What to do with Sid, Ctd.

The great Tommy H chimed in on the last post with the following:

“Staal as a winger to Sid is not a bad idea, but I don’t think you are going to see it. Having the best 3 center combination in the NHL goes a long way, and we really haven’t seen it since 2010. I also would rather keep Staal with Cooke and Sullivan as Cooke compliments Staal’s defensive strengths, and Sullivan provides them with a pass-first mentality who is confident with the puck (especially in the last 10 games). I think putting Dupuis with Sid and TK could work (and maybe Jeffery!), but things are going to have to be tweaked moving into the playoffs.”

Assuming this is the way it goes, your first three lines become:

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Dupuis-Crosby-Kennedy
Cooke-Staal-Sullivan

In this configuration the scoring by line to this point of the year looks like: line 1) 87 goals (ha), line 2) 23 goals, line 3) 46 goals; where in my world it goes:  line 1) 87 goals, line 2) 38goals, line 3) 22 goals. Sid’s presence on the second line in Tommy’s scenario theoretically would create three lines with at least one extremely difficult player to stop. Distributing the wealth.

But would it actually work this way?

When Sid was blowing up the league at the start of the ‘10-’11 season he had Chris Kunitz on his wing. Kunitz provided a measure of on-ice protection for Crosby as well as a physical net-front presence that gave goaltenders fits and required the attention of opposing defensemen (and he’s got pretty good hands to boot). Staal plays a less net-front style of game but his size and his newly-discovered ability to finish plays requires similar attention from defensemen.

I get concerned with the idea of Sid on a line with Dupuis and Kennedy because  they aren’t particularly physical and they do similar things (with the exception being Kennedy has been somewhat of a shift killer lately and Dupuis has been all over the place). Who throws the checks on this line? Who gets into the dirty areas? I don’t want to see a line where it’s Crosby’s primary job to grind along the boards trying to create opportunities for Kennedy so he can shoot the puck into the goaltender’s chest. (Plus, when was the last time you saw Kennedy set up ANYBODY for a goal?)

The idea of Jeffrey being on a line with Sid is something I can support experimenting with. Jeffrey has a couple inches and about 20 pounds on Kennedy and has shown flashes of being a really effective player, although he is consistently scratched in favor of Eric Tangradi for reasons that escape me. (FUN WITH NUMBERS: In the 17 games Tangradi has played this season the Penguins have won 13, including 11 straight; a span over which Tangradi’s line is 0G, 1A, -1, 10PIM and 11 shots. I don’t know what this means, but there it is.) Additionally, the idea that Jeffrey will crack the lineup with another healthy body taking up a roster spot doesn’t seem reasonable.

(Thiswill be another issue for Bylsma; who to scratch on a nightly basis. Park? Asham? Vitale? I would not want to make that decision.)

For me this all boils down to putting Sid in the best position to succeed while keeping Jordan Staal involved as a key component of the offense. It seems to me Staal has benefitted from Crosby’s absence by moving up to the second line and getting to play with more offensive-minded players. I think Staal on a line with Sid will take some pressure off Sid while allowing Staal to reap the benefits of playing alongside the world’s best player, and in the process it  creates another line that is incredibly difficult to defend against. Teams sell out against the Malkin unit, putting their checking line and top d-pairing out against them as often as possible. Lately that’s been working.  A Staal-Crosby-Dupuis line would put an end to all that.

The good news is there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer to the question of what to do with Sid when he returns to play. Maybe Sid’s greatest attribute is the way he makes everybody he is on the ice with better, so it makes sense to believe that no matter where he ends up things will work out.

What do the Pens do With Sid?

March 6, 2012 2 comments

Honest, guys, I totally planned on writing a post about last night’s game. I watched the whole thing looking for something  interesting to write about, and I had this whole post outlined in my mind about how incredibly Marc-Andre Fleury played and how I believe his lateral movement is what makes him so hard to beat. I was going to unearth some rad YouTubes to support my thesis and I had a couple of articles to reference.

But then Sidney Crosby announced today that he has been cleared for contact and that he could return as soon as Sunday, and now all I can think about are the following three questions:

 

1) When Sid returns to action, who are his linemates?
2) When Sid returns to action, what line is he on? (The answer to this is dependent upon question 1.)
3) When Sid returns to action, what does the power play look like?

 

1)
I saw some jagoff on Twitter mention he’d like to see Sid paired with Dupuis and Sullivan. This is why I sometimes hate Twitter and the internet at large. Because people are allowed to talk on it who aren’t me and if you don’t think I know best about who Sid should play with then you are like, so totally wrong man.

The reason I so strongly disagree with this alliance is it returns Jordan Staal to the third line. There was a time when Jordan Staal was the ideal third line center with his size, defensive prowess, physical nature, and moderate offensive touch. But not so much anymore. Similarly to Geno, Staal has elevated his game this season to a height that many former critics of his believed he would never reach. Staal ‘11-’12 averages nearly half a goal per game and is on pace to match and possibly surpass his rookie season goal total — where he netted a career-high 29 goals in 81 games — in only 62 games. The last thing the Pens should be interested in is reducing Jordan Staal’s ice time.

Sullivan is having a disappointing season. His production is among the worst it’s been at any point in his 14-year career. One can argue that matching Sullivan with Crosby would likely increase Sully’s opportunities as teams struggle to contain Sid’s dynamic abilities,  and I can’t argue that. But should the Pens be concerned about helping Sullivan wake up or developing a line that rivals the Neal-Malkin-Kunitz unit?

On Sid’s other wing (it is not clear to me what wing Staal would play) would be Pascal Dupuis. The chemistry that Dupuis shares with Crosby is well documented, and if I’m not mistaken Dupuis spent some time on a line with Staal in ‘08-’09 when the Pens acquired him in a trade with Atlanta. That is to say these three players are not unfamiliar with one another, and this creates a line with an all-world wunderkind (Sid), a physical presence who dominates the ice and can protect the wunderkind (Staal), and a safety net of chemistry for the wunderkind who has good speed and is responsible defensively (Dupuis, although it should be noted that Sid and Staal are responsible defensively also).

2)
I suppose Staal-Crosby-Dupuis becomes the second line by default because — I didn’t forget to mention this, I just believe it to be that much of a given — Bylsma isn’t going to do anything to disrupt Neal-Malkin-Kunitz, even if it’s something as minor as changing their designation to “second line.” Crosby’s line is #2, and who actually gives a turkey because they’ll get about the same amount of ice time anyway and Crosby is a big enough boy not to get upset by being a second line center for the last dozen or so regular season games and the playoffs.

(Okay so I will address this. Neal was brought in absolutely positively and undoubtedly to be a Winger For Sid. The problem is he never got to play with Sid, developed instant chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and both he and Geno are having career years. It was never supposed to be this way, but then Sid was never supposed to lose nearly a year and a half of his career to a concussion and broken neck. Sid and Neal will get to work together at some point this season, but you’re nuts if you think that just because Neal was brought here to play alongside Sid Bylsma and Shero are going to rearrange the whole team.)

3)
This was a much more intriguing question during the time leading up to Letang’s injury. The Pens power play was clicking at a rather phenomenal rate. (I can’t find the statistic, but at one point the Pens were something like 8 of 18 over the course of five games). Since Letang went down on February 29th (thanks for nothing, Leap Day William) the Penguins haven’t scored once with the man advantage. With this in mind it seems a given Sid will be on the first unit, and — for the sake of argument — I believe that even if Letang was healthy and the power play was still potent Sid would still crack the top unit. There is nothing to suggest that Crosby would do anything other than improve that group. I imagine a Crosby-Malkin-Neal-Kunitz-Letang power play unit in much the same way Bran Stark dreams of the days when he could scale the castle walls of Winterfell. (Woah. Sorry).

