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Late-season collapse leaves Texans without a bye

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Late-season collapse leaves Texans without a bye

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans should have been spending this week enjoying a bye.

Instead, a late-season collapse where they lost three of their last four games has left them with a short week to fix many mistakes before hosting Cincinnati in a wild card game Saturday.

Houston had two chances to secure a bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Consecutive losses to the Vikings and Colts to end the regular season kept the Texans from getting either.

Coach Gary Kubiak believes his team will turn things around this week.

``We didn't handle the end of the season the way we wanted to handle it, but that doesn't mean that we can't handle these playoffs the way we want to handle it,'' he said. ``We understand how we have to play.''

Kubiak said he's most concerned with inconsistencies in several different areas. He's unhappy that the Texans haven't been able to run the ball successfully throughout games recently. Houston had 102 yards rushing in Sunday's 28-16 loss to the Colts, but only 25 yards came before halftime.

``We have to have a consistent day where we get out there and run the ball 30 times like we're accustomed to doing and what we do best, and that hasn't happened,'' he said.

The problems in the running game have contributed to Houston's recent trouble on third down. The Texans have converted just 15 of 49 third-down attempts in their last four games.

But the problems aren't only in the running game. Matt Schaub has struggled in this stretch, throwing three interceptions and just one touchdown pass in the last four games. However, Kubiak, himself a former quarterback, was quick to point out that many factors are to blame when the quarterback is having problems.

``There are a lot of plays to get a quarterback going and make it look a lot better from the standpoint at the end of the game statistically that could help him,'' Kubiak said. ``But at the same time he's got to do things better. And I'm up there searching all I can to put him in a better situation to be successful.''

Kubiak has also been left scratching his head as to why the Texans have been committing so many penalties in the last six games after doing well in that area through the first 10 games of the season. Houston had nine for 64 yards on Sunday.

``It's driving me crazy to be honest with you,'' Kubiak said. ``It's a lot of things going on right now, and that's at the top of the list. We had nine yesterday, and I think probably four of them were giving people first downs. ... It's a problem. We're addressing it, we're working on it. But it's got to get solved.''

When Kubiak was asked whether the penalties meant that his team was undisciplined or unfocused he first simply replied, ``that hurts,'' before continuing.

``When you're having too many penalties that's a discipline issue and that's on me, the coach,'' he said. ``I take full responsibility for that and I've got to get it fixed.''

The Texans also had trouble on defense Sunday. Like the offense, the defense has also struggled on third down. Andrew Luck threw a 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-23 in the fourth quarter Sunday to put the game out of reach.

``We've given up some plays in situations that we shouldn't,'' Kubiak said. ``Getting off the field has been a problem defensively.''

Kubiak is looking for more pressure up front this week to help make things easier for his young secondary.

Despite the recent disappointment, the Texans (12-4) finished with their best regular-season record in franchise history. Now Kubiak says they're refocused and ready to move forward.

``We've got to go out there and make the plays to get all that mojo going back in the right direction,'' he said. ``The only people that can get it done are the coaches and the players. We're back at it and looking forward to getting started (Tuesday).''

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

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"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS