Monday, February 29, 2016

It's all speed and no size for revamped Penguins

By Mark Madden
February 29, 2016

Justin Schutlz
Justin Schultz plays against the Penguins last November (Gene Puskar/AP)

GM Jim Rutherford is putting all of the Penguins’ eggs in the speed and skill basket.
Will that make an omelet, or just a mess?
Rutherford’s desire to play to his team’s strengths was hammered home Saturday when the Penguins sent a third-round draft choice to Edmonton for rental Justin Schultz, a finesse-oriented, puck-moving defenseman just like all the rest.
Before criticizing that deal, it sure beats two second-round picks for Douglas Murray. That’s assuming Schultz doesn’t lose a leg between now and his arrival.
The Penguins have nothing but puck-movers on defense: Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Derrick Pouliot and Schultz are specialists thereof. Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin aren’t bad in that regard, either.
The Penguins, however, don’t have a legit physical presence on the blue line. No shrinking violets, but no hitters.
The Penguins, in fact, don’t have a legit physical presence in their entire lineup, although winger Chris Kunitz gets a lot of pop out of his 6-foot, 194-pound frame.
The Penguins otherwise don’t play heavy. Not even a little bit.
No matter what else Rutherford does before Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline, he can’t put a dent in the Penguins’ lack of physicality. The Penguins might exhaust foes, but won’t splatter them.
That’s not a problem, until it is. But speed is the signature element in today’s NHL. It’s often speed without talent, but that’s not a problem for the Penguins. Not for the top half of their lineup, anyway.
Will the NHL’s style change come playoff time? It usually does but lately, that shift hasn’t been dramatic. Play tightens up, sure, but you can use speed to do that.
The Schultz trade further commits the Penguins to what they do best. That doesn’t seem like something to criticize.
Daley has prospered since the Penguins got him Chicago this past Dec. 14. Daley has a bigger role with the Penguins, and he’s a good fit.
Despite being minus-22, Schultz wasn’t wanting for ice in Edmonton. But Schultz might also be a better fit in Pittsburgh, and he’ll distribute the puck to forwards who more often play up to their talent level than the Oilers’ gang of pedigreed underachievers.
Up front, the Penguins can solve their problems internally.
The top-six forwards have to be more consistent. Witness Sidney Crosby, who followed up an ungodly tear with six pointless games in his last eight. But the return of Evgeni Malkin from injury makes the Penguins a much tougher team to check, and should rejuvenate the power play (one-for-25 over its last 11 games).
The bottom six depends on Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and Beau Bennett.
Bonino, who just returned from injury Saturday, is a big disappointment: Three goals in 41 games after 15 goals last season and 22 the year before that. The bottom six doesn’t have to score much, but frequent goose eggs are unacceptable. (Scott Wilson scoring four times in the last five games was a godsend.)
Fehr is a prototypical bottom-six forward. Fehr doesn’t play big but, at 6-4, 212, at least he is big.
Who knows when the oft-crocked Bennett will be back, or how long he’ll stay in the lineup once he does return? But Bennett has skill and makes the occasional play. The bottom six needs that. Right now, it’s all chip-and-chase ham-and-eggers save 5-8 mighty mite Conor Sheary, who left Saturday’s game injured.
Rutherford hasn’t made and won’t make a trade that turns the Penguins into a nailed-on Stanley Cup contender. That’s because that deal isn’t out there.
Schultz will wear No. 4 for the Penguins. Dumoulin should give Schultz No. 8. For irony’s sake, and nothing else.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Veteran pitcher Vogelsong hoping to catch on with Pirates