The other happy news is that Kris Letang has not been diagnosed with a concussion and felt well enough to engage in some “light off-ice workouts today.” Clearly Kris Letang means a great deal to this team — some would argue he’s more important than Crosby at this juncture (though I would not) — and getting him back would be a spectacular and unexpected boost for the Pens. For now, I’ll take satisfaction in hearing that this season might not be a total loss after all for the greatest player in the world, and I’ll hope today marks the moment when he can finally put this concussion business behind him.

Super Post

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

It is always disappointing when the Steelers don’t make the Super Bowl, but as Eli took the field last night to embark on what turned out to be the game-winning drive I couldn’t help but be relieved that it wasn’t Big Ben and the Steelers in the same spot. I know this makes me a spoiled prick. Every other fanbase in the nation was envious of Giants fans in that moment, and I couldn’t have felt any more pleased it wasn’t my guys. The gutwrenching stress of that moment is something I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of many times in my short life, and the exhilaration of hanging on for dear life every time the ball is snapped is special. But there was something exciting about being able to watch the culminating drive of a five-plus month season with little concern how it unfolded. 

For as much as I dislike the Patriots and their fans, I can’t help but feel a modicum of sympathy for what they’re experiencing today. Having been there just one year ago Steeler fans know all to well that there is nothing quite so cruel in sports fandom as to be so close to the ultimate elation only to see Eli Fucking Manning snatch it right out from underneath you. Again. 

As far as the game itself, it was kind of a snoozefest with the exception of some weird plays. In no particular order. 

Wes Welker is getting murdered by the fans and media (the comment section on this post at Barstool Sports provides a representative glimpse at how mouth-breathing broheems from Southie are handling the situation) for dropping a pass on the Patriots’ next to last possession of the game. My Dad always used to say, “If it hits you in the hands you should catch it,” which is a typical refrain from someone born in the 1940’s. Old guys everywhere, including Cris Collinsworth and his 280 score on the SAT math component (“That’s a catch Wes Welker makes 100 times out of 100,” says Collinsworth at the ball hits the turf) will tell you Welker should have caught it. Could he have caught it? Sure, and he usually does catch that pass. And Tom Brady usually throws it better than he did last night.  Welker was as open as he could have been in that spot. Brady threw it wide, Welker didn’t bail him out. It’s a team game, you guys. 

With about a minute to go and the Patriots down to a single time out, Bill Belichick told his defense to let the Giants score the go-ahead touchdown in order to get the ball back with more time on the clock. Someone somewhere (Deadspin, I think?) said it was the ballsiest call in the history of the Super Bowl. This would have been true had Belichick let the Giants score 60 seconds sooner, leaving the Pats down by four but with an extra minute and one more time out. As it happened, the touchdown put the Giants ahead by four with very little time remaining, putting the onus on Brady to engineer one of the greatest drives in NFL history. This obviously didn’t happen, yet some people believe Ahmad Bradshaw made a mistake by not lying down at the one yard line when it became clear the Pats wanted him to score, thus forcing the Pats to use their last timeout and allowing the Giants to run another play before kicking the go-ahead field-goal with 20-25 seconds remaining. This scenario only works if you believe that kicking the field-goal is as much a gimmie as Bradshaw scoring the touchdown that the Patriots literally let him score. 

I’m sorry, but I can’t get on board with that. Ask Tony Romo, former holder for the Dallas Cowboys, who famously fumbled a snap that ruined his team’s season a few years back, if Bradshaw should have flopped to the turf. Ask Billy Cundiff, who missed a chip shot to take the AFC Championship game to overtime just two weeks ago, if the Giants should have given up a free touchdown. Ask the handful of kickers who missed extra points this season just how automatic the field-goal kicking process is. Any number of things can – and sometimes do – go wrong in a field-goal sequence. There is nothing guaranteed about a snap, reception, hold, and kick while blocking eleven men hellbent on saving their season by giving everything in their capacity to try to keep the ball from hitting its mark. Good for you, Ahmad Bradshaw. You magnificent Patriot-killing bastard.

