Thursday, March 31, 2016

Winning for Lemieux 'would motivate' Penguins

March 30, 2016

Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux in 2009. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Here come the Penguins.
And, maybe, there they go, too.
“To be honest, until you brought it up, I hadn't thought about it that way,” captain Sidney Crosby said Wednesday after a practice at Consol Energy Center.
Neither had I, but then he appeared Tuesday night.
It occurred to me then that we might be watching the end of Mario Lemieux's time with the Penguins.
As this version of the team continues one of the most unlikely in-season turnarounds in nearly a half-century of NHL hockey in Pittsburgh, it's almost been forgotten that the franchise is on the sales block.
Lemieux and majority partner Ron Burkle put it there last summer.
Sales of franchises usually don't take this long.
The NHL commissioner usually doesn't take unannounced visits to NHL cities this late in the hockey season, either.
Well, not unless there's something significant to discuss.
Gary Bettman was in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, multiple sources confirmed.
Nobody would say Bettman wasn't here to discuss the possible sale to a person/group that would assume controlling interest.
So, I'm thinking that something is up.
If nothing else, that something is likely time on the Penguins' Mario Years (1984 to ???).
So, what's the way to play this out, Sid?
“I mean, if that's the case, you want to make sure you make it as good as you possibly can,” Crosby said Wednesday, taking five full seconds — and a deep breath — before answering.
“I mean, thinking about it just now, as you asked the question, if that is the way it works out, there's no better way for it to end than to win it all. That would be great.
“I mean, I haven't thought about it a ton. But the fact that you're bringing it up makes me think about it.”
Tucked into a corner at Consol Energy Center is a picture from a moment late on June 12, 2009.
It was taken in Detroit, on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. Crosby had handed the Cup to Lemieux (dressed similarly as he was Tuesday: dark blazer, crisp white shirt, darker jeans) After a couple of pumps, Lemieux handed the chalice back to Crosby.
Lemieux is smiling, as Mike Lange would say, like a butcher's dog.
Crosby is sporting the grin of a Lost Boy who is taking Captain Hook's hook from Peter Pan.
“That's definitely one, looking back, that's really special,” Crosby said. “But so was the opportunity (of) getting to play with Mario, getting to really know him.
“His family took me in, you know? Their kids, I saw grow up.”
At 18, Crosby moved into the Lemieux mansion in Sewickley. A bit later he moved out, but only as far away as the family's guesthouse in the backyard.
Sid The Kid became the oldest Lemieux child.
With Lemieux's children now out of the house, Crosby is essentially the last kid left for otherwise empty-nesters Mario and Nathalie.
He paused again, for only a couple of seconds.
“Yeah,” Crosby said. “I mean, I don't know what to say. It's been ...”
From the beginning, because they each arrived as No. 1 overall picks to a Penguins franchise that appeared to have flatlined, Crosby and Lemieux were presumed to have had a special relationship.
It's not a hockey relationship.
It's not a Canadian relationship.
It's not a father-son relationship.
It's theirs, and it's private, and it's still tough to get too much about it out of either Lemieux or Crosby.
“Obviously when I was younger and I was there, I saw him a lot more,” Crosby said, noting the only difference he has noticed from Day 1 to Year 11.
“We never did talk a lot about (hockey). I don't think it was ever stated. We just never did. It just kind of worked out that way. I'm sure both of us had seen it or been around it enough all day.
“When there would be games or something like that, we'd talk about it sometimes. But it definitely wasn't something — despite what you'd think or people would think — that dominated our conversations.”
The conversation people are having about these Penguins has changed a lot over the past three months. Once slow, the Penguins are fast. Once unable to score, the Penguins are pinball wizards.
A big reason for the transformation from also-ran to contender is that because Crosby, once thought to be finished, is flourishing as a likely MVP finalist.
He's back to being best in the world.
The Penguins are back to being dangerous.
And, so, once perhaps unattractive, the Penguins are now possibly the hottest of commodities for anyone interested buying a pro sports franchise.
A decade ago, Bettman showed up in Pittsburgh to privately put the kibosh on any plans prospective Penguins buyer Jim Balsillie had to move the franchise into Canada.
As much as anybody, Bettman helped Lemieux keep the Penguins where they belong.
It's not a stretch to think he'd be just as secretive, and no less authoritative, to help Lemieux move the sale of the Penguins along.
If so, at some point over the next few weeks, Crosby might have to borrow a page from the owner's manual of the club's owner. The night before Crosby's Penguins won the Cup in Detroit, Lemieux authored a text message for the players.
“This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful! See you at center ice.”
What could Crosby say to these Penguins if he knew the upcoming playoffs would be Mario's Last Shot?
“It'd be pretty easy, let me tell you,” Crosby said.
“As a player, all you can ask for is the opportunity to be pretty successful. I mean, we all love to compete. We all love the game. When you're given every opportunity as a player — whether it be facilities or how you're treated, or the little things that come with it here — I mean, it really goes a long way. And as a player that's all you can ask for.
“As a player, the best way you can give back is by doing your best.
“And winning.”
The Cup.
One more time.
For Mario.
Is that what this is going to be about, Sid?
“For guys who have been here longer, that absolutely would motivate us,” Crosby said.
“For me? To get it for Mario ...
“Yeah. Definitely. It would be the only way that's right.”
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Harrison is in his comfort zone with move to second base

By John Perrotto
March 30, 2016
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Josh Harrison understood what Neil Walker meant to both the Pirates’ franchise and to the team’s fans.
So each of the numerous times the versatile Harrison been asked about his favorite position to play since making his major-league debut with the Pirates in 2010, he would always give the same answer --- “all of them.”
While Harrison takes pride in his ability to play all over the field, he can now comfortably provide the real answer.
“I like second base the best,” he said at the Pirates’ spring training camp. “I was drafted as a second baseman, and I’ve always considered myself a second baseman at heart.
“But I also knew it was Neil’s position, and he played it well. He is one of the best second basemen in the league. I never felt comfortable saying that I thought second base was my position when Neil was here because I have so much respect for him as a friend and a player. I definitely didn’t want anyone to get the impression I wanted his job because I didn’t. We all know how much he meant to this team.”
Walker, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick from Pine-Richland High School in 2004, was traded to the New York Mets in December for left-hander Jon Niese. Harrison will be the regular second baseman this season after playing primarily at third base last year.
“Neil’s going to missed, no doubt,” Harrison said. “But guys get traded, guys switch teams, that’s the name of the game, and we all know that. Now, I’m going to play second base. I’m comfortable there, and I feel I’m ready.”
Harrison’s 67 career starts are his second-most at any position behind the 170 he has made at third base. He also has 46 in right field, 28 in left field and 22 at shortstop.
“I am confident with Josh playing second base,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We haven’t needed him to play there all that much there over the years, but whenever he has played there he has done a good job.”
One of the challenges for Harrison playing every day at second base will be getting comfortable with his double-play partner, shortstop Jordy Mercer. However, the two have been paired extensively in games this spring and have been teammates for many years.
“It’s a little bit different, but it’s not like we’re totally unfamiliar with each other,” Mercer said. “We’re to the point now where we’re pretty used to each other, and I think we’re fine going into the season. Neil was a very good second baseman but Josh is going to show people that he can be a good second baseman, too, now that he’s going to get a chance to play there regularly.”

Penguins rally, top Sabres 5-4 in shootout

By Will Graves
March 30, 2016

Penguins rally, top Sabres 5-4 in shootout

Pittsburgh Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl (34) celebrates his goal with Trevor Daley, center, and Matt Cullen (7) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mike Sullivan admires his team's resiliency. The Pittsburgh Penguins coach would just prefer to not have to rely on it so much.

