An Ode to Neil Walker, Jamison Taillon & Dad

I suddenly got emotional Wednesday morning while watching a DVR of Tuesday’s Pirates-Mets game featuring the return of Neil Walker. Yes, I was there live Tuesday working both games, as I have for the last 15 years, but things have changed, for Walker and for me.

 

As part of my labor of love, I’ve written for Rotowire fantasy sports for more than a decade. This gives me an excuse to pay close attention to baseball, something I’d do for free. Tuesday brought into focus a player I’ve watched since he was in high school, a player my father and I travelled to see play in Peters Township in the spring of 2004, right before Pittsburgh selected him with its first-round pick in the 2004 draft.

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Fast forward to Tuesday, June 7, 2016.

 

Walker is at the plate, doffing his cap before thousands of empty PNC Park empty seats – thanks to a 4:00 PM start – and probably five thousand fans scattered throughout the park for the first of two games.

 

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle claps for Walker from the dugout, as does pitcher Jeff Locke among others. Of course nearly all of the fans clap, too. Personally, I can’t believe not everybody is standing – most are, but I feel like telling those who aren’t to get up.

 

Then it hit me. While watching the replay the camera scans the first level, first base side and catches a gentleman in faded blue jeans and an old top, holding a camera in front of his face to get a good photo of Walker.

 

That would be my dad. I mean, it would’ve been him if he were still alive. This is the kind of baseball moment he lived for. He loved getting pictures of Pirates players and he loved snapping photos of Walker. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I’d seen my dad’s ghost in the ROOT Sports Pittsburgh panning the crowd and capturing the older gentleman with the faded blue jeans.

 

Well, this story isn’t supposed to be about Walker, it just happened. What I meant to write about is the impending debut of Jameson Taillon.

 

Taillon will make his major league debut Wednesday, five long years after being drafted by the Bucs. He’ll face the unenviable task of matching up against Noah Syndergaard, better known as “Thor” for his flowing blond locks of hair and a 98-mph fastball.

 

Unsurprisingly, this brings me back to another memory of dad.

 

Traveling to spring training is something my dad and I (and a couple times my sister, Joy) enjoyed doing since 2003.

 

We discovered Pirate City, where the minor leaguers gain instruction, in 2009 and a couple trips later we (mostly me, but I’ll include my dad here) anticipated the first glimpse of the player the organization selected ahead of Manny Machado, Taillon.

 

It’s the spring of 2011 and my dad wouldn’t be diagnosed with Stage 4 Mantle Cell Lymphoma for another nine months. He’s still getting around fine, better than most 78-year-olds.

 

We stumble across one of my buddies, Bob, who was (and still is) a season-ticket holders right behind home plate where I ushered before I had my cerebellar stroke. Bob’s a great guy and even joined my fantasy baseball league.

 

Well anyhow, Taillon pops out from one of the four practice fields and is heading toward another one, but first stops to sign a couple autographs.

 

I yell to my dad to get his picture, get his picture. Dad always liked getting the perfect shot, but he didn’t know the prospects. I served as his “Director of shooting prospects with bright future” and wanted to make sure he snapped Taillon.

 

He got a nice shot of Bob with Taillon and I think he got one of me with the pitcher, too, but what I really wanted was just a shot of the pitcher. Some of his photos would actually be published in the annual Rotowire baseball magazine.

 

Taillon was ever gracious and along with fellow draft pick, Stetson Allie, posed for my father.

 

Dad took a couple pics but the lighting apparently wasn’t good, so he “told” the players to take their hats off. Yep, in the middle of drills, my dad asked a pair of professional baseball players to take their hats off to so he could see their faces.

 

Out of respect, they obliged. My dad had a way of getting things done that would embarrass me. But then looking back, I’d be glad he did what he did.

 

Here’s his shot.

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So when I watch Jameson Taillon throw out his first pitch Wednesday evening at approximately 7:08 PM, I won’t be thinking of the highly touted pitcher, I’ll be thinking of dad.

 

He was a season-ticket holder at PNC Park and you’d better be darn sure he’d have been there to witness both Walker and Taillon.

 

He loved the theater, he loved the countless friends he made at the park and he loved the energy he felt and shared with others around him.

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Miss you dad, but I know where you’ll be Wednesday night. See you then.

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Pirates Frustrations Runneth Over Against Cubs

Gerrit Cole has every right to do what he wants when he’s not on the clock, maybe blow off some steam after starting 2016 poorly. But to me, he’d be better off doing it a little more privately than banging on the glass at a Penguins playoff game, screaming at Capitals players and publicly getting reprimanded by Consol’s staff. He’s not Nick Mangold. Cole is the Pirates’ player union representative.

Maybe the bigger question is why is he the union representative? He complained about $3K when his agent figures to get him, what, $150 million-plus in a few years? How the Pirates didn’t name a more senior player to be union rep really surprises me. Chris Stewart would make for the perfect choice. He’s on the wrong side of 30, appears to be well-liked, and he’s signed for two seasons.

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Andrew McCutchen has earned the right to act the way he did Tuesday, when he called for the official scorer to be fired because he charged the center fielder with an error on a tough liner. Cutch was probably frustrated by a litany of things that didn’t go his team’s way – first and foremost, getting swept by the big, bad Cubs. Should he have handled things differently? Yes. Would he like a do-over? I’m certain he would. But you don’t wash out eight good years with one silly statement.

Here’s what I’m wondering. Has McCutchen gotten his vision checked lately? I would have the team trainer, Todd Tomczyk (who has become chief spokesman to the media this year, it seems), to set up an eye exam. Cutch is missing catchable fly balls and his swing-and-miss rates are above his career averages.

One last thing on McCutchen. With so many fly balls getting over his head, I would move him back the 17 feet he’s moved in from a center field positioning aspect. My own eyeball test hasn’t seen any great reduction in singles dropping in front of McCutchen to offset the seven or eight balls that have just gone over his glove for extra-base hits. I think Cutch may be frustrated with where he’s lining up in the outfield but is too much of a team player to say anything.

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I’m curious to see how the infield and outfield play out when Jung-Ho Kang returns. A number of outsiders believe Kang will play shortstop so David Freese can stick at third, but the team has said it doesn’t want added stress on Kang’s surgically-rebuilt knee. I agree. Freese played four innings at second base Tuesday. That’s really interesting. We all know Josh Harrison doesn’t have to stay at second to be effective. Would he like to play exclusively at one spot, sure, but that might not be best for the team. No one has more heart than Harrison. He gets more out of his actual skill – which is really average – than anybody else.

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Sean Rodriguez has knocked the ball off its cover for most of the first five-plus weeks. I remember when he was a young prospect with Los Angeles and he had 20-plus homer potential written all over him. He was highly touted. Alas, he’s settled into a decent big league career. Good for him.

Rodriguez is one of the more emotional players I’ve seen. That can be a great thing, or as water coolers know, it can be a bad thing too. Tuesday, he was playing tight. He missed a foul ball at first base, a pop up he took too long to get over to the railing for. The ball actually bounced off the playing field and not in the stands. Then he got picked off first base against Jon Lester. That’s hard to do. Catcher David Ross fired to first base after a Lester pitch and SeanRod was dead meat. He wants to win so badly and help his team, but he has to play within himself, play smart.

Later in the game, Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. He cracked a foul ball down the left-field line. The shot was about five feet foul and deflated the inning. Rodriguez struck out and the next two Pirates also made outs. The team was looking for that one big hit. It would have been interesting to see the Bucs play loose. Instead, they were as tight as a brick.

Finally with Rodriguez (I never realized he was such the topic of conversation) he batted against reliever Pedro Strop on Wednesday – and he let emotions get the best of him. Rodriguez felt Strop was quick pitching him. He was, as he had been doing throughout the series. Why did that affect Rodriguez? Why did he have words with the pitcher during his at-bat? He should have been ready for the quick pitches and the differing deliveries. All of the other batters saw it during the series. As it turns out, Rodriguez struck out.

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Penguins Notes: Crosby’s Point Drought, Fleury’s Shootout Woes, Rutherford’s Decision

By John Toperzer

GM Jim Rutherford specifically brought in goalie Thomas Greiss on a one-year, $1 million deal to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. It was preordained since before training camp that Greiss would take the reigns from Jeff Zatkoff, pretty much regardless of preseason performance, There’s little doubt the German is Rutherford’s baby, signed and sealed by the GM. The results have gotten progressively worse, however, after Greiss played fairly well in his first five starts (all on the road).

Greiss holds a 2.88 GAA and .906 save percentage. He’s allowed three or more goals in 10 of his 12 starts. Would you trust him in the playoffs? If not, would you trust Zatkoff? Twenty-year-old netminder, Matt Murray, has played well for the Baby Penguins but he’s not ready for the NHL. Tristan Jarry, 19, is in the midst of his third and statistically-worst season for the Edmonton Oil Kings (18-21-5, 2.70 GAA, .908 save percentage).

If the Pens don’t trust Greiss or Zatkoff – Fleury has started the same 78 percent of contests he did in 2013-14 – then a deadline deal for a goalie should be in order. Will Rutherford admit he made a mistake, or least admit things haven’t worked out the way he’d hoped?

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After a six-goal, 27-game stretch for Sidney Crosby, he’s scored two goals twice in the last four contests. From his play, it looks like he’s back. From a historical perspective, how does Crosby’s 2014-15 stack up against his other nine NHL seasons? Let’s take a look.

Below is a list showing the seasonal percentages Crosby has picked up at least one point in games played.

Season ** Games Played ** Gms Scoring Point ** % of Gms With Point

2005-06 — 81 — 59 — 73 percent
2006-07 — 79 — 60 — 76 percent
2007-08 — 53 — 43 — 81 percent
2008-09 — 77 — 55 — 71 percent
2009-10 — 81 — 56 — 69 percent
2010-11 — 41 — 35 — 85 percent
2011-12 — 22 — 15 — 68 percent
2012-13 — 36 — 28 — 78 percent
2013-14 — 80 — 60 — 75 percent
2014-15 — 51 — 30 — 59 percent

As you can see, Crosby has scored at least one point in only 59 percent of games played in 2014-15. That’s the lowest output of his 10-year career — from a percentage basis. His best season occurred in 2010-11, when he pointed in 85 percent of games played.

What does this mean? It probably means he hasn’t played consistently well, thus far, which isn’t shocking. Of course, the mumps have something to do with his numbers. So does the continual shifting of linemates due to injury. Fortunately for the Penguins and Crosby there are still 27 games remaining to get on a roll heading into the playoffs.

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A check of eBay showed two “Sindey Crosby” mistake programs sold for $125 apiece.

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Kris Letang has had picked up a point in over half of the Pens’ goals during the last 14 games. He’s got 19 points (2G, 17A) while Pittsburgh has totaled 37 goals.

In the preseason, new coach Mike Johnston’s system was supposed to help Letang as much or more than any other player. Mission accomplished.

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Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson recently penned an article showing his love for Mario Lemieux entitled Valentine’s Love For My Personal Favorite.

In my opinion, “Le Magnifique” was the greatest. It’s funny, though. He did have more than his fair share of detractors. A lot of folks equated Lemieux with Michael Jordan as “individual” players who had great stats but no championships. That was circa 1988. We all know what happened in both cases after that. It had to be frustrating for Lemieux to play on a team with Warren Young while the Great One skated with so many Hall of Famers, especially since Lemieux was compared to the older Gretzky every step of the way. Gretzky “won” the head-to-head competition more times than not, but the sample size was so small and teammate skillsets differed so greatly between Edmonton’s and Pittsburgh’s rosters.

Here are three of my favorite Lemieux mentions.

3. In a two-season span from 1988 to 1990, Lemieux scored a total of 23 short-handed goals. That’s goals, not points.
2. When Lemieux retired from the “Garage League” in 1997, he led the NHL in career goals-scored per game (0.82). When he returned three and a half seasons, later, those numbers dipped to (0.45) for the rest of his career (which was still impressive considering the dead puck).
1. The most decorated coach in NHL history, Scottie Bowman, often said that Lemieux was the best penalty killer he saw.

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Rick Tocchet and Jaromir Jagr seemed to get along really well when the two played together. Tocchet called him “Jages” — rhymes with “Begs” — rather than “Jags” rhyming with Boggs.

Twitter celebrated Jagr’s 43rd birthday the moment the clock struck 12, reminding me of another time the clock struck 12 with Jagr. The Pittsburgh Sports Garden was a popular nightclub in Station Square. I happened to be hanging out there with my buddies and Jagr walked in. At midnight, someone got on the PA system and wished Jagr a happy 20th birthday. Yes, he was in a bar and underaged. He was also in the bar while serving a 10-game NHL suspension as I remember.

A quick Google search turned up a Lemieux-Stevens-Jagr suspension article.

Apparently Jagr invaded the personal space of a referee.

“I haven`t seen three guys get thrown out of a game like that since the Hansen brothers in ‘Slapshot,'” Penguins center Ron Francis noted.

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TSN’s Scott Cullen recently wrote and article entitled Change the Names, It’s the Stats that Matter.”

Here are some hockey stats I’d like to see published.

Odd-man rushes, for and against: List forwards on the ice as well as defensemen.

Posts hit: Use this number not only for goalies, but also for shooters.

Disallowed goals: Chris Kunitz likely led the league in this category several seasons.

Specific penalties called by individual referees: Almost like in baseball with what is the strike zone.

What statistics would you like to see listed?

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Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury leads the NHL with eight shutouts and has arguably been the Pens’ MVP in 2014-15. One area in which he typical excels in but has just been so-so is the shootout.

Season ** Shots Attempted ** Goals Allowed ** Save Percentage

2005-06 — 05 — 04 — .200
2006-07 — 39 — 09 — .769
2007-08 — 03 — 00 — 1.000
2008-09 — 22 — 06 — .727
2009-10 — 23 — 06 — .739
2010-11 — 38 — 06 — .842
2011-12 — 39 — 09 — .769
2012-13 — 08 — 02 — .750
2013-14 — 28 — 05 — .821
2014-15 — 19 — 07 — .632

The Flower’s shootout save percentage of .632 is the lowest since his rookie year.

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Pens Audio

Mike Johnston:

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Treasure Life!
JT

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Penguin Notes: Painful Mumps, Kunitz’s Future, Bylsma #TBT

Warning: This first note is a bit graphic

One out of four adult males with mumps deals with orchitis, according to emedtv. Orchitis, as described by NHS, has some potentially serious complications.

Swollen testicle

Pain and swelling of the testicles (orchitis) affects one in four males who get mumps after puberty. The swelling is usually sudden and affects only one testicle. The testicle may also feel warm and tender.

In affected boys and men swelling of their testicles normally begins four to eight days after the swelling of the parotid gland.

Occasionally, swelling can occur up to six weeks after the swelling of the glands.

Any testicle pain can be eased using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. If the pain is particularly severe, contact your GP who may prescribe a stronger painkiller for you.

Applying cold or warm compresses to your testicles and wearing supportive underwear, may also reduce any pain.

Just under half of all males who get mumps-related orchitis will notice some shrinkage of their testicles and an estimated 1 in 10 men will experience a drop in their sperm count (the amount of healthy sperm that their body can produce). However, this is very rarely large enough to cause infertility

Statistically, if the NHL has 14 confirmed cases of the mumps, then there are likely three players suffering (or suffered) from what sounds like a painful malady.

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Former Penguins James Neal became the first NHL player to be fined for diving, according to CBC Sports.

Neal, who is tied for ninth in the league with 106 shots, has scored 11 goals and 19 points through 30 games. The big winger is mostly a liability when he’s not scoring and for the most part he’s struggled in Nashville. At $5 million per season, his AAV isn’t bad (though it’s the highest number among all Predators forwards). Neal has shown signs of heating up a bit – he has five points in the last six games – but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nashville move him in
the right trade.

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If the KHL folds and/or some teams dissolve, it’s not difficult envisioning North American and/or North American-trained players returning to the NHL.

According to the Globe and Mail, the ruble has tumbled about 50 percent against the U.S. dollar since July.

Click here to see the KHL’s leading scorers thus far.

And no, there’s no chance of Alexei Morozov returning to the Penguins after an 11-season absence. The 37-year-old has retired. He was only good against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur, anyhow.

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Some of the most up-tempo, fun-to-watch hockey the Penguins played in 2013-14 was last December, when injuries forced the team to recall boat loads of players from the AHL. History appears to be repeating itself this season. Bobby Farnham has been tons of fun to watch.

Penguins radio analyst, Phil Bourque, said his playing style was similar to that of a torpedo prior to his first NHL game and that description is proving to be more than accurate. Coach Mike Johnston commented on Bryan Rust and Farnham following Monday’s game.

“Rust did some really good things … I really liked how he managed the puck and his skill, that’s something we’re looking for and then Farnham adding that energy, he’s going to be a great depth guy, for sure.”

Johnston didn’t heap lavish praise on Farnham, but Columbus’ Nick Foligno had this to say about Farnham.

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I recently unearthed a DVR recording of former Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma, speaking about the NHL draft in 2012. He had this to say about the Jordan Staal trade (which transpired just before the draft).

Said Dan Bylsma:

“The nervous part about that deal was we wanted to get Pouliot with that eighth pick. Sitting at the table, knowing the deal was done, and that we were looking to hopefully get this guy, I talked to his coach as well two days ago and he talked really highly of that player as well. We wanted to get that player with that pick.”

So Bylsma talked with current Penguins coach, Mike Johnston, before selecting Derrick Pouliot. Could he even have imagined that the Portland Winterhawks coach he was talking to would replace him as Pittsburgh’s head coach two years later? No way. Crazy stuff.

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Speaking of the Jordan Staal trade, then Carolina GM, Jim Rutherford, had this to say of the deal in the News Observer.

“When you’re acquiring an elite player you have to give a lot for it,” Rutherford said. “And we did. We paid Pittsburgh a good price.

“We love Brandon Sutter. It was really hard to let him go. He’s been a very good player for us and has a very good future ahead of him. … But when you get into a deal like this you usually give up something you don’t want to give.”

“This improves our team,” Rutherford said. “You name me two or three other center icemen that are like Jordan Staal. You just can’t find them.”

Rutherford either overvalued Staal or really wanted to get him for brother Eric — or perhaps a little of both.

Fast forward two and a half years. Now Rutherford is charged with finding at least one, if not two, top-six forwards in Pittsburgh.

Will he overpay? That seems to be a reasonable question to ask, considering the Staal trade. Giving Alexander Semin $35 million for five years was also a highly questionable move.

Of course, with the Penguins he’s picked up Patric Hornqvist, who has exceeded expectations. Rutherford has also signed Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year, $23 million deal.

Here’s what Rutherford said he’s weighing before pulling the inevitable trigger on a trade.

“We’re looking for more than one (top-six forward) now and trying to juggle what cap space we have,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This is not an easy process, by no means, to accomplish our goal, but we’re going to try and do it.

“Ideally what we’d like to do is make a deal that’s for the bigger picture, for the long run.”

“It’s something I’m aware of,” Rutherford said of the need for top-six help. “It’s a matter of, ‘Do we go get a forward now for the sake of adding more depth and experience? Or do we try to hold out as long as we can to see who all becomes available?’

“I’m watching on a daily basis to try and decide which way to go.”

Rutherford said over the summer that he’s not afraid to make a big deal a month before the trade deadline.

Injuries and mumps may have shifted some of the Pens’ focus (or at least, time) in recent weeks, but the team’s needs will likely come into clearer focus as it gets healthier.

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Olli Maatta’s shoulder injury puts a serious crimp in the Pens’ defensive depth at the NHL level and hurts trade talk. Not knowing how healthy Maatta is makes it difficult to trade other blueliners. Maatta’s trade value, in itself, is compromised. One shoulder surgery is bad enough for a 20-year-old, but what happens if he needs a second?

The Winnipeg Jets repeatedly stated that they were not looking for defensemen in trades last season. This year, they’ve had a number of injuries to their blue line and now Jacob Trouba is out until February.

Plenty of Penguins fans have targeted Evander Kane as a top-six forward who could help Pittsburgh. While it could still happen, Maatta’s situation throws a wrench into the plan.

Interestingly, there are reports that the Philadelphia Flyers came close to trading for Kane over the summer.

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The Penguins have looked pretty good without Chris Kunitz and his $3.85 million salary cap hit. Kunitz has two more years left on his deal. For that reason and the fact that he’s becoming more inconsistent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see GM Jim Rutherford include Kunitz’s name in trade talks.

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From Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts, an incidental Pittsburgh reference.

“It’s not important for coaches and players to like each other. But, it is important they pull in the same direction and understand where each other is coming from. At his post-firing briefing MacLean said last weekend’s comment about being scared to death of who he was going to put on the ice against Pittsburgh was a joke that was badly misinterpreted.”

The fact he thought that way, while the organization and players felt opposite, shows how “off” the relationship became.

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Pittsburgh Interview Audio (Courtesy of Penguins)

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Marc-Andre Fleury:

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Penguins defenseman, Scott Harrington, is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday night.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: How much is Sid hurting team’s PP chances?

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Former NHL referee, Paul Stewart, penned an article Crosby’s on-ice behavior needed correction shortly after Crosby showed up officials with his stick slamming Nov. 15 against the New York Rangers.

Stewart said of Crosby.

“In Saturday night’s game in Pittsburgh between the Rangers and Penguins, Sidney Crosby pushed the envelope a little too far — twice — in his treatment of the officials. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Graham Skilliter showed the patience of Job in not bagging Crosby with an unsportsmanlike conduct let alone the misconduct he deserved.

I do not blame Kelly and Graham for their handling of Crosby. Every official has his own threshold for how much is too much. What I am saying, from my chair, is that the NHL does the game no favors by allowing certain players to become bigger than the game itself.”

The Pens have been awarded 11 power-play chances in their last seven contests (including Nov. 15). In the previous seven tilts they went on 30 power plays.

Granted, some of the difference might be explained in the team’s lack of current work ethic. There are some times when the Penguins haven’t moved their legs the way coach Mike Johnston demands.

In the end, Pittsburgh won’t receive an overabundance of power plays in the playoffs, so the recent outage of opportunities might just be a good thing. After all, Johnston’s stated intent from the first day of training camp was to prepare his team for the postseason — perhaps not just this way.

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Crosby on Friday’s loss.

“We didn’t play well, they work hard, pressure the puck, still battle us, do the right things, we didn’t play well at all.”

It’s our work ethic, they just outworked us, it’s not fun saying that after a game. That’s just something that can’t happen. We gotta make sure we work harder.”

A view from the November/December 2014 Scientific Mind

“Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect”

Science does not bear out the popular idea that nearly anyone can succeed with enough practice. It takes many thousands of hours of hard work to get to the top – yet time alone is not enough if you lack the other attributes necessary in your discipline, according to a study.

… reviewed 157 experimental results connecting total time spent practicing to ability in sports, music, education, and other areas. On average, practice time accounted for just 12 percent of the variation in performance.

Of course, working hard is a prerequisite for winning in the NHL, but maybe there’s some truth to working smarter, too.

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Friday’s loss is concerning if for no other reason than the team hasn’t built up much of a home-ice advantage. Many of the Pens’ worst showings have come at Consol, including three of five regulation losses. A common thread is opponents aggressively forechecking Pittsburgh and keeping the team on its heels.

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At this point, the Pens have been forced to switch up lines due to injury. Before Beau Bennett and Marcel Goc got hurt, however, coach Johnston changed lines such as moving Patric Hornqvist back to Crosby’s line and Chris Kunitz to Evgeni Malkin’s. These are good things.

Coaches can’t be afraid to mix things up. It’s refreshing to see a coach have the final say on who plays with whom. Things didn’t work out under Dan Bylsma, unfortunately, and Johnston is showing there are different methods of approach. Coaches need to know what they have. Players gaining experience with teammates other than their usual linemates is also a good thing — who knows what injuries might strike in the postseason, making line shuffling necessary.

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That said, it would be beneficial to get the Pens’ second-team power play some additional ice time late in games which have been pretty much decided. Johnston has stuck to putting the first unit out for 60-75 seconds before giving the second unit a chance.

Of course, the first team hasn’t been getting much of a chance lately, let alone the other unit.

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It’s strange seeing Martin Brodeur in a St. Louis Blues sweater, but it’s not unusual in sport to see an aging superstar stay well past his welcome. Two players from baseball immediately spring to mind. After playing 20 years for the Cardinals and Phillies, pitcher Steve Carlton tried out for four different clubs his final three years with little success. Willie Mays was another such player who stuck around too long, (though he was a little before my time). There are plenty of stories of how Mays could barely move in the outfield.

If Brodeur wants to kick the tires one more time, more power to him. Sometimes the best way to find out you’re no longer good is by proving it.

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    Post-Game Audio (courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins)

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Kris Letang:

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Across The Ocean

Kasperi Kapanen now has six goals and 11 points in 13 games for KalPa Kuopio. Kapanen collected only 14 points in 47 games last season, so the difference between the two seasons is already palpable.

Oskar Sundqvist has scored six goals and 10 points with a plus-9 rating in 16 tilts for Skelleftea AIK.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Paul Coffey, Christian Ehrhoff, Evgeni Malkin

IMG_9899Marc-Andre Fleury with career win 300

Whenever the Penguins go into a regular-season slump, it’s good to keep in mind that their worst season winning percentage since 2006-07 was the year they also won the Stanley Cup.

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I’m convinced the guy who put the Pens over the top and really turned them into a perennial Stanley Cup contender is Paul Coffey. Coffey was the first winner acquired by Pittsburgh during the Mario Lemieux era and gave the team some legitimacy. It’s hard for fans to understand now, but when the Pens traded for Coffey the organization had missed the playoffs five straight seasons – and this was in a league where 16 of 21 teams make the postseason!

In 1983-84, the Penguins won 16 games total over six months. Less than 10 years later they’d win 17 games straight!

The defenseman with three rings from his days with Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers did not disappoint. He brought a winning attitude with him and he took pressure off Lemieux.

Coffey’s first game for the Pens was 27 years ago today, on Nov. 25, 1987 against the Quebec Nordiques. He’d go on to tally three assists in a 6-4 win. Click here for the box score.

As newly-minted college graduates, my old roommate and I tried getting tickets for the game but the scalping business was brisk and we decided to watch the game at a bar by Duquesne University. A guy at the bar said he could get us into the arena for free, so after the first period we walked up to the Civic Arena with him. He led us into a side door. As soon as we got in, he went one way and a security guard starting yelling at my roommate and me. We probably could’ve started running and gotten away from the guard, but I decided not to be a criminal outlaw and just went back out the side door.

We watched the rest of Paul Coffey’s first game as a Penguin from the same bar.

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Listened to Phil Bourque talk about Christian Ehrhoff on Monday during the Mark Madden show (which was hosted by Dejan Kovacevic). The two-time Stanley Cup winner spoke of Ehrhoff’s plus-13 rating being head and shoulders better than Craig Adams’ plus-7, which was second best on the team. Bourque defended Ehrhoff while Kovacevic said he’s gone back and forth on the offseason pickup.

Bourque noted that the defenseman probably isn’t worth $4 million per year, but said that is what the market paid him.

Ehrhoff and Paul Martin are similar players. Ehrhoff has a better shot while Martin seems better with the stick in his own end. It will be interesting to see what happens with Ehrhoff working on a one-year deal, Martin in the final season of a $25 million contract and prospect Derrick Pouliot oozing with offensive potential but honing his defensive game at Wilkes-Barre.

PS — Bourque and Kevin Stevens, both Boston area natives, took money grabs with the Bruins following their successes with the Pens (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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Jokingly, Evgeni Malkin says he scores on “every shootout” against Marc-Andre Fleury. Click here.

This sequence says differently, haha.

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Links ‘n at

Should the Penguins be looking at a star winger?, Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson reports.

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30 thoughts: Financial woes not unique to Johnson, by Elliotte Friedman.

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Fleury collects career win No. 300 in crucial game against Bruins, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

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Statistically speaking: Mason standing tall for Flyers, Scott Cullen of TSN reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Pascal Dupuis, potential trade targets

“The way I felt, probably to try to deny it, did not want to feel that way. Yeh, it did feel the same way, the exact same way it felt before, just did not want to believe it.”

Pascal Dupuis, on if he felt the same way he did last winter when he had his first blood clot.

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When I heard that Pascal Dupuis didn’t travel to Montreal for Tuesday’s game, I went back and isolated on his play against the Rangers on Saturday. His skating looked good, he didn’t miss a shift; about the only thing he could’ve done better is shoot the puck more! (Something said about every Penguins player not named Patric Hornqvist).

What stood out about Mr. Dupuis was his graciousness during an in-game interview with Root Sports analyst, Bob Errey. Errey was stationed between the benches for Saturday’s tilt and asked Dupuis about his speed and forecheck.

Bob Errey: “Well Pascal, that first penalty kill has been absolutely fantastic again.”

Pascal Dupuis: “Yeh, again, blocking shots, giving 200 feet, that’s what you’ve got to do, pay the price and obviously the goaltender has to be back there and be huge for us.”

Typical Dupuis response, totally unselfish, but it gets even better.

Errey: “Who’s leading the speed on the forecheck, you or Crosby? You guys are flying.”

Dupuis, with a smile: “Yeh, we’re feeling good right now so we just gotta keep going here.”

Unwilling to brag about his speed or take any credit, Dupuis smoothly deflects the question personal credit and puts the team first.

This is a guy who can play on any line, never complains about his situation. Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, LeGarrette Blount, could learn a lot from Dupuis.

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Through the season’s first 16 games, Dupuis scored six goals and 11 points. Last Friday in Toronto, he was credited with both Pittsburgh goals on eight shots in a 2-1 victory against the Maple Leafs. He’ll have that as a nice memory over the next six-plus months of his recovery.

Dupuis averaged 16:38 TOI per game, 11th most on the team. His power-play time went up from 17 seconds/game in 2013-14 to 1:46/game. Dupuis’s three power-play points in October were already one more than he had in 39 games last year. But perhaps his biggest contribution comes on the penalty kill. Every year since the winger was traded to Pittsburgh in 2007-08 he’s finished among the team’s top-four forwards in minutes on the PK. His on-ice contributions will be hard to replace.

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Ex-teammate Ben Lovejoy, now of the Anaheim Ducks, had this to say of Dupuis.

“He pushed the five or six guys who were on the ice every day at Southpointe [during the 2012-13 NHL lockout],” Lovejoy told the Pittsburgh Post-gazette. “But for me, he did more than that. He went above and beyond to be complimentary of my game, which gave me a ton of confidence, and saw in me what kind of player I hoped I could become. I’m not sure if he does that with everyone, but the whole room has incredible respect for Pascal.”

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In case you’re unfamiliar with what a pulmonary embolism can do, click here.

PE is a serious condition that can:

— Damage part of your lung because of a lack of blood flow to your lung tissue. This damage may lead to pulmonary hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries).

— Cause low oxygen levels in your blood.

— Damage other organs in your body because of a lack of oxygen.

If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.

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Trade Talk

Former GM Ray Shero left the cup boards barren in terms of offensive prospects near the NHL level. Kasperi Kapanen has five goals and nine points in nine games for KalPa Kuopio while Oskar Sundqvist has three goals and six points in 12 tilts for Skelleftea AIK. It might be unfair to throw either of these players into the Penguins mix in the middle of the season.

With Pittsburgh placing Dupuis on Long-Term Injured Reserve, Cap Geek projects the Penguins with $4,185,831 room currently under the salary cap and $5,297,198 at the trade deadline. The Pens will get immediate relief on the pro-rated portion of Dupuis’ $3.75 mill contract.

Here are some trade targets.

Brandon Saad ($764,167, will be restricted FA after 2013-14), Chicago Blackhawks: Ah, the one that got away. The Blackhawks have less cap space available ($413,775) than Pittsburgh. Anything going Chicago’s way would have to come from the AHL or juniors or international play. The ‘Hawks have prospects already on offense like Teuvo Teravainen and Ryan Hartman. Defensively, the team has Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson both signed long-term, but Brent Seabrook could be gone after next year. Recently injured Trevor Van Riemsdyk is in the mix, but if the Pens are going to match up with Chicago, it’ll likely be with some combination of defensive products.

If there’s a team in the league who could miss a forward like Saad, it’s the Blackhawks. They’re pretty well stacked up front. Saad has had an inconsistent start, which could also help sway thinking.

TJ Oshie ($4.175 mill, contract thru 2016-17), David Backes ($4.5 mill, thru 15-16), St. Louis Blues: How much do the Blues believe in the first six weeks of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz? That trio has been the hottest in the NHL recently. Backes and Oshie have both missed time with concussions. I’m not sure what St. Louis might be looking for. They’re set on the blue line with Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester.

The Blues are $2.4 mill under the cap right now. They have one of the better goalie prospects in Jake Allen. The Pens should at least put their feelers out to see where they stand in terms of established vets versus youth. I’m unconvinced center Patrik Berglund could help the Pens enough to include him as a target.

Teddy Purcell ($4.5 mill thru 15-16), David Perron ($3.185 mill thru 15-16), Edmonton Oilers: If Rutherford wants to go big, then he might look at say, Jordan Eberle. He’s due $6 mill thru 18-19 and that’s the shortest contract length of Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall. Purcell is an offensive enigma who had some success in Tampa Bay. His contract is over after next year. Surely whatever Pittsburgh is interested with the Oilers, they have to consider it. Yakopov ($925,000) will be due a big raise after this season and I’m not sure that’s a gamble worth taking right now.

Patrick Marleau ($6.66 mill thru 16-17), Joe Pavelski ($6 mill thru 18-19) SJ Sharks: Marleau is Dupuis’ age and he has two more years left on his deal. He’d make for a nice deadline pickup but the two additional years are killers. Pavelski has more NHL time left, but the four and a half years left on his deal is a big commitment. Too bad Pavelski didn’t have Marleau’s terms. My favorite on the Sharks is Tommy Wingels, but San Jose wrapped him up since last year would be unlikely to include him in a deal as a secondary part.

Matt Cooke ($2.5 mill thru 15-16), Minnesota Wild: The Wild don’t need him and with Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, the Pens probably don’t either. However, his contract is reasonable and he would bring something into the dressing room. Whether the positives outweigh the negatives is the eternal question with Cooke.

Evander Kane ($5.25 mill thru 17-18), Andrew Ladd ($4.40 mill thru 15-16), Winnipeg Jets: Kane is higher on the list of many Pens fans than most others. He has skill and toughness. I think he gets hurt too much and plays when he wants too, but a change of scenery could boost his level. Ladd is a player that means a lot to the Jets. I would be surprised if he gets dealt, but that contract is very attractive.

Other names I’ve heard are Mikkel Boedker — $2.55 mill thru 14-15 (Arizona), Sam Gagner $3.2 mill thru 15-16 (Arizona), Mason Raymond $3.15 mill thru 16-17 (Calgary).

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General manager Jim Rutherford won’t be afraid to make a deal. In fact, I think he’s more likely to pull the trigger than former GM Ray Shero. Does he feel Pittsburgh needs to boost the top-six or does he move Beau Bennett there and give him some sort of “try out?”

As horrible as it is to lose Dupuis, that he went diagnosed in November rather than February or March gives the Pens time to figure out what they want to do.

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Pascal Dupuis press conference, courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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