Monday, October 31, 2016

Despite young, rising talent, NHL's best player still resides in Pittsburgh

By Mark Madden
October 31, 2016

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 29: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates up the ice with the puck against Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates up the ice with the puck against Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh has been home to the best hockey player in the world non-stop since 1984. We know what that guy looks like, and he looks like Connor McDavid.
But not right now.
At 29, Sidney Crosby is a bit young to be telling those noisy kids to get off his lawn. But that’s the position Crosby is in -- he’s the old guy already.
The most recent draft’s No. 1 pick, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, announced his presence with four goals in his first NHL game. Edmonton’s McDavid led the league in scoring going into Sunday’s action. Matthews and McDavid are both 19.
Hockey’s most motivated player still has more motivation.
Not that Crosby needed it. Crosby’s obsession with conditioning and preparation is only exceeded by his compulsion for routine/superstition. (That’s a whole other disturbing story.) When Crosby fades, it won’t be because his dedication has waned. It will be because his skills age out.
That’s not happening yet.
Crosby missed the season’s first six games after being concussed. Since his return, he has four goals and one assist in three games.
Memo to McDavid: Don’t look back. Someone might be gaining on you.
Crosby’s whirlwind return isn’t surprising. He won a Stanley Cup and then a World Cup of Hockey, winning MVP in both competitions. Crosby is now inarguably among hockey’s top five players of all time, though some stupidly argue.
The same applies when debating who is currently hockey’s best.
The Maple Leafs are the English team in Canada and haven’t won a Cup since 1967, when the NHL had six teams. Matthews’ perceived role to lead the Leafs out of the wilderness gets him extra PR cachet. But no one has yet suggested that Matthews is in a class with McDavid, let alone Crosby.
Matthews is really good, though. He could stickhandle through a crowded elevator.
Comparisons are already being drawn between Crosby and McDavid, and rightly so. McDavid will ultimately be hockey’s No. 1. It’s a matter of when.
Crosby and McDavid are very similar. Besides each player’s smorgasbord of speed and talent, they both play a painstakingly selfless team game. Their only goal is to win. Alexander Ovechkin can’t necessarily claim that.
McDavid is 2 inches taller, but his core strength doesn’t compare to Crosby’s. Crosby is a superior shooter, and no one plays better on his backhand.
Crosby is tops now. McDavid is 10 years younger. Will McDavid’s prime best Crosby’s? Not impossible, but hard to imagine.
The media will proclaim McDavid as being better than Crosby well before he reaches that plateau, because that’s what the media does.
But to position himself among Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr as Crosby has, McDavid must establish something unique about his game. Crosby doesn’t like this description, but he’s the best grinder ever. He’s got third-line grit plus generational, otherworldly skill. That’s Crosby’s niche.
Since returning to the lineup, Crosby has done a good job protecting his turf.
It gets personal Nov. 8, one week from tomorrow, when Edmonton visits PPG Paints Arena. That’s the first head-to-head meeting between Crosby and McDavid. The hype will be unbearable. What happens means relatively little. It’s just one game.
But Crosby and McDavid each has a sense of the occasion to match his talent. If you don’t have a ticket, get one.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Evgeni Malkin nets twice to reach 300 career goals in Penguins win

By Aaron Bracy, The Associated Press
October 29, 2016
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 29: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates a goal with teammates against Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA -- Evgeni Malkin scored twice, including the tiebreaker in the third period, and Sidney Crosby had two goals to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
Malkin's game winner was his 300th career goal.
Matt Cullen also scored for the Penguins, who scored three times in a 55-second span in the first period while opening a four-game road trip with their fourth win in the past five. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 38 shots while making his ninth straight start (6-2-1).
Jakub Voracek scored twice for the Flyers, and Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds each had one for Philadelphia. Steve Mason started and gave up three goals on 13 shots in the first period. Michal Neuvirth replaced him to start the second and finished with 12 saves on 14 shots.
Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last season, was available as Fleury's backup. Murray, recovering from a broken hand, hasn't played this season.
Malkin put the Penguins ahead for good with his milestone goal at 8:33 of the third. Olli Maatta threw the puck toward the net. It bounced off the leg of Philadelphia's Brandon Manning and to the back post, where a wide-open Malkin shot past Neuvirth.
Crosby, who missed the first six games due to a concussion, has four goals and five points in three games since returning.
Trailing 2-0, the Penguins scored three goals during an electrifying 55 seconds late in the first period.
Crosby beat Mason short-side from a bad angle with a top-shelf wrist shot with 4:16 left in the period. Forty-three seconds later, Crosby netted a power-play goal after one-timing a pass from Patric Hornqvist in the slot that whizzed by Mason. Cullen ended the onslaught with a wraparound tally with 3:21 remaining.
The only other time Philadelphia allowed three goals in 55 seconds or less was Nov. 23, 1991, when the Devils tallied three in 42 seconds in the second period of a 5-5 tie. Pittsburgh capitalized on a turnover by Sean Couturier to take a 4-2 lead on Malkin's goal midway through the second period.
The Flyers got back within one goal on Giroux's power-play tally with 6:44 remaining in the period. Radko Gudas made a stellar play to keep the puck in the offensive zone before Wayne Simmonds fed Giroux for a one-timer from the slot that beat Fleury on the glove side.
The play was upheld after a lengthy review to determine whether Philadelphia was offside on the play. The Flyers tied it 2:12 later on Voracek's penalty shot, which was awarded after the Flyers' right wing was pulled down by Brian Dumoulin on a breakaway attempt.
The Flyers were playing their fifth game in eight nights and were on the front end of a back-to-back. ... Giroux extended his points streak to eight straight games. ... Pittsburgh D Kris Letang (upper body) missed his fifth straight game but is close to a return. ... Voracek's penalty shot snapped a string of six straight misses and was Philadelphia's first successful conversion since Matt Read's tally on Nov. 13, 2011. ... The Flyers scored first for just the second time this season and now have three first-period goals on the season.
Penguins: At Anaheim on Wednesday.
Flyers: At Carolina on Sunday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

New book on Chuck Noll tells untold tales

October 25, 2016

Chuck Noll is considered one of the best coaches ever to walk a sideline in the NFL.
He has long been revered for leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowls after four decades of losing seasons.
But there's something about Noll, who passed away in 2014, that no one, save his wife Marianne, likely knew: Until he became head coach of the Steelers in 1969, Noll cut his wife's hair.
According to Michael MacCambridge, the author of “Chuck Noll: His Life's Work” (University of Pittsburgh Press, $27.95), Noll's skills as a stylist were not only an example of his many talents, but a byproduct of his devotion to family.
“You have to remember all through the '60s (the Nolls) are paying for their own place, raising a son, taking care of some of the children of Chuck's sister, and also helping with the housing for Chuck's sister and his parents,” says MacCambridge, who makes multiple appearances in the area Oct. 28 to 30. “They were going with what they were making, and assistant coaches' salaries in the '60s (were) not particularly lucrative.”
Born in Cleveland in 1932, Noll was unlike any football coach who came before him. At a time when teams were trying to find the next Vince Lombardi (the fiery coach of the Green Bay Packers), Noll took an intellectual approach to the game and expected his players to be self-motivated.
Although Noll didn't want to be seen as anyone's protege, Paul Brown, the legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns, did influence Noll's thinking. Noll played for and coached with Brown.
“Where Chuck got the most from Paul Brown was in that very cerebral approach that he had to the game,” MacCambridge says. “The notion that football is not about who can yell the loudest or get the most fired up. It's about teaching and technique and execution. I think that was particularly important in the era Chuck was coaching.”
MacCambridge, who is also the author of “America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation,” thinks Noll was the antithesis of Lombardi and the cult of personality that dominated coaching in late '60s (Noll started with the Steelers in 1969) through the 1970s.
Unlike his peers, including the imperious Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, the bombastic John Madden of the Oakland Raiders, or Jerry Glanville, the arrogant coach of the Houston Oilers, Noll preferred an even-tempered approach. When he did show emotion and exhort his players — especially prior to the 1974 AFC championship game with the Oakland Raiders when Madden intimated the Dolphins and the Raiders were the two best teams — “that came from an authentic place,” MacCambridge says.
“That was not calculated,” he says. “That was not meant to be a pre-game speech. That was just Chuck being Chuck. My instinct is that Chuck was not a particularly good actor about those things. Because it was authentic and because players could tell, sometimes, in almost a subterranean fashion, when the game was particularly important to Chuck: Glanville and the Oilers, the Raiders, the Cowboys.”
There were many contributing factors to Noll's success. Dan Rooney, the team president, stuck with Noll despite a losing record (12-30) over his first three seasons. He benefited immensely from scouts — including Art Rooney Jr. and Bill Nunn — who found star players, such as L.C. Greenwood, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell, at small black colleges.
But most of all, Noll was fortunate to have found his wife, Marianne. She was not only his soulmate, but also his intellectual peer who took care of the family's finances, among other things, and allowed him to concentrate on his life's work.
“It's hard to overstate her significance,” MacCambridge says. “In many ways, she was his liaison to the larger world. She was his shield, because in many ways he was innately shy and reticent, and obviously in that job he had to spend a lot of time talking to a lot of people.
“But I think even more important than her being self-assured and able to be an extrovert, he felt as though he had found his partner, and there was a deep sense of love, a deep sense of calmness, in that relationship. For me in trying to understand how this man could be so successful and what he was like, the relationship with Marianne was the window through which I was able to get a sense of who he was.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Crosby's goal leads Penguins past Islanders

By Dan Scifo, The Associated Press
October 27, 2016
(AP Photo/Fred Vuich). Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save against New York Islanders center Shane Prince (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Pittsburgh.

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich). Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a save against New York Islanders center Shane Prince (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH -- All Marc-Andre Fleury ever wants to do is give his team a chance to stay in the game.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' goalie did that and more on Thursday against the New York Islanders.
Fleury had 31 of his 35 saves through two periods, keeping the game close and allowing Sidney Crosby to score the tiebreaking goal late in the third to lead the Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the Islanders.
"We were under a lot of pressure, we were on our heels and he made some huge saves that allowed us to keep the lead," Penguins' coach Mike Sullivan said. "He was terrific."
Fleury faced just five shots in the third period while starting for the eighth straight game. Fleury won for the 19th time in his last 24 home starts and has given up two or fewer goals in five of the first six home games.
"I know the guys are trying hard," Fleury said. "I'm just trying to keep the score close and keep them ahead."
Patric HornqvistEvgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the defending champion Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.
Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Crosby, who also scored in his season debut on Tuesday, now has points in 10 straight regular season games dating back to last season.
Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.
Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, who fell to 0-3-0 on the road. Halak finished with 31 saves.
Malkin broke a 1-1 tie with 7:12 left in the third as he took a pass from Kessel and pulled up ahead of Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg before placing a shot between Halak's pads.
Prince, playing for the first time after missing five games with a lower-body injury, tied it again with 4:22 remaining. Fleury left the net to play a shot into the zone but the puck caromed off the boards to Prince, who put it into an empty net.
"I felt bad because I shouldn't have come out of the net," Fleury said. "If I would've stayed in the net, we would've been fine. I was happy to see Sid bury that one."
Pittsburgh won three of four against the Islanders last season, the eighth time in nine years the Penguins won the season series. The Islanders played the second half of a back-to-back after falling at home against Montreal on Wednesday.
"No one is going to feel sorry for us," Hamonic said. "Frustrating result the past two games, but you move forward. We have to keep going. That's all we can do."
Hornqvist opened the scoring with a power-play goal 46 seconds into the game. Pittsburgh has scored a power-play goal in all six home games.
Crosby, standing at the left post, set up Hornqvist on the opposite side during a slick passing sequence that also involved Kessel.
Fleury kept it a one-goal game with three saves in succession on Nick Leddy's point shot, Thomas Hickey's redirection and a blocker stop on Josh Bailey. Prince later hit the post to the left of a sprawled Fleury on a breakaway.
The Islanders tied it late in the second period on their 28th shot. Hamonic finished a 2-on-1 from Prince, beating Fleury to the blocker side.
"We're giving up more shots and chances than I think we're accustomed to and (Fleury) has been there to make that timely save for us," Sullivan said. "It gives our guys a chance to grab ahold of ourselves and play the game the right way. I thought in the third period our guys responded."
Sullivan didn't have an update on F Carl Hagelin, who left late in the third after taking a hit into the boards. .. G Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in June, dressed as Fleury's backup for the second straight game since returning from a broken hand sustained in last month's World Cup of Hockey. ... Penguins' D Kris Letang missed a fourth straight game with an upper-body injury, but he participated in Thursday's morning skate and is close to a return. ... Conor Sheary (eye) missed his fourth straight game for Pittsburgh, as did Derrick Pouliot (undisclosed). ... Islanders F Nikolay Kulemin missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Eric Boulton (lower body), Ryan Pulock (lower body) and Mathew Barzal also sat for the Islanders.
Islanders: Open a five-game homestand Sunday against Toronto on Sunday.
Penguins: Begin a four-game road trip Saturday at Philadelphia. Pittsburgh's next home game is Nov. 8 against Edmonton.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sidney Crosby 'so excited to be back out there'

