Penguin Playoff Notes: No Apologies for first round matchup

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by John Toperzer

Sidney Crosby had to have his head on a swivel Wednesday when James Wisniewski was on the ice in Game 1. The well-paid blueliner attempted to line the centerman up several times but missed on every occasion. Crosby finished with just one assist and a minus-2 rating, but he did what he does best – set linemates up with opportunities. Gibbons hit a post off of one feed and Chris Kunitz had multiple chances. From a shooting standpoint, Crosby whistled shots wide to both sides of the cage. He needs to put the puck on net for some POP rebound opportunities in Game 2.

Kunitz needs to do more, play better. He seemed a step slow and his hand-eye coordination was off.

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I’m not sure the Penguins would’ve been able to come from behind to beat many other teams in the playoffs, Wednesday. Down 3-1 after of a short-handed goal, better teams would’ve found a way to keep a lead – for at least more than a few minutes.

Columbus didn’t show the wherewithal to get it done. They don’t seem to have the ability to impose their will or style of play on Pittsburgh. The Jackets have never won a playoff game and coach Todd Richards uses the same system (only with lesser talent) as Dan Bylsma.

Even when Pittsburgh fell behind, scoring chances were still readily available. The Blue Jackets don’t have enough quality players to cut the gap space on Sidney Crosby and company. Bylsma is using Brian Gibbons in an effort to give Crosby and Kunitz room. So long as Gibbons uses his stick more as a hockey instrument and not a 2X4 piece of wood, then he could continue seeing some shifts on the top line. Even if he doesn’t, it just isn’t that big of a deal against Columbus.

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I think ROOT Sports is going to actually have to interview fans sitting on their couches in their own homes watching the Penguins pretty soon. The ones watching on the Jumbo screen outside of CEC are acting more like the ones inside the rink more and more. Wednesday, when the video cut to the fans outside Consol watching on the big screen, they barely moved. Oh, they clicked those thunder silly sticks together a bit, and a few folks jumped up, but for the most part, they kept their eyes focused on the screen watching themselves with little reaction. The kids on the couch in the Mellon parking lot were certainly not impressed.

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Crosby had to have his head on a swivel Wednesday when James Wisniewski was on the ice. The well-paid blueliner attempted to line the centerman up several times but missed on every occasion. Crosby finished with just one assist and a minus-2 rating, but he did what he does best – set linemates up with opportunities. Gibbons hit a post off of one feed and Kunitz couldn’t get the puck out from between his skates on a couple Crosby feeds. From a shooting standpoint, Crosby whistled shots off-line to both sides of the cage. He needs to put the puck on goal for some POP rebound opportunities in Game 2.

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I wouldn’t say goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played a great game nor would I say he played poorly Wednesday.

If I was grading his performance, I’d give him a “B-minus” to a “B”. He stopped Matt Calvert on a breakaway with a poke check. The name “Calvert” doesn’t rhyme with “Lemieux” or much of anything else, for that matter, but Fleury had to make a save nonetheless – and he did.

Fleury was fortunate that the late third-period shot coming down the right wing by Jack Skille rang off of Big Ben behind him and didn’t go in the net (Speaking of Big Ben, Roethlisberger was spotted at the casino in Pittsburgh on Thursday and reportedly had a big wad of dough on hand).

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During the work stoppage last season, Pittsburgh columnist, Dejan Kovacevic, interviewed Crosby after a player’s practice. Crosby fumbled for a name when Kovacevic asked him for a possible breakout candidate and then settled on Matt Niskanen. Well, Niskanen had a big Game 1 after a career season in 2013-14.

That said, did anyone catch his nearly tragic giveaway at the start of the third period Wednesday. After Evgeni Malkin (yes, Evgeni Malkin) cleanly won the opening faceoff, he back-handed the puck back to Olli Maatta. Maatta snapped the puck up to Jussi Jokinen on the left boards by the red line. Jokinen then slid the puck across the ice to Niskanen at the blue line. Inexplicably, Niskanen, who had plenty of space, lost sight of the puck while looking up ice. This led to No. 11 on the Blue Jackets coming down the left wing with a scoring opportunity. Fortunately, Jokinen and Maatta covered for Niskanen, but the unforced giveaway was striking. Niskanen had to be a lot stronger on the puck, especially on his own blue line. Who does he think he is, Kris Letang?

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Speaking of Letang, his miserable game has been dissected thoroughly since Wednesday. It’s scary to think how large the gap is between his best and worst performances. He looked ready to take on the world during the last weekend of the regular season and then played equally poorly in Game 1.

Counting on him and Malkin after prolonged absences would be a mistake and even Coach Bylsma saw that. I found it surprising that the Pens coach even considered putting Malkin and Letang on the points for the first-unit power play. Fortunately, Paul Martin and Niskanen took over as Game 1 progressed. That’s the beauty of this Round 1 matchup. A coach can experiment with different matchups and linemates and still beat the opponent.

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For all of the talk about Milan Lucic’s hit Friday to Danny DeKeyser’s privates, I still can’t believe more folks didn’t bring up Manny Malhotra’s similar “stick” to Crosby late in the season. Click here for a refresher.

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Given that Pittsburgh doesn’t have to play its best game to beat the Blue Jackets, the team should make no apologies for its opponent. Two years ago, the Pens had to play a difficult matchup for them (the Flyers) and bowed out after six games. The postseason is all about matchups, hot goaltending, etc. It’s not hard to see a path to the Stanley Cup Final laid out with series against Columbus, the Rangers, and Detroit.

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To me, the Gibbons and Beau Bennett line-switching illustrates that the Pens can pretty much do what they want and still beat Columbus. Gibbons actually has more regular-season time with the No. 1 line than does Bennett. Bennett called himself out on the Blue Jacket’s first goal and he should have. He attempted a blind, cross-ice pass from the right wing to the left side of the ice in the offensive zone, leading to the Columbus rush. I kept waiting for Bennett to appear as a backchecker and by the time he showed up on my DVR’ed review, the Jackets had Harlem Globetrottered their way to an opening goal. Again, playing a lesser opponent allows Pittsburgh to make mistakes and still come out on top.

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The “Gold-Out” could’ve been big if it wasn’t more of the “Faded Yellow Out” variety. The giveaway shirts weren’t particularly flattering (to put it kindly). If anyone saw the Jason Grilli “Grilled Cheese” gold shirts given out at PNC Park’s “Free-Shirt Friday,” the color of those shirts would’ve been perfect for CONSOL. They were a much brighter shade of gold. Of course, the playoffs are more about which team wins on the ice than what color the fans in the stands wear.

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Sidney Crosby, James Neal and friends were in a suite Thursday at PNC Park. I can’t help but to think of Crosby’s batting practice homer (click here). Re-watching the dinger, I noticed two things. First, Crosby is wearing a “Reebok” hat and not a Pirates hat. Second, he quit his batting practice immediately after stroking his long ball. The Kid knows a little bit about timing.

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Pittsburgh radio personality, Mark Madden, said Thursday it’s silly to talk about which players might go if the Pens lose in the playoffs – especially after one playoff victory – but threw the name of James Neal out there. Madden mentioned the winger because you’ve got to give something up to get something, namely Ryan Kesler.

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There’s a chance Nick Foligno (knee) could return in Game 2 for Columbus. Click <a href="here for the Ottawa perspective of a Sidney Crosby elbow to Foligno back when he played for the Sens. Remember, Crosby had just come back from one of his concussions. Also, Foligno had just rolled over the top of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, as the video shows in the first 10 seconds. Foligno is an agitatingly-good player who has two goals and 15 points in 23 games against the Pens. Click here for his career statistics.

Pittsburgh would do well to keep an eye on him inside the offensive zone.

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Malkin was seen wincing on the bench after his first shift Wednesday, but finished with more than 17 minutes of ice time. He had two assists. Look for him to score on one of those “big, fat, juicy rebounds” per ROOT Sports announcer Bob Errey, on Saturday.

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Much has been made about the Brandon Sutter breakaway no-call. What no one has mentioned is how Sutter crashed into goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. There’s always been a rallying cry about crashing the net, getting guys in front of the goalie, setting up screens. Where has that been? Jayson Megna put Flyers goalie, Steve Mason, last weekend with a net rush. I’m not advising that kind of play, but the Pens need to make life more difficult for Bobrovsky. Foligno will do that for the Jackets.

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Dan Bylsma:


Sidney Crosby:


Rob Scuderi:


Brian Gibbons:


Brandon Sutter:


Marc-Andre Fleury:


Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Getting ready for you know what

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By John Toperzer

The playoffs are all about matchups and goaltending. Columbus — check. Marc-Andre Fleury — question mark.

As it stands, Game 1 of the Penguins-Blue Jackets is important, everyone knows that. The series could turn into a classic set-up if Pittsburgh isn’t careful, however.

On paper, just about every area of play favors the Penguins. The Pens won all five regular-season matchups, a carryover from past years.

At times, it almost seemed like Columbus lost because they were supposed to lose, playing the role of the Washington Generals to Pittsburgh’s Harlem Globetrotters.

The Pens have dominated the Blue Jackets in Columbus like nowhere else. At times, the pro-Pittsburgh crowd in Columbus makes more noise than the Penguins fans inside Consol Energy Center – or at least it seems that way.

Should the Penguins step on the Blue Jackets’ collective throat right off the bat, a quick four-or five-game series win will likely follow.

However, if Columbus finds a way to beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday, then all bets are off.

The Penguins are not an ultra-confident team nor should they be. No, if the Blue Jackets win Game 1 then the pressure mounts on Pittsburgh and questions arise about a team which has missed so many man-games and has little chance to form much cohesiveness.

The trap for the Pens is that they really don’t have to do anything different than they did in the regular season to beat the Blue Jackets. They don’t have to play “the trap,” for example, against Columbus. They don’t have to make many changes or adjustments at all. And even if the team did change strategies – something coach Dan Bylsma is wont to do, how much would they resonate after completely dominating the season series (at least in wins and losses)?

It hasn’t seemed to matter who Pittsburgh throws out against Columbus, the results are always the same. Deryk Engelland was named the No. 1 star and goalie Jeff Zatkoff recorded a 19-save shutout in back-to-back November wins.

Evgeni Malkin earned a star in two out of the first three matchups. The good James Neal potted a hat trick and five points in a 5-3 win Dec. 29.

Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett all have had solid showings throughout the five games. Perhaps most importantly, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played well.

About the only reason to hesitate is that four of the five Penguins’ wins against Columbus came before January.

The Penguins were a better team in the season’s first half than second. The Blue Jackets have gone 13-7-2 since February.

If Pittsburgh wins Wednesday, look for the Pens to move onto the second round in four or five games. If Columbus finds a way to pull off a Game 1 upset, then the Penguins win in seven.

Pens in 5.

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    Links ‘n at

Penguins need several players to step up in playoffs

What stood out to me in this article was the number of references from 2009, the year the Pens won the Stanley Cup. The four playoff runs since then haven’t much been worth remembering.

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Marshall: Pens-Blue Jackets by the metrics.

There aren’t typically as many power-play chances in the postseason as in the regular season, but the Pens went 5-for-17 against Columbus on the man advantage while the Blue Jackets were held to one goal on 14 opportunities.

Statistically, these teams have played each other pretty evenly on paper, even though it seemed like the Pens would find a way to win or the Blue Jackets would find a way to lose.

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Young Blue Jackets not satisfied with just being in playoffs.

Columbus has never won a playoff game and last got swept by Detroit in 2009. I would be surprised if the Blue Jackets don’t win a game against Pittsburgh.

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Penguins not favored to win for a change.

Boston might have the best odds to hoist the Cup at 7:2, but the Pens aren’t far behind (7:1).

Said Ed Olczyk of the Pens’ chances.

“The East seems to be a little more predictable, but matchups become an important part, too, once you get to the playoffs. … I don’t think there’s any doubt that Boston is the favorite, but the Penguins are within an arm’s reach. They’re right there as the second favorite in my opinion — and getting healthy. They’ve been there, done that. Maybe not the favorite, but one of those teams.”

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Ron Cook: Orpik isn’t ready for goodbyes

Frankly, I hadn’t even thought about Orpik in the last couple days since the end of the regular season. Nobody laid the lumber like Orpik did when the Pens won the championship, but that’s a long time ago. If he can come through with a couple big hits and remain unnoticeable the rest of the time, that would be a good thing. He was voted the players’ player again in 2013-14.

Orpik threw up a cautionary flag against Columbus.

“Yeah, but we had a lot of success against Boston in the regular season last season, too,” Orpik said.

Fortunately, the Blue Jackets don’t employ Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask or Zdeno Chara.

The article says a lot of nice things about Orpik and I can’t disagree with any one of them. Let’s hope the impending free agent has a nice long run to close out his Penguins career.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Stanley Cup odds, what wins in the postseason

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Congratulations to the Dallas Stars, playoff participants for the first time in five years!

Surprisingly, Dallas is the only team in the 14-team Western Conference which holds a losing record (13-17-2) against the Eastern Conference.

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The Penguins are 20-8-1 against the Metropolitan Division and have four more intra-divisional wins than any other team in the Met.

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I don’t know what to make of Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone’s arrest for DUI and possession of cocaine. I’ll save the judgment for other folks and leave it at that.

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The Pens may just be the biggest wild card in the Eastern Conference. There’s no other team with the upside Pittsburgh offers that has lost as many man-games or has had as little time to put together its best starting lineup.

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Not everyone believes in the Pens.

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Steve Laidlaw of Dobber Hockey wrote an interesting article on teams most likely to have success in the playoffs, based upon past indicators. Click here.

The article lists goal differential and shot differential TOGETHER as the best indicator of winning in the postseason.

The Penguins, interestingly, prove to be the contra-indicators in this analysis.

The Problem Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins really blew up the shot differential scores, as well as those of the “fancy stats”. The Penguins were a dog shit possession team until Dan Bylsma arrived but Michel Therrien was the coach for much of the two seasons where they made back-to-back Finals so they really made the case for poor possession teams having success.

Of course, the Penguins have appeared to be a great possession team ever since and have subsequently flamed out early in the playoffs with the exception of last season when they were once again a poor possession team.

They have been decidedly average this season. I have no idea what that means but if their trend of going against the grain continues the Penguins should be in for a long playoff run.

Another take from the article is that 5-on-5 play, while important, isn’t the end-all to winning playoff games.

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Bovada’s Stanley Cup odds currently have the Penguins listed with the third best chance of taking home Lord Stanley. Click here.

The Boston Bruins (15/4) and St. Louis Blues (6/1) are the two teams with better odds of winning the Stanley Cup than the Penguins (7/1).

According to Bovada, the odds to win the East include Boston (13/10), Pittsburgh 11/4) and Philadelphia (17/2).

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Given the Penguins’ inconsistent performance in 2013-14, would you be satisfied with a postseason run which included two series wins before an conference finals loss to Boston?

What if the team the Pens beat in Round 2 was the Flyers?

Philadelphia has gotten into the collective psyche of the Penguins, drawing out emotional responses from the likes of James Neal, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby since the 2011-12 regular season (if not before). Who can forget the meaningless regular season game at the end of the season (sound familiar to today’s game) in which then assistant, Craig Berube, stood on one side of the bench and Tony Granato the other — with Pierre McGuire in the middle?

If Pittsburgh ever needed to exorcise some demons, it would be against these Flyers.

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The Penguins recalled Harry Zolnierczyk for Saturday’s home tilt against Philly. A part of me was rooting for a Tom Kostopoulos recall, too, as a tribute to the ultimate mucker, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

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Penguins Audio

Dan Bylsma:


Sidney Crosby:


courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: Hurdle has career winning mark against both Cards and Reds

By John Toperzer

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Manager Clint Hurdle has a winning record (249-243) since taking over in 2011.

Perhaps more impressively, Hurdle has winning marks against both of Pittsburgh’s biggest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds.

