Sunday, February 07, 2016

Alan Faneca 'redefined' the guard position, but falls short of HOF

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff WriterFebruary 6, 2016

On an off week, Alan Faneca runs about 20 miles. If he’s training for half-marathons, which is fairly often, he logs at least 30.
His conditioning has made a huge impact in his post-NFL days, and the leaner Faneca was on hand Saturday in San Francisco as the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee revealed its inductees. But Faneca didn't make it in his first year of eligibility.
Faneca played 13 years, resulting in six All-Pro seasons at guard. Faneca's physical transformation has been almost as impressive -- shedding 100 pounds from his 320-pound playing frame since leaving the league in 2010.
When Faneca lost his first 30, he noticed he stopped the old-man grunting when getting up from the floor after a play session with his daughter.
Now, he's a lean 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. He’s, almost literally, two-thirds the man who opened holes for Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh. He wanted a healthy post-football lifestyle with minimal joint pain.
Here’s how he did it: oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, chicken with all other meals, low carbs, lots of vegetables, no alcohol -- save one day a week -- and 100-calorie snacks between meals to sustain metabolism.
“It’s been tremendous,” Faneca told via phone before packing up to go to San Francisco. “I knew I was onto something good. It has helped my body, my knees out. It’s definitely taken some of the stress out of my body. I’m cheating the doctors before I start to need bionic parts.”
Faneca has fielded calls from several former offensive linemen from his pro or college days asking for weight-loss tips. He’s happy to oblige.
Faneca played his best years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who selected him in the first round of the 1998 draft and watched him move defenders for 10 seasons. He played his last years with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.
He worked to be the consummate teammate, a positive locker-room guy who never turned down the Pro Bowl all nine times. He made the 2000s all-decade first team.
But it wasn't enough for HOF status. Most of the nearly 20 guards in the Hall needed more than one cycle for entrance. Kansas City Chiefs great Will Shields, an all-decade second-teamer, was eligible for four years before his 2015 induction.
Former coach Bill Cowher was vouching for his guy, telling that Faneca basically “redefined” the guard position by his versatility to block “at the point of attack, but also block in space.” Faneca was the catalyst for Willie Parker’s 75-yard score in Super Bowl XL. The right side was open all the way.
When it comes to the week leading up to the voting, though, Faneca was doing less lobbying and more savoring of the moment.
“It’s special enough to be here on this short list,” Faneca said before the results were known. “I haven’t really thought about [the outcome]. You feel you put your best foot forward on the playing field; now it’s an awkward feeling knowing how people officially felt about your playing career. But it’s an honor being a first-time guy making the short list.”
Faneca never came up short, on or off the field.

Letang, Crosby lead Penguins' comeback win against Panthers

By Paul Gereffi
February 6, 2016
Letang, Crosby lead Penguins' comeback win against Panthers
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) reacts after scoring the game-winning goal against the Florida Panthers during overtime in an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. The Penguins defeated the Panthers 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' star players came through for a comeback win.

