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Belichick expects changes from Pats rout of Texans

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Belichick expects changes from Pats rout of Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) A regular-season rout can be a poor predictor of the postseason rematch.

Coach Bill Belichick has another chance to remind his New England Patriots of that less than a month after their 42-14 romp that shoved the Houston Texans into their late-season plunge.

The stakes will be much higher when the Texans return next Sunday to the field where they flopped. The winner of the divisional-round matchup goes to the AFC championship game.

``The game that we play now doesn't have much to do with the game we played before,'' Belichick said Sunday, one day after the Texans advanced with a 19-13 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals

Two years ago, the Patriots beat the New York Jets 45-3 in the 12th game of the season. Just six weeks later, the Patriots had the NFL's best record but lost to the Jets 28-21 in a divisional game.

It's a history lesson Belichick is sure to review this week.

``I don't think it's anything that wasn't mentioned until that situation occurred, but it's an example we can point out,'' he said in a conference call during a break from preparing for the Texans. ``We talked about that many times before, how other games don't have anything to do with this game. It stands on its own.

``That is and always will be the case, but it's an example to point out of how little relevance the previous game with the same team really does have.''

The Texans had the league's top mark when the ball was kicked off to start their game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10. But less than six minutes into the second quarter, they trailed 28-0 after Tom Brady's fourth touchdown pass.

That gap grew to 42-7 midway through the fourth quarter, with Arian Foster's 1-yard run the only touchdown until backup quarterback T.J. Yates ran in from 1 yard with two minutes left.

That began a stretch of three losses in four games before the Texans did just enough to beat the Bengals.

The Patriots held Foster to 46 yards rushing, his fourth-lowest output in a season in which he averaged 89 yards per game.

The real Foster is more like the one who ran a season-high 32 times for 140 yards and the game's only offensive touchdown against the Bengals. That made him the first NFL player to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.

``There's no question that he's the key guy for Houston and their offense, but his production also complements the other players as well and the other parts of the game,'' Belichick said. ``Yesterday I thought he made a decent amount of yardage breaking tackles and making the defender miss a tackle in the hole or that kind of thing.''

Starting tackle Derek Newton, tight end Garrett Graham and linebacker Brooks Reed played against the Bengals after missing the first game against the Patriots.

``We were pretty sure that Reed wasn't going to get in the game, but all the rest of them we prepared for,'' Belichick said, ``the ones that were able to play played and the others (who) didn't. It's kind of the same thing this time. They have a couple guys that are out, but they added a couple of new players as well so we have to be ready for all of them.''

One of the Patriots' most important players missed that opening meeting. But tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from a five-game absence after breaking his left forearm and had a touchdown catch in the 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale.

Belichick expects many more changes than just the personnel.

``When you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different. They never go the same way,'' he said. ``We'll be able to certainly look at some of the matchups individually, guys that faced each (other) in the game. As far as plays and calls and things like that matching up, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles. I'm sure we'll have some, too. It will be totally different.''

The coaching staff prepared last week for all three potential opponents.

But when Houston won on Saturday, Belichick and his staff didn't have to wait for the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 on Sunday to determine the opponent.

The Texans were coming back.

``We spent a significant amount of time on them last week,'' Belichick said.

Now they have more to analyze from Saturday's victory.

``They had a couple pieces that were specific for Cincinnati, not revolutionary,'' he said. ``There are some good examples of things we can learn (from) that game, but, ultimately, our game, our matchups are different (from) theirs and will be different from the first game.''

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

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Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

Friday’s game had a little bit of everything. After spotting the Florida Panthers a 4-1 lead, the Capitals furiously battled back to tie the game at 4, then tied the game at 5 with just 1:25 remaining in regulation to earn an improbable point. The comeback ultimately fell short, however, as the Panthers earned the 6-5 shootout win.

Here are three reasons the Caps lost.

Bad puck management

A disastrous first period saw the Panthers score four goals and the biggest reason for that was the Caps’ puck management. They were sloppy with the puck leading to a number of costly turnovers, and Florida took advantage.

A good illustration of this game with Washington already trailing 2-1: Jakub Vrana made a lazy pass in the defensive zone that was easily intercepted by Jonathan Huberdeau, who forced a really nice save from Braden Holtby.

Whew, bullet dodged. Actually, not so fast.

Brett Connolly won the resulting faceoff, but Michal Kempny attempted a backhanded pass behind the net that was easily stolen away by Vincent Trocheck. Florida went tic-tac-toe with Trocheck to Huberdeau to Colton Sceviour who finished off the play for the goal.

No control in front of the net

Trocheck scored a rebound goal from the slot that bounced off of Lars Eller and into the net. Evgenii Dadonov scored from the slot on the power play. Sceviour scored from the high-slot after what was a generous pass from Huberdeau who looked like he could have scored from closer in…from the slot. Jared McCann pounced on a loose puck in the slot to beat a sprawling Holtby and Huberdeau scored off a rebound right in front of Holtby.

See a pattern?

The Panthers had complete control in front of the Caps’ net and all five of their goals came from in close.

Penalties

The Caps had a pretty good start to the game, but that was derailed by a Jakub Vrana penalty just 6:10 into the game. Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for hooking about 10 minutes later and Dadonov scored to put Florida up 2-1.

Despite the penalties and going down 4-1 in the first, the Caps battled back to a 4-4 tie in the second. Then the penalties popped up again.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad late in the period. It was a tough call as the puck as was at Ekblad’s feet, but Ovechkin made no attempt to play the loose puck at all and simply hit Ekblad, drawing an interference call. Less than a minute later, the Caps were called for too many men giving Florida 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with and Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal.

After three-straight goals, the Caps’ penalties completely derailed them and swept momentum back in the Panthers’ favor.

But wait, there’s more.

With the time ticking away on the too many men penalty, Kuznetsov was tossed out of the faceoff dot. He argued with the linesman and apparently argued a bit too hard because the linesman went to the referee and Kuznetsov was booked for unsportsmanlike conduct giving Florida another 10 seconds of 5-on-3.

Despite all of that, the Caps still managed to tie the game with just 1:25 remaining in the game. Matt Niskanen, however, took a penalty with just 23 seconds left. With a 4-on-3 power play to start overtime, 

Overall, Washington gave the Panthers seven power play opportunities including two 5-on-3s, gave up two goals on the man advantage and completely killed their own momentum.

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