Capitals

Oklahoma State out to end K-State's perfect season

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Oklahoma State out to end K-State's perfect season

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Oklahoma State remembers how it felt to be knocked from the BCS title hunt late in a season.

It happened to the Cowboys just late year.

They were ranked No. 2 in the country when they visited Iowa State in mid-November, and two overtimes later they headed home with a 37-31 loss that eventually relegated Oklahoma State to the Fiesta Bowl - rather than playing for a national championship.

On Saturday, the Cowboys will try to ruin No. 3 Kansas State's pursuit of perfection.

``We're thinking about practice this afternoon, meetings and practice,'' Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said earlier this week. ``I say that in all sincerity, and we try to take care of that in terms of our preparation for Oklahoma State. If there's anything else on my mind, or our coaches' minds, or our players' minds, then we're setting ourselves up, and I hope we won't do that.''

So were the Cowboys setting themselves up for failure last year?

They rolled into Ames, Iowa, with 10 straight wins to start the season, and faced an unranked Cyclones team the week before the annual Bedlam game against rival Oklahoma.

It's proven to be a cautionary tale for Kansas State about refusing to look ahead.

``It's tough not to knowing you're so close but, man, you just have to focus in on next week, focus in on next game,'' Wildcats wide receiver Chris Harper said. ``You can't look ahead. It's really hard not to look ahead, but the position that we're in, you can't do it.''

The Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) enter the weekend second in the BCS standings, which are used to determine the two teams that will play for the national championship Jan. 7 in Miami.

They trail only top-ranked Alabama, which plays No. 5 LSU on Saturday, but has unbeaten teams in Oregon and Notre Dame nipping at their heels. Just about every prognosticator has crunched the numbers, and nobody is quite sure whether the Wildcats will remain No. 2 if everyone wins out.

That makes winning in style a priority, even if Snyder doesn't subscribe to that idea.

``I don't even know what a style point is,'' he said. ``I don't have an attitude toward it. I just think you prepare and go out and play as well as you can.''

Otherwise, the Wildcats could experience the same fate as Oklahoma State last season.

The Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) certainly aren't going to be intimidated going into Manhattan, Kan., where another sellout crowd is expected.

After dropping two of their first four games, including a lopsided loss at Arizona, Oklahoma State has rattled off three straight wins to get back in the conference title hunt.

If they managed to beat Kansas State, the Cowboys will pull into a tie for first place.

``Two or three weeks ago, I don't know that very many people thought we would be sitting here where we are now, going into Kansas State,'' Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. ``I think people thought that we'd probably lose one of these last couple of games. But our players have continued to buy in and we've been able to get 11 guys to go out there and play and manufacture enough on offense and improve on defense and the guys have played hard. That's really all we can ask.''

Gundy will have Wes Lunt will be back under center for the second straight week.

The talented freshman threw for 324 yards and a touchdown in last week's victory over TCU, his first game since sustaining a knee injury Sept. 15 against Louisiana-Lafayette. Lunt beat out J.W. Walsh, who suffered his own season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, during fall camp.

``He played really well, even more so because of the situation,'' Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. ``If it was an experienced guy like Brandon Weeden, you wouldn't compare it to that. You would probably say it was average, but for a guy who hadn't played much or practiced much, I thought he bounced back pretty well.''

Of course, the Wildcats have a talented quarterback of their own.

Collin Klein has emerged as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy after outplaying West Virginia's Geno Smith and Texas Tech's Seth Doege the past two weeks.

Klein has already thrown for 1,630 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and has added another 634 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Even more astonishing, the senior is 19-4 as the starting quarterback at Kansas State.

``I don't know how you simulate him in practice. We don't have anyone that looks like him, throws like him or runs like him,'' Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said.

``I don't know if you can really stop him. You just try to contain him as best as you can.''

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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