Friday, September 30, 2016

Sidney Crosby and the soul of winning everything

September 30, 2016
Image result for sidney crosby world cup 2016
Sidney Crosby was the only player in the World Cup of Hockey to reach double figures in points, which helped earn him the Most Valuable Player award for the tournament. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO – Until 10:43 p.m. Thursday, only one hockey player in history could say he’d won a world championship, world junior gold, Olympic gold, World Cup of Hockey gold, two Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy, and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Joe Sakic now has company in that exclusive group, and his name is Sidney Crosby — your unanimous World Cup most valuable player.
Quantifying Crosby’s excellence has been many a hockey writer’s task. If Sakic is the standard for breadth of team and individual wins, then know this: Sakic didn’t finish his resume until he was 35.
Crosby is 29. Here are some things he has that Hall of Famer Sakic does not: a second Hart, two Art Ross Trophies, a World Cup MVP, and an active playing career.
“I’m not going to say it’s the best hockey he’s ever played because he plays so well in the NHL all the time. But from when I’ve been playing with him, in the three [previous international] tournaments,” Ryan Getzlaf said, “I would say he’s playing unbelievable.
“Things are working for him now. He’s hot.”
When Canada trailed Game 2 1-0, it was Crosby that roughed up Team Europe’s Dennis Seidenberg and grabbed a piece of Anze Kopitar at the first-period buzzer, trying to awaken his teammates, most of whom came out dozy.
And it was Crosby that began Canada’s energetic push in the final 10 minutes of regulation and set up the third-period tying goal on the power play.
A couple of days before Crosby hoisted the Frank Gehry–designed World Cup prize, the one that has been best described as a clenched bouquet of freeze pops, Wayne Gretzky called him the world’s greatest player because of course.
“He’s a good, good, good, good player,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, using one good for each distinct major international championship he and Crosby have now won. "A serial winner."
Yes, Babcock, Crosby, linemate Patrice BergeronJonathan Toews and Corey Perry are now all members of the Quadruple Gold Club. Fun fact: Crosby captained all four of his golden teams.
During a June convocation address at the University of Saskatchewan, Babcock pushed to the essence of the greatest athletes he’s ever coached — the elite of the elite, like Crosby.
“Everybody talks about their skill,” Babcock said. Talent is not why they keep winning. “It’s their drive train. It’s their passion... It’s in their heart. It’s in their soul.”
Babcock this week on Crosby: “He’s that high-end competitor. He’s a good leader because he tries to do it right all the time. He demands a lot out of himself. In doing so, he demands a lot out of his teammates.”
Fourth-liner Matt Duchene tried to describe Canada’s dressing room culture, the interactions between 23 men who’ve won everything except Putin’s heart, who will take an eight-year-old 16-0 streak into PyeongChang or wherever the next World Cup lives.
“It’s a locker room full of alpha males. The cool part about it is — and I don’t know whether it’s being Canadian or the hockey culture — that we all respect each other and identify what the other brings. We don’t have one alpha over everybody else.
“We know we’re a group of elite players and elite pros who want to be The Guy all the time, but we know you can’t always be that. We check our ego at the door, and you see the result.”
They say you don’t get this far without an ego. Almost as cool as it is to witness Crosby’s repeated winning maintained over years, his resilience through scary concussions and that confounding scoring drought of early 2015-16, is watching him act a goofball with Cole Harbour pal Nathan MacKinnon in prank coffee commercials or hearing about the time this summer that he low-key rerouted his vehicle to answer the plea of a plywood sign — “Sid, please sign my jersey” — and surprise a Nova Scotian family with a knock on the door.
Babcock believes Crosby has matured, grown more comfortable with who he is.
“He’s under a microscope all the time, as you know, but he’s a joy to be around,” Babcock said. “You can be a fierce competitor in everything you do and still be a great human being.”
Runner-up Thomas Vanek said Crosby inspires him. Losing coach Ralph Krueger labeled No. 87 “the ultimate professional.” Shea Weber, embracing his captain during one final O Canada said Crosby wields the power to “impose his will or change the game at any time.”
Canada’s top line of Crosby, Bergeron and Brad Marchand (who may wish to give Sid, say, two per cent of the $49 million he was awarded this week) was easily the tourney’s most dangerous, exploding for 25 points in six games. Crosby led all World Cup players in points (10), assists (seven) and plus/minus (+9) and never took a penalty.
“It looks like he is a man on a mission out there,” Steven Stamkos said. “He has always played when called upon for his country.
“The guys in our room feel he is the best player in the world, and we’re glad he is on our team.”
“Us too,” said Canada.

This will come as a heartbreak, kids, but Penguins need to break up HBK line

By Mark Madden
September 30, 2016
Image result for hbk line
Bruce Bennett / Getty Images
Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. The HBK line. It had a legendary playoff this past spring. Finished fourth, ninth and 11th in postseason scoring. (Kessel, Bonino, then Hagelin.) Sold a lot of T-shirts. Won a Stanley Cup.
HBK will start the season together.
But that won’t last long.
Regular-season hockey is different than playoff hockey. The priorities are different, too. The Penguins blocked 33 shots in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. That’s not going to happen, say, Nov. 19 at Buffalo.
In the playoffs, everybody wants to win.
In the regular season, the stars want ice time and points.
HBK will be dismantled early in the season, its components distributed among Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Hagelin with one, Kessel with the other.
The superstar centers won’t campaign for that. They won’t have to. It’s simply how things are.
Being on a line with Chris Kunitz (now, not then) won’t maximize anybody’s production. Same goes for skating with the Wilkes-Barre gang.
A month before the playoffs, reassemble HBK.
Less knowledgeable Penguins fans will be outraged by this idea, to say nothing of those who purvey tacky merchandise violating the copyright of the NHL, Penguins and WWE. (Shawn Michaels will be fine with it. He once super-kicked his tag-team partner through a window.)
Whiny voice: “How can you split up HBK?”
But lines get put together and taken apart all the time. To think that HBK, or any line, would stay together for 82 games is silly. Injuries will figure in, also.
This much is certain: If Bonino doesn’t skate with Hagelin and Kessel and his production dips, don’t complain. We know what Bonino can do.
The Penguins start 2016-17 with virtually the same roster that won the Stanley Cup. That’s not all good.
You want young players to win jobs. You want that higher upside. You want to regenerate the energy that sparked the Penguins last season.
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot came to training camp in much better shape and, apparently, is finally focused on augmenting his ample tools with a toolbox. Can he put Ian Cole in the press box or inspire GM Jim Rutherford to deal Olli Maatta?
Uh, probably not. But Pouliot is 22 and a former first-round pick. His talent merits a very close look.
Winger Scott Wilson hurt his ankle March 11 at Columbus and missed the rest of the season plus playoffs. It was the same game Malkin injured his elbow, which kept him out for a month, so nobody noticed Wilson going down.
But, had Wilson not been afflicted, he would have stayed in the lineup through the postseason. He’s a solid bet to get a jersey for opening night.
Same goes for Kevin Porter, who broke his fibula March 3. Porter had zero goals in 41 games, but he’s a good penalty killer. Coaches love that in a bottom-six forward.
At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, can Conor Sheary play well over 82 games, let alone in a top-six role? For Sheary, less ice might mean more success.
At 31, is Eric Fehr closer to the end than he is the middle? Fehr, however, is 6-foot-4, (cue sing-along) and you can’t teach that.
At 39, will Matt Cullen hit the wall, making way for Oskar Sundqvist at fourth-line center?
The goaltending controversy has been pushed back 3-6 weeks thanks to Matt Murray’s broken hand. Or maybe not. Tristan Jarry posted a shutout Wednesday night at Chicago. Let’s make it a three-way dance!
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sidney Crosby cementing place as 'best player of his generation'

By Larry Lage, Associated Press
September 28, 2016
Image result for sidney crosby world cup 2016
Sep 24, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Team Canada forward Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates his goal against Team Russia during the first period of a semifinal game in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA Today SportsTO
DAY Sports
Sidney Crosby has been surrounded by the best hockey players on the planet at the World Cup of Hockey, and still seems as if he is in a class by himself.
"He's probably the best player of our generation," Canada goaltender Carey Price said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar has a World Cup-high nine points — two more than anyone else — and is within a win of adding another accomplishment to his Hockey Hall of Fame-ready resume. Canada will play Team Europe in Game 2 Thursday night, leading the best-of-three series 1-0.
The eight-nation European team has been led lately by Tomas Tatar, who scored his team's only goal in a 3-1 loss Tuesday night. The Slovakian forward scored twice, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden in the semifinals on Sunday.
Tatar, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, acknowledged he is inspired by Crosby's greatness. And he knows slowing Crosby down is a key to forcing a Game 3 on Saturday night.

'I just want to win'

"I'm not saying one guy should be standing by him, but we should be always aware of where he is on the ice," Tatar said.
Crosby has been much more effective than he was in his last best-on-best tournament appearance. He had only one goal and two assists at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he won his second Olympic gold medal.
In the World Cup opener against the Czech Republic alone, he produced as many points with a goal and two assists in a sensational stretch of the game that lasted less than 20 minutes.
Crosby insisted he could not care less that he has already tripled the number of points he had in Russia.
"I just want to win," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what you want to do. In Sochi, it was more about why weren't we scoring, low-scoring games, and the teams we were playing we're supposed to be winning by a certain amount of goals.
"At the end of the day, we were winning games," he said. "It's always nice to score, but we knew that we had to play a certain way and sometimes that meant not scoring five or six to win."
Mike Babcock, Crosby's coach at the previous two Olympics, put Crosby on a line with Boston Bruins teammates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the World Cup. The trio has combined for 22 points in five games.
"He got feeling it early," Babcock said. "And, he's feeling it and he thinks it's going in."

On a roll

Crosby has continued the roll he started last season when he won his second Stanley Cup and was named the post-season MVP with 19 points in 24 games. He was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy, coming close to being named NHL MVP for the third time in his career. And, he finished a career-high seventh in voting for the Selke Trophy that recognizes the league's best defensive forward.
"He's been obviously playing really well since last December," said Zdeno Chara, a Team Europe defenceman who also plays for the Bruins. "He really raised his game."
Canadian and Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said Crosby is probably playing better than he ever has.
"The three tournaments I've had the opportunity, I would say he's playing unbelievable," Doughty said. "Things are working for him now. He's hot. Not that he didn't play well at the other tournaments, he just didn't get his hot."

Jaso hits for cycle as Pirates beat Cubs 8-4

By Alan Saunders, Associated Press
September 28, 2016
Pittsburgh Pirates' John Jaso hits a three run home run off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
Pittsburgh Pirates' John Jaso hits a three run home run off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. (Gene J. Puskar/'AP Photo)

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PITTSBURGH -- Coming around second base in the seventh inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 8-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night, John Jaso stumbled.
Then, he went for it.
Ninety feet later, Jaso was safe at third base with a triple to become the first player to hit a cycle in the 16-year history of PNC Park.
The triple off reliever Pedro Strop clinched the Pirates' first cycle since 2004. The last Pirate to hit for the cycle was Daryle Ward on May 26, 2004, in St. Louis. The last Pirates' home cycle was by Jason Kendall on May 19, 2000, against the Cardinals at Three Rivers Stadium.
Jaso isn't exactly a typical candidate for the cycle. He has neither prodigious power nor speed, as he hit just his seventh home run and third triple of the season. Jaso didn't even realize what had happened until he had already performed the feat.
"It didn't really dawn on me until I was standing on the base," he said. "I was looking at (third base coach Rick) Sofield and it finally just hit me."
Jaso's teammates were well aware of what was going on. Shortstop Jordy Mercer said they didn't want to jinx it by telling him.
"There was a little buzz going on and we were aware of the situation, but I don't think it's something you want to openly talk about when they have one more at-bat left," Mercer said.
But when Jaso looked like he might settle for a double after rounding second, Mercer and the rest of the bench became a legion of third-base coaches.
"We were just yelling, `Keep going! Keep going no matter what, just go," Mercer said. "It worked out. I couldn't be more happy for him. It was awesome."
Against Chicago starter Jake Arrieta (18-8), Jaso singled in the second inning, hit a three-run home run in the fourth and doubled in the fifth. Arrieta went five innings and allowed 10 hits and seven runs, both season highs.
"It's just a great memory to have," Jaso said. "You don't really want to take this blessing for granted being here."
Pirates starter Jameson Taillon (5-4) allowed one hit and struck out four in six innings.
Chicago's Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer, his 32nd of the season.
The Pirates announced that they will play a two-game preseason series in Montreal against the Toronto Blue Jays March 31 and April 1, 2017. The Pirates haven't played in Montreal since 2013.
Cubs: OF Chris Coghlan left the game with a mild left ankle sprain. He ran into the wall in left field attempting to catch a fly ball in the fifth inning. . Manager Joe Maddon expects OF Jorge Soler (right side) to be able to play this weekend.
Pirates: After being officially eliminated from the playoffs Tuesday, the Pirates will shut injured reliever Neftali Feliz down for the season, and will be "backing away" from C Francisco Cervelli, according to manager Clint Hurdle. Cervelli had hamate surgery in July and has dealt with several minor injuries all year. . OF Gregory Polanco did not play with a stiff neck. He had previously missed three games with a facial contusion following a collision with the wall in left field.
Cubs: Rob Zastryzny (1-0, 0.79 ERA) will make his first career start. In seven career appearances, his longest outing is 3 2/3 innings. Zastryzny started 14 games for Triple-A Iowa this season with a 7-3 record and a 4.22 ERA.
Pirates: Ivan Nova (12-8, 4.37 ERA) has lost two straight starts after winning his first five decisions with the Pirates since coming over from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. He has given up 11 runs (nine earned) and 18 hits over seven innings in his last two starts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Steelers defense has been mostly famine with little feast this season

