Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ehrhoff's 1st goal lifts Penguins over Hurricanes

By The Associated Press
November 30, 2014
Ehrhoff's 1st goal lifts Penguins over Hurricanes
Pittsburgh Penguins' Christian Ehrhoff (10) of Germany slips the go ahead goal past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin (31) of Kazakhstan, during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Penguins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- One night after Sidney Crosby said the Carolina Hurricanes outworked his club, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain liked what he saw in the rematch.

Three Stars

  1. Christian Ehrhoff
    #10, Pittsburgh
  2. Thomas Greiss
  3. Justin Faulk
    #27, Carolina
Christian Ehrhoff scored his first goal of the season with 4:33 remaining, helping the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday night.
''I thought we executed a little better,'' Crosby said. ''When you can get a fresh start the next day and you know that you're playing the same team, you're pretty motivated, given the way things went the night before. We competed hard.''
Things didn't go Pittsburgh's way on Friday during a 4-2 loss to Carolina.
On Saturday, the Penguins (10-3-1) responded quickly to an early Carolina goal and held on to finish November on a high note.
Robert Bortuzzo's first-period goal gave Pittsburgh a lead it didn't relinquish. Thomas Greiss had 32 saves for the Penguins, who are 13-1-1 when leading after two periods.
''Those were key goals in a tight-checking game,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said. ''Our battle level was certainly a lot higher than it was (Friday) night.''
Ehrhoff followed his backhanded shot and put in a wide-angle forehand on the rebound to make it a two-goal edge in the third.
Justin Faulk put the Hurricanes ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal in the first - just 17 seconds beforeChris Kunitz tied it for Pittsburgh - and Elias Lindholm cut Carolina's deficit to 3-2 with 11.7 seconds left in the game.
Pittsburgh (16-5-2) avoided its first losing streak in regulation games this season. Anton Khudobin had 30 saves for the Hurricanes, 1-11-2 when trailing after two periods.
The teams traded early goals in the first period. Faulk struck first, but before that goal was announced, Kunitz tied it.
Evgeni Malkin skated behind the Carolina net and found Kunitz, who one-timed a shot at 3:56 for his first goal since Nov. 4.
Bortuzzo pushed the Penguins ahead 2-1 at 5:32. He skated between two defensemen, who didn't slide toward him. Bortuzzo had a clear path to the net and beat Khudobin for his second of the season.
Both teams started backup goalies in the second half of the home-and-home series. Cam Ward beat Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury on Friday. Greiss improved to 3-1-1.
''He's played outstanding,'' Johnston said. ''Every game he's been in, he's given us a chance to win.''
The Penguins played without center Marcel Goc and defenseman Kris Letang, both of whom were out with injuries sustained Friday. Andrew Ebbett was called up to take Goc's place in the lineup, and Bortuzzo stepped in for Letang.
NOTES: The Penguins have won four consecutive games at Raleigh, the longest streak against the Hurricanes since the franchise moved from Hartford in 1997. ... Pittsburgh, 9-2-1 on the road, is 13-1-1 when leading after two periods and 4-2 when the opponent scores first. ... Nathan Gerbe played his 100th game with Carolina. ... The Penguins are 3-3-2 in back-to-back games. The Hurricanes fell to 4-7-1, including 1-4-1 in the back half.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saints vs. Steelers preview

By Scott Brown and Mike Triplett |
November 27, 2014

When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh TV: Fox 

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints are in the hunt for division titles, but for different reasons. Despite a couple of bad losses, the 7-4 Steelers have managed to keep pace in an AFC North, where every team is at least three games over .500. 

The 4-7 Saints, despite their best efforts to play golf in January, are tied for first in the NFC South, which has delivered the kind of parity that the NFL doesn't want. 

ESPN Saints reporter Michael Triplett and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the game. 

Brown: Mike, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made the Saints' offense sound all but unstoppable earlier this week. With the weapons they have, starting with Drew Brees at quarterback, why does this team have only four wins in late November? 

