Friday, January 31, 2014

Jokinen leads Penguins past struggling Kings, 4-1

The Associated Press
January 31, 2014
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Penguins' Chris Kunitz celebrates his first period goal with teammate Jussi Jokinen as Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell looks on.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jonathan Quick's Olympic goaltending audition for U.S. national team coach Dan Bylsma ended after three Pittsburgh goals in one rocky period.
All that proves to Bylsma is that his Penguins are awfully good.
Jussi Jokinen had a goal and two assists in the first period, Evgeni Malkin scored in the opening minute, and Pittsburgh chased Quick early in a 4-1 victory over the struggling Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Chris Kunitz and Tanner Glass both scored in their second straight game for the Penguins, who opened a two-game West Coast road trip with the franchise's first regulation victory at Staples Center. Former Kings farmhand Jeff Zatkoff made 30 saves in the Eastern Conference leaders' fourth win in five games.
Quick didn't exactly make a stellar argument to Bylsma for the starting job in Sochi, giving up three goals on the Penguins' first five shots before Martin Jones replaced him for the final two periods. Quick is competing with Detroit's Jimmy Howard and Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who was beaten 3-0 by the Penguins on Monday.
''It's one game I get to see live, but ... I've seen a lot of him,'' Bylsma said of Quick. ''It's not a good outing for him, but he's got a body of work that's more than just this game.''

Thu, Jan 30, 2014

Los Angeles1
Quick was hurt by the NHL's best power play: Kunitz scored his career-high 27th goal on a two-man advantage, and Jokinen added his 16th moments later. Quick has started 13 of the Kings' 14 games since returning from a 24-game injury absence.
''If you give any team a 5-on-3, they're going to create chances,'' Quick said. ''They get one there, and then they get a 2-on-1 where they beat me over the shoulder. At that point, we're not out of the game. We just couldn't get it together enough to get a couple (of goals).''
Jokinen, a Finnish Olympian, had been in a three-game scoring drought in an otherwise stellar season. He credited this outburst to his mother's rare chance to see him play live: Most of the Penguins' mothers are traveling with the club on this short trip.
''I had a good first period, so I probably have to fly my mother here more than once a year,'' Jokinen said.
Anze Kopitar scored his third goal in five games for the Kings, but those are the only goals scored in the last nine days by the Kings, who have lost seven of eight.

Three Stars

  1. Jussi Jokinen
    #36, Pittsburgh
  2. Evgeni Malkin
    #71, Pittsburgh
  3. Matt Niskanen
The Kings had played their last eight games away from Staples Center, including last weekend's ''home'' game at Dodger Stadium. They've got a four-game homestand heading into the Olympic break, but still haven't solved their scoring woes.
''They are a high-powered team,'' Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene said. ''It's tough to come back when you aren't scoring a lot of goals, and when you give up two on the penalty kill. It's tough chasing in a game against a team like this.''
The Staples Center crowd gave a reasonably warm welcome to Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi, who anchored the Kings' defense during their Stanley Cup championship run in 2012 before leaving Los Angeles as a free agent last summer.
But the high-scoring Penguins decisively won their matchup against the NHL's best defensive team, and they did it early. Just 53 seconds in, Jokinen made a spectacular no-look pass across the crowded crease to Malkin for his 15th goal.
Kopitar evened it with a rocket of a shot from the faceoff circle midway through the period for the 16th goal by Slovenia's only NHL Olympian.
After Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown were hit with penalties at the same time, Kunitz scored in front of Quick after tic-tac-toe passing from Jokinen and Sidney Crosby.
Jokinen put the Penguins up 3-1 just 57 seconds later, ripping a one-timer past Quick's glove.
Glass beat Jones with a sharp-angled backhand late in the second period for his fourth goal.
''We were confident all along,'' Glass said. ''We had a great start. Our power play was awesome, and then we were stingy when we had to be.''
NOTES: Pittsburgh scratched D Kris Letang with an illness. ... Jones and Zatkoff were AHL teammates from 2010-12. ... Pittsburgh hadn't visited Staples Center since Nov. 5, 2011, when Kunitz scored a late tying goal and the shootout winner. ... Pittsburgh C Brandon Sutter is Kings coach Darryl Sutter's nephew.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sidney Crosby arrives for only his third game at Staples Center

At least Sidney Crosby didn't have to field questions Wednesday about never having scored against the Kings.

