-The Penguins recalled Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton today. We wouldn't read too much into that move. We don't have all the details figured out, but with Olli Maatta potentially going on long-term injured reserve, adding Megna and his $874,125 salary cap hit will help the team save a little bit more with salary cap relief if Maatta does indeed go on long-term injured reserve.
-Assistant general manager Jason Botterill knows how to manipulate the salary cap and knows how to squeeze every dollar under it possible. This Megna recall appears to be in line with that.
-By all accounts, Megna has preformed well in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season and had a fairly decent training camp so his recall wasn't strictly a paper transaction. He has earned the promotion. And while they haven't been liabilities by any means, but it's not impossible to see Megna offering an upgrade over Zach Sill or Craig Adams on the fourth line.
-We're not sure what to expect out of this game. are coming off a These are the Kings, Stanley Cup champions, but they aren't going to be at full speed in this game. Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Slava Voynov are each out of the lineup for a variety of reasons. And Martin Jones is starting in net in place of Jonathan Quick. The Penguins meanwhile, have a mostly healthy lineup and are coming off an impressive, albeit inconsistent, butt-kicking of the Devils.
-We're eager to see Drew Doughty in person. He's arguably the best defenseman in the NHL. With Zdeno Chara dealing with a knee injury, Doughty might get some more consideration for the Norris Trophy. Doughty, like the rest of his team, tends to turn it up in the postseason so he doesn't get as much consideration for postseason awards as other high profile players in more Eastern cities. That said, he's as good as any defenseman in the NHL.
-Some sights around the arena. The barn:
-It was a lean night for jerseys. Score a game-winning break away goal and all of a sudden everyone is wearing your jersey:
-Fans entering the barn:
-There are a few Kings fans on hand. Drew Doughty:
-This is the first Patric Hornqvist jersey we've seen:
-Mario Lemieux 1992 All-Star Game:
-Former Penguins/Kings forward Rick Tocchet:
-Former King Rob Scuderi:
-Jersey of the Night: Wow. Just wow. Former Penguin/Kings defenseman Ron Duguay:
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Robert Bortuzzo and Jayson Megna.
-The Kings' starters are Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Martin Jones.
-Their scratches are Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Slava Voynov.
-No Jimerson. No photo.
19:18: Fans begin a "OLLLL-EEEE MAAAAA-TTTAAAA" chant.
17:48: Simon Despres pushes the puck the right wing and flings it on net. Jones fights it off. Pascal Dupuis is there for the rebound but can't get a clean stick on it.
17:26: A wrister by Mike Richards from the left circle is deflected high on a poke check by Paul Martin.
17:20: Racing up ice, Hornqvist rips a low wrister from the right circle. Jones knocks it dead and smothers.
17:07: The Penguins are putting puck son net early. Off a neautral zone steal, Christian Ehrhoff chucks a wrister from center point. Jones eats it up.
16:32: Fighting for a puck behind the Kings' net, Andy Andreoff trips up Hornqivst along the end boards. That's two minutes for tripping. Hornqvist, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kunitz and Letang take the ice.
16:20: Taking a feed above the right circle, Letang rips a wrister which is punched out by Jones.
15:12: A backhander by Dupuis from the right circle is wide ot the far side.
15:03: Ehrhoff cranks a slapper from the right half wall is fought off by Jones despite
14:47: Ehrhoff chucks a wrister from the right point. It hits a body and rolls around. Steve Downie is to the right of the crease and backhand swats it on net. Jones sweeps it away.
13:44: Blake Comeau lines up Doughty for a hit behind the Kings' and drops him to the ice.
13:35: Off some pretty passing, Carter has a chance in the left circle but loses the puck and fails to get a shot off thanks in part due to a slash from Malking. Malkin is nabbed for slashing. Maatta, Letang, Sutter and Goc take the ice.
12:39: Maatta fights for a puck in the Penguins' right wing corner and is hooked up by Toffoli. That's two minutes. We'll wee four-on-four play for 1:04.
11:46: Doughty air mails a slapper from the neutral zone. Fleury punches it out of play.
11:35: Malkin's minor expires. The Penguins will have a power play for 56 seconds.
11:18: The Penguins will get a brief five-on-three power play. Doughty interferes with Hornqivst on the Kings' right boards. The Penguins will have a two-man advantage for 39 seconds. Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Malkin and Hornqvist take the ice.
10:44: The Penguins strike. Malkin controls the puck above the left circle, fakes a slapper and deals a pass to Kunitz to the left to the crease. Kunitz leans forward and taps the puck by the right skate of Jones who was blocked out on a screen by Hornqvist and Robyn Regehr. What a pretty play. Malkin and Hornqvist get assists. The Penguins will have a five-on-four power play for 1:26. Penguins 1-0.
9:56: Ehrhoff cranks a loose puck from the left circle well wide on the near side.
9:18: Doughty returns to play. With the J.V. power play unit out, the Penguins' didn't look as dangerous with that man advantage.
8:02: Adams floats a backhander from the left circle wide on the near side.
5:54: Despres (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) and Jordan Nolan (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) - two big boys - collide deep on the right wing in the Kings' zone. Despres wins that confrontation but not by much.
5:36: Another power play for the Penguins. Richards is called for high sticking Despres. Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Kunitz and Letang take the ice.
4:46: The Penguins get a little bit lucky. Letang takes a pass low in the right circle. He tries to deal it back to Kunitz in the slot but ends up having his pass deflects off the left skate of Dwight King and beyind Jones. King holds his head up in disgust as the Penguins celebrate. Kunitz gets the only assist. Penguins 2-0.
2:36: As Crosby drives to the net down the slot, Hornqvist shuffles a tricky wrister on net from the left circle. Jones eats it up. Regehr gives Hornqvist a shove and a scrum gathers. Nothing comes of it.
2:13: Brandon Sutter chips a puck up the left wing. Doughty skates backwards with so much speed and power, he basically interferes with Sutter legally and prevents him from regaining the puck. What a play.
1:07: Off a tunrover by Adams at the Penguins blue line, Kyle Clifford lifts a backhander on net from the right circle. Fleury kicsk it out. Despres chucks the rebound down ice to ice it.
0:42: Muzzin chucks a wrister from the left circle through traffic. Fleury fights it off.
0:28: Muzzin snaps off a wrister from the left circle which is blocked.
0:12: Adams crease a two-on-one with Malkin against Doughty. From the left wing, Adams feeds a pass to Malkin. As Doughy lays down, Malkin lifts a wrister off the near post.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Kings 0.
-Special teams really dictated that period. The Penguins feasted on their power play and carved out a two-goal lead.
-The Kings did generate quite a few scoring chances late in the period. They're not done by a long-shot.
-Each goaltender looked pretty sharp. It's a stark contrast to Tuesday's game.
-Ehrhoff seems like he really wants to score. He was pretty aggressive with his shot.
-Shots on net are even, 10-10.
-The Penguins have a 19-18 edge in attempted shots.
-Ehrhoff, Hornqvist, Letang, Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll each lead the game with two shots.
-Doughty leads the game with 10:28 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 7:45 of ice time.
-The Penguins have an 11-10 edge in faceoff.
-Crosby is 6 for 7 (86 percent).
-Carter is 3 for 5 (60 percent).
-Greene leads the game with two blocked shots.
-An EN reader spotted a Bob Bougher jersey:
19:29: With Jones out of position, Crosby taps a pass from behind the cage to Kunitz in the right circle. Kunitz hurries the shot and puts it wide on the near side.
18:31: A slapper by Muzzin from the left point is deflected wide by a stick.
17:42: Sutter has a chance on a three-on-one and off the left wing, he lifts a wrister which Jones easily punches away.
16:42: Williams lifts a wrister from the left wing wide of the cage.ssin in tothe
16:32: Kunitz smacks Muzzin with a hit from behind into the boards on the right wing at the Penguins' blue line. No call.
16:16: As Doughty leads a rush into the offensive zone, Stoll collides with Sutter in neutral zone and Sutter falls down. Initially, the officials are going to send Stoll to the penalty box but realize Sutter was falling on his own. Mike Johnston protests the non-call but the officials made the right decision.
16:00: Carter pushes the puck up the right wing and releases a wrister which Maatta deflects out of play.
15:40: The Penguins get another power play as Brown is called for slashing Malkin in the neutral zone. He hacked the stick out of Malkin's hands. Easy call. Crosby, Hornqvist, Malkin, Kunitz and Letang take the ice.
14:07: Downie has a chance to the left of the cage but can't settle the puck to get a shot off.
13:40: The Brown minor expires. The Penguins didn't pose much of a threat with that chance.
12:14: Nolan cranks a one-timer from the left point. Fleury snags it. Andreoff barges in to mix it up and is repelled by a few Penguins' defenders.
11:48: Hornqvist lifts a backhander off the left wing. Jones kicks it out with a thud.
11:28: "Hooorrr-NEEEEE!" chants begin for Hornqvist.
10:28: Play is halted as Steve DOwnie and Jarret Stoll exchange shoves and words in the neutral zone. Officials separate them and seem to have things under controls until they get mix it up again near the penalty boxes. The Kings end up with a power play. Stoll and Downie will each get roughing minors while Downie gets an additional unsportsmanlike conduct minor. Sill will serve the extra minor. Letang, Goc, Adams, and Maatta take the ice.
10:41: Muzzin cranks a slapper form the left point. Fleury fights it off despite a screen.
9:10: Williams lifts a wrister from the right circle. Fleury fights it off despite a screen by Richards.
8:28: Sill returns to the ice. The Kings had a few perimeter shots with that power play but nothing high quality.
7:27: Hornqvist chops a loose puck from the right circle on net. Johnson boot it outs. The rebound kicks out to Despres at the left point and he whacks a one-timer which is blocked.
5:53: The Penguins will get a power play as Richards is called for slashing Letang. Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Hornqvist and Letang take the ice.
5:22: Crosby has a wrister from the right circle blocked by Doughty.
5:09: Letang snaps off a wrister from the center point. Johns snags it despite a screen by Jones.
4:39: Off a feed by Crosby, Malkin lifts a wrister from the left circle. Alec Martinez blocks it.
4:23: Off a feed from Letang, Crosby fires a one-timer from the left circle which Carter blocks.
4:15: Letang cranks a one-timer center point which ends up hitting Kunitz in front.
3:51: As the RIchards minor expires, Malkin has a wrister from the left circle denied by Quick.
2:23: A wrister by Nolan from the right wing is blocked by Scuderi.
0:54: Stealing a pass at the Kings' blue line, Dupuis snaps off a wrister from the left wing which deflects wide.
0:04: Off a feed from Crosby, Hornqvist rips a wrister from the right circle. Martinez blocks it.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 2, Kings 0.
-Things really knuckled down there as neither team could really generate much in the way of scoring chances.
-The play of each goaltender didn't help matters in terms of offense either. Jones and Fleury are each tuned in.
-The Penguins' penalty kill is really clicking right now. Tonight, they've limited the Kings to just perimeter chances and almost nothing down low.
-The Kings have a 20-16 lead in shots on net.
-The Kings lead in attempted shtos, 38-33.
-Stoll leads the game with five shots on net.
-Hornqvist leads the Penguins with four shots on net.
-Drew Doughty leads the game with 19:56 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 15:35 of ice time.
-The Kings have a 22-17 lead in faceoffs (56 percent).
-Carter is 8 for 12 (67 percent).
-Crosby is 8 for 14 (57 percent).
-Maatta, Scuderi, Nick Spaling, Downie, Greene and Martinez each lead the game with two blocked shots.
