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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. 

 

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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. 

 

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