Backstrom is one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL. It makes sense for Trotz to want him out against Columbus’ most dangerous line. The problem there, however, is that Trotz was taking his team’s second line and putting it in a primarily defensive role.

In Game 1, Backstrom was on the ice for seven defensive zone faceoffs, 12 in the neutral zone and only two in the offensive zone.

The Capitals have an edge over Columbus in offensive depth, but you mitigate that edge if you force Burakovsky, Backstrom and Oshie, three of your best offensive players, to focus on shutting down Panarin.

Let’s not forget, Washington scored only one 5-on-5 goal in Game 1 and it came from Devante Smith-Pelly. They needed the second line to produce offensively so Trotz switched tactics and go best on best, top line vs. top line in a possession driven match up.

The strategy here is basically to make the opposing team's best players exhaust themselves on defense.

You can tell this strategy was effective, and not just because Panarin's offensive dried up. In Game 4, when the Blue Jackets could more easily dictate the matchups, Columbus placed Panarin away from the Caps’ top line, whether intentional or not.

Kuznetsov logged 7:27 of 5-on-5 icetime against Panarin in Game 4. Wilson (6:52), Oshie (6:46), Ovechkin (6:42) and Backstrom (6:01) all got a few cracks at Panarin, but nothing major. Those minutes are far more even than in Game 5 in Washington in which Ovechkin matched against Panarin for 12:45. Kuznetsov (12:42) and Wilson (12:30) also got plenty of opportunities against Panarin as opposed to Chandler Stephenson (2:10), Oshie (2:10) and Backstrom (2:01).

This is a match up the Caps want and the Blue Jackets are trying to get away from.

Trotz was asked about defending Panarin on Sunday.

“There's no one shadowing anybody,” Trotz said. “You know you want to take time and space from top players in this league, and if you do and you take away as many options as possible, you have a chance to limit their damage that they can do to you."

At a glance, this statement seems to contradict itself. You are going to take time and space away from Panarin, but you’re not going to shadow him? But in truth, this is exactly what the Caps are doing.

When the Caps’ top line matches against Panarin, if they continue attack and maintain possession in the offensive zone, that limits the time Panarin gets on the attack.

This will become more difficult on Monday, however, as the series shifts back to Columbus for Game 6. As the Blue Jackets get the second line change, just as in Game 4, you should expect to see Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella try to get his top line away from the Caps’ to avoid that matchup.

Shutting down Columbus’ power play and matching Panarin against both Ovechkin’s line and the Orlov-Niskanen pairing have been the keys to shutting him down. The Caps will need more of the same on Monday to finish off the series.

MORE CAPITALS vs. BLUE JACKETS:
How Nick Backstrom saved the Capitals in Game 5
Burakovsky done for first-round, but how much longer?
Capitals' penalty kill the biggest difference maker
 

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

usatsi_10798793.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

4.19.18 Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with Joe Leccese, Chairman ProSkauer

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Joe Leccese -- and more from the $1 trillion-dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

About the Guest: Joe Leccese is the Chairman of Proskauer. He is responsible for leading the Firm’s global operations across its 13 offices and co-heads of Proskauer’s renowned Sports Law Group.

By Rick Horrow

Podcast producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN HERE