Capitals

Miyazato leads Choi by 1 shot at Titleholders

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Miyazato leads Choi by 1 shot at Titleholders

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) Three players were separated by only three shots going into the weekend at the Titleholders. It's the way that Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi and Sun Young Yoo finished the second round that gave them such different vibes.

Miyazato made her ninth birdie of the day on the 18th hole, giving her an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead. The Japanese star had not seen many putts fall over the last month, and all she could do was remind herself that they would start dropping one of these days. Friday she felt like she couldn't miss.

``This is the last tournament so I kind of have no expectations to myself, and nice and relaxed out there,'' Miyazato said. ``So I was really calm all day. That's why I think I made some good putts.''

Choi, who captured her first major this year at the U.S. Women's Open, was asked about her favorite shot in a round of 68. Choi can't make up her mind whether to measure distances in meters or yards, but she had no trouble deciding the most important shot.

``Last hole, last putt, I think that was big to me,'' she said.

The putt was about 12 feet - she called it 4 meters - and it was for par that gave her loads of confidence going into the final two rounds of the season-ending event.

And there was Yoo.

It was bad enough that she ended with a bogey. Only when she sat in the scoring area and started to sign her card did she realize something was wrong. Rules officials told her that TV replays indicated an improper drop on the par-5 14th, where she had chopped her way to a double bogey. Rule 20-2 says that a drop must be with the arm extended at shoulder-height. Yoo's arm was much lower, so she was docked another shot. The double bogey became a triple bogey. Her 70 became a 71.

``All I can do is just forget about it,'' Yoo said. ``I'll learn from this mistake, and next time I won't make it.''

That's what Yoo said on Thursday, when she ran off nine birdies in 15 holes and was running away from the field until finishing with a pair of three-putts - one of them for double bogey on the par-3 eighth, the other a bogey on the ninth.

She was still only three shots behind, though the shock had not worn off her face even after signing her card.

Yoo is still very much in the mix, and she's not alone.

It starts with Miyazato, going for her third win of the year. She was at 10-under 134, one shot ahead of Choi.

Yoo was at 7-under 137, along with Suzann Pettersen, Karine Icher and Brittany Lincicome, who was happy to just be playing.

The LPGA Tour had an online contest where fans could vote who they wanted for the feature pairing on television. Lincicome won, and then was worried she couldn't play. Her lower back seized up on her at the start of the week, and it got so bad Thursday that she needed a therapist to come out to the golf course to work out the kinks.

One of the biggest hitters in golf, she took it easy and kept her thoughts only on the next shot, and it paid off. Lincicome had a 69, and now heads into the weekend with a dozen others in the hunt for the $500,000 first-place check.

``I just tried to guide it down the middle and get back in control of things,'' Lincicome said.

Stacy Lewis still has high hopes, though she has plenty of work to catch up.

Lewis had been distracted all week with the Friday night awards dinner in which she received LPGA player of the year, the first American to win the biggest award in women's golf since Beth Daniel in 1994.

Lewis had a 72 on Friday, leaving her eight shots behind.

``Pretty frustrating,'' Lewis said. ``My game just hasn't been sharp the last two days. Just been a little off putting, a little off chipping, a little off the iron game. You can kind of see it in the scores. Just haven't quite got things going.''

Karrie Webb rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt up the ridge on the 13th to get into the hunt, and a birdie on the last hole gave her a 69. She was in a group at 6-under 138 that included So Yeon Ryu, who was to be honored Friday night as rookie of the year. Ryu won the U.S. Women's Open last year, but she was not an LPGA Tour member.

Michelle Wie was four shots better than her opening round - a 77 - that put her in last place in the 73-player field, 24 shots behind. She headed for the practice range and worked on her swing as her parents watched.

The somber moment of the round for every player came on the par-3 17th, where a red golf cart with ``OU'' painted on one side and the Chicago Cubs logo on the other was sitting on the other side of the bridge. It was a tribute to Doug Brecht, a former Oklahoma women's golf coach and longtime LPGA rules official who died last month at age 62 of complications from the West Nile Virus.

The players stopped at the cart and wrote messages and remembrances for Brecht.

The day ended with some confusion for Yoo, who was unaware of her bad drop until Janet Lindsey talked to her before signing the card.

Yoo's troubles began with a tee shot well right of the fairway and into a bush. She tried to blast it out with a 5-iron, and the ball became lodged. Taking a penalty drop, her arm was well below her shoulder. Yoo punched out, hit on the green and took two putts for a double-bogey 7. Then, it became an 8.

``I didn't try to cheat. I didn't think about my arm's height,'' Yoo said. ``It's my mistake. I'm still only three shots behind. I'm in good position.''

That she is. Miyazato and Choi felt a lot better about their position, and not just because they had slightly better scores.

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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

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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