Thursday, November 26, 2015

Malkin scores in OT to lift Penguins over Blues 4-3

Associated Press
November 25, 2015
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. The Penguins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. The Penguins won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- All is right with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby.
Crosby broke out with two goals and Evgeni Malkin scored 1:03 into overtime to lift the Penguins over the St. Louis Blues 4-3 just hours after a report surfaced that there was a rift between the Penguins' captain and team owner Mario Lemieux.
''I honestly don't even know what to say to that,'' Crosby said. ''If people are going to make stuff up, it's totally out of my control. I feel stupid even commenting on it. That's ridiculous.''
Lemieux publicly denied the claim, saying it was ''silly'' and ''absolutely not true'' that he was feuding with Crosby. The current Penguins star lived with Lemieux early in his career.
Crosby appears to be breaking out of an early-season slump at the right time. The two-time NHL MVP went scoreless in eight of his first nine games but now has a three-game points streak with 10 points in his last 12.
''I don't know if it's a coincidence that something like that comes up when you're struggling and the points aren't coming,'' Crosby said. ''In my experience, that's usually the case.''
Crosby scored his fourth and fifth of the season and now has a goal against every NHL team - he had five assists in 10 career meetings against St. Louis. It was also the first time Crosby scored two regular-season goals since Feb. 12 against Ottawa, a span of 47 games.
Malkin scored after taking a lead pass from Phil Kessel. He goaltender Jake Allen on the backhand for his eighth of the season and league-leading fifth game-winner.
Ben Lovejoy also scored to help the Penguins finish 3-1 during a four-game homestand after dropping three of their previous four.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for his 11th win of the season.
Alex Pietrangelo tied the game 3-3 with 5:41 left in the third period for the Blues. St. Louis also got goals from Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri.
Stastny scored his second of the season in his second game back after missing the previous 16 with a broken foot. He has points in five of seven games played this season.
Fabbri scored his fourth and Pietrangelo his second. The Blues had won five of their previous seven against the Penguins. They've now dropped five of their last eight overall, allowing 26 goals during that span. Allen stopped 30 shots.
''We've got too much slowness in our game,'' Blues' coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''From where we were before, we were really on attack mode and we're way too much on our heels now.''
The Blues twice rallied from one-goal deficits in the third period.
Fabbri initially tied the game just 1:12 into the third. Pietrangelo capitalized on a Penguins' turnover and squeezed a shot underneath Fleury's arm to force overtime after Lovejoy briefly put Pittsburgh ahead. Five of the last eight meetings between the two teams needed overtime.
''It's not easy playing comeback hockey,'' Pietrangelo said. ''Good character shown coming back, but we have to find a way to get up on teams early and bury them.''
Crosby's second career goal against St. Louis, a re-direction from the slot, came on the power play, giving Pittsburgh the lead midway through the second period.
''I should have had more,'' Crosby said. ''It was a good game and I was able to get lots of opportunities.''
NOTES: The Penguins snapped a three-game losing streak against St. Louis in Pittsburgh, beating the Blues for the first time at home since October 2009. ... The Penguins opened the season with three power-play goals in 10 games but have now scored 10 in the past 12. ... Pittsburgh is 10-0 when leading after two periods and 10-3 in one-goal games. ... Blues D Kevin Shattenkirk has a seven-game points streak. ... Penguins' D Olli Maatta skated on his own Tuesday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury Nov. 17 against Minnesota. He is expected to miss about a month. ... Ryan Reaves replaced Scottie Upshall in the Blues lineup, returning to action after missing three games. ... Blues D Robert Bortuzzo played his first game in Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him to St. Louis in March for D Ian Cole. .. The Penguins play five of their next six on the road beginning Friday at Columbus. St. Louis will host Columbus on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Steelers' steady offensive line thriving despite injuries