Three Stars

  1. Kris Letang
    #58, Pittsburgh
  2. Jussi Jokinen
    #36, Florida
  3. Jeff Zatkoff
    #37, Pittsburgh
Kris Letang had two goals and an assist, including the winning score on a power play in overtime, and Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists to lift the Penguins over the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Saturday night.
Trailing 2-0, Pittsburgh scored twice in the final 5:04 of regulation to tie the game and had the winner in overtime, and Crosby and Letang were involved in all three goals.
In the extra session, Crosby passed across to Letang in the left circle and his one-timer beat Luongo on the stick side 1:27 in.
''I know he's got great vision,'' Letang said. ''I saw them kind of pushing with two guys, so it opened the back door. He made a great play.''
Trailing 2-1, Pittsburgh tied it on Crosby's late goal. Letang's shot bounced off Crosby in the side of the crease and into the net with 1:15 left in regulation.
The Penguins closed to 2-1 on Letang's first goal. Crosby passed from the boards to Letang in the left circle, and Letang's shot beat Luongo.
''Those two guys put the team on their backs tonight,'' Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ''They raised their level at a critical time in the game. I thought those two guys were terrific tonight.''
The Penguins won for the fifth time in six games, snapping the Panthers five-game win streak. Jeff Zatkoff made 40 saves.
''This was a real gut check for our team. It's a testament to the character that we have and leadership that we have,'' Sullivan said.
Jussi Jokinen and a goal and an assist and Aleksander Barkov also scored for the Panthers. Roberto Luongo stopped 32 shots.
The assist by Crosby on Letang's first goal was his 900th career point, the 10th-fastest to reach the milestone. Crosby finished the game with 902 points, joining Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr as the only three Penguins to record at least 900.
''They found a way to get that first goal and then they get a lucky break, their great player deflects the puck,'' Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. ''We call it lucky, but he's pretty good. They found a way to come back and get two points against us.''
Barkov's short-handed goal with 10:45 left in the third stretched the Panthers' lead to 2-0. Barkov got free in the middle, took a pass from Jokinen along the boards and backhanded the puck past Zatkoff.
The goal seemed to seal the win for the Panthers, but the Penguins had other ideas.
''We just stuck with it after that short-handed goal,'' Crosby said. ''We kept fighting and found ways to generate chances and get ourselves back in the game.''
Jokinen put the Panthers ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal at 6:03 of the second. Jokinen shot from below the left circle almost at the goal line. His bad-angle shot ricocheted off Zatkoff's stick and went high into the net. Jokinen has a point in six straight games.
The Panthers took 20 shots in the first period, a season high.
NOTES: Crosby has 10 goals and eight assists during a 10-game point streak. ... Penguins C Evgeni Malkin missed his second game with a lower-body injury. ... The Panthers have recorded a power-play goal in five consecutive games. ... Panthers D Brent Regner made his NHL debut. The 26-year-old Regner replaced Erik Gudbranson, who missed the game with an upper-body injury. ... The sellout crowd of 20,295 is a season-high for the Panthers and the third-largest in team history.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Crosby's hat trick powers Penguins past Senators, 6-5

By Will Graves
February 2, 2016

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby is back to doing Sidney Crosby things. The Pittsburgh Penguins are winning.

Three Stars

  1. Sidney Crosby
    #87, Pittsburgh
  2. Chris Kunitz
    #14, Pittsburgh
  3. Jean-Gabriel Pageau
    #44, Ottawa
It's hardly a coincidence.
Crosby scored three straight goals for his first natural hat trick in more than five years, and the Penguins opened the second half of the season with a rollicking 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
The two-time NHL MVP boosted his goal total to 20 and has scored in each of Pittsburgh's last eight home games. The Penguins have won four straight and lost just once in regulation since Jan. 6.
Suddenly, Pittsburgh's muddled start feels like a long time ago. Crosby has 11 goals since Jan. 1, most in the NHL.
''There are nights where you feel like you have a ton of chances and it doesn't go in and to get them in bunches is nice, especially a game like this where it's high scoring and you pretty much know that the last goal is going to win it,'' Crosby said.
Chris Kunitz had a goal and two assists. Kris Letang added a goal and an assist, and Matt Cullen also scored for Pittsburgh. The Penguins' six goals were a season high.
Marc-Andre Fleury settled down after a shaky start and finished with 18 saves.
Jean-Gabriel PageauMark StoneCody CeciChris Wideman and Dave Dziurzynski scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson made 38 stops while spending most of the night dealing with a swarm of black jerseys directly in front of him.
''Anderson was excellent tonight,'' Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said. ''We hung him out to dry.''
The Penguins headed into the All-Star break stressing the need to maintain the intensity they showed during a 6-2-3 January surge that moved them back into playoff position. The run was fueled by a streaking Crosby, who has taken to heart new coach Mike Sullivan's advice to get to the front of the net.
Crosby tied for the NHL lead with eight goals in January and wasted little time getting back to work following an All-Star snub, one he likely deserved after a sluggish opening three months of the season. His three scores against the Senators came from close range, including a pair from right on the doorstep.
''I think he's doing the same things; he's going to the right areas and the puck is going in,'' Kunitz said. ''The confidence thing obviously for everybody on the ice when he gets going, gets everybody going.''
The hat trick was the ninth of Crosby's career and first since Oct. 12, 2013, against Tampa Bay. It was his first natural hat trick since doing it against the Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 2, 2010.
Pittsburgh dominated the Senators for long stretches, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Cullen and Letang before Ottawa recorded its first shot, but a shaky performance by the typically solid Fleury allowed the Senators to get back in it.
Ottawa ripped off three straight goals to jump in front 4-3, including a pair in a 24-second span of the second period with both teams playing 4-on-4. Pageau tipped in Erik Karlsson's rebound. Shortly thereafter, Fleury was unable to freeze a rebound from Zack Smith, and Ceci darted in to poke the puck between Fleury's pads and put the Senators up 3:25 into the second.
The 403rd consecutive sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center let out a sarcastic roar when Fleury managed to stop Ottawa's next rush, his two shutouts last month apparently a distant memory.
Fleury finally settled down, giving Crosby and Pittsburgh's scorching power play a chance to go to work. Crosby tied it at 4 with a wrist shot from the left circle 6:10 into the second and gave the Penguins the lead for good just more than 10 minutes later when he parked himself in front and had little trouble pushing a perfect centering pass from Evgeni Malkin by Anderson.
Crosby increased Pittsburgh's advantage to 6-4 early in the third period, converting what looked like a potential turnover by Kunitz into a goal when he sprinted to the crease and redirected the puck into the net.
The Penguins needed the cushion. Dziurzynski's first goal with 4:10 to go brought Ottawa within one, and twice the Senators clanged shots off the crossbar.
''Tonight was just crazy bounces,'' Crosby said. ''You feel for a goalie when he's going through that and you want to get him the win, you want to find a way to win it. He's bailed us so many times.''
NOTES: Penguins forward Eric Fehr left late in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. ... Pittsburgh assistant coach Jacques Martin was not on the bench after feeling ill shortly before the game. ... Ottawa begins a three-game homestand on Thursday against Edmonton. The Penguins play at Florida on Friday. ... Pittsburgh went 2 for 5 on the power play. The Senators were 0 for 1.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Penguins look to carry momentum into second half