He did just that on March 20, 2009, against goalie Jonathan Quick at Pittsburgh.

The "new" story angles about the Pittsburgh Penguins star and freshly minted captain of Team Canada for the upcoming Olympics are few and far between, so much so it became a story line in Edmonton earlier this month that Crosby had never scored against the Oilers.

(He took care of that gaping hole on his resume, by the way.)

Crosby simply hasn't played much against certain teams in the Western Conference because of previous NHL schedule imbalance, his injury history and last season's lockout, which kept the conferences apart.

Thursday night's contest between the Penguins and the Kings will be only his third game at Staples Center, a rare chance for Southern California hockey fans to see Crosby in person. His last game at Staples Center was Nov. 5, 2009.

"I like it. It's nice to play different teams, get those different matchups, and just preparing for who you are going to play against, going against each night," Crosby said after the Penguins practiced in El Segundo. "It's good for the fans to see different teams."

It breaks up the schedule's monotony too. The Kings get their fill of San Jose and Phoenix, just as the Penguins see more than enough of Philadelphia and the Rangers.

"You know how those teams play after a few games, but it's nice to have to adjust and think a little bit different and not have to think the exact same way," Crosby said. "You're going against a different set of [defense] pairing, a different center man who might do something a little different than the six times you play against the center man from Philadelphia or New York."

Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi, who rejoined Pittsburgh as a free agent in the summer after spending four seasons with the Kings, took note of Crosby's career development.

"I think he's just had some maturity as far as seeing things for himself off the ice," Scuderi said. "That will help him a lot as a player and as a person. He's always been good, great at both, but I think it's just something that you see with maturity.

"As a player, he's also grown. It's scary to think that he's gotten better. But he has. The decisions he makes, in and out, on different areas on the ice, are better than when I played with him last, which is a scary thing to think of."

Scuderi spoke fondly about his days with the Kings. Crosby and his teammates took note of the picture of the Kings' Stanley Cup team in 2012 and Scuderi's spot.

"I think they were asking me why I wasn't a little closer to the Cup," Scuderi said. "I'm more of a back-row guy. I was tucked away in the back. I was still in there."

He got off a few good lines about coming back to Southern California.

"I went to park in my normal spot and someone was in it," Scuderi said.

As much as the Kings miss his steady presence, the Penguins are just as pleased to have Scuderi back in Pittsburgh.

"He shows a lot of poise back there.... He's pretty calm back there and keeps it simple," Crosby said. "Sometimes we need to simplify things a little bit."

When: 7:30.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 1150.
Etc.: The Penguins have brought their mothers along to Southern California, instead of the usual father-son road trip. Crosby's mother, Trina, is along, and she and Crosby's father, Troy, will be going to the Olympics next month in Sochi, Russia. "I think the dads are still in shock they aren't on the trip this year," Crosby said. "It's nice to have the moms.",0,1430058.story#ixzz2rsd40bON

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pirates look bad in Burnett saga

By Joe Starkey
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

If this ends with A.J. Burnett pitching elsewhere and the Pirates holding an empty bag, don't blame Burnett. Blame the Pirates.

Presumably flush with real cash and promised cash from rising ticket prices, a nice postseason run, a local television deal that allegedly ranks in the “upper half” of Major League Baseball (team president Frank Coonelly's words) and a lucrative new national TV deal that will line every team's pockets — plus the luxury of a dirt-cheap roster — the Pirates easily could have afforded the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Burnett in November.

That wouldn't have guaranteed Burnett's return. Hardly. Of the 13 other players around the league who received $14.1 million qualifying offers, zero accepted. But it would have guaranteed the Pirates high draft-pick compensation if Burnett had signed with another team. And who knows? It might have been enough to entice him to play here for one more season. It would have been a bargain for the Pirates considering Burnett could fetch upwards of $20 million on the open market.

At 37, Burnett is coming off one of his best seasons, one in which he led all National League starters in strikeout and groundball rates. The idea that he wouldn't be missed is silly. The Pirates still would have a very good rotation, but they'll probably need a great one to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals.

Burnett might have started out as the No. 3 man in this rotation. In St. Louis, Michael Wacha — remember him? — could start as the No. 3 guy. This is a serious arms race, and the Pirates rotation looks as if will depend heavily on two guys (Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton) who don't exactly boast robust durability records.

Burnett gives you 30 starts and 190 innings even in years where he misses time — like last year. He has shown zero sign of erosion.