Eli Manning’s profile picture on his Wikipedia page is of him in a suit sitting in front of some kind of Presidential seal about physical fitness with an American Flag by his side. If you didn’t know any better you’d think he was a senator. For many years I (and I suspect many others) thought Eli would make a better senator than a quarterback. After last night? I’ll admit that he’s very, very good. He isn’t great, and should okay. Not every Super Bowl winning quarterback is great. He turns the ball over too much still, makes some bizarre decisions at times, and aside from decent accuracy he brings no tremendously exciting physical skills to the table. I’d still rather have Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Roethlisberger over Eli, which isn’t disrespectful. In this NFL, that’s some pretty good company. 

71

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday in the third period of the Penguins’ dramatic 4-3 overtime defeat of the Washington Capitals, Evgeni Malkin made the kind of play that prompts Penguins fans to admit that Sidney Crosby isn’t the best player in hockey, and that he isn’t even the best player on his own team. The Capitals, up by a goal, had taken it upon themselves to clam up the neutral zone with three skaters, leaving a fourth hovering around the Penguins’ blue line for what barely qualified as a forecheck. This is the kind of “play not to lose” strategy that turns fans catatonic with anger and makes the game less exciting than C-Span. 

With no other option to gain the offensive zone, Geno opted to wind it up in his own end, deal a quick give-and-go by his own blue line which opened up the smallest gap in the Capitals’ trap, and cut into enemy territory. At worst he gets the puck deep, at best he gets a bounce to go his way and a scoring chance is created. 

The puck ended up deep in the Caps’ zone along the corner boards and forced two Capitals to chase after it. Geno fought off both defenders and dealt a pass to the right circle. James Neal put it past Michal Neuvirth before the Caps netminder even knew Geno had passed the puck. 

Yesterday’s game was one that the Pens used to lose more often than not. Not just this season but in years past. But this is what Evgeni Malkin does now. He makes sure his team doesn’t lose games that they can win. This was Sidney Crosby’s role until he suffered his concussion, and the Pens needed someone to step up and take that baton. Geno has done it. It is as though he’s once again realized that he is talented enough to not only play hockey at an incredibly high level, but that he can flat out OWN a game when he wants to. Lemieux did this. Gretzky did this. Ovechkin used to know how to hone his abilities like this. In my mind, this is what separates really good players from great players. Here’s hoping it continues. 

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Bruce

January 21, 2012 2 comments

Oh hey guys!

My coffee maker broke a while back and then my brain couldn’t produce words. Today I went to Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) and now I have some things to say about Bruce Arians.

I don’t think Arians retired as much as he didn’t have his contract renewed. Which, as it turns out, is a really passive way of firing someone. 

Bruce: Hey, Mr. Rooney, I didn’t get a check this week. 

Rooney: Mhmm? Yes, well you don’t have a contract anymore. 

Bruce: I see. Well, if we could just get one worked out here and oh, right, I get it. Okay. 

I never loved Bruce Arians as a coordinator, but I don’t think he was as bad as many Steeler fans perceived him to be. When Ken Wisenhunt left to take over the Arizona Cardinals in 2007 there was some nail-biting by Steeler faithful at the prospect of losing an irreplaceably good coach. Wisenhunt won Super Bowl XL as the Steelers Offensive Coordinator and was widely regarded as one of the best OCs in the game. Then he went to Arizona – a perpetual doormat – and in his second season he coached them to a Super Bowl. In short, Ken Whisenhunt is a really, really good coach. Irreplaceably good.

Steeler fans have always wanted Arians to be as good as Whis, and he wasn’t. He’ll never be. Most coaches won’t be. But the Steelers appeared in two Super Bowls in the four years he was here, and they won one of them. For some reason this was not enough. 

I think most Steeler fans (and observers of football) would agree that the offensive lines Arians had to work with ranged from decent (at best) to embarrassing. Couple that with a quarterback who is not a traditional pocket passer but also not really a scrambler who sheds tacklers like Dan Kreider and insists on extending plays, and you can see how Arians’ job might have been particularly difficult. 

Listening to the sports talk blabber this week it became clear to me that Arians never had a chance to find favor with Steeler faithful. I have heard much made by fans who believe the bubble screen to be an affront to good football complain ad-nauseum that this new Offensive Coordinator better teach Big Ben how to get rid of the ball sooner. That’s the way it was when it came to Steeler fans and Bruce Arians. 

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Week 16 NFL Power Rankings

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I have no good excuse for the 5-10 Dolphins to be ahead of 8-7 Denver and Oakland (one of which will win its division).

Really looking forward to the New Year’s Eve celebraish, you guys.

BIGGEST MOVERS

  • Up: Bills (16 to 21)
  • Down: Broncos (20 to 24) and Redskins (24 to 28)

 TEAM

LAST_WEEK

RECORD

RANKINGS_INDEX

1.

49ers

 1

(.6933)

 12-3

.6943

2.

Packers

 2

(.6778)

 14-1

.6814

3.

Steelers

 6

(.6161)

11-4

.6457

4.

Texans

3

 (.6636)

 10-5

.6433

5.

Saints

5

(.6224)

 12-3

 .6356

6.

Ravens

4

(.6265)

 11-4

 .6329

7.

Patriots

7

(.6047)

 12-3

 .6119

8.

Lions

9

 (.5631)

 10-5

 .5908

9.

Falcons

8

(.5682)

 9-6

 .5468

10.

Cowboys

10

(.5486)

 8-7

 .5309

11.

Bengals

12

(.5099)

 9-6

 .5284

12.

Eagles

15

 (.4752)

 7-8

 .5016

13.

Jets

13

 (.5034)

 8-7

 .4881

14.

Chargers

11

(.5116)

 7-8

 .4844

15.

Seahawks

14

 (.4903)

 7-8

 .4838

16.

Titans

17

(.4531)

 8-7

 .4710

17.

Bears

16

(.4709)

 7-8

 .4630

18.

Giants

18

 (.4312)

 8-7

 .4629

19.

Panthers

21

 (.4074)

 6-9

  .4521

20.

Dolphins

19

 (.4259)

 5-10

 .4211

21.

Bills

26

(.3715)

 6-9

 .4188

22.

Raiders

22

 (.4013)

 8-7

 .4168

23.

Cardinals

23

 (.3960)

 7-8

 .3986

24.

Broncos

20

 (.4159)

 8-7

 .3938

25.

Chiefs

27

 (.3660)

6-9

 .3792

26.

Jaguars

25

 (.3741)

4-11

 .3757

27.

Browns

28

 (.3656)

4-11

 .3739

28.

Redskins

24

(.3895)

5-10

 .3724

29.

Vikings

29

 (.2837)

 3-12

 .3160

30.

Rams

31

 (.2465)

 2-13

 .2485

31.

Buccaneers

30

 (.2595)

 4-11

 .2428

32.

Colts

32
(.1777)
 2-13  .2222
Categories: NFL Tags:

Week 15 NFL Power Rankings

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Very late to the party on this, but I think it was fine Ben Roethlisberger played on Monday. My understanding of his injured ankle is that there is no structural damage, it just hurts like hell, and he wasn’t likely to hurt it worse by playing. The possibility did exist for him to hurt it more — the difference being he would feel more pain but wouldn’t necessarily worsen the injury. Had he hurt it more and been forced to miss weeks 16 and 17, who cares? The Steelers should be able to beat the Rams and Browns with Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon. There was no way they could have beaten the 49ers with Batch or Dixon. To me it was worth the risk to potentially secure a week off and two home playoff games than to basically give up and accept no week off and three road playoff games. That’s a huge difference for a team that’s beaten up and has a 6-1 home record to a 4-3 road record.