By Will Graves
November 23, 2015

Pittsburgh Steelers center Cody Wallace lines up for a snap during a game against Arizona earlier this year. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- There are few things the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen dread more than a video session with position coach Mike Munchak - who also happens to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his work with the Houston Oilers from 1982-93 - when things don't go well.
It's not that Munchak is a bad person. He just has a way of getting his point across that well, his players would rather avoid.
''You don't want to be the guy on film getting beat,'' guard David DeCastro said. ''You don't want to be the guy that misses his assignment.''
And for the most part, the Steelers haven't even though All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey hasn't played a snap since August after injuring his left ankle and left tackle Kelvin Beachum's season ended in October after injuring his left knee against Arizona.
Yet Pittsburgh (6-4) is fifth in the league in rushing and even though the Steelers have allowed 23 sacks - tied with Denver for 14th most - that number is skewed.
Nearly a third of that total came during backup quarterback Michael Vick's two starts as the backup quarterback held onto the ball rather than force a throw downfield he wasn't sure he should make.
While it's hardly perfect, it's ''above the line'' to borrow one of coach Mike Tomlin's pet phrases. Cody Wallace has been solid filling in for Pouncey while rapidly developing Alejandro Villanueva - a former Army Ranger - is getting better by the week.
In a way, the long-term injuries have actually given Wallace and Villanueva time to get comfortable. They understand they're not just holding a spot, but starters for the balance of the season. Villanueva is taking extra time to meet with Munchak, often stopping by the team's facility on Tuesdays - typically a day off for players - to go over the finer points of the job.
''Al's a real prideful guy and he's not going to let us down,'' guard Ramon Foster said.
Spending all of 2014 on the practice squad as he finished the transition from defensive to offensive line helped. So did absorbing what he could during position meetings. Villanueva's attention to detail at a position that demands precision is paying off.
''Obviously we didn't expect him to start this year, but it shows you the guy prepared and has confidence in himself,'' Munchak said. ''Every Sunday is a new experience for him. He sees something that he hasn't seen.''
And yet Villanueva has maintained his poise. So has Wallace, who made all of six starts in his first six seasons in the league before stepping in for Pouncey.
While Wallace says he's not quite the physical marvel Pouncey is, Munchak has refused to use that as an excuse to make too many modifications in blocking schemes. The Steelers still pull Wallace on some run calls and he's worked diligently to develop a rapport with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
When Roethlisberger was forced to play basically on one foot against Cleveland two weeks ago after fill-in Landry Jones went down with an ankle injury, Wallace and Villanueva were integral parts of a performance that helped keep Roethlisberger upright in a 30-9 romp.
''It's all about communication,'' Foster said. ''We're not sliding over to help anybody out. Everybody has their job and we trust them to do that no matter who is out there.''
That sense of duty faces a significant test on Sunday when the Steelers travel to Seattle (5-5). Pittsburgh has struggled playing out West in recent years and execution will be at a premium as it tries to maintain its spot atop the wild-card standings in the AFC.
''We have to be on point,'' Foster said. ''There can't be any false starts or anything like that ... it's on us to make sure we give Ben and our skill guys a chance to make plays.''
AP NFL website: and

Monday, November 23, 2015

Steelers get back to Blitzburgh (well, almost)

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
November 20, 2015
Sep 20, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers Bud Dupree (48) and James Harrison (92) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 43-18. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH -- If you’re an opposing quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’ll probably get sacked a lot, and you’ll probably have a hard time scoring more than 20 points.
But you’ll get yardage. Lots of yardage.
Passing defense is holding back Pittsburgh from making the leap from good to great, from returning to the 'Blitzburgh' days that defined the Bill Cowher and early Mike Tomlin years.
Safety Will Allen seems to know it.
That’s why he’s lobbying for a six-game goal to end the year – give up between 200 to 250 passing yards per game. That’s at least 28 less than the Steelers’ average of 278, the third-worst in the league.
“These last few weeks, 300 yards a game is not good,” Allen said.
The Steelers have an identity on defense, which they didn’t seem to have last year. The numbers spell it out. Twenty-eight sacks through 10 games ranks fourth in the league. They get pressure, sometimes without blitz help, which is what defensive coordinator Keith Butler wants. Defensive end Cam Heyward has been a beast. Stephon Tuitt and Steve McLendon have been productive. When the defensive lineman are winning up front and stopping the run, that allows the outside linebackers to find open lanes to the quarterback and the Steelers to sit back in coverage.
The Steelers are blitzing 35.6 percent of the time, the 10th-highest clip in the league. But occasional breaks in coverage has resulted in receivers and tight ends getting loose behind the back seven.
“We never want to give up that kind of yardage,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “We understand teams are good…We need to step up our performance.”
At least they don’t give up points. They rank fifth in scoring defense at 19.1 points per game. They let offenses move the ball downfield but often stop them in the red zone.
Safety Mike Mitchell said the Steelers have improved clamping down on opposing tight ends, who have burned them in the past. Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates combined for five touchdowns against Pittsburgh earlier in the year. Browns tight end Gary Barnidge had 65 yards and a touchdown on Sunday but wasn’t a game-breaker. Based on the Cleveland game, it appears Timmons is getting more help. The Steelers have asked him to cover speedy wideouts or tight ends 40 yards downfield, which is unfair, even for a versatile player like Timmons.
“How many times are we going to play an elite tight end or a guy that’s really good at the tight end position and let him beat us?” Mitchell said. “I thought we did a good job [Sunday] hitting them when we need to hit them, being alert when we need to be alert.”
Help from the opposition could be on the way. The Steelers faced six of the top 10 passing offenses in their first 10 games based on per-game yardage. In the final six games, they face two, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
The Steelers can accept giving up yardage if they stop the run and maintain a pass rushing attitude quarterbacks can’t ignore. Seven different Steelers have at least two sacks this year .
“Getting the quarterback on edge is everything,” Timmons said. “When they aren’t able to finish through their throws, compress the pocket, make them feel uncomfortable, that’s what we need.”
A year ago,that mindset was merely a theory. The Steelers finished the year with 33 sacks, ranking 26th in the league. They will eclipse that total soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Steelers' Brown soaring despite quarterback shuffle