By Chris Mueller
September 28, 2016
Darren Sproles. (Jeff Fusco)
Darren Sproles scores on a 73-yard pass play last Sunday. (Jeff Fusco)
It isn't the injuries that are troubling. Injuries happen, and good football teams tend to find ways to overcome them, unless the battered party is the starting quarterback.
It isn't really the poor offensive showing that concerns me, either. The Steelers' stated goal of averaging 30 points per game looked laughable while they were bumbling their way around against an aggressive, vicious Eagles defense.
Those guys should be better, though. Their track record suggests as much, and they are getting back perhaps the best running back in the league in  Le'Veon Bell this Sunday night. They should be fine.
No, it was the performance of the defense, one that was lauded for its "bend, but don't break" quality through two weeks, that should be alarming.
The phrase "bend, but don't break" is really code for "this defense can't get sacks or force turnovers, but it generally tackles when it should, and keeps play in front of them."
Sunday, the Steelers did not do that. They got shredded by a rookie quarterback and eviscerated by Darren Sproles. They generated no pressure, with Jarvis Jones looking toothless as a pass rusher. They forced no turnovers, made no splashy plays.
Most of all, when a tough stand to start the second half may have changed the timbre of the game, the Steelers' defense folded like a cheap tent.
What is a defense if it isn't forcing turnovers, sacking the quarterback, or limiting teams to field goals more often than not?
Bad, that's what.
That's what Keith Butler's troops will be if they don't find a way to pick off some passes, generate consistent pressure, and make life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
Last year's team, despite having no truly elite pass rushing threat, still racked up the third most sacks in the league. Even though they were often victimized through the air, they made several momentum changing interceptions. They were feast or famine, but at least they were predictable.
So far this year, it has been mostly famine, minimal feast, at least where dynamic plays are concerned.
The problems go deeper than that. First-round pick Artie Burns still looks very green, the secondary is already banged up, and Cleveland castoff Justin Gilbert may start getting playing time. What's more, Ryan Shazier, by now the obvious best player on that side of the ball, is banged up again and may not play this Sunday night.
There is time for Butler to come up with answers, yes, and the Steelers' offense should create more leeway than just about every other team has, but it's fair to wonder whether or not the talent is there to foment real improvement. When James Harrison still stands as your most fearsome healthy pass rusher, at least at linebacker, the situation isn't great.
Injuries explain some of this, but not much. It isn't like Bud Dupree set the world on fire last year. It isn't like Robert Golden is the second coming of Ed Reed or Ronnie Lott in the defensive backfield. The Steelers have used plenty of high draft choices to try and rebuild their defense, and outside of Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, many of them have struggled to gain traction as pros.
When that happens, you're left trying to piece together something workable without much in the way of pedigree or polish. Where are the answers? There don't seem to be any easy ones.
There is plenty of reason to believe that the Steelers' offensive performance against Philadelphia was nothing more than a hiccup, and that a deep and talented roster on that side of the ball will soon find its level.
Unfortunately, the same goes for the Steelers' defense, except that in their case, finding their level may mean worse days are ahead.
Bend, but don't break? If Sunday was any indication, the Steelers' defense will be picking up the pieces on a regular basis this season.