By Will Graves
February 1, 2016
Penguins look to carry momentum into second half
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates his goal with teammate Patric Hornqvist (72) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Pittsburgh. Penguins captain Crosby has 31 points in his past 28 games after a slow start. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- So what if the calendar reads early February? The way the Pittsburgh Penguins figure it, the playoffs have already started.
Pittsburgh took a modest three-game winning streak into the All-Star break, part of a 5-1-2 surge that moved the Penguins into the Eastern Conference's eighth and final postseason spot.
The solid two-plus week stretch showed tangible proof of new head coach Mike Sullivan's aggressive mindset. Yet the job is hardly finished, and Sullivan's players know it.
''Our playoffs basically start now,'' captain Sidney Crosby said.
In the crowded East, where 11 teams are separated by nine points in the standings, there really isn't any choice.
The days when Pittsburgh and its top-heavy roster could float above the fray and watch the clubs below them scramble for position are long gone. The Penguins are right in the middle of the fight for the second straight year.
It took until the final day of the regular season to lock down a playoff berth last spring. While they hope it doesn't come to that, they insist they're prepared for the 10-week sprint to the finish.
''With our position and understanding where we're at, our desperation has got to be at its highest,'' Crosby said. ''That should bring out the best of us.''
There were flashes of that desperation before the break.
The team that struggled to score early in the year has found the back of the net four times in its last six games and Crosby has 10 points during his current seven-game scoring streak thanks in part to a renewed effort to shooting the puck and spending more time around the goal.
While Crosby is encouraged, the two-time MVP doesn't consider his team's interest in getting toward the blue paint second nature, at least not yet.
''It's something on a game to game basis, you really have to remind yourself and work to get there,'' he said.
''Just because you've done it four or five games in a row means you're going to get there in the next one. It's a tough spot to go ... there's a lot that goes in it but the results look easy when it goes well.''
The uptick offensively has taken some of the pressure off goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who basically held things together as the Penguins floundered in front of him through the season's first two months.
Fleury is 5-0-1 in his last home starts, including a pair of shutouts, the last in a 2-0 victory over perennial thorn New Jersey last Tuesday that sent Pittsburgh into the midseason hiatus on a high.
''I think we managed to put ourselves in a good spot before the break and we've got to keep going to make sure we stay that way,'' Fleury said.
The addition of Carl Hagelin has provided an immediate boost - he will take a four-game point streak into Tuesday's matchup with Ottawa - and general manager Jim Rutherford will almost certainly keep pressing to improve a roster that remains very much a work in progress.
The Penguins remain convinced its best hockey is in front of it. The trick now is turning the flashes they have shown of truly turning it around into something more lasting.
''I believe our team understands the circumstance we're in,'' Sullivan said. ''We've been in this position for a while now. We've spoken about it at length. I believe this is a mature group and we have good leadership, strong leadership.''
NOTES: F Chris Kunitz will be a gametime decision on Tuesday. Kunitz has missed three straight games with a lower-body injury. ... Forward Beau Bennett remains out indefinitely with an upper-body issue.