There's still a chance Burnett returns — maybe the Pirates pony up now that all of their arbitration-eligible players have settled — but based on Travis Sawchik's report in the Trib, it seems like a small one. Sawchik reported that Burnett will play in 2014 and will open himself to the market. That sounds like goodbye.

The shame of it is that people will vilify Burnett based on his post-playoff interview with KDKA-FM, during which he loosely intimated that his decision on 2014 would come down to retiring or playing for the Pirates. He delivered the money line and an important qualifier.

However, right after that, he was asked if he was “pretty much going to play here or retire.”

“As of right now, yes sir,” Burnett said. “As of right now.”

Well, sir, “right now” can become “back then” real fast when somebody aims a low-ball offer at your knees. A hometown discount is one thing. Taking way less than your market value is another. The Pirates weren't going near the bargain rate of $14 million. General manager Neal Huntington said he wasn't comfortable allocating such a large percentage of the payroll to one player.

That's understandable if you're talking about a $150 million deal or even a multi-year deal, but one year at $14.1 million? Even if it didn't pan out, I'm guessing the franchise would have survived.

All of which should not lead anyone to grand proclamations of Bob Nutting regressing to the days of epic penny-pinching. He has earned too much good will for that. Plus, the Pirates might prove right in holding off on Burnett. Maybe Edinson Volquez goes through the Ray Searage car wash and comes out throwing groundballs and strikeouts in Burnett-like fashion. Maybe Jameson Taillon makes everybody forget Burnett.

But can you reasonably count on that, plus good health among the rest of the starters? I defended the Pirates on not obtaining a left-handed-hitting first baseman (yet) and standing pat in right field. I can't defend them if Burnett pitches elsewhere. Pitching is different. Pitching is the great equalizer. Pitching is what could push the Pirates past the mighty Cardinals.

It's not too late to pony up, boys. At least give it a shot.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fleury, Penguins beat Sabres 3-0

By Dan Scifo
January 27, 2014
Fleury, Penguins beat Sabres 3-0
Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his fourth shutout of the season in last night's 3-0 win over the Sabres (Gene Puskar/AP)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are still determined to finish as the NHL's best team - despite a recent slump.
The Penguins rebounded from a loss on Saturday and beat the league's worst team on Monday night as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots for his fourth shutout, a 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres.
''When you play 82 every one isn't going to be perfect, but we're trying to be the best, not just into late June, but every game,'' Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Chris Kunitz scored his 26th goal and Deryk Engelland netted his fourth, equaling a career high. Tanner Glass scored his first goal in 26 games, a late empty-netter that sealed it for the Penguins, who won for the 15th time in 16 games at home.
Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 74 points, added two assists to extend his points streak in games against Buffalo to 16 games, matching his longest streak against any team.
Fleury, who leads the NHL with 29 wins, registered his 27th career shutout, tied for second in the league. He helped preserve the win, denying Buffalo's Brian Flynn two minutes into the third period before following it up with a right-pad stop on Matt Moulson on a partial breakaway a couple minutes later.

Mon, Jan 27, 2014

''The first one was pretty close, and I was worried he might have cut across, so I tried to take his options away,'' said Fleury, who is one victory away from reaching the 30-win mark for the fifth-straight full NHL season.
''Moulson, I was trying to be patient because I know he has good hands,'' he added.
Fleury was better on the play, giving his team a sorely-needed lift after a slow start to the period.
''We chipped some pucks out in the beginning of the third period, kind of sitting back, and they shoved it right back at us,'' Bylsma said. ''Marc got stuck with those two glorious chances against. the two great saves he had to make.''
The Penguins are in command of the Eastern Conference, leading Boston and Tampa Bay by seven points in addition to a 15-point cushion on the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division entering Monday.