That said, it sort of goes against what Mike Tomlin always seems to preach, which is, “Just get into the tournament.” On Sunday while on a plane to San Francisco the Steelers got themselves into the tournament thanks to the Colts somehow defeating the Titans. With that being the case I figured Tomlin would bench Roethlisberger. Although the more I think about it the more I’m unconvinced that Mike Tomlin has the final word on anything Roethlisberger does.

As for the game itself, the Steelers turned the ball over four times and didn’t sack Alex Smith once (he’d been sacked something like 13 times in the previous two games). Shaun Suisham missed a field goal and 49er punter Andy Lee has a leg made out of C4 that is also somehow as accurate as a sniper rifle that managed to pin the Steelers inside their own 15 yard line all night. Aside from this the Steelers played a pretty decent game. They outgained the 49ers significantly, the defense was spectacular on third down. But every time they had a chance to put some points on the board they squandered the opportunity, and the 49ers are making a living this season on capitalizing on opponent miscues.

So we’re all freaking out, man, that the Steelers will likely be the five seed. But I’m not willing to give up on the Ravens ineptitude that quickly. And there is a really good chance the Bengals will be playing for their playoff lives week 17 when Baltimore heads to Cincinnati. I love the idea of the Ravens choking that one away and possibly having to travel cross country again to San Diego for round one while the Steelers get to rest. Of course for the Steelers to get a bye the Texans would have to lose one more game as well, and with games against the Colts tonight and the Titans in week 17 that doesn’t seem too likely. But anything is possible, T.J. Yates.

****

Because the Steelers are the best team in the world ever, any team that beats them automatically gets to be number one in the Power Rankings. Except the Ravens. Pittsburgh Sports Cuts does not recognize credit hours from Ball So Hard University.

BIGGEST MOVERS:

  • Up: Eagles (19 to 15) and Panthers (25 to 21)
  • Down: Jets (9 to 13) and Jaguars (21 to 25)

 TEAM

LAST_WEEK

RECORD

RANKINGS_INDEX

1.

49ers

 3

(.7110)

 11-3

.6933

2.

Packers

 2

(.6928)

 13-1

.6778

3.

Texans

 1

(.7177)

10-4

.6636

4.

Ravens

4

 (.6803)

 10-4

.6265

5.

Saints

6

(.6119)

 11-3

 .6224

6.

Steelers

5

(.6551)

 10-4

 .6161

7.

Patriots

 7

(.5945)

 11-3

 .6047

8.

Falcons

10

 (.5407)

 9-5

 .5682

9.

Lions

8

(.5724)

 9-5

 .5631

10.

Cowboys

 11

(.5395)

 8-6

 .5486

11.

Chargers

 14

(.4891)

 7-7

 .5116

12.

Bengals

12

  (.5139)

 8-6

 .5099

13.

Jets

9

 (.5466)

 8-6

 .5034

14.

Seahawks

16

(.4595)

 7-7

 .4903

15.

Eagles

19

 (.4479)

 6-8

 .4752

16.

Bears

13

(.5124)

 7-7

 .4709

17.

Titans

15

(.4852)

 7-7

 .4531

18.

Giants

17

 (.4516)

 7-7

 .4312

19.

Dolphins

20

 (.4205)

 5-9

  .4259

20.

Broncos

18

 (.4512)

 8-6

 .4159

21.

Panthers

25

(38247)

 5-9

 .4076

22.

Raiders

22

 (.4172)

 7-7

 .4013

23.

Cardinals

24

 (.3867)

 7-7

 .3960

24.

Redskins

27

 (.3591)

 5-9

 .3895

25.

Jaguars

21

 (.4174)

4-10

 .3741

26.

Bills

23

 (.3915)

5-9

 .3715

27.

Chiefs

28

 (.3435)

6-8

 .3660

28.

Browns

26

(.3813)

4-10

 .3656

29.

Vikings

29

 (.3145)

 2-12

 .2837

30.

Buccaneers

30

 (.2785)

 4-10

 .2595

31.

Rams

31

 (.2440)

 2-12

 .2465

32.

Colts

31
(.1459)
 1-13  .1777
Categories: NFL Tags:
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