The Associated Press
February 26, 2016
Veteran pitcher Vogelsong hoping to catch on with Pirates
FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws in the bullpen during a spring training baseball workout, in Bradenton, Fla. Vogelsong hopes his second act with the Pirates goes better than his first. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- There was no excited buzz around Pittsburgh in December when the Pirates signed pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.
There were plenty of anxious murmurs, though, and manager Clint Hurdle heard them.
''I've heard a lot of, 'Man, you should've gone out and gotten somebody better,''' Hurdle said.
The doubters don't bother Vogelsong.
''Some people might think I came back just to ride out my career,'' Vogelsong said. ''That's not the case. I expect to have a great season and continue my career as long as I can.''
Vogelsong, who will turn 39 in July, went 9-11 with a 4.67 ERA with the San Francisco Giants in 2015. He wasn't able to hold onto a starting spot and ended up making a third of his 33 appearances as a reliever.
With a hole to fill at the back of their rotation, the Pirates signed Vogelsong for $2 million. The one-year deal includes up to $3 million in performance bonuses.
''We believe he's still got the skills to perform at a very functional level,'' Hurdle said. ''He's got an edge and a hunger to his game that's real. That's something we like to use for his good and for the collective good of the club.''
The right-hander arrived at training camp last week carrying the same equipment bag he used in 2006, the final year of Vogelsong's first stint with the Pirates.
''I've come to realize that you don't close doors,'' Vogelsong said. ''Did I ever think I'd ever come back here? Honestly, no. But when the opportunity was there, I was really excited about it.''
Vogelsong had a bumpy ride with the Pirates early in his career. He blew out his elbow after his second start in 2001. While pitching in the minors in 2003, he developed Bell's palsy, which causes temporary paralysis of the face.
He made it back to the majors in 2004, but pitched poorly for some awful Pirates teams. After collecting just 10 wins in 103 appearances, Vogelsong was released after the 2006 season.
Vogelsong pitched three seasons in Japan, then got a minor league contract back in the United States. He returned in 2011 to the Giants, who had drafted him 13 years earlier and notched 13 victories. In 2012, Vogelsong helped the Giants win the World Series.
Being exiled to the bullpen last year signaled that Vogelsong's run with San Francisco was over. He hopes to rejuvenate his career by working with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, whom he first met while in the Pirates' farm system more than a decade ago.
''Ray's track record with turning some guys around is amazing,'' Vogelsong said.
Pirates catcher Chris Stewart crossed paths with Vogelsong in 2011, when they were with the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. What struck Stewart the most about Vogelsong was his work ethic.
''He was never not ready for a situation,'' Stewart said. ''I think he's still got that same mind set. Maybe we'll make a few tweaks physically to get him back to where he was before. He's determined to do whatever he needs to do to win. He's confident out there.''
NOTES: Jameson Taillon will start for the Black team in Monday's intrasquad scrimmage. Taillon, who missed the past two years due to elbow and hernia surgeries, will work two innings. Tyler Glasnow, the top-rated prospect in the Pirates' farm system, will pitch the first two innings for the Gold team.

Hagelin scores twice, Pens welcome back Malkin with 4-1 win

By Dan Scifo
February 27, 2016
Hagelin scores twice, Pens welcome back Malkin with 4-1 win
Pittsburgh Penguins' Chris Kunitz (14) is checked by Winnipeg Jets' Adam Pardy (2) before he can get off a shot on a rebound off Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson (34) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Evgeni Malkin's return to the lineup brought out the best in linemate Carl Hagelin.

