Sunday, November 18, 2018

Steelers have reason to overlook Jaguars now


By Doug Ferguson
November 15, 2018
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(Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Even if the memory is still fresh, the temptation is there for Pittsburgh to overlook the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Steelers might have been guilty of that in January in the AFC divisional playoffs. Mike Mitchell and Le'Veon Bell talked more about a rematch in the conference title game against New England than the Jaguars, who had beaten them soundly at home earlier in the year. The Jaguars beat them again, 45-42.
Never mind that both players are now gone, Mitchell signing with the Colts and Bell not signing his $14.5 million franchise tender and sitting out the season.
''Hopefully, people get the memo on that and respect these guys, because all they've done is kick our butt the last two times we've played them,'' Steelers guard David DeCastro said. ''I don't know that there's much to talk about, playing at their place. It's going to be a tough game. They're a really good defense, especially for us.''
But there is much to talk about.
The Steelers are soaring. After a sluggish start, they have won five straight games, including a 52-21 victory a week ago Thursday against the Carolina Panthers when Ben Roethlisberger had a perfect quarterbacking rating for the first time in nearly 11 years.
''They're going to come in with a chip on their shoulder,'' Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette said.
The Jaguars more closely resemble the team that went nine straight seasons without reaching the playoffs than a team that was one quarter away from beating New England and reaching its first Super Bowl.
From a 3-1 start, the Jaguars have lost five in a row. And while they still have the top-rated pass defense in the league, they looked bumbling at times last week in a 29-26 loss at Indianapolis thanks to busted coverages and confusion.
Jacksonville can't afford another loss if it wants to return to the playoffs. And it can't afford to live in the past, whether it's the 30-9 victory at Heinz Field last year when it intercepted Roethlisberger five times and Fournette ran for 181 yards, or the postseason win.
''Our margin for error is zero,'' Jacksonville defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. ''But we have the ability to do something special. We have to bury the past and just look forward. With our team, our coaches and the way we prepare, I don't see why we can't make it happen.''
The Steelers are favored to win, just like the last two times. No one is talking about that on either side.
MOVING ON
The Steelers no longer have the absence of Bell hanging over them. He won't play this season after declining to sign his one-year, $14.5 million franchise tag. They've managed just fine with second-year running back James Conner, second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. His 10 rushing touchdowns are more than Bell ever had in a single season.
Conner's rise put him in a bit of an awkward spot. He considers Bell a friend and wanted no part of the narrative that he and Bell would be at odds if Bell opted to return. Now that the possibility of them reuniting is out of the way, Conner feels free to just go about his business.
''I'm excited we've got more football to play,'' Conner said. ''I earn everything. Nothing was given to me. I'm going to be doing the same thing I've been doing every week.''
FOURNETTE FORGES AHEAD
One reason for the Jaguars' sluggish start has been the absence of Fournette, not only a bruising runner but an explosive one. He broke off a 90-yard score last year against the Steelers in that 30-9 victory.
Fournette played parts of two games this year and had 20 carries. He returned last week and rushed 24 times and caught five passes.
''There no pitch count,'' Fournette said, adding that his hamstring felt strong.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says the Jaguars' turnover margin - minus 11 - is one reason for the 3-6 start. Another was the absence of Fournette.
''When you lose your feature runner, particularly one of his caliber, it affects you and it affects you in negative ways,'' Tomlin said.
ON THE ROPES
The Jaguars are three games behind Houston in the AFC South and have lost to every team in the division, putting their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
''We put a lot of stuff in a lot of other people's hands,'' linebacker Tevin Smith said.
Quarterback Blake Bortles said Jacksonville needs a winning streak, but it has to start with one win first.
''We continue to let opportunities pass us by and eventually we're going to have to change that and win a football game,'' Bortles said. ''That's the only way to get hot and get a win streak going. You have to start with one. No better week to start than this week. ... It's a perfect game for us to get fired up.''
---
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Penguins' trade of Carl Hagelin sends message


