Capitals

Houston's Johnson looks to build on best season

201212301539563735822-p2.jpeg

Houston's Johnson looks to build on best season

HOUSTON (AP) Houston's Andre Johnson heard the whispers he'd lost a step and that he'd never again be an elite receiver as he struggled through the worst season of his career in 2011.

He didn't let it get him down.

Johnson used it as motivation, and bounced back from last year's 492-yard season with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving this season.

Now he's looking to do more as the Texans prepare for Saturday's playoff game against the Bengals.

His performance this season has left him with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with at least three seasons with 1,500 yards receiving. He also reached the mark in 2008 and 2009.

Johnson has 112 catches this season for his fourth career 100-catch year and his most since finishing with 115 catches in 2008. He was recently selected to his sixth Pro Bowl and has more than 11,000 yards receiving in his career.

Coach Gary Kubiak calls Johnson's season ``amazing'', and loves the way he leads the Texans by example with his hard work and positive attitude.

``I've been fortunate to be around some special players, but I really count my blessings with this one,'' Kubiak said. ``He's a heck of a player, but a great kid, too.''

Johnson has had success against Cincinnati, and is averaging 122.7 yards receiving in his past three games against the Bengals.

He's disappointed that the team has struggled recently, losing three of its past four games. But he believes they'll turn things around on Saturday.

``We just haven't been playing football the way that we know how to play it,'' Johnson said. ``We just have to get back to what we have done earlier during the season. Find that same kind of focus and everybody just lock into what they're doing and just go play football the way we know how to play it.''

Johnson got off to a slow start this season after being hampered by minor injuries in training camp. But he has been on a roll in the past seven games, piling up 1,001 yards. Johnson has six 100-yard games this season, including a career-best 273 yards receiving in a win over the Jaguars.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn't believe it's possible to shut down Johnson, but they do hope to limit his catches.

``He's a fine, fine player and I don't know about shutting (him) down and if you can ... do that because as we know, it's a two-pronged attack there with both the running game and the throwing game that comes off of it,'' Lewis said. ``You really have to play really sound, sound defensive football in order to do that.''

Johnson has a lot of respect for the Bengals, and knows Houston will have to play much better than it has been to win on Saturday.

``(They) might be the most talented defense we probably have faced,'' Johnson said. ``They've been playing good football, a lot of good players on the back end, so it'll be a big challenge for us.''

Johnson, who is the longest-tenured Texan, waited eight seasons before finally making the playoffs for the first time last season. His second trip will be very similar to the first with Houston hosting Cincinnati in a wild-card game for the second straight season.

``It's not new,'' Johnson said. ``Last year it was new to us. This time it's not new. It's crazy that we're in the same place we were in last year, playing the same team. It'll be big. And we'll be ready to go.''

One player it will be new to is quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoff run with an injured foot. Much of the blame for Houston's recent slump has been directed at Schaub.

``That's just part of it,'' Johnson said. ``When the team is not playing well, the quarterback is going to take most of the criticism. It's all about how you respond. We have another game Saturday, so however he goes out and plays Saturday that's what people will talk about.''

---

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

Quick Links

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

Quick Links

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.