Three Stars

  1. Kris Letang
    #58, Pittsburgh
  2. Tom Kuhnhackl
    #34, Pittsburgh
  3. Ryan O'Reilly
    #90, Buffalo
Still, Sullivan can live with the sluggish starts - for now - when it leads to the Penguins playing the kind of hockey they'll need with greater regularity once mid-April arrives.
Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel beat Chad Johnson in a shootout and Penguins inched closer to a 10th straight playoff berth with a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Ben LovejoyConor ShearyTom Kuhnhackl and Nick Bonino scored during a furious second period as the Penguins climbed out of an early three-goal deficit and then won it when Kessel's wrist shot slipped by Johnson's left pad and into the net.
''I don't think any of us to a man liked the first period,'' Sullivan said. ''But the good news is there's 40 minutes left and we're a good enough team that if we put our minds to it, we can climb back in it.''
Rookie Matt Murray made 26 saves, including a breakaway stop on Sabres rookie Jake Eichel in overtime, as the Penguins pulled within a point of the New York Rangers for second in the crowded Metropolitan Division.
Crosby assisted on Sheary's goal to give him an NHL-best 20 points this month. Pittsburgh improved to 11-4 since March 1, several of them games it was forced to scramble after sleepwalking through the opening minutes.
''For some unknown reason it keeps happening,'' Kuhnhackl said. ''We find ourselves down one or two goals, today three goals down. That can't happen as we get closer to the playoffs.''
Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist for the Sabres. Zach BogosianMatt Moulson, Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe also scored for Buffalo, and Johnson made 42 saves.
''We got some fortunate bounces, but we started with some good jump and a few things went our way,'' O'Reilly said. ''But you have to bring that consistency all night long and we didn't.''
The Sabres, well out of the playoff picture but much improved under former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, were no pushover. Sullivan warned his players about looking past certain opponents only to watch Pittsburgh fall into a familiar rut.
Buffalo, playing without injured forward Evander Kane, scored three times in the first 19 minutes. Moulson pounded home a rebound on the power play, O'Reilly followed with his 18th of the season and McCabe took a slick cross-ice feed from O'Reilly and stuffed it by Murray.
Pittsburgh's rally started with an unlikely spark, with Lovejoy finishing off a 3-on-2 by slamming the puck off Johnson's pads for the defenseman's fourth goal of the season and his second since Nov. 25. Sheary pounced on a Sabres turnover and beat Johnson 5:55 into the second before the Penguins' penalty killers gave them the lead late in the period.
Kuhnhackl finished off a textbook 2-on-1 breakaway with Matt Cullen to tie it at 18:47. The buzz from the 416th consecutive sellout at Consol Energy Center hadn't even waned when Carl Hagelin stole the puck behind the net from Johnson and fed it to Bonino in front put Pittsburgh ahead.
It marked the first time the Penguins have scored on the same penalty kill since Craig Adams and Matt Cooke did it against Tampa Bay on Oct. 27, 2010. The Penguins have outscored opponents 96-59 in the second period this season.
''What I like about our group is we've been able to find different ways to win,'' Sullivan said.
Bogosian tied it 2:13 into the third and Buffalo controlled most of the play during the final period and extra session but Pittsburgh hung in behind Murray. The 21-year-old was brilliant late, including a deft pad save on Eichel with about 30 seconds left that sent it to the shootout and allowed the Penguins a chance at the valuable extra point.
''It was tough giving up that goal early in the third but we shut it down pretty good after that. We got the two points so that's what matters,'' Murray said.
NOTES: Pittsburgh improved to 9-8 in overtime, including 3-3 in shootouts. ... The Sabres fell to 5-11 in OT and 2-7 in shootouts. ... Buffalo went 2 for 3 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3 with the man advantage. ... In addition to Kane, the Sabres scratched defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Cody Franson and goaltenders Jason Kosdorf and Robin Lehner. ... Pittsburgh scratched injured defensemen Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin as well as goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jaromir Jagr hits another milestone in age-defying, awe-inspiring season

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

At 44 years old, Jaromir Jagr has been and will continue to be the oldest player to do a lot of things in the NHL. No one has ever had a season like he's had at his age and the Florida Panthers forward just keeps making history.
In the first period of Florida's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, Jagr scored his 25th goal of the season. He became the oldest player to hit the 25-goal mark in NHL history by just over two full years, according to Elias (via NHL communications). Gordie Howe did it right before his 42nd birthday.

