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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:


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?


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).

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.)

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. 


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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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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Morning Cuts: September 8 2011

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment


  • The Bucs defeated the Astros last night 5-4. I hate the Astros. This is a realization that I came to last night. I don’t like Clint Barmes. I hate Carlos Lee. J.A. Happ has a stupid name. I do not like these people. I cannot come up with any earthly reason why. Well, Carlos Lee is fairly hateable, but the rest of them have never done anything worth hating.  And it wasn’t always this way; I LOVED the Killer B’s in the 90’s. I thought it was awesome when they made it to the World Series in 2005. But now? Rage. Maybe it’s because every year it seems like a race between the Bucs and Stros to see who can keep from being labeled the worst team in baseball — one team constantly stepping on the other in a desperate attempt to gain footing to climb out of the NL Central basement. Maybe it’s because the Pirates, with their rich tradition and historical significance in baseball, should be better than a team that has only been around since 1962, has never really contributed to baseball folklore, and plays in an awfully stupid stadium. Anyway, I hate the Astros. But I love me some Andrew McCutchen. He hit two home runs last night! PAY THAT MAYN HEES MAANEY. (box)
  • Jeff Locke will start in place of Charlie Morton on Saturday. The Bucs will then implement a six-man rotation for a bit.
  • Ike Taylor is trying to figure out if he wants to drop interceptions with or without a cast on his broken hand.
  • If Ben can get any kind of pass protection from his O-line, Sunday will be a long day for Baltimore’s secondary.
  • It is no longer not football season.
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Morning Cuts: August 31 2011

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment


  • The only way this series could be going worse is if it was at home. As it is the Bucs are in Houston and the Steelers start playing meaningful games in a week, the Pitt Panthers open their season this weekend, and high school football starts tomorrow. As far as sports reports are concerned you’ll typically get a Steeler injury update, a quick preview of Saturday’s Pitt game, and one of those, “Aaaaand the Pirates lost to Houston last night 8-2OKAY SO HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE RAY LEWIS?” This is for the better.
  • The Pirates traded John Bowker to the Phillies for “future considerations.” Come oooooon Jimmy Rolins!
  • Joe “Jugs” Beimel is taking his talents to his garden.
  • Dejan Kovacevic gives us eleven (good?) reasons to still watch Pirate baseball.
  • The Pensblog has excerpts from an interview with Jaromir Jagr (via Broad Street Hockey) in which Jagr claims to have zero understanding as to why Pens fans could ever be upset with him.
  • Mark Madden brings his particular brand of Pittsburgh homerism to Puck Daddy.
  • Pirates attempt to stop the bleeding in Houston as they send J-MAC up against J.A. Happ (8:05)
The NFL and the NFLPA are donating $1mm to a few 9/11 memorials and charities. This certainly a kind act and the NFL and NFLPA is not in any way required to donate anything to anyone ever. But on the heels of a collective bargaining agreement valued in the several billions it seems a little tone deaf of these organizations to believe that this could be considered particularly generous.
The Pirates are raising ticket prices next year. The average price for a seat in America’s greatest ballpark will increase from $15.30 to $16.11. Eighty-one cents. The majority of this increase will be in the lower-level seating areas, which will see an increase of around $3. It is likely that the seats the vast majority of us sit in will be unaffected by this increase.
I heard several people on the radio this morning whining about this. The general complaint is that the Pirates are woeful once again and how dare Coonelley ask us to pay more for such an inferior product. There is no sense of history or perspective. Read the paragraph above once again. This is the first increase in ticket prices in a decade and the seats that will see the increases will be the seats that already cost $60 and above to begin with. If you can afford to spend $60 you can afford to spend $63.
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