Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nails from the Toobox: A Potpourri of Sporting Thoughts & Links


Pittsburgh 5 Toronto 4 (SO)

Last night's Penguins-Maple Leafs game in Pittsburgh was one of the more entertaining games you'll probably miss all year. (highlights from The Leafs had a 2-1 after two and scored two quick goals early in the third to go up 4-1. They hadn't lost a game when leading after two all season and a three goal lead suggested the Penguins win streak was going to crap out on seven.

Secondary scoring has been a problem for the home team all season and with the Malkin-Neal-Kunitz scoring troika giving them up rather than notching them the Pens chances looked slim even after Steve Sullivan ripped one past the Monster to make it 4-2. But when Joe Vitale snuck one in with five to go the CEC was buzzing and the fans were rewarded when, with the extra attacker on, the Evgeni Malkin had a slapper deflect off his shoulder into the net with 6.6 seconds left.

Overtime brought tons of excitement but no finisher as both goalies made fantastic saves. On to the shootout which has become just a formality for the Penguins these days. Malkin converted his fifth in a row (remember when he couldn't make one to save his life?) and Marc-Andre Fleury stoned the visitors to give the Pens their eighth straight win and their third SO win in their last four games.

Rarely is the goaltender the story on a night when he gives up four, but Fleury was unquestionably the best player on the ice and was deservedly rewarded the #1 star. He has cemented his status as an elite netminder and is playing, arguably, the best hockey of his career.

These two teams are back at it tonight. Toronto is a much-improved team with great speed in transition. They should have put this one away and I'm sure they'll be revved up and flying again tonight in front of their home fans. Find a television at 7:30 if you can.

Sidney Crosby Update

Yesterday Sidney Crosby and Pens GM Ray Shero sat down with the media and gave an update on Crosby's condition. Suffice it to say this story gets stranger by the day. Pens beat writer Rob Rossi has a good wrap up with quotes from the press conference.

It doesn't appear that their is a rift between Sid and the organization or with Sid and his teammates, both of which have been reported in the media. Most importantly it doesn't appear that Crosby suffered a fracture of his C-1 and C-2 vertebrae at any time. I would think the recently-disclosed soft-tissue neck injury, which may lead to concussion-like symptoms, is better than another actual concussion, but clearly the diagnosis is still a moving target and we'll have to wait and see where we go from here.

And if you think this is just a Pittsburgh story, don't be fooled. At this point it may now even be bigger in Canada. Today's cover of the Toronto Star.

Here is a timeline from Sid's initial concussion to the start of the season. Katie now has plenty of crazy stuff to update it from there.


Pitt & the Tourney

Pitt won it's third game in a row beating West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night to raise its record to 14-9 and 3-7 in the Big East. After the Panthers lost to DePaul on the road on Jan. 5 I wrote them off. They then proceeded to get punked by Rutgers at home and lose their next three before going on their current three game win streak. Odds are still long that they make the NCAAs, but there is one big asset in Pitt's corner at the moment--Tray Woodall and his injury.

On the court the redshirt junior point guard has proven to be indispensable to the Panthers success as evidenced by the fact that Woodall missed six of the eight games during the Panthers losing streak and in the two games he did play he didn't score a point. With Woodall back and healthy, the Panthers are a different team and Woodall's injury may be the key to them securing a tournament berth.

The NCAA Committee is known to look at how teams perform down the stretch and will also take into consideration injuries when determining bubble teams. The fact that Pitt's long losing streak essentially came with Woodall on the bench will be a big positive if they can keep winning. Their next five look winnable and then they finish their Big East schedule with games at Louisville and Connecticut among their last three contests. If Pitt can go 7-1 and finish 21-10 and 10-8 in the Big East they will have a real shot heading to the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. UConn's run to the title with a similar record last season will also work in the team's favor.


While Woodall has been a revelation, Big East preseason player of the year Ashton Gibbs has been a huge disappointment to many. Not me. Here is what I wrote in this blog entry in April:

If Pitt junior Ashton Gibbs stays in the NBA draft it will be the dumbest decision in a long time. He can't create his own shot. He isn't quick enough and doesn't have a good enough handle to play the one. He isn't big enough to play the two. If he stays in, I hope he enjoys his time in Europe.
If Gibbs is the third best player on a college team, that's a damn good team. If he is the go-to guy...well, I think this season has answered it for everyone.


The Sports Guy has had a long and incredibly successful run. A run that those blogging in our underwear in our parents' basements can only dream of. But, when you are around that long it is hard to keep the schtick fresh for a national audience. But he is at his best when writing about the NBA. This NBA season is a lot of things and he nails it in this three-part look at the first 1/3 of the season.

And if you somehow missed what many now consider one of the two or three best dunks ever, here is Blake on Perk.


Penn St.

It's Letter of Intent Day for high school seniors. That is a sporting "event" that isn't on my radar, but it's a national holiday for many college football fans. I don't think this headline is fair, but man, Penn St. doesn't need publicity like this. I think preparing for the Super Bowl and getting back to the job on Monday is a reasonable excuse. I'd like my head coach to have that going for him.

Super Bowl

I'll try to get some more thoughts up later in the week, but one quick thought on Pats TE Rob Gronkowski and his high ankle sprain. Center Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers had a similar injury leading into last year's Super Bowl. He insisted right up to the day before the game that he would play, but it has come out that he and the Steelers knew all along he had no chance of being ready.

Gronkowski's situation is obviously not exactly similar. But, he is certainly not going to be 100% if he is able to go and the Giants should make sure that every time he is on the field they have a defensive player lined up over top of him and they make it difficult for him to get off the line of scrimmage. This injury is the most important storyline leading into the game.


Pirates Rotation

About three weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. I'll have a lot to say about the Pirates off-season in the weeks to come, but this caught my eye yesterday. Jason Martinez of @mlbdepthcharts tweeted his updated Houston Astros starting rotation after the signing of 800-year old Livan Hernandez. I felt compelled to ask whether fans thought that rotation was better than the Pirates projected rotation for 2012. Not a good sign.

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