Here's a look at goal No. 25:

He still finds the scoring areas with such ease and when he's got the open look, the release is as good as many of the players that still have many 25-goal seasons ahead of them. Jagr's not missing from there.
It's been eight years since Jagr last hit the 25-goal mark. He put up 25 goals in 82 games for the New York Rangers as part of a 71-point campaign in 2007-08. That was his last year in the NHL before his three-year sojourn through the KHL. He turned 36 that season and it was at that point where we all started wondering if that was the last we'd see of Jagr in the NHL.
It of course wasn't and now we're not sure when he'll be done.
The future Hall of Famer has 58 points in 72 games. He is tied with Jussi Jokinen for the team points lead and has matched 22-year-old teammate Vincent Trocheck for the goal scoring lead with 25. Additionally, Jagr hit the 25-goal mark for the 18th time in his career, which moved him past Mike Gartner for the second most all-time. Gordie Howe is the leader with 20 25-goal seasons.
It seems like every time you turn around, Jagr is making history in one way or another. If he can do this at 44, how long can he keep playing? It's the question that everyone keeps asking Jagr, much to his annoyance.
In a recent interview with, Jagr mentioned that he's getting really tired of all the “when will you retire” questions. He explained why he told reporters in a recent scrum thathe'd play until he was 60 years old:
“Why I said that is because, for whatever reason, they always have to put my age and ask if I'm going to retire next year, so I was kind of mad about it. I was kind of joking and told them I was going to play until 60, but it's not reasonable. I was just sarcastic to answer their questions that they gave me.”
Maybe it's not reasonable for a mere mortal, but this is Jaromir Jagr we're talking about. He is playing some of the best hockey of the latter half of his career as a 44-year-old man in a league where youth is highly valued and scoring is down across the board. Yeah, 60 is a reach, but is it completely unreasonable to believe Jagr could make it to 50? Sure doesn't seem so. After all, this is a guy who still will do workouts after a game until 2 a.m. just because he has the energy for it.
How does one get such energy? Jagr recently admitted that he had a pretty substantial coffee habit, drinking up to 10 cups a day. That might give a little boost, right? Well, he gave that up for Lent. Now that it's Easter Sunday, he can get back to drinking coffee again, but if what he did over the last 40 days is any indication, the caffeine intake may not have played any sort of role in the 44-year-old's energy level previously. In fact, he was better without it. Jagr had 20 points in the 21 games since Lent began, a pace of 0.95 points per game – fairly ahead of his 0.80 season average.
He told GQ that he was still going to try it and see how he feels and if he still likes the taste as much because when you're his age and still playing the game at a high level, you can do whatever the heck you want.
We're running out of ways to describe this season for Jagr, but beyond what he has accomplished on an individual level, you have to look at what the Panthers are doing on the team level to get a full appreciation for Jagr's impact.
Florida is one win away from tying the franchise record for wins in a season, set in 1999-2000. They are in first place in the Atlantic Division after beating Tampa Bay Saturday night. That was their fourth win in five games against the defending Eastern Conference Champion this season. Jagr's young linemates, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are having career years despite missing significant time with injuries this season. Attendance, while still among the bottom teams in the league in that category, has made substantial gains from last year to this year. It's not all because of Jagr, but he's got a heck of a lot to do with this team's success.
What happens next remains unclear, though. The Panthers still have a playoff run to look forward to, perhaps even a lengthy one. After that, Jagr becomes an unrestricted free agent. Per reports, he will not discuss his contract with the Panthers during the season, but team executives have already expressed publicly that they want him back. With how he's played and with how the young players on the team have progressed, it might be a good fit for the remaining years of Jagr's career. Just don't expect him to sign anything for more than one year. That will be more his choice than the team's though.
Even at his age, Jagr is playing the game at a level that makes retirement seem distant. He is expected to play next season, but where he'll play is the only remaining mystery. It at least looks like both he and the Panthers have an incentive to keep their partnership going. It's working out really, really well.
Since Jagr was traded to the Panthers last season, he has 76 points in 92 games, a pace of 0.83 per game. That scoring rate puts him among the top 25 in the league among players that appeared in at least 90 games over the last two seasons.
It's been 26 years since Jagr first graced the ice in the NHL. He had 57 points as a fresh-faced 18-year-old out of the Czech Republic in 1990-91. Now at 44, with 58 points in one of the toughest scoring eras in the league's history, we may be even more in awe of him now than we were when he was piling up scoring titles and personal accolades. And he's not done yet.