By Will Graves
November 18, 2015
Nov 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs the ball against Cleveland Browns defensive back Pierre Desir(26) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Antonio Brown's form was so flawless, even Mary Lou Retton took notice.
Then again, the 1984 Olympic all-around champion didn't have to do her gold medal clinching vault with somebody chasing her at full speed, either. So forgive Retton if she found herself a little in awe when the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver launched into an impromptu forward flip after scoring his second touchdown in a 30-9 dusting of Cleveland last Sunday.
''Way to stick that landing! Perfect 10! (hash)SteelersNation,'' tweeted Retton, a West Virginia native and lifelong Steeler fan.
Brown's GIF-worthy celebration at the end of another sublime performance underscored the rarified air he finds himself in these days.
The talk afterward wasn't about Brown's remarkable start to the 2015 season or his current two-game run that includes 27 receptions for 433 yards in successive wins over Oakland and Cleveland or even the fact he leads the NFL in yards receiving (1,141) heading into Pittsburgh's bye week.
Nope, instead Brown found himself having to defend his ''look mom, no hands'' routine to those who considered it a tad too dangerous, a group that included quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
''(Ben) said he wanted me to be smart but you've got to have fun,'' Brown said. ''Having fun is part of the game. Touchdowns are hard to come by.''
At least they were for Brown earlier in the year. He went five straight games without scoring, a drought that coincided with Roethlisberger being sidelined by a sprained left knee. Brown's production dipped withMichael Vick under center. His streak of consecutive games with five receptions and 50 yards ended at 35 when he caught just three balls in a 24-20 win at San Diego on Oct. 12.
Brown expressed frustration afterward at what he perceived as a lack of targets from Vick, leading offensive coordinator Todd Haley to politely but firmly chastise his All-Pro.
''Did (AB) get the ball enough? Yep, we won,'' Haley said on Oct. 15.
Haley has worked with Brown long enough to know that Brown wasn't pouting so much as letting the competitive edge that has made him one of the league's most dangerous weapons despite being just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds get the best of him. Like all great players, Brown wants the ball on every play. Like all great players that aren't quarterbacks, it's not going to happen. The Steelers are still working on getting Brown to rein in his angst.
''We all know what he's capable of doing,'' wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. ''What we have to do with him is keep him focused when things aren't going the way they should be.''
Besides, the storm has long since passed. Brown hauled in six passes for 124 yards from backupLandry Jones in a loss to Kansas City on Oct. 25 and has been nearly unstoppable since Roethlisberger re-entered the lineup. Brown set franchise records with 17 receptions for 284 yards against Oakland two weeks ago and caught 10 more for 139 yards and a pair of scores while tormenting Cleveland's overmatched secondary as Roethlisberger played through a sprained left foot.
While Haley is quick to credit Brown's relentless work ethic for making him so consistent, Haley's creativity in moving Brown around has created favorable matchups even in the midst of near constant double coverage.
On Brown's first score last Sunday he went in motion to the left, came back to the right and was next to tight end Heath Miller at the snap. Brown ducked outside of Miller, then curled back across the middle. If it's possible to be wide open on a 4-yard pass, Brown was wide open as he hauled in his fourth touchdown of the season. It's not a call Haley might have made during his first season with Pittsburgh in 2012, back when Brown was still trying to emerge from the shadow of teammates Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
''Early on, when I first got here, some things we stayed away from a little bit, because it made him make a lot of adjustments and it put him in different spots where he hadn't been,'' Haley said. ''His preparation and work and our ability to be able to put him in a lot of different spots (makes him effective).''
Brown sometimes goes far beyond scheme. Leading by 15 midway through the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger looked right and found Brown open across the middle after he split Cleveland's zone. Browns defensive back Johnson Bademosi futilely gave chase, giving him the best seat in the house as Brown channeled his inner Cirque du Soleil once the ball was safely across the goal line.
Yeah, it was risky. So what. He's not ruling out doing it again if the situation presents itself.
''You might get a back flip, a cartwheel,'' Brown said. ''We'll see.''
AP NFL website: and