By Mark Madden
https://triblive.com/sports/penguins/14303271-74/mark-madden-penguins-trading-of-carl-hagelin-sends-message
November 16, 2018

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Tanner Pearson and Carl Hagelin (Harry How/Matt Kincaid)

Trading Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson wasn’t just about the talent involved as far as the Pittsburgh Penguins are concerned.
Hagelin is a little faster, Pearson a little bigger. Each is a borderline top-six left wing or a very solid third-liner.
Hagelin’s salary cap hit is higher: $4 million to Pearson’ s $3.75 million. But the Penguins will keep a bit of Hagelin’s ticket to even that out. Hagelin is a free agent at season’s end. Pearson is signed through 2020-21.
Right now, neither can score. Pearson had zero goals in 17 games with the Kings, Hagelin one goal in 16 games as a Penguin. Pearson failed to scored in his first game with Pittsburgh.
To be blunt, each stunk with his prior team this season. A change of scenery might help.
But for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, it was mostly about jolting his team’s dressing room.
Winger Daniel Sprong and center Derick Brassard seemed most likely to be traded. Each may yet be.
But neither is that invested in the room, nor it in either of them. Swapping a relative stranger sends no message.
But Hagelin helped a big percentage of the current group win two Stanley Cups. He was an extremely well-liked member of the Penguins core.
Dealing Hagelin got the room’s attention.
A trade was required to do that, because nothing else is working. That’s how you lose six of seven. (Now seven of eight. Yikes.)
The Penguins have been stuck somewhere between complacent and confused. Motivation even seems lacking in many of the younger players. Some arrived in Pittsburgh, won right away, and have known little adversity at the NHL level.
Rutherford will try to fix that. That’s not all he has to fix.
But, locker-room impact duly noted, losing Hagelin is no big deal.
When a team wins championships, any participant is romanticized.
But Hagelin hasn’t been a prominent factor since the “HBK line” (Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel) ripped apart the 2016 playoffs.
Hagelin had 10 goals in 37 regular-season games after joining the Penguins that season, then six goals and 10 assists in 24 playoff games.
But since then, Hagelin had 17 goals in 158 regular-season games, and that’s despite skating quite a few shifts with Kessel and Evgeni Malkin. In the last two playoffs, Hagelin had four goals in 24 games.
Besides the “HBK line” running amok, Hagelin will be remembered for scoring the second goal in the Cup-clinching 2-0 victory in Game 6 at Nashville in 2017.
The goaltender was pulled. Hagelin got a breakaway. That was too often what Hagelin needed to score.
Mostly, Hagelin was a forechecker and a penalty-killer. Those abilities provided great value. He set the tempo for coach Mike Sullivan’s high-octane style.
But players such as Hagelin come and go. As evidenced by him playing for four teams since 2014.
Hagelin contributed. But he’s the kind of player you can’t fall in love with and not move for old times’ sake.
If Hagelin’s departure rattles the room’s cage, he will help the Penguins more via departing than he did in the 16 games he played for them this season.
Rutherford isn’t done dealing. Who’s next?
Sprong is frequently rumored, mostly because he’s on Sullivan’s pay-no-mind list.
But how can an aging team trade a 21-year-old winger with a knack for scoring without having given him a proper chance?
The Penguins’ window won’t be open much longer. (It might already be closed. Probably not, but that possibility can’t be dismissed. Chicago’s certainly slammed shut without much notice.)
But even when the Penguins cease being legit Cup contenders, the NHL will still keep them on the schedule.
Sprong will help then. He could help now, given the chance. Playing Sprong in place of Bryan Rust (one goal in 17 games) wouldn’t cause a cataclysmic defensive breakdown, and Sprong might even score. Rust won’t.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Penguins try to balance trade of Carl Hagelin with business of hockey


By Jerry DiPaola
November 14, 2018
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(Don Wright/AP)

Patrick Hornqvist tried to separate the personal and professional parts of his life Wednesday when he heard his good friend and linemate, Carl Hagelin, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.
Dealing with the news wasn’t easy on either level.
“It’s a tough day for me and my family,” said Hornqvist, the right wing on a line that included Hagelin on the left side and Evgeni Malkin at center. “He’s been here for a long time. We like each other really a lot. We hang out a lot.”
Then, Hornqvist quickly stopped and reminded himself of why Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford thought it was necessary to send Hagelin, 30, to the Kings for 26-year-old left wing Tanner Pearson.
Take a look at the NHL standings. That’s all Hornqvist needs to know.
The Penguins (7-6-3) are losers of six of their past seven games since Oct. 30 and are seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division.
“This is part of the business,” Hornqvist said. “If you don’t play (well), it’s going to (create) changes, and that’s exactly what happened. For me, personally, too bad it was Hagelin.”
Not long before the trade became official, Rutherford told reporters a deal was forthcoming. He didn’t give any details at that time, but he hinted at why it was necessary.
“At some point in time, we’ll have to make some decisions on some good players who are favorites,” he said, “and turn those players into younger players.”
That’s what happened. Not only is Pearson, 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, four years younger than Hagelin, but he is signed through 2020-21 at an average annual salary of $3.75 million. Hagelin can be a free agent after this season.
The real significance of the trade is how it affects the team now.
Hornqvist, an 11-year veteran who was traded from Nashville to the Penguins after the 2013-14 season, said Rutherford sent “a big message.”
“It’s been 16 games now. We might be playing five good games and a few average and seven or eight really bad ones,” Hornqvist said. “Tough business to be in, but this why we play. We want to win.”
Hornqvist said he believes Pearson, who recorded 84 points the past two seasons but only an assist since the start of this one, “can bring energy” to the team.
“He can score goals. We needed a little shakeup, and he’ll be good for us,” Hornqvist said.
“He’s off to a slow start this year,” Rutherford said. “Maybe lost his confidence a little bit, but he’s had a good career. He’s able to play with their top guys.”
Hagelin, acquired from Anaheim in a January 2016, trade, never scored more than 10 goals in any season for the Penguins. He had one goal and two assists this season.
This was a trade Rutherford, who received a contract extension Wednesday through the 2021-22 season, didn’t take lightly. He understands Hagelin’s popularity in the Penguins locker room and the important role he played on the celebrated HBK line with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel during 2016 and ’17 runs to the Stanley Cup championship.
But Rutherford, 69, did what any good pro sports executive would do: He set aside sentiment to deal with reality.
“I’m sure it will affect the chemistry. He was a very popular guy in the room,” Rutherford said. “But I’m not sure how strong the chemistry is right now, based on what I’m seeing.
“I think we’re in a funk now. We’re a fragile team. We’re struggling, but, for the most part, I still believe in this team.
“I feel bad. I’m usually very patient, but my patience is running out.”
Rutherford didn’t rule out additional trades, but he hopes to acquire more patience in the coming weeks while his team tries to recover from its slump.
“We’ll see how this goes here for a little bit,” he said. “The way things have gone here in the first part of the season, it’s obvious we had to change something up.
“We entered the season with a very good team, a team that should contend for the Cup. I believe we can still do that, but we have some work to do.”
In every corner of the Penguins locker room, players expressed regret for Hagelin’s departure.
“Same kind of guy that Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) was,” Kris Letang said. “He brings so much joy to the dressing room. He’s always happy, always comes in with a good attitude.”
Added Brian Dumoulin: “You have to win in this league. Without it, change might happen.
“I love Carl. I’ll continue to stay in touch with that guy, hopefully for the rest of my life.”
What’s next?
Coach Mike Sullivan didn’t offer any clues to where Pearson might land in the line configuration. But he hinted at some change, especially with Sidney Crosby dealing with an upper-body injury and forward Derek Grant recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sullivan also had trouble not thinking about what Hagelin meant to the team on and off the ice.
“You build relationships with these guys, especially when you win,” Sullivan said. “For me, those experiences galvanize relationships. And I’m part of that.
“I have so much respect for Haggy, both as a player and as a person, grateful to him for everything that he’s brought to this Pittsburgh Penguins team and helping it have success.”
That said, he added, “It should be a wakeup call to all of us that we have to find some consistency in our game.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib

MAKING SENSE OF THE SWAP THAT SENT PEARSON TO PENGUINS, HAGELIN TO KINGS


By Jared Clinton
November 14, 2018
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Jim Rutherford was to be taken at his word when he said that if things in Pittsburgh didn’t turn around in the near future, changes were coming. And hours after the Penguins announced the GM had inked a three-year contract extension, his reward for fine-tuning a team that has won two Stanley Cups in his four seasons at the helm, Rutherford made good on his promise by putting the finishing touches on a one-for-one swap that sent Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Tanner Pearson.
The trade, which also saw the Penguins retain $250,000 of Hagelin’s $4-million cap hit and makes the swap a dollar-in, dollar-out deal for both sides, comes in the midst of one of the worst slumps Rutherford has seen during his tenure as Pittsburgh’s GM. Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Devils, which likely was less the catalyst and more the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back with regard to a move to shake up the roster, was the Penguins’ sixth defeat in seven games.
In Pearson, 26, Pittsburgh brings aboard a one-time 20-goal winger who was probably among the players most in need of a change of scenery in this young season. The 30th-overall pick by the Kings in 2012, Pearson rose to prominence as part of Los Angeles’ 2013-14 Stanley Cup winning club and became a steady contributor for the club across the past four seasons, scoring 66 goals and 136 points in 283 games from 2014-15 through to the end of last season. But the offensive woes that have plagued the Kings early this season hit no one harder than Pearson, whose lone point in 17 games is an assist in the first game of the campaign.
“He’s off to a slow start this year, but he’s had a good career,” Rutherford said, according to the Penguins. “I believe a change will be good for him and he’ll be a good fit for us. He’s a little younger than Carl, (and) he’s locked into a contract for a couple of years that we like.”
Indeed, Pearson does have a palatable $3.75-million cap hit on a deal that carries him through to the end of the 2020-21 season, and such a deal provides the Penguins with a bit more cost certainty than they were getting with Hagelin, whose contract was set to expire at season’s end. The hope, too, is that bringing Pearson into the fold in Pittsburgh, where he has potential to skate in the top six with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, can help the prime-aged winger rediscover his scoring touch. He’s a career 11 percent shooter and greater opportunity with a higher-scoring outfit could make Pearson a sneaky-good acquisition — and the Penguins the clear-cut winners of this deal — if he gels with either Crosby or Malkin. 
As for the Kings’ addition of Hagelin, the idea, said GM Rob Blake, was to shake things up and add some speed, an asset that was sorely lacking in Los Angeles, to the attack.
“Our team is obviously not in a position that we are comfortable with in terms of how we are playing,” Blake said in a release. “This is a change to our line-up that gives us an additional amount of speed. With Carl Hagelin his number one asset is speed and getting to holes, and we think he will play a big role on the penalty kill for us going forward.” 
The true upside for Los Angeles, however, isn’t found in Hagelin’s acquisition, which is abundantly clear. As a 30-year-old winger, he makes an already veteran-laden team that much older, and Hagelin hasn’t exactly been a high-quality point producer on an offensive-minded Penguins team. In fact, his past two full seasons have been arguably the worst of his career, with Hagelin scoring a combined 16 goals and 53 points in 142 games across the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. By comparison, Pearson scored 15 goals and 40 points in 82 games last season.
It seems what the Kings are really targeting in acquiring Hagelin is an expiring asset that can be flipped down the road. A member of the Penguins’ back-to-back Cup winning teams, Hagelin has shown some offensive spark in the playoffs — 10 goals and 21 points in 48 games — that could make him an intriguing asset come the trade deadline, one a contending team might be willing to acquire at the price of a mid-range draft pick.
And beyond that, Hagelin provides financial flexibility for the Kings. It’s unlikely Los Angeles will be interested in retaining Hagelin’s services beyond this season, and with his $3.75 million — remember, $250,000 was retained by Pittsburgh — coming off the books, it affords the Kings some additional cap space come next summer. Los Angeles was in dire need of wiggle room, too, as they were projected to be little more than $3.5 million under the cap come next summer, though that’s assuming no rise in the spending limit. Shedding Hagelin’s salary will inch the Kings closer to $7 million in spending room, and that’s cap space that can be utilized not just to patch holes, but to retain restricted free agents-to-be Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe.
It’s likely this isn’t the last we’ve heard from either team, however. Losers of 10 of their past 13 games, the Kings are in desperate need of rejuvenation, and moving Pearson could be the first of several moves Los Angeles makes with an eye towards the future. And with Rutherford acknowledging he’s beginning to lose his patience, the Penguins may only be a few losses away from further roster shuffling, particularly given Pittsburgh’s championship window is still open.
“This could be the start of more changes,” Rutherford said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

How the Steelers and Le'Veon Bell both win the divorce


By Jeremy Fowler
http://www.espn.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers/post/_/id/29337/how-the-steelers-and-leveon-bell-both-win-the-divorce
November 14, 2018

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PITTSBURGH -- No one wanted it to come to this.
Not Le'Veon Bell, who, money aside, wanted to retire a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Not the Steelers, who offered Bell a $70 million extension this offseason, though without the guarantees to Bell's liking.
And certainly not Pittsburgh fans, who cheered on Bell for his prolific play for five seasons.
But Bell's lost season -- finalized Tuesday when he didn't show by the 4 p.m. deadline to sign his franchise tag -- was a byproduct of two stubborn sides that weren't meant to negotiate.
Bell was willing to forfeit $14.5 million to become a standard-bearer for undervalued top players everywhere, banking on a lucrative deal as an unrestricted free agent in March.
The Steelers won't budge from their traditional -- maybe archaic -- contract structures that in most cases don’t offer full guarantees beyond a signing bonus.
If Bell was with another franchise, he might not be in this situation.
But both sides can still get what they want, and be better off for it.
How Bell wins: By securing $40 million in guarantees from a team with a creative offense and a winning culture.
Bell told ESPN in October he was seeking at least $40 million in guarantees in negotiations with the Steelers last offseason. That range would have secured Bell's future in Pittsburgh. The Steelers offered $17 million, Bell says.
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson recently signed a three-year, $39 million deal with $31.82 million in guarantees. Bell will be looking for a substantial increase on that, and with the salary cap likely to balloon another 7 to 8 percent, Bell might just get there.
A long-term deal worth up to $60 million with most of it guaranteed would be considered a win for Bell. Remember, he's only 26, and despite running backs sharply declining with age and usage, Bell might be best served cutting a three-year deal and signing another, albeit smaller contract at age 29 or 30.
The highest bidder will most likely be a bad team, but Bell's skill set would allow him to thrive with the Philadelphia Eagles or San Francisco 49ers. Those teams could have some fun with Bell, and they aren't afraid to spend.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers project to have ample cap space in March if they move on from Jameis Winston in favor of a cheap rookie or release Jason Pierre-Paul. Teams without major money tied to a quarterback can afford a top-tier playmaker such as Bell.
How the Steelers win: By improving the defense, supporting James Connerand walking away from Bell.
The Steelers have the option to tag Bell a third time, but at this point a clean divorce might be necessary. Letting Bell walk while getting a midround compensatory pick when he signs a lucrative contract elsewhere seems like the logical play.
Absent a tag, the Steelers will have an additional $14 or so million in cap space that they reserved for Bell all offseason.
They didn't get to spend that on the defense last spring, but they can this time. The Steelers can carry over almost $20 million of cap space into 2019, and although a Ben Roethlisberger extension will absorb much of that, they should have flexibility to improve areas of the defense, maybe find a coverage linebacker to pair with Vince Williams & Co.
The Steelers closely evaluated several running backs in the top three rounds of the 2018 draft. Though the Steelers are 2-for-2 on Day 2 running backs Bell and Conner (who's now the team's future at the position), securing another can lighten Conner's usage and complement the passing game.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Despite struggles, it's time for Penguins goalie Matt Murray to start