Three Stars

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury
    #29, Pittsburgh
  2. Chris Kunitz
    #14, Pittsburgh
  3. Tanner Glass
    #15, Pittsburgh
But Pittsburgh has struggled recently with a lackluster home effort last Monday against Florida - 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference - and a 3-0 loss Saturday at Dallas.
It wasn't perfect, but the Penguins were able to turn it around on Monday.
''We still had times when we weren't getting pucks deep, turning it over, and giving them chances to get back into the game,'' Kunitz said. ''Our goalie made a few great saves, a few that went through his body, could've hit somebody and went in the other way.''
Goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 31 shots for last-place Buffalo, which has lost seven of nine.
The Sabres, who scored at least three goals the previous six games, won for the first time five games on Saturday, scoring a 5-2 victory at Columbus and stopping the red-hot Blue Jackets' franchise-record eight-game winning streak, but they couldn't sustain the momentum.
''We're a team that we can't have glaring mistakes,'' Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. ''It's very demoralizing. We woke up in the third period and made a push, but not good enough.''
The Penguins, after a scoreless opening period, scored at 14:16 of the second.
Brian Gibbons, who missed five games with a lower-body injury, hit the post on a one-timer from Crosby. The red goal light behind the net momentarily turned on before Kunitz swept the rebound into a partially empty net.
Engelland scored later in the period, forcing a turnover in the Sabres' zone before lifting a pass from Glass over a sprawled Miller.
That was good enough for the Penguins, who continue to try and perfect their stride despite leading the Eastern Conference.
''We still need to get better as a team and grow,'' Kunitz said. ''We have 30-some games before the playoffs to make sure we're running on all cylinders, and make sure we're the best team going into the playoffs.''
NOTES: Penguins' F Evgeni Malkin played in his 500th NHL game, becoming the 15th player in team history to reach the milestone. ... The Penguins are 27-2-1, and a perfect 18-0 at home when scoring first. ... Pittsburgh has won 40 of its last 48 home games dating back to last season. ... Chuck Kobasew, who played on Pittsburgh's top line the past four games, was a healthy scratch on Monday in addition to Andrew Ebbett and Robert Bortuzzo. Buffalo scratched Drew Stafford, John Scott, and Alexander Sulzer ... Buffalo plays the second half of a back-to-back Tuesday at home against Washington. ... Pittsburgh opens a two-game West Coast swing Thursday at Los Angeles ... The two teams meet for the third and final time this season next Wednesday at Buffalo.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bell should benefit from Munchak hiring

By Scott Brown
January 23, 2014

PITTSBURGH -- No one in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room should be more excited about the addition of offensive line coach Mike Munchak than rookie running back Le'Veon Bell

Bell will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the improvement that should take place up front with Munchak mentoring a young and promising offensive line. He should also thrive in the zone blocking scheme that Munchak is expected to make a staple of the Steelers'offense. 

Bell is a patient yet decisive runner and that blend is perfect for zone blocking, which requires backs to read and react. 

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsLe'Veon Bell's running style seems well-suited for the zone-blocking scheme the Steelers are expected to adopt.
Bell rushed for 860 yards last season despite missing the first three games with a foot injury and broke Franco Harris' Steelers record for yards from scrimmage for a rookie (1,259). 

The 6-foot-1, 244-pounder is one of the biggest reasons the Steelers' offense could really take off next season, and he could get a lot better with Munchak now coaching the Steelers' offensive line. 

Bell was the easy choice for the the Joe Greene Performance Award, which goes annually to the top Steelers rookie. While accepting the award Bell talked about how he watched the Steelers while growing up outside of Columbus, Ohio, and that he had always associated the team with cold weather and running the ball. 

Bell never got a chance to see Harris play, but he followed Jerome Bettis and admired the way "The Bus" churned out tough yards on the way to a Hall of Fame-caliber career. 

Bettis, it turns out, has been following Bell for a while, too. 

The Detroit native kept his eye on Bell during the latter's career at Michigan State, and he applauded the Steelers' decision to take Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. 

That pick looked better and better as the season progressed and Bell got more acclimated to the speed of the NFL game. 

"I was really impressed at how well he developed," Bettis said. "He's a big, physical guy." 

Bettis congratulated Bell via Twitter after the latter rushed for 124 yards in a Dec. 22 game at Green Bay, and he plans on talking to Bell in the near future. 

"I'm definitely going to reach out to him at some point," said Bettis, who is an ESPN NFL analyst. "I'm a huge fan."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Maatta, Malkin help Penguins beat Islanders 6-4

