Capitals

Texans want to build momentum going into playoffs

201212231538563264621-p2.jpeg

Texans want to build momentum going into playoffs

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans need a win this weekend at Indianapolis to secure a bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

They also want to build some momentum instead of limping into the postseason despite their 12-3 record. Houston had a chance to secure home-field advantage last week, only to post its worst offensive performance of the season in a 23-6 loss to the Vikings.

``It's not important, it's crucial, because in order for you to get to where you want to be, you have to be playing your best ball,'' veteran linebacker Bradie James said. ``And that's what we've been working on this week. Guys have been frowning during the holiday time. So that means we should respond well.''

They now have to win at Indianapolis, where the Texans are 0-10. The Colts, who went 2-14 last season, are 10-5 this season and have already secured a playoff spot.

``This is like a playoff game for us,'' quarterback Matt Schaub said. ``This is a team that is in the playoff themselves and we're in their building. With all that we can gain from playing well and getting a win on the road, it's definitely a playoff-type game.''

Schaub and the offense should get a lift from the return of running back Arian Foster, who missed most of the second half of Sunday's game because of an irregular heartbeat in a game in which Houston rushed for a season-low 34 yards. He has practiced all week and coach Gary Kubiak said he will play Sunday.

He said since it had happened to him before, the medical staff knew exactly how to handle it on Sunday.

``Anytime something like that happens that's unusual, so it concerns you,'' Kubiak said. ``At least it's something that they had a little history with and they could deal with.''

This is Houston's second meeting with the Colts in the last three weeks. Houston's only win in the last three games came in a 29-17 victory over the Colts two weeks ago.

``I think that's the biggest thing is to get the confidence,'' offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``We have a very confident team when we get things going in the right way. I think we will. I think our guys will respond.''

Though much of the focus this week has been on the poor play of the offense, the defense is also looking to get better in its last game before the postseason. Defensive end J.J. Watt liked how the unit played in the first meeting against the Colts, but hasn't been happy with its performance in other recent games.

He has already set a franchise record with 20 1/2 sacks, leaving him 2 1/2 shy of breaking Michael Strahan's single-season sack record.

``It's on my mind,'' Watt said of the sack mark, ``but winning is No. 1 by far. I had someone ask me (Tuesday), would you rather win the game or get the sack record? There is no debate whatsoever. I'd much rather win the game, but then I said I would love to win the game and get the sack record.''

Watt had 10 tackles, including three sacks and forced a fumble, in Houston's first game against Indianapolis.

Kubiak said it's a big week for his veterans to step up and help get the team headed back in the right direction. He doesn't really have to say anything to those players because they know what needs to be done.

After making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, Kubiak is looking for his team to do more this year.

``There's another level that you play the game at,'' Kubiak said. ``There's another level of expectations. There's another level of responsibility, and that's why you see a lot of the same people in the playoffs all the time ... because they find ways to raise that level. To me that's the next step for this organization.''

NOTES: Tight end Owen Daniels sat out of practice on Thursday with a sore hamstring, but Kubiak said he should be OK for Sunday. ... LB Brooks Reed, who returned last week after missing three games with a groin injury, is doing well this week and Kubiak said he expects him to play more than he did against the Vikings.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

ovi-flapping.jpg
NBC Sports

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

Alex Ovechkin's assist to Brett Connolly in Game 5 started when Carolina Hurricanes defender Dougie Hamilton shied away from Ovechkin's imminent check.

To start Game 6, Ovechkin tried to ram Hamilton along the boards again, but Hamilton sidestepped him to get the puck to safety.

After Ovechkin tumbled to the ice when he missed the hit, he made his way back to the bench, when he appeared to, well, you decide.

Ovechkin's mocking did not go unnoticed by the broadcast crew on NBC Sports Network or by fans on Twitter. "And there it is, that's what Eddie was talking about," chuckled Pierre McGuire as Ovechkin appeared to raise his arms like a clucking chicken.

The Hurricanes would respond with a goal to even the game 1-1, but Ovechkin answered back at 15:12 of the first period on an assist from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen to make it 2-1 Capitals.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS

Quick Links

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

john_carlson_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS