Friday, February 24, 2017

Ron Hainsey is an upgrade over the Penguins' three minor-league defensemen

By Mark Madden
February 23, 2017

Penguins Hurricanes Hockey
Ron Hainsey (65) defends against Sidney Crosby during the Penguins' 7-1 win in Raleigh on January 20, 2017. (Gerry Broome/AP)

Defenseman Ron Hainsey has played 891 NHL games over 14 seasons, but has never played a Stanley Cup playoff game. If a movie is ever made about Hainsey’s career, Steve Carell should get the lead.
Stanley Cup playoff experience is generally drooled over upon acquisition. Cup wins, even more so.
So, shouldn’t a defending champ have trepidation about a player who hasn’t even seen the road his new team hopes to travel?
No matter. Hainsey is small potatoes. Competent, certainly. Average at just about everything, which makes him a better option than Cameron Gaunce, Steve Oleksy and Chad Ruhwedel, three minor-league defensemen who have proven themselves exactly that during their Pittsburgh stint.
It’s incredible that a 35-year-old who has never played a Stanley Cup playoff game and is minus-81 on his career is a clear upgrade. But Hainsey is.
Hainsey shoots left and is left-sided. The Penguins could do with a right-sided version of Hainsey, too. It would be rash to think that Penguins defensemen will stop getting hurt come playoff time. The more, the merrier. But getting Hainsey helps most if Hainsey doesn’t have to play.
Overanalyzing the value of low-impact players is the business I’ve chosen. So is parsing fanboy trade proposals that could never occur. Yinzer Nation wants to deal for Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson every year.
But the reality of winning a second straight Stanley Cup doesn’t depend on such issues. It depends on:
*The Penguins must get healthy – as opposed to the corner of the locker room where the defensemen dress resembling a triage unit. Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust have proven their value as Sidney Crosby’s linemates in absentia.
*Matt Murray must keep proving himself. Murray has already won a Cup, and has solid stats this season (technically his rookie campaign). But goaltender is the most important position, and 22 is an awkward age for a goalie.
*Secondary scoring. The HBK line is unlikely to repeat the pyrotechnics of last year’s postseason. But it will probably play together because Coach Mike Sullivan wants a big-time threat on each of his top three lines.
*Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin have to play up to their capabilities. If they don’t, Hainsey won’t pick up the slack. The Penguins are a team built on star power. The quartet mentioned must excel.
If the Penguins don’t win a second straight Cup, it won’t be because they’re not good enough, or because GM Jim Rutherford didn’t make a revelatory trade. It will be because of fatigue: 106 games last season, followed by a World Cup of Hockey for the stars, followed by a tightly-packed 2016-17 schedule.
No team has won consecutive Cups since 1998. That’s not random.
The Penguins may have a secret weapon in reserve: Yesterday, Mario Lemieux was seen skating with Jay Caufield, his fitness guru, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
That could be because Lemieux is preparing for his annual fantasy camp, which runs Saturday-Wednesday.
Or it could be because he’s planning a mind-boggling comeback at 51. I’m told he’s in the best shape of his life.
Either way, it’s got to feel amazing when you skate at a $70 million complex that bears your name.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Penguins get Ron Hainsey but lose Trevor Daley to surgery

Pierre LeBrunESPN Senior Writer 23, 2017

Carolina Hurricanes v Anaheim Ducks
Ron Hainsey #65 of the Carolina Hurricanes fights Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of a game at Honda Center on December 11, 2015 in Anaheim, California.
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey from the Carolina Hurricanes on the same day they announced that defenseman Trevor Daley will miss six weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
Pittsburgh sent a second-round pick this year and prospect Danny Kristo to Carolina in the trade.
Daley injured his knee during the first period of Pittsburgh's 3-1 win over Carolina on Tuesday and required arthroscopic surgery. The 33-year-old Daley has 19 points and is a plus-9 this season.
Carolina will retain 50 percent of Hainsey's salary. Hainsey becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Hainsey, 35, is in his 14th season in the league and fourth with the Hurricanes. The Connecticut native has 14 points but is a minus-14 on the season.
The 6-foot-3 left-handed defenseman led the Hurricanes with 79 hits, was third in ice time and third in blocked shots. He has missed only three games since the 2012-13 season.
The Penguins made some shrewd blueline moves last season on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. They brought in Daley from Chicago and Justin Schultz from Edmonton. Both were struggling with their respective teams but made a solid impact with the Penguins.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Crosby's power-play goal lifts Penguins past Canes 3-1

By Joedy McCreary, Associated Press
February 21, 2017
The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) puts the puck in the net past the Canes' Cam Ward (30) for a goal while Patric Hornqvist (72) looks on during the second period.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) puts the puck in the net past the Canes' Cam Ward (30) for a goal while Patric Hornqvist (72) looks on during the second period. (Chris Seward

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin spent more time in the penalty box than usual for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They made up for it by scoring a couple of important goals.
Crosby got the go-ahead goal on a deflection in the second period, Malkin added an insurance goal in the third and the Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday night.
"They're always able to get us a goal when we need it," winning goalie Matt Murray said.
Scott Wilson also scored to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions bounce back from their only regulation loss since the All-Star break. Pittsburgh moved three points behind East-leading Washington and is 7-1-3 since the break.
"Once we got going tonight, we dominated," Murray said.
Malkin was called for three penalties -- including one immediately after he skated out of the box -- and spent six minutes in there for the third time this season. Crosby had just his second two-penalty game of the season and first since November.
"We got into some penalty trouble and took a lot from our momentum and getting the start we wanted," Crosby said. "It took us a while, but we finally got a lead."
Jeff Skinner scored for the last-place Hurricanes, who have their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. They have been outscored 19-4 during the current slide.
"You stay with it -- it's our job to stay with it," Skinner said. "You go through ups and downs throughout the season. You go through stretches where ... everything seems to be bouncing your way. And then you go through stretches that are the opposite. We'll keep staying with it, keep trying to generate chances like that and things will hopefully pay off for us in the end."
Murray made 29 saves for the Penguins while Cam Ward stopped 19 shots for Carolina.
The Penguins took advantage of 64 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage late in the second with Sebastian Aho and Viktor Stalberg in the box. Phil Kessel skated in from the blue line and ripped a straightaway shot that clipped Crosby on its way past Ward to make it 2-1 with 3:39 left in the period.
Consider it a barometer goal: Pittsburgh is 25-0 when leading after two periods, while Carolina is 4-16 when trailing after 40 minutes.
"I think it's important that you know how to finish games and you know how to play with a lead," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think our team knows how to do that."
Malkin added an insurance goal midway through the third to make it a two-goal game, while Murray stopped all six shots he faced in the final period.
The Penguins went up 1-0 just 2:15 in when Wilson, parked in front of Ward, deflected Patric Hornqvist's shot past the goalie. The Hurricanes tied it with 12 minutes left on a power play after Lee Stempniak snagged Matt Cullen's turnover in front of Murray to set up Skinner's goal -- just his third since Jan. 13.
Game notes
Sullivan said D Trevor Daley suffered a lower-body injury and will be evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh. "We're hopeful that Trevor, it won't be anything significant," Sullivan said. ... Skinner's goal was his 20th of the season -- the fifth time the 24-year-old has reached that mark. ... The Hurricanes acquired Ulf Samuelsson's son Philip in a minor-league trade with Montreal. The elder Samuelsson -- who in 1991 was traded from Hartford to Pittsburgh along with current Carolina GM Ron Francis, helping the Penguins win consecutive Stanley Cups -- coaches Carolina's AHL affiliate in Charlotte. ... C Nick Bonino (illness) was scratched for Pittsburgh.
Penguins: Return home to face cross-state rival Philadelphia on Saturday in an outdoor game at the Steelers' Heinz Field.
Hurricanes: Continue a five-game homestand by playing host to Ottawa on Friday night.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Andrew McCutchen remains face of the Pirates, but for how long?

Jayson StarkESPN Senior Writer 18, 2017

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Andrew McCutchen's general manager, Neal Huntington, says "there was more smoke than fire" pouring out of those McCutchen trade rumors this winter. And you don't have to be a fire chief in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh to think, well, he ought to know.
But that would probably come as a surprise to the Washington Nationals, who thought they were deep into talks to acquire McCutchen in December.
It might even come as a shock to McCutchen himself, considering how much time he spent on Google and Twitter over the winter, monitoring trade rumblings to figure out which coast of Florida he'd need to fly to for spring training.