By Mark Madden
https://triblive.com/sports/penguins/14285049-74/mark-madden-despite-struggles-its-time-for-penguins-goalie-matt-murray-to
November 12, 2018

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(Don Wright - USA Today Sports)

As the Penguins go to New Jersey seeking a second straight victory, which would be rarefied air right now, the question looms: Who’s the No. 1 goaltender?
It seems unthinkable that there’s a goalie controversy, and there probably isn’t. Matt Murray is the No. 1 goaltender.
Unless he’s not.
Casey DeSmith has started two straight games, has played extremely well and is likely to be in the blue paint at Newark.
Murray's stats pale next to DeSmith’s. Murray’s goals-against average is 3.87, DeSmith’s is 1.89. Murray’s save percentage is .886, DeSmith’s is .942. DeSmith has made 59 saves over the last two games, allowing two goals.
So starting DeSmith against the Devils is totally logical.
But I would start Murray.
Murray is the No. 1 goaltender, the pedigree of two Stanley Cup rings shining no less bright despite recent struggles.
What DeSmith has done this year can’t be diminished, and he’s forging a claim to NHL legitimacy despite going undrafted, being small (just 6-foot) and toiling in Class AA ECHL just three seasons ago.
But can you envision DeSmith standing in the crease, his arms raised in triumph, when the clock hits three zeroes in the last game of the Stanley Cup Final?
Murray has done that twice. There’s video evidence if you need it.
The Penguins should go back to Murray sooner, not later.
Then again, the Penguins never went back to Marc-Andre Fleury except when injury dictated. Once Murray was available, he replaced Fleury — even when Fleury was red-hot during the 2017 playoffs.
That was OK for two reasons: The Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and coach Mike Sullivan was committed to Murray as his starter.
I’m assuming Sullivan still is.
But the coaching staff is a big fan of the underdog. That’s how Riley Sheahan gets to center Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel.
Goaltending coach Mike Buckley had the same job at New Hampshire in 2012-13 when DeSmith played there. There’s a long-term connection.
But, right now, DeSmith ranks third in the NHL in both goals-against average and save percentage. No need to look for conspiracies. He’s playing on merit.
How does Murray feel about DeSmith getting this run of starts? How do Sullivan, Buckley and general manager Jim Rutherford truly feel about Murray?
It’s too late to have second thoughts about Murray. The time for that was 17 months ago, before Fleury was sent packing to Las Vegas.
Rutherford and Sullivan did what every GM and coach in the NHL would have: They kept the goaltender that was cheaper, a decade younger and had just won a second straight Stanley Cup.
The only tempting question: How long would the Penguins’ championship window be open, and who would be the superior goalie in that time?
Fleury left that debate open last season as he famously got Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s first year. He has struggled a bit this season with a save percentage of just .895, which is better than Murray.
Fans constantly micro-analyze Murray’s performance. They don’t know what they’re seeing or talking about, but goalie is hockey’s most visible position and easiest to scapegoat. It’s the same with quarterback in football.
There’s one far-fetched fear when it comes to Murray: Did he peak in 2017?
That thought invokes memories of Washington’s Jim Carey, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in his first full season at age 21 but was out of the league before he was 25. Montreal’s Steve Penney spectacularly won two playoff series as a 22-year-old rookie but was finished by 27.
Penney got replaced by Patrick Roy. Not Casey DeSmith.
Murray’s statistics have gone downhill since 2017, but every resume has peaks and valleys. Murray has dealt with injuries and personal tragedy, with both figuring heavily into last year’s career dip.
Murray is the No. 1 goalie. He might not play at New Jersey, but Sullivan needs to get Murray back in the net.
Perhaps this game is a good one for Murray to skip. The Devils are faster than the Penguins, but the Penguins haven’t yet realized that.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sidney Crosby shines, Penguins right ship with shutout of Coyotes