Friday, November 20, 2015

Baseball should retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, 9:24 p.m.

Baseball is sending the Pirates to Puerto Rico to play on Roberto Clemente Day.

That is a good call by commissioner Rob Manfred. It should be only the beginning to a great plan.

Here's the plan, Mr. Commissioner.

You mandate that for the first of two games between the Pirates and Marlins on May 30 in San Juan, everybody in uniform wears No. 21. Then, after Roberto Clemente Jr., throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, you command everybody to “take off those jerseys.”

And then you turn to Vera Clemente and say, “Nobody will ever wear your husband's number again.”

A few days later at PNC Park, the Clemente family finds the Pirates have cut No. 21 into the right-field grass. Owner Bob Nutting tells them the grass will look that way forever.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it, Mr. Commissioner?

Actually, it's a sound that is long overdue. Your predecessor, Bud Selig, missed two obvious opportunities to retire the number of the Pittsburgh baseball legend who is a Latin American icon.

The 1994 All-Star Game was at Three Rivers Stadium, where Roberto Clemente recorded his 3,000th (and final) hit. That was Strike 1.

The 2006 All-Star Game was at PNC Park, where baseball's best view includes the striking yellow bridge renamed in Clemente's honor. That was Strike 2.

Don't whiff, Mr. Commissioner.

There's a fat, juicy fastball coming. If you can't hit it over the fence, at least rip it into a gap like “The Great One” did so often during 18 sensational seasons.

The upcoming summer represents the 50th anniversary of Clemente's MVP season. It was one of his many firsts for the Latin American community.

In 1960, he became that community's first regular position player for a World Series champion. In 1971, he became that community's first World Series MVP. In 1973, he became that community's first Baseball Hall of Famer.

If you're wondering what all those firsts mean now, take a look at your latest Opening Day, Mr. Commissioner.
Latin Americans made up 29.3 percent of players on major league rosters.

The percentage of Latin Americans on Opening Day rosters actually increased from 2014 to '15. There was a decrease in the percentage of whites, blacks and Asians.

A study authored annually by noted expert on sports racial equality, Richard Lapchick, suggests the National Pastime isn't a passion anymore for an awful lot of people.

Latin Americans live and breathe baseball.

Latin Americans also are breathing life into baseball.

No. 21 should be retired for Latin Americans, just like baseball retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 for black Americans.

I never thought any number should be universally retired until Thursday. But when baseball announced the Pirates-Marlins games in Puerto Rico, my thoughts steered toward what might happen when a child asks his parents why the number of a Dodgers' player is retired in Pittsburgh.

I also thought of that famous saying about baseball, apple pie and America.

Maybe it needs said more often why apple pie and Major League Baseball weren't always available to all Americans.

If sports can keep us talking, sports will have served a greater purpose. By retiring Robinson's No. 42, baseball provided a gateway into conversations for generations of Americans who might not believe stories they need to hear.

I'm part of a generation of Pittsburgh kids who never watched Clemente play for the Pirates. We've all heard the stories, and every version of Clemente's ends the same way.