But when McCutchen rolled into spring training Friday, he was still the official face of the Pittsburgh Pirates. And he pronounced himself pretty ecstatic about it. Nevertheless, the question is: for how much longer?
So why would the Pirates want to trade this man, either at the trade deadline or next winter, if they really believe that last season -- the worst of his career -- was essentially a fluke? Here are three reasons, just for starters:
* He's 30 years old, with one guaranteed year and one team-friendly club option left on his contract.
* Within just the last year, his team has traded two other clubhouse pillars --Mark Melancon and Neil Walker -- as their free-agent clocks started ticking so loudly they rattled walls in the executive suite.
* And, finally, let's face it. No matter how you do the math, the odds of McCutchen spending more years as a Pirate than, say, Willie Stargell are basically none to none.
Even if the Pirates truly believe, as manager Clint Hurdle said Friday, that McCutchen is still "The Man" on this team, his team still plays in Pittsburgh. Which is not to be confused with, oh, the Hollywood Hills.
So when McCutchen says, even after all he lived through this winter, that he'd love to be a Pirate for life, his GM has no choice but to smile -- and then point out an important distinction we all need to keep in mind.
"The rest of his career and the rest of his contract are two very different perspectives," Huntington said, pointedly. "Andrew has been very public about the fact that he'd love to be a Pirate for the rest of his life. We've said that we would love him to be a Pirate for the rest of his life. The challenge is, there's that little thing called financial common ground."
Allow us to translate that last part for you: If Andrew McCutchen bounces back and plays like a star for the next two seasons, he's going to want to step into the free-agent batter's box and get paid. And if you're wandering the free-agent wilderness in search of millions and gazillions of dollars, you might notice that all roads do not lead to Pittsburgh.
So that's just sheer economic reality. And economic reality rears its unsightly head around the Pirates every day of every year. So if this juggernaut isn't contending this July, where do you think McCutchen will finish the season? If you polled 29 other GMs, there's an excellent chance all 29 would answer: not Pittsburgh.
But Huntington says that's not as safe an assumption as know-it-alls like us make it out to be. If you take a close look at their recent history, he says, the Pirates have actually kept more prospective free agents -- Russell MartinA.J. BurnettJason GrilliFrancisco Liriano, etc. -- than they've traded.
"Occasionally, we've traded a player like Walker or Melancon," Huntington said. "So that's become the narrative, that we're always going to trade those players before their contract expires. But that's just not the case."
So maybe McCutchen gets dealt away next July or next January. Maybe he doesn't. But either way, he has just finished living through an offseason in which he became a human trade rumor in December, then got nudged out of his favorite position on earth, center field, in January. And you know what that means?
It means he's still trying to sort out exactly where he stands in a place where he always felt loved and respected.
So naturally, on the first day of what might be his final spring training as a Pirate, he was asked if it feels "different" now to put on the only uniform he has ever worn. He responded by rolling out a saying that has floated around his head for a long time:
"Frustration," he said, "is built by unmet expectations.
"So when you get frustrated by certain things, it's because you had an expectancy of something. But who's to say that it always goes that way? Nine times out of 10, life -- it never goes that way.
"The dream," McCutchen continued, "was to be in a Pirate uniform, playing center field until I can't play it anymore, winning countless World Series over and over, MVPs and All-Stars and all that stuff. You know, that's great. But reality hits. And it's not necessarily always going to be that way."
In the last year, however, reality hasn't just thrown him a jab here and a jab there. The rumors and the move to right field among other things, clearly have left him feeling, at times, as if he just got walloped with a series of haymakers. And he has let very little of the hurt surface publicly -- until now.
He felt "disrespected" at times last season, people familiar with his thinking say. And he hinted at just some of the reasons Friday.
When the Pirates moved him out of the No. 3 hole in their lineup and hit him second early in the year, they had sound, data-based reasons. But McCutchen wasn't a fan of that brainstorm, finally got shifted back to the three-slot after hitting .237/.317/.402 in 61 games in the two-hole and summed up his feelings Friday by announcing: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Then there was the Pirates' decision to play him much more shallow in center field than he had in the past. There were signs he was uncomfortable and skeptical from the beginning. And on Friday, he described those issues this way:
"In this game, it's all about being comfortable. And sometimes, when you're uncomfortable, you're trying to be comfortable. And a lot of times, that takes the focus away from what's most important. And that's making the play.
He took ownership of the issues that resulted, saying at one point that "I needed to make that adjustment" and saying at another point that he probably should have been more vocal in telling the coaching staff how out of sync he truly felt. But when he was asked if that could be an issue this year in right field, he said: "I'm going to play comfortable [in right]. I learned from that mistake last year."
But maybe those issues weren't as isolated or disconnected as they might appear. There have been rumblings that they were part of a much bigger picture -- a clubhouse that began to question whether the Pirates were getting so deep into their rich trove of data, that they were neglecting the human side of running a baseball team.
If that's a lingering issue -- whether for this clubhouse as a whole or for McCutchen in particular -- that's where the charisma and people skills of the manager come in.
The Pirates' front office has long depended on Hurdle to make sure the human side of baseball didn't get trampled by the sabermetric side. And the manager sounds well aware this spring that he has a star outfielder whose thoughts need to be heard. A lot.
"I need to sit and listen to the thoughts and explain the logic that's part of the mindset," Hurdle said, "because there's a set of human analytics that are real big, that you really need to embrace as well, with any player. The analytics of the game -- everybody is starting to understand those better. ... However, it's always going to be about relationships."
The bond Hurdle and McCutchen have carved out over their six years together needs to be strong enough now to heal any lingering hurt and get McCutchen back to stardom. And Hurdle sounds confident that's exactly where this is leading.
"I do believe that the six years we've put together got us to the point where we could have the conversations that we had over the winter," Hurdle said, "and get to the point, at the end of the day, where we came to an agreement. We don't always have to agree on everything. But we're not going to disagree walking out the door. We agreed to disagree on some thoughts. However, we're going to lock arms and walk forward together, for the betterment of the ballclub."
No one -- not even McCutchen -- disputes that Starling Marte is a better defensive center fielder than the former Gold Glove winner he's displacing out there. But that doesn't mean the old center fielder in town won't be standing next to him in right, thinking about all those expectancies in Pittsburgh that might never come true.
"I've played eight seasons," McCutchen said. "And I still haven't had a World Series yet. I hope, in 2017, to be able to make a push for that. And that's just one example. But I just use that as life. And life doesn't always go the way you plan it to go.
"Sometimes," said the face of the Pirates, "you have detours that you have to take. But in the end, it's always going to get you where you need to go."


Andrew McCutchen - Dear Pittsburgh

Penguins captain Crosby hits 1,000-point milestone

Sidney Crosby reaches mark with early assist against Jets in 757th career NHL game.

By Will Graves, Associated Press
February 16, 2017

Image result for sidney crosby 1000
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) is surrounded by teammates after Crosby assisted on a goal by Chris Kunitz, for the 1,000th point of his NHL career, during the first period of the team's hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH—It was, in many ways, Sidney Crosby’s remarkable career distilled to its essence. Game on the line. A wide-open net. A race to the puck. These are the moments the Penguins star embraces as well as anyone in his sport.
Of course he beat Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele to the crease. Of course he poked the puck over the goal line with 21 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory on Thursday night. Of course he provided the exclamation point on the same night he became the 86th player in league history to reach 1,000 career points.
“It’s nice to win the game when you have a memorable night like this,” Crosby said. “You want to finish it the right way.”
Something Crosby has done again and again. The two-time league MVP and Stanley Cup winner reached 1,000 points in 757 games. Only 11 players got there faster. None of them are playing anymore. Crosby is — spectacularly.
Crosby finished with a goal and two assists to give him 1,002 in his career and 64 on the season, which also happens to be tops in the NHL. Same as it ever was for the 29-year-old who remains very much in the thick of his prime.
“The fact he scores the game winner is apropos, given he gets the 1,000th point in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think the sky’s the limit for Sid. I think he’s that good of a player.”
One who got to 1,000 with an assist on Chris Kunitz’s first-period goal, then began the march to the next thousand when he helped set up Phil Kessel’s game-tying goal in the third, and capped it by getting to Evgeni Malkin’s centring pass a half-step before Scheifele.
Malkin also scored for Pittsburgh, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 44 shots for the Penguins, who improved to 6-0-2 since the all-star break.
Patrik Laine scored his 27th for Winnipeg. Paul Postma collected his first and Dustin Byfuglien his eighth for the Jets. Connor Hellebuyck made 35 saves, but couldn’t get a handle on Crosby’s 31st of the season and 369th of his career.
Crosby insisted as the milestone approached that he’d be happy once it was out of the way so the focus could swing back to Pittsburgh’s pursuit of first-place Washington in the relentlessly competitive Metropolitan Division. His sprint to the mark turned into a slow jog during a rare two-game drought and inched closer with an assist in a victory over Vancouver on Tuesday to give him 999.
History came in typically symbolic fashion for one of the game’s best playmakers.
Crosby reached it not with some breathtaking move, but by simply outworking an opponent. The Penguins were already up 1-0 on Malkin’s goal 59 seconds into the game when Crosby beat Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler to a loose puck in the left circle. Crosby collected himself, then slipped a pass to Kunitz wide open in the spot. Kunitz powered it into the open net, the 186th time the longtime teammates have factored in a goal together.
“He’s been able to use his body to create space, and then to have the vision to be able pull the puck away from somebody and give me an open look for a pass that was right in my wheelhouse,” Kunitz said. “That’s the way he battles.”
The 461st consecutive sellout at PPG Paints Arena — a streak that overlaps Crosby’s rise to one of hockey’s biggest stars — roared its approval when the red goal light came on. Officials stopped the game briefly while equipment manager Dana Heinze grabbed the keepsake puck, one that will go to Crosby’s father Troy for safekeeping.
Primanti Bros., a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain, released a sandwich in Crosby’s honour to mark the milestone. The sandwich, called The Captain, contains capicola, turkey and roast beef and is topped with cheese, coleslaw, tomato and french fries.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sidney Crosby records 999th point as Pens win in Evgeni Malkin's return