-An EN reader spotted a Francois Leroux jersey:
19:41: Letang air mails a slapper from the neutral zone. Jones steers it away.
19:11: Clifford challenges Maatta one-on-one off the right wing. Fleury kicks it out.
18:50: Stoll chops a slapper from the right wing. Fleury boots it away.
17:55: Leaving the ice on a line change, Crosby is laboring a bit. As he sits on the bench, he appears to be in some discomfort. Athletic trainer Chris Stewart talks to Crosby but that appears to be the extent of his interaction with Crosby.
17:37: Malkin is now on the bench with a bloody lip. Stewart gives him a towel to wipe up the blood.
16:36: Crosby stepped back onto the ice for a defensive zone faceoff.
16:31: Martinez collects a puck on the right half wall and whips it on net. Fleury snags it.
16:07: Off a feed by Crosby, Hornqvist cranks a one-timer form the slot. Jones reads the play and kicks it out.
15:31: Play is halted as Williams attacks Malkin and they drop the gloves inside the Penguins' blue line. Malkin sort of just shoves him to the ice and falls on top of Williams for the three-count. They had been chirping one another earlier. Malkin waves his arms up in the air to get the crowd going. Each player gets roughing minors. We'll see some four on four play.
13:31: Malkin and Williams return to play.
12:46: A little backhander by Williams from the right circle is kicked out by Fleury.
12:07: After Despre is hounded by a pair of Kings near the Penguins' right wing corner, he's able to deal a pass to Scuderi behind the net and Scuderi is able to get it out of danger.
10:36: Hard work pays off. Crosby battles his way out of the Kings' right wing corner by Martinez and attacks the net. He tries to jam in a forehand shot but no dice. The puck kicks ot to the the left wing where Kunitz is able to whip it behind Jones on the blocker side. What an effort by Crosby. Crosby and Ehrhoff get assists. Penguins 3-0.
10:01: Play is halted again as Malkin and Willieams mix it up again in the King's left wing corner. Doughty sort of gets between Malkin and Williams and prevents another fight. A scrum ensues. Nothing is called as all parties are sent to the benches.
9:45: Brown chips and chases a puck up the left wing and is held up by Despres. That's an easy interference penalty. Goc, Maatta, Letang and Sutter take the ice.
9:10: A wrister by Doughty from the right point is deflected wide by a wide open Carter in front of the crease. Carter jerks his head upwards in disgust.
8:43: Doughty pounds a slapper from center point. Fleury snags it with a snazzy glove save despite traffic. Fans offer "Flerrr-EEEE!" chants in appreciation.
8:09: Martinez cranks a slapper from the right point. Fleury shrugs it away with his right arm.
7:45: The Penguins kill off yet another power play. The Kings did generate some quality chances however.
7:24: Clifford chips a wrister on net from the left wing. Fleury kicks it out.
6:50: Crosby wires a wrister from the right wing circle. Jones snags it.
5:56: Williams enters the offensive zone and lifts a pedestrian wrister from center point.
4:21: Adams rattles David Van der Gulik with a solid hit near the Penguins' penalty box.
4:04: Clifford chips and chases a puck up the left wing and is smacked into the left wing corner of the Penguins' zone by Despres for his troubles.
3:16: A cannon-of a one-timer by Brayden McNabb from above the left circle is kicked out with a loud "THUD" by Fleury.
1:56: A wrister by Doughy from the left circle is blocked by Letang.
1:49: Doughty cranks a slapper from the right point. It hits something and there's a scramble for the rebound. No one in a white jersey can get a stick on the puck.
1:11: Play is halted as a scrum gathers in the Kings' right wing corner. Adams is called for holding. Goc, Maatta, Letang and Sutter take the ice.
0:58: A point shot by Doughty is kicked out by Fleury.
0:20: With Jones pulled, Fleury collects a puck behind his net and tries to fling it down ice for his long-sought empty-net goal. Alas, the puck goes well wide of the cage.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 3, Kings 0.
