Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
By ANDREW KNOLL
January 28, 2017
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin at the 2017 NHL Skills Competition (Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES — Once known as Sid the Kid, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby now takes the ice with a reputation simply as “the man.”
Crosby, 29, continues to shine the brightest in a hockey skyline illuminated by young players like Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, who will be joining Crosby at Sunday’s N.H.L. All-Star Game here.
On Friday night, Crosby, six months after winning his second Stanley Cup with the Penguins, was one of the six active players chosen for the N.H.L.’s 100 greatest players as part of the league’s centennial celebration.
“He’s the best player in the game; he’s earned that mantle,” said the Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, who will coach Crosby’s Metropolitan Division team in the All-Star Game. The N.H.L. asked Gretzky to take over as the coach after John Tortorella withdrew from the assignment to care for an ailing family pet.
Gretzky, now an executive with the Edmonton Oilers, said that McDavid, 20, was chasing Crosby for that title.
“Until somebody knocks him off the castle, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Gretzky said of Crosby. “He won two Stanley Cups and two gold medals, and he’s handled pressure and handled everything with grace and dignity, and he deserves all the accolades he’s getting.”
McDavid — who became a Penguins fan because of Crosby and beamed five years ago when Crosby told reporters that a 15-year-old McDavid reminded him of himself — has moved past fandom to mutual respect
“He’s the best player in the world, and you can learn off of the things he does. But at the end of the day, I think my game is a little bit different,” McDavid said by telephone this month, adding that Crosby played more of a power game while he had to rely on speed and other ways to be effective.
The arrival of stars like McDavid, Matthews, 19, and Laine, 18, seems to have pushed Crosby even harder to improve and reassert himself as the pre-eminent player.
“To get to this level and be at the top of your game, there’s always a ton of motivation,” Crosby said. “It’s good to see young players having success, and I’m sure it’s pushing everyone to be better, too.”
Crosby, the captain of the Metropolitan Division team for the All-Star three-on-three tournament, has not played in an All-Star Game since 2007, his second year in the league. It was the only time he competed in the midseason exhibition — injuries or Olympic participation has prevented him from returning until now.
After missing the first six games of the season because of a concussion, he is second in the league in points, behind McDavid, with 55, and first in goals, with 28, on pace for a career high and his second Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. He is doing so with his relatively unknown linemates, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust.
Crosby leads the league in points per game, and he is fifth on the career list in that category behind Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Mike Bossy.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Crosby saved the Penguins franchise, said Lemieux, the former Penguins star who is now a part owner of the team. The Penguins were in financial peril in the late 1990s, leading Lemieux to defer salary to purchase an ownership stake in the team and keep it in Pittsburgh.
By 2004, the Penguins were last in attendance, but Crosby’s arrival in 2005 revived interest. With Crosby as their captain, they went to the finals in 2008, won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and opened a new arena in 2010.
Lemieux, who retired in 2006, has been Crosby’s teammate, his boss and, early in Crosby’s career, his roommate. Lemieux spoke enthusiastically of Crosby on Friday night.
“Just like Wayne was when he played, he’s the hardest-working guy out there.” Lemieux said. “Whether it’s at practice or a three-on-three game, he wants to win, he wants to be the best.
“I think his skating ability is second to none. His lower-body strength is unbelievable. If he goes one-on-one in the corner, he’s able to come out and make a play. His passing ability is probably the best in the league, and his vision, of course, is also one of the best.”
Crosby has lost a substantial portion of his career to injury, primarily concussions. He has missed more than 200 games, the equivalent of about two and a half seasons. Crosby has remained relatively healthy since 2012.
But he had a tepid start to last season, with just 9 points in his first 18 games. A coaching change and personnel moves rejuvenated him, and his team, offensively. After Mike Sullivan took over behind the bench, Crosby led the league in scoring. That propelled the Penguins into the playoffs, where they captured the Stanley Cup. Crosby earned his first Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player.
Sullivan, who has spent over a quarter-century in the N.H.L., said he had never seen a star with Crosby’s strong work habits and drive to be the best. He also praised Crosby’s leadership on the team and his rapport with the coaching staff.
“I think what made him our best player was his complete game,” Sullivan said. “He plays a 200-foot game. He plays away from the puck every bit as hard as he plays with the puck. We rely on him at both ends of the rink.
“He always plays against the other team’s top defense pair and gets the most attention from a checking standpoint. He plays through all of that, game in and game out, series in and series out.”
Among his contemporaries, Crosby will forever be linked with the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, who joined him Saturday among the 100 greatest players. Ovechkin reached 1,000 career points earlier this season, but he took 880 games to do so. Crosby is on pace to reach that milestone shortly — in about 125 fewer career games.
“We started together,” Ovechkin said. “My first year in the league was his first year in the league. We both had success. We’re both top-100 players in the league. It’s amazing.”
Teemu Selanne, another prolific scorer who had a record 73 goals as a rookie in 1992-93 and played until age 44, said he was even more impressed with Crosby’s stateliness than with his stardom.
“He wants to be a role model for the younger players and be a spokesperson for the N.H.L.,” Selanne said. “He’s like a new version of Wayne. On the ice, we all know he good he is. He’s having a great year. The league needs guys like Crosby. He’s a pleasure to watch, and very gentlemanly. Hockey’s very lucky to have him.”
Friday, January 27, 2017
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Monday, January 23, 2017
Pats have upper ‘hand’ as Curtain falls on Pitt
January 23, 2017
Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — In the 1970s, the Steelers’ defense was called the “Steel Curtain.” These days, at least when they play the Patriots, it should be called the “Hand Up’’ defense because that’s what always seems to happen — some receiver is running through the middle of it with his hand up.
Last night that was most often wide receiver Chris Hogan, although he was not alone. Actually he was nearly always alone but the few times he wasn’t, somebody else had their hand up because they were running free, too.
The Steelers secondary seemed to believe that “free release” meant what it does on Charlie Moore’s fishing show on NESN. Just let the poor thing go.
Hogan had his hand up so often last night that if he’d been in Mrs. Tomlin’s civics class she would have said “Sit down, Chris and give someone else a chance.” But he wasn’t in Mrs. Tomlin’s civics class. He was running all around Mr. Tomlin’s secondary and baffled Steelers coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t think of any way to make him sit down and be quiet.
Maybe if Tomlin had another day and a half to prepare he would have come up with something but now that I think about it he did come up with something. He came up with a ready-made excuse for why his pass defense looked like it had no idea what it was supposed to be doing, having complained after winning a divisional round playoff game in Kansas City last week that the Patriots (although he used a less flattering term involving a portion of their derriere to describe them) had been given an unfair advantage by having played the night before at home and would not have to travel for last night’s AFC Championship Game.
Instead of making locker room speeches of the “oh poor us” variety in a whining tone, Tomlin might have been wiser to have been reminding defensive coordinator Keith Butler that not covering a receiver at all — or pairing up a linebacker who can no longer run like James Harrison on Julian Edelman — were more than a little unwise.
Tom Brady is the master of many things but none more than finding the receiver the other team forgets to cover. This is especially true when that receiver is so open he thrusts his hand in the air and begins waving as enthusiastically as Donald Trump was when Barack Obama’s helicopter lifted off the ground Friday afternoon.
“It comes down to execution,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Anytime you play New England you know they operate with a lot of detail. It’s important that your execution matches that detail level. We didn’t do it today.”
Well, actually defensively they did execute. They executed themselves and of all the hangmen who helped them put the noose around their neck the most obvious — to everyone but them — was Hogan. In the end, Hogan caught nine passes for a team postseason record 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-17 drubbing of the Steelers that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl for a NFL-record ninth time to face the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in two weeks at NRG Stadium in Houston.
It marks the seventh time in the Brady-Belichick Era that they’ve ended up in the Super Bowl, which left Bill Belichick at the top of the coaching food chain as the coach with the most appearances in the big game, and he got there this time in large part because he signed a restricted free agent the Bills didn’t want to pay last March. That’s what makes the Bills the Bills and Bill Bill.
Ten months later, the Steelers showed as much interest in Hogan as the Bills had. The Bills didn’t covet him and the Steelers didn’t cover him, the latter beginning with a 27-yard reception out of a last-second alignment change early in the game that left the Steelers’ defense flat-footed and confounded. It was a position they assumed quite often.
On the same drive Hogan scored on a 16-yard touchdown throw in which he ran deep through Pittsburgh’s secondary and found himself so open he was waving his arm in the end zone while linebacker Bud Dupree and safety Robert Golden stood well to his left, covering the goal post. When Brady easily found Hogan, the two defenders seemed so confused they didn’t even know who should be pointing accusatory fingers at whom.
Later, Hogan would beat them on a similarly wide-open route for a 34-yard touchdown off a flea flicker in which half the Steeler defense rushed headlong toward the line of scrimmage as Dion Lewis turned and flipped the ball back to Brady.
As Hogan was running a deep crossing route, safety Mike Mitchell sprinted toward the line of scrimmage for 5 yards as Hogan ran right by him. As he did, Mitchell slammed on the brakes and turned to retreat but he was now 3 yards behind the play and that’s where he stayed as Hogan ran free, hand in the air, for as easy a touchdown throw as Brady will ever see.
Nothing would improve after halftime. At least not for the “Hand Up” defense. That’s what Hogan had when he ran a deep hook that turned around cornerback Artie Burns like he was a dreidel and it’s what he had on the next drive when he ran a deep in, beating cornerback William Gay, who didn’t seem too happy.
By then no one in Steeler colors was because soon the score climbed to 27-9 and although more than a quarter remained to play it was hands down obvious that the “Hand Up’’ defense would time and again let some Patriot run free.
“He just slipped behind our coverages,” Burns said later of Hogan, stating the obvious. “Brady was able to make the plays last longer and he was able to dump it off to him. Brady was just doing what Brady do, getting the ball to his guy and breaking down coverages.”
Indeed he do.
But Jack Brady, Tom’s 8-year-old son, could have completed some of those throws to Hogan. And that seemed to enrage Steeler linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who was last seen in the missing persons department himself.
“He shouldn’t be open at all,” Timmons barked. “They did a good job snapping the ball and getting us going while we were trying to get the calls in. They just did a good job snapping it fast.”
They did and the Steelers did a good job of thinking slow, which is why they’re going home and the Patriots are going to Houston.