Three Stars

  1. Carl Hagelin
    #62, Pittsburgh
  2. Derrick Pouliot
    #51, Pittsburgh
  3. Ian Cole
    #28, Pittsburgh
Hagelin scored twice and the Pittsburgh Penguins welcomed Malkin back from injury with a 4-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
''He's obviously one of the best players in the league, so he's going to open up a lot of room,'' Hagelin said. ''When he's on his game, the other team has to pay so much attention to him.''
That was good news for Hagelin. He scored his sixth and seventh of the season for Pittsburgh and Scott Wilson added a third-period goal.
Defenseman Kris Letang scored his 10th of the season for the Penguins, who had Malkin back in the lineup after the 2012 NHL MVP missed 10 games with a lower-body injury. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots for his 25th win.
''I thought overall the game (Malkin's) line played was pretty solid,'' Penguins' coach Mike Sullivan said. ''They're a threat every time they're on the ice and I think when those three guys play together their speed is evident.''
The Penguins won their 15th straight home game against Winnipeg, the NHL's second-longest streak against any opponent. The Jets haven't won in Pittsburgh since Dec. 27, 2006, when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers.
Blake Wheeler scored his 18th of the season for the Jets, who have lost six of their last eight games.
Penguins' center Nick Bonino also returned for the first time since Jan. 12 after missing 17 games with a hand injury.
Michael Hutchinson made 29 saves for Winnipeg.
''We came out and we battled hard,'' Hutchinson said. ''We just kind of kept coming and kind of took it to them for a little bit. The puck just wasn't going in the net.''
Wilson tipped Derrick Pouliot's point shot behind Hutchinson for his fourth goal in five games, giving the Penguins a two-goal lead 5:19 into the third period. Hagelin made it a 4-1 game later in the period on a one-timer from Phil Kessel. It was his second of the game and third with Pittsburgh since he was acquired Jan. 16 from Anaheim.
''I think it was important for us to get that 3-1 goal,'' Hagelin said. ''It was key and it definitely kind of put them away.''
Pittsburgh went 5-4-1 without its leading scorer Malkin. When he was injured, he was tied for ninth in league scoring, second in power-play points and tied for seventh in goals. Pittsburgh struggled on the power play without him, going 1-for-24. The Penguins were eighth in the league, converting at a 20 percent success rate with Malkin in the lineup.
''(Malkin), I thought was really strong,'' Sullivan said. ''I think his conditioning will only get better as he gets his timing back and gets back into game mode.''
The Jets were without a pair of 17-goal scorers after former captain Andrew Ladd was traded to the Blackhawks on Thursday and Bryan Little was recently lost for the season with a fractured vertebrae.
Marko Dano played his first game with Winnipeg on Saturday. The Jets acquired the 2013 first-rounder and two draft picks from the Blackhawks along with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison. Dano, who played 48 NHL games with Columbus and Chicago, finished a minus-2 with three shots in 13:50 of ice time on Saturday.
The teams played a scoreless opening period, but Pittsburgh quickly broke the deadlock with two goals in the first minute of the second.
Letang scored 28 seconds into the period with a slap shot over Hutchinson's glove off the rush. Hagelin tipped Ian Cole's shot from the point past Hutchinson 23 seconds later.
The Penguins looked to score another but Hutchinson denied Sidney Crosby's partial open-net opportunity with a diving, desperation stick save.
''I had saucers when I looked over and saw Crosby with a wide-open net,'' Hutchinson said. ''I just kind of threw my stick and hoped for the best and I was fortunate that it hit off my stick and didn't go in.''
NOTES: The Penguins signed D Olli Maatta to a six-year contract extension on Friday that will keep the 21-year-old in Pittsburgh through the 2021-22 season. ... Penguins F Conor Sheary left Saturday's game in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not return. ... Pittsburgh scratched forwards Kevin PorterSergei Plotnikov and recently recalled defenseman Steve Oleksy. Winnipeg was without Paul Postma and Matt Halischuk. ... Pittsburgh will play five games in the next seven days beginning Monday at home against Arizona. ... The Jets will play five home games in eight days beginning Tuesday against Florida.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jaromir Jagr - Quarter Century On The Ice

Jaromir Jagr "Ageless" - ESPN Spotlight 2016 (HD)

Panthers’ ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr is a player beyond comparison

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr celebrates after scoring his 742nd career NHL goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 20. Jagr moved into third place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
(Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

The trouble with putting Jaromir Jagr and what he is doing these days into context is you’ll never find a context where he will fit.
He is a one-off: A 44-year-old, 230-pound winger in a league in which everyone is getting younger, smaller and faster as the game continues to evolve into a version of pinball on ice.
He is on pace for a 28-goal, 61-point season at an age when no player in league history has hit 20 goals or 45 points.
He leads the Florida Panthers – the fifth-best team in the NHL – in goals and points and will make more than $5-million (U.S.) as he hits almost all of his performance bonuses with ease.
He isn’t just piling up easy points on the power play either. Entering Sunday’s games, Jagr was tied for 12th in the entire NHL in even-strength points. Tied with Alex Ovechkin. One behind Sidney Crosby. One ahead of John Tavares.
None of it makes any sense.
Jagr tied and then passed Brett Hull for third spot in the NHL’s career goal scoring pantheon on Saturday, with his 741st and 742nd goals the driving force in Florida’s 3-1 win over Winnipeg.
His first goal was a beautiful redirection from the slot, as Jagr trailed the play through the neutral zone and drifted in late.
On the second, he won a puck battle with Tyler Myers – a 6-foot-8 defenceman who is 18 years his junior – and swatted it quickly over the goaltender.
“It’s unbelievable,” Jagr’s coach, Gerard Gallant, said afterward.
“You give a great player too much room, he’s going to hurt you bad,” Jets coach Paul Maurice lamented.
Jagr’s 742 goals put him 59 from Gordie Howe in second place and 152 from Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894. Passing Howe is certainly possible, with Jagr showing no signs of slowing down or interest in retirement, despite facing those questions every few weeks.
“There’s no reason to quit,” Jagr said. “I love the game. If I can play in the NHL, why not keep going?”
Jagr’s longevity has been all the more impressive because of his durability. He has missed only eight games the past three seasons and scored at a 23-goal pace per 82 games. If he plays another two years, Howe’s 801 could be within reach by the end of the 2017-18 season, when Jagr is 46 years old.
If he plays another three years, getting there is a given.
A select few other NHLers such as Howe, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios have played in the NHL into their mid-40s, but what separates Jagr is he remains a top-line talent playing 17 minutes a game on a top-end team. His off-ice workouts have become the tale of legend – shooting medicine balls with his stick and wearing 45-pound weight vests – and he has been known to have his own key to the rink so that he can skate and work out hours after games.
Jagr needs a new contract for next season, but he has likely stopped bouncing from team to team as a free-agent mercenary. He has been a dream linemate and teacher for the Panthers burgeoning stars Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and found a home as a huge fan favourite in South Florida.
With Panthers attendance up 3,600 fans a game – by far the biggest year-to-year increase in the NHL – it’s a certainty ownership makes a push to bring Jagr back, perhaps even on a multiyear deal this time.
He has obvious fans on high in the organization. Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu tells the story of how his 13-year-old son Danny went down to meet Jagr after the first game of the season. Danny and a friend were both wearing mullet wigs in homage to Jagr’s trademark hairstyle from his heyday, and the star was impressed.
Jagr grabbed an extra mullet wig they had and posed for a picture with the boys. Ever since, that mullet has been hanging in his dressing room stall as a good-luck charm.
“Such a good guy,” Cifu said.
It wasn’t always this way for Jagr. He wasn’t always lauded for his work ethic and popular with owners, coaches and fans. But he is the first to admit he has changed with age and that the three years he spent playing in Russia, closer to his family in the Czech Republic, rekindled something in him.
It’s natural to wonder, had he stayed in the NHL those years, if perhaps Jagr would be chasing down Gretzky right now, instead of Howe.
But had he stayed, perhaps he wouldn’t have continued to play this long and this well?
“When I got the birthday cake for 44th birthday, you get the wish,” Jagr said on Saturday. “I said ‘I wish I’m going to be a goal scorer.’ So, so far it worked. Maybe I’m going to catch Gordie and maybe Wayne Gretzky, too.”
And he laughed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Heath Miller Highlights