The baseball player who could do anything and had everything died trying to deliver supplies to victims of an earthquake.

The 50th anniversary of Clemente's MVP should be the year we have a conversation about what truly makes a man “valuable.”

Even timeless stories need to keep being told, Mr. Commissioner.

Retire No. 21.

There will never be a day at the ballpark that isn't made better by talking about Roberto Clemente Walker.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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Crosby, Malkin score to lift Penguins over Avalanche 4-3

By Dan Scifo
November 20, 2015

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) works the puck in the corner with Colorado Avalanche's Erik Johnson (6) defending during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP / AP

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) works the puck in the corner with Colorado Avalanche's Erik Johnson (6) defending during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is in the midst of a career-worst start to this season and just trying to capitalize on his opportunities.

Three Stars

  1. Evgeni Malkin
    #71, Pittsburgh
  2. Matt Duchene
    #9, Colorado
  3. Chris Kunitz
    #14, Pittsburgh
Crosby sparked his team in the third period on Thursday night, scoring his first game-winning goal of the season during the Penguins' 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche.
''You can get all the chances you want and you can do good things out there, but you have to produce,'' Crosby said. ''You look at the game, and if I don't take advantage of that chance, I'm probably sitting here wondering what could have been.''
Crosby netted his third of the season, first in seven games and first even-strength goal of the season. It was his first game-winner since March 28 against Arizona. Crosby, a two-time scoring champion and former 50-goal scorer, has three goals and 10 points in 19 games.
''I know it's important to bury your chances and create out there,'' Crosby said. ''We try to do our best.''
Evgeni Malkin also scored on a power play for his seventh goal of the season, and the Penguins improved to 56-4-1 when Malkin and Crosby score in the same game. David Perron and Chris Kunitz each scored their third goals and the Penguins won their second straight after dropping three of four.
Tyson Barrie got his first score this season, briefly pulling Colorado within a goal in the third period before Crosby helped the Penguins regain a two-goal cushion. Pascal Dupuis chipped the puck ahead to Crosby, and he split the defense and slid a backhander between Reto Berra's legs.
Matt Duchene scored twice while Colorado dropped its second straight after winning the first three games of a season-high seven-game trip. Duchene's second goal with 1:23 left gave the Avalanche life while they pressed for the tying goal in the final seconds.
Duchene has a five-game point streak and has nine goals and 15 points in eight games this month. He moved ahead of Mats Sundin for a pair of franchise career marks - 11th in scoring (335) and 12th in goals (136).
Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves for Pittsburgh and is tied for the league lead with 10 wins. Berra stopped 26 shots for the Avalanche, who twice made it a one-goal game in the third period.
''It was a hard-fought game, but at the same time we have to find ways to win those hockey games,'' Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. ''That's what we should be concerned about.''
The Avalanche scored on their third power play of the first period. Duchene collected Jarome Iginla's point-shot rebound and flipped one past Fleury with 25 seconds left. The assist moved Iginla ahead of Peter Stastny for 37th on the NHL's career point list. Pittsburgh has allowed a power-play goal in six straight games.
Pittsburgh quickly jumped ahead in the second period, scoring three times in 2:08. It was the burst Pittsburgh needed and set the stage for Crosby to come through in the third.
''It was nice to get a big cluster like that, especially at home,'' Crosby said. ''We were able to keep the momentum and we got rewarded for it.''
NOTES: The Penguins are 7-1 when scoring a power-play goal and 9-3 in one-goal games. ... Pittsburgh has won seven of its last nine against Colorado. ... Iginla is tied for 31st career after playing in his 1,411th game on Thursday. ... Penguins' D Olli Maatta was released from the hospital Wednesday and is expected to miss about a month with an upper-body injury. He left a game Tuesday after a hit from Nino Niederreiter. ... D Zach Redmond made his season debut for Colorado.Nate Guenin, a Pittsburgh native, was scratched for the Avalanche in addition to John Mitchell. Pittsburgh sat Daniel Sprong and the recently recalled David Warsofsky. ... Colorado's 15-day trip matches the longest in franchise history and continues Saturday night at Washington before wrapping up Monday night at Winnipeg. ... Pittsburgh continues its four-game homestand Saturday against San Jose.