Triplett: The biggest problem has been the Saints' defense, which ranks 27th in the NFL in yards allowed, 29th in takeaways and dead last in third-down percentage. But Brees deserves plenty of blame, too, for way too many costly turnovers in big moments. Essentially, he's been under pressure to do it all this year, and he hasn't handled that well enough, forcing the ball too many times on third downs or under pressure. 

Brees has still been sharp in a lot of areas (on pace for over 5,000 yards and a league-best 70.3 completion percentage). But he's thrown 11 interceptions and lost two fumbles -- many of them in huge moments. Last week was a perfect example. He threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens, but the Saints couldn't overcome the pick-six he threw in the third quarter. 

The Saints do have the NFL's second-ranked offense, though. And they're deep and diverse with guys like tight end Jimmy Graham and a run game that started great before stalling the past two weeks. What should they expect from Pittsburgh's defense? Where are they strongest, and where are they most vulnerable? 

Brown: The Steelers are getting healthy at the right time on defense and they should at least get strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor back for the Saints game. The return of two key players in their secondary, however, may not matter much if the Steelers don't get more out of what has been an inconsistent pass rush. 

The Steelers did anything but bother or fluster Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger in their last game. That is one reason why they had to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat one of the worst teams in the NFL. If Brees gets as comfortable in the pocket as Mettenberger did, the Saints are going to put up a lot of points. 

The Steelers were able to generate consistent pressure against Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Baltimore's Joe Flacco the last two times they played at Heinz Field. They are home again and the defense should have a little extra juice Sunday given some of the players who are returning and the fact that the Steelers are coming off a bye week. 

Jimmy Graham's numbers are down a bit this season, but he is still an elite player and the Steelers have struggled against tight ends. Assuming the they pay extra attention to Graham, what other receiver or receivers could step up and hurt the Steelers? 

Triplett: The Saints' receivers have been inconsistent this year, and they lost their most dynamic weapon two weeks ago when rookie Brandin Cooks suffered a broken thumb. But then the receivers stepped up big last week, with Marques ColstonKenny Stills and speedy backup Joe Morgan all making big plays. Morgan had a 67-yard run and a 62-yard catch in the first quarter, even though he was only a small part of the game plan. 

For most of this season, the Saints have been content to establish the run with Mark Ingram and settle for shorter passes/screens, etc. I'm sure they'll do some of that to keep their defense off the field at Pittsburgh. But they vowed to be more aggressive after they were way too "flat" and passive against the Bengals two weeks ago. So I'm sure they'll keep taking their shots Sunday, as well. 

It sure feels like the Saints' only chance is to win a shootout. I'm not sure they can stop Ben Roethlisberger or Le'Veon Bell. Is Roethlisberger playing as well as he ever has? 

Brown: Statistically, there isn't any question that Roethlisberger is in the midst of his best season. The 11th-year veteran is on pace to establish career highs in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes for a season. I'm not sure, though, that this is the best Roethlisberger has played; he hasn't been as consistent as he would probably like. He didn't play well at Jacksonville and Cleveland earlier this season. Nor did he play well at the New York Jets after absolutely strafing the Colts and Ravens in back-to-back weeks at Heinz Field, and he was just OK at Tennessee on Nov. 17. Seeing a pattern here? Roethlisberger has been lights-out at home this season and rather ordinary on the road. 

Fortunately for the Steelers, they don't need to delve further into why Roethlisberger has 18 touchdown passes at Heinz Field and just six away from it until after this game. If he plays as well at home as he has in earlier games, Roethlisberger and Brees could stage quite a shootout. Former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis was a big loss when he signed with the Saints in 2013. How has he played, and do you expect him to shadow Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown? 

Triplett: Lewis has arguably been the Saints' second-most-valuable player behind Brees this year. Up until three weeks ago, he was the one constant in a shaky secondary. He routinely matches up against the opponents' No. 1 receiver and holds his own (see quiet performances from Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson, among others). Fox analyst John Lynch said he'd put Lewis with Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson as the best corners in the league right now. That was the same case last year, when I thought Lewis was a blatant Pro Bowl snub. 