SNU Weekly Huddle with Heath Miller - November 11, 2015

Fan favorite Heath Miller's retirement forces Steelers into brave new world

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer
February 19, 2016
Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball against Dan Connor #52 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)

So maybe Heath Miller had lost a step -- barely.
But Miller's importance to the Steelers can't be overstated, based on everything he offered the franchise for 11 years.
Pass catching.
Run blocking.
Locker-room leadership.
Every intangible in the football manual, he embodied it. No player seemed to capture the blue-collar vibe of Pittsburgh football more than Miller.
His retirement at age 33, which the Steelers announced Friday afternoon, forces the team to reimagine new offensive possibilities while trying to replace a workhorse.
For years, Ben Roethlisberger's safety valve over the middle of the field was Miller. That's gone now.
Miller was still productive. His athleticism waned a bit in his final years, but he could still get open. Five yards, turn left or right, catch. His hands remained elite.
There's no surefire option to replace that dependability at this point. After all, this wasn't a player holding out too long. He moved on with something left.
Miller will be missed beyond the catches and yards: Steelers fans love Miller, chanting "Heeeeeeeath" every time he corralled a pass over the middle. With several franchise records for tight ends, including receptions (592), yards (6,569) and touchdowns (45), Miller has the stats to accompany the tenure and the Super Bowl pedigree. That might be enough to get him into the Steelers ring of honor one day. Coaches absolutely loved this guy. Todd Haley and others have routinely called him one of the best teammates they've ever seen. He wasn't overly vocal but would pull players aside when the time was right. That's the stuff you can't manufacture.
The Steelers have work to do on offense without Miller: The Steelers like fifth-rounder Jesse James, but he's hardly a guarantee to replace Miller. The Steelers will develop him, see how he grows, but a depth chart of James and Matt Spaeth won't get it done. The Steelers can design more plays for slot receiver Markus Wheaton over the middle to compensate for Miller's loss. But Wheaton's not an inline tight-end blocker. That might be the hardest part of Miller's game to replace, the versatility from snap to snap.
This could change the Steelers' draft plans: Tight end was never a position of need. The Steelers always could take that off the board in the past. That changes now. Arkansas’ Hunter Henry is considered the draft's top tight end, and he could be available at No. 25 overall. If the Steelers love his skill set, they have to consider him. They would have done so anyway, considering Miller's age, though any draft pick could have integrated with Miller to form a potent duo. With the Steelers' fast-paced, quick passing game, this is a chance for the team to add speed and dynamic playmaking on the inside. Not that Miller wasn't dynamic -- he certainly was for parts of his career -- but speed was never his thing.
From a business sense, Miller's retirement helps, but that's not the point: For you cap-space lovers, Miller's retirement takes about $4 million off the books. ESPN's roster management system has the Steelers at around $14 million in cap space once the new salary cap hits. They'll have enough space to maneuver. Though I never got the sense the team was going to cut Miller. He's still valuable on and off the field. A pay cut, maybe. A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report said Troy Polamalu was given a retire-or-get-cut ultimatum, so who knows, maybe Miller got that. But Miller had more left than Polamalu did at his retirement point, in my opinion. Fretting over a few million in exchange for uncertainty at the tight end position wouldn't make sense. That's why the Steelers must like their contingency plan, whatever it is.