-There's really not much to dissect here. The Penguins dominated special teams and won. Plain and simple. Their power play stayed red hot and their penalty kills stayed rock solid. The Kings maybe had a slight edge in terms of five-on-five play, but it wasn't enough to overcome the decided advantage in special teams.
-Let's be honest too. This wasn't a Kings team at their best. They were missing Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Trevor Lewis Slava Voynov and sat staring goaltender Jonathan Quick. Ignore that tired cliche of injuries (or in Voynov's case, suspensions) being excuses. They are reality when you're talking about a team's best players. The Penguins jumped all over a wounded animal.
-If the Penguins were missing Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter as well as Paul Martin while also starting Thomas Greiss, they would be a lesser team as well.
-Marc-Andre Fleury was really sharp tonight. He earned this shutout. That said, the Kings didn't make this game very difficult on him. How many shots did Fleury save where he had to contend with a screen? Not many. The Kings put a lot of perimeter shots on net but there weren't many bodies in white jerseys in front to screen or deflect those shots. Fleury has had much more difficult nights in his career.
-Kings captain Dustin Brown was blunt in his assessment of Fleury:
“He made the saves he was supposed to make. I don’t think he had very many hard saves. He got to see the puck. Our best chances were probably late in the game on the power play. We had some guys around the net on rebounds. But we didn’t make it hard enough on him.”
-We can't say we disagree with that sentiment.
-How dangerous is the Penguins' penalty kill now. A five-on-three situation for them almost looks automatic these days.
-And the penalty kill keeps humming along. It has now killed 22 straight.
-The five-on-five play is a little curious. The Kings had the edge in that area. At some point, the Penguins aren't going to get upwards of six power plays a game as they did tonight. They'll need to rely more on their five-on-five play.
-Are we allowed to say Rob Scuderi played well? Tonight, he bailed out Simon Despres a handful of times with play in the defensive zone. And while he isn't usually the first defenseman over the boards on the penalty kill, he still has had a large role in that units' recent success. Scuderi has really turned things around after a rough start to the season.
-Chris Kunitz. He scores goals.
-More of the same from Patric Hornqvist. He is a pain-in-the-butt and makes life a lot easier for Sidney Crosby and Kunitz.
-Drew Doughty always looks great on television when we see him. Tonight, presumably, the only time we'll see him in person this season, he looked even better. His skating ability for a man his size (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) is astounding. He seemed to make the right play every time. He was one of the few Kings players who looked dangerous tonight.
-Martin Jones played well enough to win. He didn't give up any soft goals. He deserved a better fate.
-Jeff Carter was somewhat invisible tonight.
-The Justin Williams-Evgeni Malkin tussle was a bit strange. We can't say we expected those two to go at as hard as they did.
-The Kings led in shots on net, 35-23.
-The Kings led in attempted shots, 61-44.
-Jarret Stoll led the game with six shots.
-Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist led the Penguins with five shots each.
-The Kings led in faceoffs, 32-30 (52 percent).
-Carter was 14 for 25 (56 percent).
-Crosby was 12 for 20 (60 percent).
-Olli Maatta and Rob Scuderi each led the game with three blocked shots.
-Matt Greene, Doughty, Alec Martinez and Stoll each led the Kings with two blocked shots.
-The Penguins recorded the 1,600th regular season win in franchise history.
-Malkin recorded his 400th career assist.
-Malkin now has a nine-game scoring streak.
-Fleury recorded his 30th career shutout. He is now one of 51 goaltenders with 30 or more shutouts.
-The last Penguins shutout by the Penguins against the Kings was a 30-save effort by Gary Inness in a 0-0 tie at the Civic Arena, Nov. 23, 1974.
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It is 102 miles from Heinz Field to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, but this week 522 yards was enough for Ben Roethlisberger to span that distance.
That's because one of the game-used balls from his record-setting performance Sunday against the Colts has been added to the display collection at the hall.
Against Indianapolis, Roethlisberger became the first player in NFL history to throw for 500-yards twice in a career and the first Steeler to throw for 6 TDs in a single game.
Here's a look at the ball (top) and where it sits in the Pro Football Today display (bottom, right, next to the ball from the 700th Monday Night Football game).
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A preview of the Kings.
When and where: 7 p.m, EDT, Consol Energy Center.
TV: Root Sports (Pittsburgh market), Fox Sports West (Los Angeles Market), NHL Network (rest of the United States).
Record: 6-1-2, 14 points. The Kings are in second place in the Pacific Division.
Leading Scorer: Tyler Toffoli, 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists).
Last Game:3-2 overtime road loss to the Flyers, Tuesday. Jonathan Quick made 40 saves for the Kings.
Last Game against the Penguins:3-2 road win, March 27. Martin Jones made 35 saves for the Kings.
Kings Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Drew Doughty (right). He has a three-game scoring streak.
Ex-Penguins on the Kings: Glen Murray, development consultant; Jake Muzzin, defenseman (Muzzin was a former Penguins prospect but never played for the organization.); Luc Robitaille, president, business operations and alternate governor.
Ex-Kings on the Penguins: Mike Johnston, head coach; Jim Rutherford, general manager; Rob Scuderi, defenseman; Rick Tocchet, assistant coach.
Useless Kings Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick (2012 and 2014) is one of three United States-born goaltender to win the Stanley Cup twice as a team's primary starting goaltender. The other are the Penguins' Tom Barrasso (1991 and 1992) and the Bruins Frank Brimsek (1939 and 1941).
The last time the Kings played the Penguins, this happened:
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-0, 2.43 GAA, .912 SV%) for the Penguins. Martin Jones (1-0-0, 0.75 GAA, .970 SV%) for the Kings.
Injuries: For the Penguins, defenseman Olli Maatta (neck) is probable. Defenseman Roberto Bortuzzo (knee) is doubtful. Right winger Beau Bennett (knee) is on injured reserve. For the Kings, right winger Marian Gaborik ("upper body") and center Anze Kopitar ("upper body") are doubtful. Defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk (knee) and center Trevor Lewis ("upper body") are on injured reserve.
Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins' lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:
14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 72 Patric Hornqvist
9 Pascal Dupuis - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 17 Blake Comeau
13 Nick Spaling - 16 Brandon Sutter - 23 Steve Downie
38 Zach Sill - 57 Marcel Goc - 27 Craig Adams
58 Kris Letang - 3 Olli Maatta
7 Paul Martin - 10 Christian Ehrhoff
47 Simon Despres - 4 Rob Scuderi
-The Kings' lines and defensive pairings at their morning skate were:
70 Tanner Pearson – 77 Jeff Carter – 73 Tyler Toffoli
74 Dwight King – 10 Mike Richards – 23 Dustin Brown
13 Kyle Clifford – 28 Jarrett Stoll – 14 Justin Williams
36 David Van der Gulik – 15 Andy Andreoff – 71 Jordan Nolan
6 Jake Muzzin – 8 Drew Doughty
44 Robyn Regehr – 27 Alec Martinez
3 Brayden McNabb – 2 Matt Greene
-The Penguins recalled center Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In nine AHL games this season, Megna has three points (two goals, one assist).
-Martin returned to practice after skipping Wednesday due to a stiff back.
-Adams has 99 career assists.
-Malkin has 399 career assists.
-The Penguins have 1,599 regular season wins in franchise history.
-Kings defenseman Slava Voynov is suspended indefinitely.
-The referees are Steve Kozari (No. 40) and Greg Kimmerly (No. 18). The linesmen are Shandor Alphonso (No. 52) and Brian Murphy (No. 93).
-Our blog begins at approximately 6 p.m. Please tune in.
(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)
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This week, I enlisted the help of Laura Keeley, who covers Duke for the Raleigh News & Observer to help preview this week's game between the Panthers and Blue Devils. Here are Laura's responses to a couple of questions...
1. Quarterback Anthony Boone was hurt against Pitt last year, and Brandon Connette has since transferred to Fresno State, so it'll be a new look at QB for the Blue Devils against the Panthers this year. How has Boone progressed as a senior, and what role does Thomas Sirk play in the offense? How similar or different is he to the change-up Connette threw last year?
It's been an up-and-down senior year for Boone. Duke's first four games were worthless from a competitive value/let's learn something about this team standpoint—1-7 FCS Elon, 1-7 Troy, 2-5 Kansas and 2-5 Tulane—but he had his bouts with accuracy issues in those games. Then he played awful against Miami (22-of-51 for 179 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions), turned in his best game against Georgia Tech (.615 completion percentage, no turnovers) and was more uneven against Virginia, especially in the second half, when he went 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) for 51 yards. That's just been how his year has gone. Hard to say how effective he will be against Pitt.
Thomas Sirk will come in for short-yardage goal line situations, but he's not quite a Brandon Connette clone. According to ESPN's David Hale, Duke has converted just 43.5% of its 3rd-and-short opportunities on the ground — 3rd-worst rate in the nation going into last weekend. That's where they miss Connette. Sirk hasn't proven he can convert from that distance consistently, so the coaches don't automatically turn to him like they did Connette.
2. How much does this offense revolve around Jamison Crowder? Is there anything unique the Blue Devils do to get the ball in his hands? Who are some other offensive weapons Pitt should be concerned about Saturday?
Head coach David Cutcliffe made running the ball more a priority this preseason, and Duke has done just that. The Blue Devils actually average more yards per rush (5.8) than they do per pass (5.4), which, again, in part speaks to the struggles of Boone. But Duke's four running backs—Josh Snead, Shaquille Powell, Joe Ajeibge and Shaun Wilson — have all had their moments this year. The Blue Devils are 6-0 when they rush the ball at least 30 times (in their defeat at Miami, they inexplicably attempted only 25 rushes).
So that brings us to Crowder. He is still far and away Duke's best receiver, but he hasn't been as consistent as he was last year, either, with far more drops. Beyond the drops, he isn't making the tough catches at the same rate he used to. Again, part of that is Boone, but part of that is Crowder, too. Now, does he still have the ability to haul in more than 100 yards receiving each game? Yes, of course. But he has only topped that plateau once in seven games.
3. It looks like the strength of this Duke team might be the back end of the defense, which ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense. What is it about the defense that makes it so good against the pass? Could that ranking be a bit inflated because of the schedule Duke has played so far?
Definitely inflated due to the quality (or lack thereof) of the nonconference schedule. And obviously Georgia Tech passes less than your average team, too. But the best defender in the ACC is quite possibly in Duke's secondary—safety Jeremy Cash, who originally transferred from Ohio State. Sophomore safety DeVon Edwards has had a strong year as well. And, typically, teams have avoided throwing to cornerback Breon Borders' side of the field—though Virginia kept trying that, for some reason, and the Cavaliers didn't have much success. But Mike London has shown in the past two weeks that he's not exactly known for his savvy coaching decisions.
4. So we've established that Duke is a football school at this point. How are coaches, players and the fan base handling year two of increased expectations? Does Duke still play with a bit of a chip on its shoulder because it seems like, even at 6-1, they're only on the fringes of the top 25? Because it's Duke, will the program ever be able to shake that underdog image?
Attendance is still abismal—Duke has only topped 30,000 fans once, in the game where Duke employees got free tickets. It's not a good situation. But, looking nationwide, Duke certainly isn't alone and struggling to attract a live audience.
The team carries itself like a real, competitive football team—as it should, because it is. They still talk about things like culture change and acknowledge the history on probably a weekly basis, but I don't think that necessarily translate to a huge chip. When most of the upperclassmen committed to Duke, the program was still woefully unsuccessful. They found a way to shrug it off then. They still do it now.
I do think there is more of an expectation of winning this year. Last year's experience certainly helps with that.