Crosby nets OT winner, Penguins top Rangers 3-2

By Simmi Buttar
March 27, 2016

Crosby nets OT winner, Penguins top Rangers 3-2

Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cullen (7), second from left, scores past New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, left, during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing their best hockey of the season with the playoffs just a couple of weeks away.

Three Stars

  1. Phil Kessel
    #81, Pittsburgh
  2. Eric Staal
    #12, NY Rangers
  3. Sidney Crosby
    #87, Pittsburgh
Crosby scored on a deflection at 4:30 of overtime and the surging Penguins beat the New York Rangers 3-2 Sunday night in a potential first-round preview.
''It was a good play by Tanger (Kris Letang) to throw it into an area where I could tip it,'' said Crosby, who has 32 goals.
The star center has at least one point in 14 of his past 15 games (seven goals, 15 assists) and is third in the NHL with 78 points.
Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who have won eight of nine. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves.
''I think that we worked hard for it,'' Crosby said. ''It was a pretty even hockey game. That's what we're playing for, to get these two points, especially after a pretty emotional game yesterday, knowing what that meant.
''To come back and have a good effort and find a way to get two points in a back-to-back against a good team is nice.''
Pittsburgh, third in the Metropolitan Division, moved within three points of the second-place Rangers and two ahead of the idle Islanders. The Penguins, who have beaten New York three times in March, have a game in hand on the Rangers.
''It's big for the standings,'' Fleury said. ''It's so close with a division game. You definitely need those points. They've had our number in the playoffs the past few seasons.''
Eric Staal scored twice for New York, which had won three straight. Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast assisted on both of Staal's goals. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 29 shots.
''It would have been nice to have those (goals) to help with a win,'' Staal said. ''(We) could have had a few more. But good things as a line and obviously we have to keep building on that.''
Derick Brassard was called for high-sticking with 1.4 seconds left in regulation to give Pittsburgh a power play in the extra period. But the Rangers killed it off before Letang's wrist shot from the point ricocheted in off Crosby in front.
''The last three overtimes, that's the way we've been beat,'' Lundqvist said. ''It's tough to defend sometimes when they throw it around top and you get a deflection like that, but overall it was a good hockey game.
''It's just disappointing to lose, especially killing off their power play in overtime. I don't know what to say, it was a tough bounce there.''
Staal entered with one goal in 13 games with the Rangers since joining the team at the trade deadline in a deal with Carolina. It was his second multigoal game of the season.
The Rangers took advantage of a Penguins turnover to take a 2-1 lead early in the second period. Staal took a pass from Fast and sent a loose puck past Fleury at the right faceoff circle at 2:07.
The Penguins tied it again when Carl Hagelin used his speed to chase down a loose puck and put a shot on Lundqvist. Kessel backhanded in the rebound for his 23rd goal of the season at 8:36.
Kessel, who had a goal and four assists in Saturday's win over Detroit, sent a shot off the crossbar a couple of minutes later.
The Rangers opened the scoring in the first period.
Hayes took the puck up the left side and sent a pass in front to Staal, who fended off defenseman Trevor Daley and deflected the puck past Fleury at 4:19.
The Penguins tied it late in the period.
Derrick Pouliot took a pass from Daley at the left faceoff circle and shot from the point. Cullen tipped the rebound past Lundqvist at 15:49. It was Cullen's 13th goal of the season.
''I thought we played hard,'' Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ''I thought it was a fairly even game. We had to fight for every inch of ice out there. Those types of games, where you have to fight to get your offense, you don't get any freebies. I thought our guys played really hard and stayed with it.''
NOTES: Alain Vigneault has 141 regular-season wins as Rangers coach. He is one away from passing Roger Neilson for sixth place on the franchise list. ... Nine different Rangers have at least one goal over the past four games (Derick Brassard, Tanner GlassChris KreiderJ.T. MillerRick Nash, Eric Staal, Viktor StalbergDerek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello). ... Chris Kunitz, who left Saturday's win after taking a hit from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, was in the starting lineup for the Penguins. ... G Jeff Zatkoff, defensemen Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin and center Oskar Sundqvist were scratched for the Penguins. C Oscar Lindberg and D Dylan McIlrath (knee injury) were scratched for the Rangers.