By Jonathan Bombulie
November 10, 2018

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal against the Arizona Coyotes at PPG Paints Arena on November 10, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

With a five-game losing streak hanging over them like a black cloud, the Pittsburgh Penguins tried a new strategy Saturday night that can be summed up in three words.
More Sidney Crosby.
It couldn’t have worked much better.
A double-shifting Crosby was on the ice for three second-period goals with three different sets of wingers as the Penguins ended their skid with a 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at PPG Paints Arena.
It was their first home win since Oct. 11.
“When you’re in the situation we’ve been in, it’s, ‘Next guy up. Let’s go over there and make something happen,’ ” Crosby said. “If we all have that mentality, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing with. We’re going to create things.”
Coach Mike Sullivan said his plan coming into the game wasn’t simply to run Crosby until the wheels fell off. It was to spot him in certain situations that might prove advantageous.
He succeeded in that aim. Crosby’s ice time of 16 minutes, 54 seconds was actually his second-lowest total of the season. It’s just he was in the right place at the right time over and over again.
“We’re trying to put our offensive guys in the best possible positions that we can,” Sullivan said. “With Sid in particular, because his fitness level is as high as it is, it gives us the opportunity to maybe lean on him a little bit more.”
The Penguins’ first goal came with Crosby centering Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel. Kessel sprung Crosby up the right wing for a brilliant backhander past goalie Darcy Kuemper.
The second came with Crosby centering Bryan Rust and Dominik Simon. Rust made a pass from the left faceoff circle to Simon at the top of the crease for a redirection.
The third came at the tail end of a power play with Crosby between Simon and Patric Hornqvist. Simon gathered a puck behind the goal and fed Hornqvist at the right hash marks.
By the time the Penguins made it 4-0 in the third period, Crosby was repeating himself. He was on the ice with Guentzel and Kessel again for Brian Dumoulin’s goal on a three-on-two.
“It’s nice to get the first one, the first couple, and not have to chase the game,” Crosby said. “I think it was a good win.”
Casey DeSmith #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins protects the net against the Arizona Coyotes at PPG Paints Arena on November 10, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bonus Crosby shifts aside, the Penguins used another somewhat unusual strategy to try to end the losing streak. Sullivan started DeSmith for the second straight game.
Matt Murray remains the team’s No. 1 goaltender for the present and future, but DeSmith has fared better this season and was coming off a strong, 20-save showing in Washington on Thursday night.
DeSmith was outstanding when the Penguins faltered Saturday, making 39 saves for his third career shutout. Most notably, he went post to post to absorb a Vinny Hinostroza shot on a two-on-one with the Coyotes seeking a 1-1 tie in the second period.
“It’s the statement win that everybody wanted and everybody needed to kind of feel good and turn that ship around a little bit,” DeSmith said.
Beyond the heroics of Crosby and DeSmith, the Penguins won thanks to a mostly mistake-free approach. They were conservative in their decision making, with defensemen rarely pinching and forwards eschewing risky plays.
Crosby said that was due to both a respect for the speed of the Coyotes and a mentality that developed during the losing streak.
“For any team in the situation we were in, it felt like we made a mistake and it ended up in our net,” Crosby said. “This should build confidence.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.