Under Hurdle, the Bucs hold a 27-26 regular-season record against the Cards, including a plus-8 run differential (236-228). The Pirates have also kept Cincinnati in check, going 28-24 against the division rivals. The Reds hold a one-run run differential (189-188) over the span.

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Russell Martin showed why he’s exactly what the Pirates need behind the plate in Week 1. He showed cat-like quickness on a bunt, gunning down the runner for MLB Network’s No. 4 play of the week. During a rundown as a runner between third base and home, it sure looked like he moved into the path of a Yadier Molina thrown ball. Martin got clipped on the back of his neck – a weak spot on any human being, but it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.

Sunday afternoon, he went barreling toward the first-base dugout, abruptly impacting the fence with utter disdain to his personal body. Throw in a clutch, opposite-field RBI single and it’s easy to see just how important Martin is to the Bucs. I’m convinced he’s part-certifiably crazy after the Cardinals’ series … and I mean that in the best possible way.

Prior to the start of the season, Martin said he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh past 2014, when his two-year, $17 million deal runs out. With unrestricted free agency going ballistic – Jhonny Peralta’s four-year, $53 million deal springs to mind – there’s little chance the small-market Pirates hold onto Martin.

That’s not a knock on Pittsburgh. It’s put into action a smart, cost-effective plan that has paid dividends.

Martin signed with the Bucs because, as he said at the time, they offered him the most money. With that in mind, it would be nice to see the Pirates offer him two years and $30 million. Would he take it? I doubt it.

Martin settled on two years originally because he said he wanted to re-build his negotiating power. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone offer a three or four years in the $15-20 million per year range.
Catchers don’t age particularly well and the Canadian will be 32 years of age before the 2015 season begins.

The Pirates can’t afford a risk like that. They have Tony Sanchez and Reese McGuire (in two or three years).

In the end, Martin is a luxury Pittsburgh needs to take full advantage of in 2014. Few play the game as hard as he does.

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P1220508Jameson Taillon, left, with Stetson Allie

Losing Jameson Taillon to Tommy John surgery downgrades the Pirates’ farm system fairly appreciably. I have a feeling that if Baseball America currently rated organizations, then Pittsburgh’s would fall somewhere between seventh and 10th.

But that’s okay. Rating teams is an art as much as it is a science.

Taillon’s perception was almost like the second string quarterback on the Steelers. He could do no wrong while he wasn’t playing in the big leagues. Gerrit Cole started the progression of top prospect to Pirate stud last summer and Taillon was expected to take the same path.

With Taillon out for at least 12 months with Tommy John surgery, which pitching prospect takes his place?

I don’t mean Jeff Locke or Jeanmar Gomez, but a pitcher who hasn’t made it to the big leagues but can become the next hyped hurler in the system.

A number of folks point toward Stolmy Pimentel, but he’s already too far along for the prospect comparison. I’m talking about a guy who will dominate in the minors and possibly force his way onto the Pirates’ roster.

Is there someone like that? Right now it looks like Nick Kingham could be that pitcher. He threw six shutout innings against the Erie Seawolves on Sunday. Tyler Glasnow began the season on the disabled list with a sore lower back. Casey Sadler is a third pitcher to watch, though his ceiling isn’t as high.

Pirates Prospects listed the organization’s pitching statistics herefor the first week of the season.

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It’s good to see these two guys getting off to good starts.

IMG_1145Gregory Polanco

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It’s quite possible Pedro Alvarez simply has the Cards’ number, but at least he plays his best against the team Pittsburgh needs to knock off.

There has been talk about Alvarez’s future – will he remain with the team when his arbitration years expire after the 2016 campaign? It makes sense that with Scott Boras as his agent, he will test the waters. New York has been mentioned as a possible suitor by folks playing the guessing game as to where he might go.

Regardless, it’s good to see him become a productive major leaguer who more than a season left in Pittsburgh (at the very least).

I’ll leave you with the following preview from USA Today’s 2012 fantasy baseball preview. Here’s what it had to say about Alvarez.

Alvarez is on his way to becoming one of the biggest draft flops in recent memory. The Pirates game him 235 at-bats in 2011, but he couldn’t sniff a .200 batting average, showed little power and couldn’t lay off poor pitches. September 2010 (.311, five homers, 26 RBI in 103 at-bats) seems so far away. At 25, he has a shorter window than some prospects to turn it around.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguins lack of well, anything, Tuesday simply unacceptable

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By John Toperzer

Maybe I’m blowing a third-period episode from Tuesday’s Penguins game out of proportion. After all, the Pens will make the playoffs, they’ll make no worse than the No. 2 seed. The length of 2013-14 is nearly twice as long as the work-stoppaged, 48-game slate from the spring of 2013. It’s understandable that the team will have letdowns throughout the course of a six-month, regular-season schedule, right?

It seems like that’s exactly the way the Pittsburgh Penguins are approaching the most critical stretch of their season.

Whether it’s failure to adhere to coaching or simply tuning it out, who knows?

Head coach Dan Bylsma is taking longer to respond to questions from the media than his defensive corps sometimes takes to clear the puck from its own end – and that can be a long, long time.

The players are responsible for producing on the ice. They looked disinterested Tuesday against Carolina.

As the saying goes, “you can’t fire the whole team” when it struggles, but something can be done about the staff in charge. It’s probable too late in the season for anyone other than Lou Lamoriello to can the head coach. Those thinking Bylsma’s job is at risk are probably off-base – at least until the Pens’ postseason run ends.

What I really found interesting Tuesday was how no one on the Penguins bench stood up for Sidney Crosby when Manny Malhotra felled Crosby with a well-placed stick to the Pittsburgh captain’s privates.

Crosby keeled over like the Tower of Pisa after taking the stick to his own, personal cup with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.

After the game, he refused to mention the particulars of the incident, instead saying something along the lines that that’s just hockey.

As if that wasn’t enough, the ‘Canes Jay Harrison elbowed Crosby along the offensive end boards, most likely without fear of retribution from anyone dressing in Black & Gold. Harrison forgot the one player who might take offense, of course, and that was Crosby himself.

The NHL’s leading scorer choke-grabbed Harrison, lifted him off his skates and threw him to the ground.

If you guessed Crosby was frustrated by that point, you’d be spot on.

It’s hard to say whether any of his teammates cared or were slightly interested, however.

The Flyers’ mentality of an eye-for-an-eye isn’t Pittsburgh’s way (unless its playing Philly, and the Pens take emotional penalties). But not having any kind of response for the torture its team captain was taking in the waning seconds of a 4-1 loss is unacceptable.

The Pens didn’t have to “send a message” despite the lopsided score. The team should have stuck up for its best player, however.

Admittedly, enforcers are the dinosaurs of the NHL. When your best player’s manhood is challenged, physically and physiologically, there’s just got to be some kind of response.

Military personnel don’t leave fallen soldiers behind. Cops stick together, firemen, too.

That type of camaraderie lends itself to sports, but the Penguins showed nothing of the kind Tuesday. It looked like they were all about collecting a check after the first 10 minutes of the game.

If a team ever needed a gut check, it’s the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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The Cloud Is Lifting On Barry Bonds

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I knew this day was bound to happen. I knew that someday it would be tough to hold a grudge against Barry Lamar Bonds (you always know the middle names of the great ones, don’t you).

There are so many reasons to dislike Bonds. I point to his three dismal postseason performances in Pittsburgh. Lots of Pirates played poorly in those playoff matchups, but there was only one regular-season MVP – and that was Bonds.

Pittsburgh likes its links to famous people, whether it’s Andy Warhola or Michael Keaton or Arnold Palmer. Bonds is one example, but at what price? It would be easier to dislike him if he still acted like the person who played for Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1992, but he had nothing but nice things to say about the city Opening Day. I kept waiting for a jab, a punch line.

“It’s great to come back where it all started,” Bonds told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Great to be back with [former Pirates manager] Jim Leyland. I mean, it almost brings tears to my eyes. We were a last-place team, put it together, but we just didn’t get over the top though.”

And he even had some good things to say about the fans.

“We had some good times here,” Bonds said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I would expect a cheerful (response). We were baseball players here and tried to win championships. Unfortunately, we came up short. That’s all we did. We loved the fans here, and we loved playing here in this organization. We did the best we could and we hope they appreciate it.”

If you were a die-hard Pirates fan during Bonds’s playing tenure, it’s quite possible your eyes popped out of your head reading the above quote.

Not surprisingly, some in the media questioned Bonds’s intentions Monday, subtlety or otherwise.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Columnist Dejan Kovacevic noted how Bonds didn’t stay for more than a couple innings of Monday’s game.

“Rewind to the pregame festivities and, as I’d expected all along, it wasn’t about Barry Bonds. None of this was, no matter how much he might have hoped for that as part of this sudden push to get back in baseball’s good graces. (Getting only 36.2 percent of the needed 75 percent for Hall of Fame induction will do that.) Some booed him. Others cheered. No big deal either way.

In the end, he bolted the ballpark — after a couple of innings at most, per people accompanying him — for a flight out of town a few hours after landing.

“I love the city,” came the explanation from Bonds’ visibly smaller head when asked why he returned. “It’s a great place, and it’s an honor to be back.”

Hey, thanks for stoppin.’

Having an opinion on Bonds is part of being a Pirates fan. I can’t say I talked to one person at the park Monday who didn’t have something to say – good or bad – about him.

A lot of people like being associated with history. Once it’s okay to be a fan of Bonds – and that day is coming — his popularity in Western Pennsylvania will grow.

Why is that likely to happen?

First, the people who saw him play (and act) are getting old. A new generation looks at both of his pre-and-post steroid numbers and just says “wow.”

Second, the people who attended Monday’s game seemed inclined to move on from booing Barry. A great majority of the fans I spoke with Opening Day said they’d cheer for Bonds, or at the very worst, stay silent when he was announced. During his announcement, the boo-birds got off to a strong start, but like Bonds in the playoffs, they faded (sorry, couldn’t resist the snipe) and he was fairly well received. Lesser players like Adam LaRoche have been booed more vociferously.

The intensity of holding a grudge against Bonds is dimming. The Pirates could easily have been baseball’s best team in the 1990s. I, for one, was readying myself for a trip or two to the World Series. If Bonds had played in the playoffs like he did in the regular season, who knows, there might be more than five World Series signs (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979) hanging underneath the Bucs’ broadcasting booth inside PNC Park.

But having a winning team on the field after two decades of losing changes one’s perspective.

A lot of Pirates fans are moving on from hating Barry Bonds and it feels like a steroids-sized Bonds head being lifted off one’s shoulders.

Of course, if Bonds comes out next week and says something bad about Pittsburgh – all bets are off.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

I was fortunate enough to take in Bonds’s first major-league hit. My college roommate and I made the hour trip from Westminster College. Here’s the actual ticket.

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Penguin-Kings In-Game Notes: First Period

Patrick O’Sullivan traded for Justin Williams – turned out to be an unbelievable deal for the Los Angeles Kings.

After sitting as a healthy scratch for a couple games, Taylor Pyatt moving his feet again Thursday, forcing turnovers early in contest.

Penguins would be in trouble if Kings’ stars were playing peak hockey: Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown not exactly having career campaigns.

Penguins also fortunate Jonathan Quick not in net, though Pens made short order of him in the last meeting.

Rob Scuderi playing with a little of his “passion” early on, throwing checks around.

Drew Doughty jumping up on the play, making a nice drive to the net. Pretty impressive.

Phil Bourque is down in between the benches Thursday, as is Bob Errey. Where’s Troy Loney?

Crosby with a sharp backhander from the far boards which surprised goalie Martin Jones, Lee Stempniak unable to collect rebound.

Deflection leads to Los Angeles goal on the power play. Reviewed for a high stick but goal stands.

Crosby knocks defenseman Slava Voynov off at center ice. Impressive check.

Pens’ PP not clicking, not getting opportunities. Neal, Kunitz, Crosby with Maatta and Niskanen out for No. 1 PP, but stays on ice for only one-out-of-two-minute penalty.

Gaborik takes penalty behind own net, tripping Gibbons. Pens go on their second power play.

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