By Will Graves, Associated Press
February 14, 2017
Image result for penguins canucks february 14 2017
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 14, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.(Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH -- The quality Mike Sullivan appreciates the most in Evgeni Malkin is the one that separates the Pittsburgh Penguins star from just about everyone else who happens to do what Malkin does for a living.
"He's such a threat when he's on the ice," Sullivan said. "He's one of the elite players in the league that has the ability to change the outcome."
And do it with style. Malkin celebrated his return from a lower-body injury with his 23rd goal of the season then added a beautiful feed that set up Phil Kessel's third-period goal, helping the Penguins roll by the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 on Tuesday night.
Sidney Crosby earned the 999th point of his career with an assist on Jake Guentzel's goal and Matt Cullen added his ninth of the season for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray stopped 29 shots for his third shutout of the season, and the Penguins remained unbeaten in regulation since the All-Star break (5-0-2).
Malkin missed seven games while rehabbing an injury from a victory over St. Louis in Jan. 24. He appeared ready to return last Saturday night in Arizona before Sullivan made Malkin a late scratch just to be sure.
Given another couple of days to rest, Malkin picked up right where he left off before getting hurt. He gave Pittsburgh the lead 5:51 into the second when he stood on the far post, stopped a pass from Olli Maatta with his right skate and tapped it into the net.
"I tried to score with my stick because sometimes (if it's) off your skates, the coach makes a challenge," Malkin said. "I know the puck was coming."
Vancouver's defense couldn't say the same when Malkin and Kessel broke in onRyan Miller late in the third. Racing down the right wing, Malkin dangled the puck on his stick and waited while defenseman Luca Sbisa slid harmlessly out of the way before slipping it Kessel, who buried it into the open net to make it 3-0 with just over six minutes to go.
"The first time we went 2-on-1, I tried to pass to him and he tried to pass it back and it didn't work," Malkin said. "Now I passed to him and he shoot. It's more fun."
Miller made 38 saves while under siege for most of the night, particularly in the third as Pittsburgh pulled away.
"We knew what game we had to play," Miller said. "You saw what happened when we got away from it in the third. We started stretching things out and leaving good ice. It didn't turn out so well."
Despite a series of injuries, the defending Stanley Cup champions have managed to keep pace in the supremely tight Metropolitan Division, where the Penguins, Columbus and the New York Rangers are separated by all of two points as they try to keep first-place Washington in striking distance.
Murray was spectacular at times. He snagged Jack Skille's wrist shot on a breakaway out of midair late in the second and stoned Skille again when he skated in all alone early in the third.
By then, the Penguins were firmly in control after Crosby set up Guentzel's sixth of the season. The Penguins captain came in having gone scoreless in consecutive games for the first time in nearly a year.
The drought was on its way to stretching to three games heading into the third, but Crosby nudged closer to becoming the 86th NHL player with 1,000 points when he completed a give-and-go by feeding a streaking Guentzel down the slot 2:27 into the third.
"It's pretty easy when you're playing with the best player," said Guentzel, a rookie who has six goals in 18 games.
Game notes
Guentzel is the 110th teammate to factor in a scoring play for Crosby. ... Penguins D Trevor Daley's secondary assist on Malkin's goal was the 200th of his career. ... The Canucks went 0 for 1 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 2 with the man advantage. ... Vancouver scratched Cs Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat and D Philip Larsen. ... Pittsburgh scratched D Chad Ruhwedel and C Eric Fehr. ... Pittsburgh is 62-0-0 when leading after two periods during Sullivan's tenure.
Canucks: Travel to St. Louis on Thursday. Vancouver beat the Blues 2-1 in the first meeting of the season on Oct. 18.
Penguins: Welcome Winnipeg on Thursday.