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Bills WR Johnson backpedals on coaching criticism

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Bills WR Johnson backpedals on coaching criticism

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills' offense suddenly have one thing in common. Both are moving in reverse.

The Bills' leading receiver found himself backpedaling Monday, a day after openly questioning coach Chan Gailey's offensive play calling following a 20-13 loss at Indianapolis.

Johnson said he misspoke when suggesting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick take over the play-calling duties from Gailey. What he meant to say is Fitzpatrick should have more opportunities to change plays at the line of scrimmage.

``I didn't mean changing play-calling duties and all that,'' Johnson said. ``I may have said it, but what I meant to say was audible and giving Fitz the audible a little more.''

Johnson said he should have chosen his words more carefully, and can appreciate why his comments could be perceived as challenging Gailey. He blamed himself, saying he spoke the heat of the moment following a loss that all but mathematically ended the Bills' chances of making the playoffs.

``It's all frustration,'' Johnson said. ``I was just frustrated because I know what was at stake playing against Indianapolis, playing against an AFC opponent and feeling like we need to take their spot. And then they beat us.''

The Bills (4-7) have lost four of five and fallen to the fringes of the playoff race in preparing to host Jacksonville (2-9) on Sunday.

Gailey played down the stir the comments created, saying he understands Johnson's intention.

``I know where he's coming from. Stevie just wants to win,'' he said. ``If you know a guy, you know where his heart is. Even though he might not have said it exactly right, you know where his heart is. And I know Stevie.''

Whatever Johnson meant to say, he did get at least one thing right. Something's got to change to a Gailey-designed, Fitzpatrick-run offense that's been sputtering at best and has lacked finish for much of the past two months.

Buffalo has topped 310 yards on offense and scored more than 19 points just twice in its past seven games.

The offense has been particularly lethargic in the red zone over its past eight games. In their last 25 drives that entered an opponent's 20, the Bills have scored nine touchdowns and settled for 12 field goals.

Against Indianapolis, Buffalo was limited to scoring a touchdown and two field goals on three red-zone opportunities.

The lack of production is what sparked Johnson's outburst following the game, when he said: ``I think we need to let our quarterback call these plays. He's out there on the field. He sees the adjustments that need to be done.''

Johnson then added: ``I think that (Fitzpatrick) has the ability to control the offense 100 percent. I think we should take advantage of that.''

This marked the second time in three weeks Johnson's been perceived to question Gailey's play-calling decisions.

Following a 37-31 loss at New England on Nov. 11, Johnson second-guessed why rookie T.J. Graham - and not a more established receiver - was the intended targeted when Fitzpatrick threw an interception in the end zone in the final seconds.

Johnson on Monday said he would never question Gailey because he owes his success to the coach. After riding the bench for much of his first two seasons in Buffalo, Johnson finally got his shot in 2010, Gailey's first season.

Ever since, the former seventh-round draft pick blossomed into the team's No. 1 receiver, which led to him signing a five-year, $36.25 million contract in March.

``I'm not questioning my coach,'' Johnson said. ``I've got too much respect for him to go about it the way it's perceived to be. So everything's good.''

Fitzpatrick was put into the position of having to defend both his coach and receiver. The quarterback said he's comfortable with the freedom Gailey provides him to call plays when opportunities present themselves.

As for Johnson, Fitzpatrick accepted the receiver's explanation.

``I know, this morning, he was a little distraught because he felt like what he was saying got misconstrued as he was questioning Chan,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``And that's not the point that he was trying to get across. But you can ask him. He loves Chan.''

NOTES: DE Chris Kelsay's status is uncertain after the 10-year veteran aggravated a neck injury against Indianapolis. ... Gailey called it ``touch and go'' whether DE Mark Anderson (left knee) and cornerback Aaron Williams (right knee) will be ready this week. Anderson has missed six games and Williams three. ... Buffalo has converted six of 25 third-down chances in its past two games.

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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