By Allan Kreda
January 23, 2014
New York Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin (60) reaches for a puck shot past him by Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) for a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Penguins won the game 6-4. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin (60) reaches for a puck shot past him by Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) for a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Penguins won the game 6-4. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- The New York Islanders andPittsburgh Penguins invariably play entertaining games at Nassau Coliseum. Just as predictable is the visiting team emerging with a victory.
Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta scored the go-ahead goal early in the second period and Evgeni Malkin added an insurance score in the third as the Penguins rallied from an early deficit and held on for a wild 6-4 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.
The Islanders had a 5-on-3 power play for 50 seconds late in the third, but couldn't score against backup Jeff Zatkoff, who made 30 saves for the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins (36-13-2). Pittsburgh improved to 17-5 against Metropolitan Division opponents.
Zatkoff (8-2-1) stopped Frans Nielsen point-blank during the power-play and denied John Tavares, second in the league in scoring to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, with a shoulder save in the closing seconds.
''Jeff hung in there and was strong when he had to be,'' Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of his goaltender. ''He made that huge late save and showed fortitude - as we all did - to stay with it tonight.''
Brandon Sutter scored an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who trailed 2-0 early and also got goals from Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang.

Thu, Jan 23, 2014

NY Islanders4
Michael Grabner, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo had goals for the Islanders.
Maatta scored his fifth of the season at 5:35 of the middle period to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead when the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman skated through the Islanders defense before sliding a backhand past Kevin Poulin.
Letang scored at 17:44 after the Penguins' league-best power-play unit kept the puck in the Islanders zone for nearly an entire man advantage. After hitting the post, Letang blasted the puck past Poulin for this 10th goal of the season to give Pittsburgh a two-goal cushion.
Bailey pulled the Islanders within a goal at 4-3 at 3:10 of the third when he beat Zatkoff on a breakaway. The goal came after Matt Martin of the Islanders fought Pittsburgh's Tanner Glass.
But Malkin slapped a perfect cross-ice pass from James Neal past Poulin at 5:59 for this 14th goal. Malkin has points in 24 of 27 games since Nov. 1, with 11 goals and 30 assists during the stretch.

Three Stars

  1. Sidney Crosby
    #87, Pittsburgh
  2. Chris Kunitz
    #14, Pittsburgh
  3. Kyle Okposo
''The emotion was there for both teams tonight as it always seems to be when we play the Islanders,'' Crosby said. ''We found a way to stay strong and make key plays at the right times.''
Okposo received credit for a goal at 10:55 of the third to make it 5-4 after the puck crossed the goal line in a scrum in front of Zatkoff. The play was reviewed and the goal awarded, the 21st for Okposo.
Sutter scored an empty-net goal for the Penguins at 19:56 to conclude the scoring.
The Islanders surprised the Penguins with two quick first-period goals before the visitors answered with a pair of their own in the latter half of the period.
Grabner whipped a loose puck past Zatkoff at 1:39. Then, Grabner set up Nelson at 8:21 to make it 2-0.
Kunitz answered for the Penguins at 9:32 with a slap shot from the top of left circle past Poulin. Crosby and Maatta assisted on the 25th goal of the season for Kunitz, who will join Crosby on Team Canada at the Winter Games in Sochi next month.
Then, Crosby tied it at 11:24 with his 27th goal of the season when he jammed a rebound past Poulin.
''They play an aggressive style and they create opportunities,'' added Crosby, who also had two assists and leads the league with 72 points. ''We were able to create some of our own and hold them off when we had to.''
The Penguins entered 26-2-1 when scoring first and 9-11-1 when they didn't. This time, they found a way to recover and overcome the Islanders (21-25-7).
New York has been on a torrid streak that pulled them from a 9-19-7 record after a shootout loss to Tampa Bay on Dec. 17 within five points of a playoff spot before meeting the Penguins. The Islanders lost for just the fourth time in 14 games.
''Again, it was about our battle level or the lack of it,'' Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. ''We have to defend harder. You can't give a team with as much firepower as the Penguins all that time and space. We got away from how we have to play for about 10 minutes and it cost us.''
The three previous Islanders-Penguins games this season were decided by one goal. The teams split two games in Pittsburgh before Crosby capped a Penguins comeback with an overtime goal at the Coliseum on Dec. 3.
Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 over its last nine and 15-3-1 in its last 19 contests. The Penguins have also won seven of their last eight regular-season games against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Penguins defeated the Islanders in a six-game first-round playoff series last May.
NOTES: Crosby has 25 goals and 58 assists in 45 regular-season games against the Islanders, including 11 goals and 24 assists in 21 games at Nassau Coliseum. ... The Penguins are 11-1 in their last 12 division games. The only loss was a 2-1 setback against the Devils in Newark on Dec. 31. The Penguins are 13-4-2 in their last 19 games at Nassau Coliseum. ... The Islanders continued to be without D Travis Hamonic (upper body).