Penguins captain scores in season debut after sitting first six games with concussion

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist
October 25, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- The Kid is all right.
Sidney Crosby came back from a concussion and looked like himself Tuesday.
He scored on the power play in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at PPG Paints Arena, wristing a shot from the slot and sparking a comeback from a 2-0 hole.
He threw a hit. He took a hit. He made a deft backhand pass. He kicked the puck up to his stick on the rush. He skated around one defenseman to get off a shot and powered through another to get to the net. He led the Penguins with four shots on goal.
By his measure, he was just "OK." He had missed the Penguins' first six games and had gone through only one full practice in more than two weeks.
"I think timing and just as far as execution, I think I need to work on that a little bit," he said.
But is there any doubt in his mind that he can return to the level at which he had been playing since the second half of last season?
"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "But yeah. I don't see why not."
That's huge, because that level was the highest in hockey.
Starting on Dec. 18, a little after the Penguins hired coach Mike Sullivan, Crosby re-established himself as the best player in the world. He had 30 goals and 36 assists in the Penguins' final 50 games last season. He was runner-up for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
Then he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after helping the Penguins win the Cup. Then he was named MVP of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 after helping Team Canada win the championship.
Then something happened Oct. 7 -- Crosby and the Penguins won't say what -- in his second practice with the Penguins after returning from the World Cup. He woke with a headache Oct. 8 and did not play in Pittsburgh's final preseason game. He participated in a fan fest Oct. 9 and missed practice Oct. 10, when he underwent testing and doctors diagnosed the concussion.
It was concerning, even though Crosby felt well enough to skate on his own the next day and kept skating almost every day. You never know with concussions, and injuries, including two concussions, already had cost him 161 NHL games of his prime. They already had cost him the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion at least twice.
Crosby had 32 goals and 66 points through 41 games in 2010-11, putting him on pace for 64 goals and 132 points, the best season the NHL would have seen since the 1990s, when he sustained his first concussion. He sat out the rest of the season.
He came back in November 2011 but played eight games before concussion symptoms sidelined him again. He ended up playing 22 games in 2011-12.
He had 15 goals and 41 assists through 36 games of the 48-game schedule in 2012-13. He was the runaway favorite for the Hart Trophy again. But he broke his jaw, missed the last quarter of the season and finished second in the voting.
Now what? How long would he sit out this time? How much would this one cost him? He was 29. His prime wouldn't last forever.
You would have to be a neurologist and know all the details to make a fully informed judgment. But it appears everything went well with this concussion, from how it was handled to how Crosby responded to it, and that's important considering the nature of the injury, Crosby's history and the example he sets for others inside and outside of the NHL.
The Penguins did not say Crosby had an "upper-body injury" or a "mild concussion." They publicly announced that Crosby had a concussion and did not give a timetable for his return, listing him as day to day.
Crosby knew what to expect from the process, most importantly to be patient, as hard as that was to do. He made steady progress. He underwent a lot of testing. He didn't assume he was fine after he had one or two days without symptoms, knowing he could regress. It wasn't until he had four or five days without symptoms, including after that full practice Monday, that he was confident he was ready.
On his first shift Tuesday, he skated right at Panthers defenseman Jason Demers along the boards, lowered his left shoulder and knocked Demers down. On his second shift, he initiated contact with Panthers centerJared McCann and won a puck battle.
"I think when you miss that much time, you just try to get involved early, whether it's taking a hit or giving a hit," Crosby said. "So excited to be back out there, and just trying to get involved right away."
He didn't seem tentative in 18:02 of ice time, and he can't afford to be tentative the way he plays, flying up the ice, buzzing in the corners, going to the net.
"I thought he had a real good start tonight," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "For me, he didn't miss a beat out there. He was winning faceoffs. He was battling down low. He brought a lot of speed to the game. He scored a big goal for us. So there's no reason [to think he can't return to the same level]. I think Sid's going to be fine."
The rest of the NHL got a head start on Crosby. Entering Tuesday, four players were tied for the League scoring lead with nine points. But now Crosby has one point and 75 games to catch up.
"It's a long season," Crosby said. "But I just …"
He paused.
"I'm happy to be back playing here," he continued. "It's my first game, and hopefully can play the rest of the season here."