Letang has 3 assists in Penguins' 4-3 win over Sabres

John Wawrow
February 21, 2016
Letang has 3 assists in Penguins' 4-3 win over Sabres
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) skates away from Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are a far better team when play-making defenseman Kris Letang keeps his emotions in check.

Three Stars

  1. Kris Letang
    #58, Pittsburgh
  2. Zach Bogosian
    #47, Buffalo
  3. Phil Kessel
    #81, Pittsburgh
A day after losing his cool in a 4-2 loss against Tampa Bay, Letang showed patience in overcoming the Sabres' aggressive forecheck by setting up three goals in a 4-3 win at Buffalo on Sunday.
''He's such a good player when he plays the game the right way and when he has control over his emotions,'' coach Mike Sullivan said.
''He's a competitive guy. He really cares. That's why he's emotional. But obviously, he's got to channel it the right way. And I though he did that.''
Letang poked holes in the Sabres defense in helping the Penguins build a 4-1 lead and beat Buffalo for the eighth straight time.
He set up Scott Wilson's go-ahead goal with a pass that found the rookie forward wide open to the right of the net early in the second period. Letang's no-look pass from the right point set up Phil Kessel to make it 3-1.
And before it was over, Letang had a hand in Matt Cullen's short-handed breakaway goal midway through the third period.
Letang bounced back from a loss to Tampa Bay in which he was penalized three times, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for playing with Lightning forward Cedric Paquette's stick.
''It was good to respond to that and have a good game, especially after yesterday,'' Letang said.
Patric Hornqvist also scored in a game the Penguins never trailed. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots in returning after missing a game due to illness.
Pittsburgh improved to 9-3-1 in its past 13, and moved three points ahead of ninth-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres had a 3-0-1 streak snapped and received even more bad news following the game. Coach Dan Byslma announced that top-line center Ryan O'Reilly will miss three to four weeks with a lower body injury.
Bylsma didn't reveal the exact nature of the injury after O'Reilly was hurt in a 4-0 win at Columbus on Friday.
''He's you're No. 1 guy, and that's something you can't replace,'' Bylsma said.
O'Reilly was Buffalo's lone All-Star game selection and leads the team with 49 points (17 goals and 32 assists) and the Sabres forwards in averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time.
Zach Bogosian had two goals and an assist, and Brian Gionta had a goal and assist for Buffalo.
Buffalo failed to build off a first period in which it outshot the Penguins 15-6. And the Sabres began to unravel in the second period, during which the Penguins took control by scoring twice and outshooting Buffalo 16-6.
The Penguins haven't lost to the Sabres since a 4-2 defeat on April 23, 2013. And they've won six straight games at Buffalo.
Wilson is providing the Penguins a boost, especially with Evgeni Malkin missing his ninth game with a lower body injury.
After failing to score in his first 13 games, Wilson has a goal in each of his past three, including a game-winner in a 6-3 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
''He seems to have a lot of confidence right now,'' Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Wilson. ''He got that first one under his belt, so I think being able to build off that, he knows where to be. The puck kind of finds him around the net.''
Wilson was parked at the right post, when Letang fed him a pass through the middle. After settling the puck, Wilson snapped a shot just under goalie Robin Lehner's glove.
Lehner, coming off a 38-save shutout performance, blamed himself for allowing Cullen's goal in the third period. Lehner closed his pads to stop Cullen's shot, but the puck still managed to dribble through.
Gionta responded 13 seconds later to cut the Penguins lead to 4-2.
NOTES: Crosby earned the secondary assist to give him a point in 27 of 30 games against Buffalo, and increase his total to 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists). ... The Penguins recalled goalie Matt Murray from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Murray served as the backup, replacing Jeff Zatkoff, who allowed four goals on 20 shots against Tampa Bay. ... Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said D Ben Lovejoy will undergo further evaluations Monday after sustaining an upper body injury against Tampa Bay.