However, Lewis suffered a knee injury in Week 10, and he hasn't quite gotten back to 100 percent (though he was closer this past week). Obviously it would be huge for Lewis to help neutralize a guy playing as well as Brown is right now. Even if he does, the Steelers will pick on up-and-down corners like Patrick RobinsonCorey White and Brian Dixon with some other frightening big-play threats. 

To make matters worse, the Saints have suddenly become terrible against the run. Tell me more about Bell. He must be licking his chops after what fellow AFC North backs Justin Forsett and Jeremy Hill did against the Saints the last two weeks. 

Brown: Man, he has been a revelation in his second season. I thought Bell would build on what he did as a rookie and give the Steelers a nice all-around running back. I did not see the 2013 second-round draft pick emerging as one of the best running backs in the NFL, but there is no question Bell has done just that. The Steelers love him because there is nothing he can't do. Bell is an excellent receiver and he earned Roethlisberger's trust last year in picking up blitzes, something that is not easy for a rookie to do. 

Bell has really impressed me as a runner with his uncanny patience and ability to run with power and make people miss. His emergence as a premier runner, ironically enough, led to the exit of LeGarrette Blount, his good friend, from Pittsburgh. When the Steelers signed Blount in March, they envisioned more of a timeshare in the backfield as far as how carries were divvied up between Bell and Blount. 

Bell became so valuable to the Steelers that they didn't want him coming off the field in goal-line or short-yardage situations. Blount's shrinking role eventually led him to leave the field before the end of a game, and for the Steelers to waive him. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Penguins GM prepares for emotional series against Carolina

Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014, 6:51 p.m.

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

In this file photo, Jim Rutherford addresses the media during a news conference on Friday, June 6, 2014, at Consol Energy Center shortly after he was named Penguins general manager. He was the architect of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, and this weekend will come face-to-face with his old franchise for the first time, finishing with a trip to RBC Arena on Saturday.

For almost two decades, Raleigh was Jim Rutherford's home.
He was the architect of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes and played a vital role in turning Raleigh into a hockey town, controlling the hockey and business portions of the team's operation.
This weekend, Rutherford comes face-to-face with his old franchise for the first time, finishing with a trip to RBC Arena on Saturday.
“The games are about the players, not the manager,” Rutherford said.
A moment later, he displayed a hint of a smile.
This isn't just another trip to North Carolina, and he knows it.
“I try not to think about it,” he said. “I expect that going back into that building, my emotions will get going a little bit more than normal.”
Rutherford became the general manager of the Hurricanes when they still were the Hartford Whalers in June 1994. He became one of hockey's most respected general managers during the next two decades. His Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2002 before claiming a title in 2006.
After reaching the 2009 Eastern Conference final — the Hurricanes were swept by the Penguins that spring — Carolina went into a downward spiral, failing to reach the postseason since. Rutherford was replaced by former Penguins star Ron Francis as GM earlier this year.
Ready to move on from a high- profile role — Rutherford owned a small portion of the Hurricanes and remained an advisor at the time of the general manager switch — the 65-year-old Rutherford could not resist when the Penguins came calling.
But he remains close with many in Raleigh and feels no animosity toward the Hurricanes, even if that organization had decided Francis was the man to lead it forward.
“I was treated terrific there from the owner to the players, to fellow workers and the fans,” Rutherford said. “I have a lot of friends there. Not one regret. Not one hard feeling.”
Rutherford keeps track of his old team. The Hurricanes are struggling this season and appear destined to compete in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes rather than the playoffs.
“It (losing) would happen to any team,” Rutherford said. “They had a lot of key injuries. (The Hurricanes) had injuries over the last three or four years there. Just a run of bad luck. But they've got players back now, and they're playing a lot better.”
Rutherford has some players, too.
Guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins likely are the most talented team Rutherford has overseen.
“You know how this game goes,” he said. “Moods go as days and games go. But yeah, I like what our team has done.”
He said he probably will be emotional, first when he sees the Hurricanes in his new city Friday and especially Saturday night when Rutherford returns to the south.
Rutherford, though, has maintained his sense of humor.
“I call Ronnie once a week to see if I can get a player or two,” he said.
Then he smiled again.
“I stay in touch,” he said. “Not on a regular basis, but you know, a lot of those people are very close friends of mine.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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