Crosby returns, leads Penguins past Panthers

The Associated Press
October 25, 2016
Florida Panthers goalie James Reimer (34) makes a save as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) waits for a rebound during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Tues., Oct. 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh.
Florida Panthers goalie James Reimer (34) makes a save as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) waits for a rebound during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Tues., Oct. 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (Fred Vuich/AP)

Read more here:
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is just happy to be back playing hockey again.
His teammates feel the same way, as a goal from Crosby in his first appearance of the season was all the Penguins needed to overcome a slow start
Crosby jump-started a comeback as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.
"We started off behind the 8-ball there getting down, but we stayed in it and had a big second half," Crosby said.
Crosby, who scored on the power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion.
Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.
Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season.
Panthers F Jaromir Jagr returned to Pittsburgh where he won two Stanley Cups and five scoring titles, totaling 1,079 points in 806 games from 1990-01.
The Penguins honored Jagr, the No. 5 pick in the 1990 NHL draft, during Tuesday's morning skate with a commemorative plaque made out of material from the Civic Arena roof. The 44-year-old Jagr, who is in his 23rd NHL season, ranks third all-time in NHL history in goals and points.
"For the most part, it was a good game, especially the first two periods," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "I thought we played hard and played really well, but then we let it get away from us."
Crosby cut the Panthers' lead to 2-1 in the second period. Crosby, who was wide open in the slot, had to reach for a pass from Evgeni Malkin, but recovered to whip a shot from the slot over Reimer's shoulder.
"I had some time, so you want to make sure you put that one in when you have that much time," Crosby said.
Hagelin tied it in the third when he sent a shot underneath Reimer's arm during a 2-on-1.
Fehr put the Penguins in front for good when he one-timed a pass from Tom Kuhnhackl between Reimer's legs.
Crosby's goal was the catalyst.
Crosby, the two-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, hadn't played since sustaining a concussion in practice earlier this month.
Crosby participated in a full-contact practice Monday for the first time since suffering his third concussion in six years. And while Crosby called his participation in practice a major milestone in his recovery, he still feels there's more to improve upon as he works his way back.
"I've been skating on my own, so it's tough to get in any practices or game situations," Crosby said. "I kind of expect that, but I feel like things kind of slowed down as the game went on."
Despite the concussion, he forced his way into the action Tuesday when he recorded a hit on the first shift of the game.
"When you miss that much time, you just try to get involved early," Crosby said.
Crosby described himself Tuesday morning as a game-time decision, but coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins' captain would likely make his season debut barring a setback after participating in the game-day skate.
Sullivan was happy with the results.
"For me, he didn't miss a beat," Sullivan said. "We got a huge boost from his goal. We're grateful we got him back in the lineup and we're a better team when he's in there."
Crosby, who captained Team Canada to a World Cup of Hockey championship last month, missed the better part of two seasons after sustaining a concussion in January 2011. He stressed he didn't panic when doctors told him of the latest diagnosis.
The Penguins, meanwhile, went 3-2-1 with Crosby out of the lineup. He hopes it's the last one he has to miss.
"I'm just happy to be back, playing my first game," Crosby said. "Hopefully, I can play the rest of the season here."
Jagr played his 1,635th career game, tying Scott Stevens for seventh all-time. ... Penguins D Kris Letang skated Tuesday with a no-contact jersey, but missed his third game with an upper-body injury. ... Penguins F Conor Sheary is not cleared to play and will be re-evaluated in a week. ... The Panthers played without Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body), Nick Bjugstad (upper body) and Jussi Jokinen (lower body). ... Penguins D Brian Dumoulin played in his 100th NHL game.
Panthers: Continue a four-game road trip at Toronto on Thursday
Penguins: Host the New York Islanders on Thursday.