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Slumping Dolphins again headed in wrong direction

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Slumping Dolphins again headed in wrong direction

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) From the start of his first year as coach of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Philbin stressed the need for steady improvement. Instead, a late-season tailspin has the team headed yet again in the wrong direction - toward a long offseason.

The Dolphins (5-8) have lost five of their past six games, ensuring that for a fourth consecutive year they'll finish .500 or worse. Going into its game against Jacksonville (2-11), Miami is virtually assured of missing the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.

Following a 27-13 loss Sunday at San Francisco, Philbin attributed the skid not to a lack of talent but to a ``lack of playmaking'' at critical times.

``It's correctable,'' he said Monday. ``There were some plays there to be made on both sides of the ball that we didn't do. There were some opportunities we didn't capitalize on.''

For the second straight week, the Dolphins remained in contention against a division leader until the final minutes. But against both the 49ers and New England Patriots, fourth-quarter rallies came up short.

Feeble offense and a takeaway drought have doomed the Dolphins in recent weeks. The offense has totaled three touchdowns in the past four defeats, and the defense has forced only one turnover in the past six games.

Getting better from week to week has been a Philbin mantra, but the Dolphins aren't doing it. They rank fourth worst in the NFL in yards, and are tied for fifth worst in points at 18.5 per game, with productivity declining of late.

``I don't know exactly what the answer is,'' rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ``But we have to make the plays that are there. You can't win in this league scoring as few points as we are. It's frustrating.''

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman concurred.

``I would agree with what Ryan said,'' Sherman said. ``I would probably say `expletive frustrating.' We feel like we're close, but not close enough.''

At San Francisco, as has been the case in several games, the Dolphins played their worst at crunch time. On their final possession, trailing by a touchdown, Tannehill went 0 for 5.

Facing one of the NFL's best defenses, Tannehill did throw for a score - his eight touchdown passes rank 30th. But he averaged only 4.5 yards per attempt, and reinforced a budding reputation for failing to deliver late.

``He played better in the first half,'' Philbin said. ``At the end of the game, where statistically he didn't perform as well as he would have liked, there were a lot of factors that contributed to that. It wasn't just him. There wasn't as much separation in the route-running. It wasn't like there were wide-open guys he was flat-out missing.''

The absence of a deep threat remains Miami's glaring weakness. Top receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have combined to make 123 catches, but they've totaled only two touchdowns.

A lack of defensive playmakers has hurt, too. With 12 takeaways this year, the Dolphins are on pace to set a franchise record for fewest in a season.

No linebacker has an interception. While opponents have fumbled 17 times, Miami has just three recoveries, which is tied for last in the league. And the problem's getting worse: Over the past six games, the Dolphins have just one takeaway.

``That's not good,'' defensive end Cameron Wake said. ``You look at every statistic we have in football, and that's the one that determines your success.''

Wake might be the only Miami player to make the Pro Bowl. He notched three sacks against the 49ers, increasing his season total to 14, which matches a career high.

But he's on the verge of his fourth losing season in four years with Miami.

``I would give away every sack I got for a winning record and opportunities that we are not capitalizing on,'' he said. ``It is hard to contribute with that kind of stuff when we are stinking it up.''

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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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