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Texans need win over Colts to clinch AFC South

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Texans need win over Colts to clinch AFC South

HOUSTON (AP) Houston's blowout loss at New England exposed a variety of flaws, leaving the Texans with plenty to work on before they host Indianapolis on Sunday in a suddenly critical AFC South game.

With a win, the Texans (11-2) can clinch their second straight division title.

``We've got issues,'' coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday, a day after the 42-14 drubbing by the Patriots. ``We've got to stop people better, we've got to move the ball better, and we've got to get rid of penalties on special teams ... we've got to play better than we've played.''

Cracks in Houston's once dominant defense have surfaced in the last month. The Texans defense looked good last week in handling the struggling Titans in a 24-10 win. But Houston has given up a combined 1,402 yards and 110 points in its three other games this month, which also included overtime wins against the Jaguars and Lions.

They expected to get a boost Monday with the return of top cornerback Johnathan Joseph , who returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Instead, the secondary allowed Tom Brady to dominate the game by throwing for 296 yards and four scores.

The Texans hope Monday night's game will help them in the future.

``It's a teaching moment,'' rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus said. ``This is a good team and we can't slack off. Too many penalties and things like that, beating ourselves. We've got to be able to ... get to the passer and help out our secondary. We can't get gashed in the run. We've just got to get better.''

Kubiak agreed and noted that the major difference in Monday's game was that New England took advantage of all of its opportunities for big plays, and Houston failed at almost all of its chances.

``It's part of the learning curve, I guess,'' he said. ``It was a tough lesson to learn last night.''

Kubiak didn't like the way his offense played in the second half last week against Tennessee, and was disappointed that the unit continued to struggle Monday night. Houston finished with 323 yards against the Patriots, but had trouble finishing drives.

``My biggest disappointment right now offensively is our inability to stay on the field on third down,'' he said after his team was just 4 of 14 on third down tries Monday. ``You have to step up and make those plays, regardless of whether it's a catch, a throw, a run, whatever it is, to stay out there.''

Houston has played three straight road games and is looking forward to playing at home for the first time since Nov. 18.

Instead of hanging their heads after their most lopsided loss, the Texans, who still have the AFC's best record, are looking forward to their next challenge in facing talented rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts.

``We're 11-2 and we still control our destiny,'' defensive end J.J. Watt said. ``We control everything. We are going to go back and focus on winning the division and locking that up. Everything is still in front of us.''

Kubiak is confident his team will bounce back this week because of everything that is at stake. Houston responded with a resounding 43-13 win over the Ravens a week after their only other loss - a 42-24 defeat by the Packers.

``Fortunately, we've only had this trouble twice this year, where we've had to turn around and go back after getting beat,'' he said. ``That's a good thing ... we've got a great opportunity ahead of us and we need to stay focused on that.''

NOTES: Tight end Garrett Graham, who missed Monday's game with a concussion, should return this week. ... Kubiak said that OT Derek Newton, out for the last two games with a knee injury, is doing well, but he isn't sure if he'll be ready to play on Sunday.

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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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