Penguins' credibility in question - 12-14-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The past eight months haven't been kind to the Penguins off the ice. A quick exit from the playoffs in May led to changes in management and the coaching staff. Additionally, the team has seen several players such as Olli Maatta, Pascal Dupuis and Sidney Crosby deal with significant medical ailments not necessarily related to the dangers of playing professional hockey.

The latest of those involved today's announcement of Crosby being diagnosed with the mumps.

Despite all of that, they have had quite a bit of on-ice success. At 19-6-4 with 42 points, the Penguins have one of the best records in the NHL two and a half months into the 2014-15 season.

They aren't hurting for wins.

They are hurting for credibility.

Crosby's diagnosis - after two days of quasi-denials from the organization - is the latest in a series of missteps which have put the trust in the Penguins into question.

The first of these missteps began in April. Crosby, who led the NHL in regular season scoring with 104 points, was limited during the postseason to one goal and nine points in 13 games against the Blue Jackets and Rangers. During the playoffs and afterwards, Crosby repeatedly denied he was dealing with any sort of medical issue.

In July, a Post-Gazette report revealed he had suffered a wrist injury which potentially could have required surgery. Later that month, the team announced Crosby had opted against surgery. Prior to training camp, Crosby confirmed his injury was suffered during a regular season home contest against the Blues, March 23.

After the Penguins' were eliminated from the playoffs, Ray Shero was fired as general manager May 16. Several media outlets, including the Post-Gazette, reported head coach Dan Bylsma has been fired that day as well. To the surprise to many, team president David Morehouse announced Bylsma had not been fired and said the new general manager would make that decision.

When asked about the reasoning for firing Shero, Morehouse explained:

"The new [general manger] will be charged with overseeing and revamping our hockey operations with the goal of returning the team to championship form. Part of his initial duties will be to evaluate our entire hockey operations department including the coaching staff and make decisions in the best interest of the coaching staff moving forward."

(Note: We've added emphasis to the quotes.)

Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier was granted a one-on-two interview with owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle following the announcement of Shero's firing. Regarding the decision to retain Bylsma, Burkle explained:

"I just think when you meet with someone you have to consider all aspects. How they interview and what their qualifications are and what they bring to the table. I would say it’s a deal point – what they want to do with Dan."

Approximately three weeks later, the Penguins hired Jim Rutherford to replace Shero June 6. Rutherford announced Bylmsa had been fired that day but did little to suggest it was truly his decision to dismiss Bylsma when he said:

"What ownership wants here is a complete change in direction, one with the general manager and one with the coach. We met with Dan this morning and told him. And the timing of it is good. He’s a good man and a good coach. I really don’t know him very well and I only talked to him briefly this morning. The timing is good because there are coaching vacancies and it’s not going to be long until he coaches again in the league."

"I took the information from the people that were here. I didn't have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story. I took the information over the last week with a couple of meetings I had and we agreed making a change were a change we had to make."

Despite a desire for a "new direction" from ownership as explained by Morehouse, the Penguins eventually promoted three of Shero's top lieutenants, Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin. Rutherford acknowledged his time in the position would be limited to two and three years and suggested Fitzgerald, Guerin and, most notably, Botterill, could replace him.

A bumpy search for a new coach took place and eventually the team hired Mike Johnston, June 25.

Following a busy July and quiet August, players began filtering back to Pittsburgh for informal workouts at Consol Energy Center. Center Evgeni Malkin took part in a handful of those workouts which are completely voluntary but his participation abruptly came to an end a few days before the start of training camp. On the first day of training camp Sept. 19, Johnston announced Malkin was sidelined due to an undisclosed injury.

Malkin did not participate in any preseason games and did not attend any practices until a few days prior to the start of the regular season Oct. 9. Since then, Malkin has participated in every game of the regular season. In 29 games, he has a team-leading 36 points. His absence from training camp has never been fully revealed. Malkin declined to discuss the nature of his injury when he spoke with media for the first time this season Oct. 7:

When the Penguins announced Dupuis would be sidelined indefinitely due to a blood clot Nov. 19, the team revealed for the first time that Dupuis had dealt with the discovery of a previous blood clot after he suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 23 in Ottawa. Prior to that announcement, no one outside the team or Dupuis' circle was aware of the previous blood clot.

This past Thursday, Crosby was absent from practice and it was simply explained as "he was sick today" by Johnston. Crosby did not participate in a team function that day at Children's Hospital of Pittsbugh of UPMC due to his ailment. With the NHL in the midst of seeing various players from all over the league dealing with an outbreak of mumps, Crosby participated in an optional morning skate Friday prior to a game against the Flames. Following the skate, Crosby spoke with the media and had pronounced swelling on the right side of his face:

Former Post-Gazette reporter Shelly Anderson asked him if he had the mumps:

Following player media availability, Johnston was directly asked if Crosby had the mumps. His response was:

"As far as Sid goes, he was checked out by the doctors yesterday. And I believe, as I mentioned, that our whole team has gone through some blood tests just to make sure everyone is taking precautions with the mumps, the scare around the league. So from my perspective, just talking to the doctors, they didn't mention anything like that. They just said he was cleared to play."

At approximately 4 p.m., some three hours prior to their game, the Penguins issued a press release announcing Crosby would be sidelined the next two games as a precaution. In the statement, Rutherford said:

"There is no indication at this time that this is the mumps, but we are going to hold him out as a precaution. We'll have additional test results in a few days."

Yesterday, prior to a game in Columbus, Johnston was asked about the decision to allow Crosby around the team facility with the possibility of him having contracted the mumps. Johnston defended the decision by saying:

Nobody thought he had mumps. They’d run their tests and didn’t feel he did, so he was cleared to come to the rink. After that, they decided to take more precautions. I think what’s happened is, because of the mumps scare [around the NHL] and because of the concern, everybody is taking that extra step and saying, ‘Let’s hold on. If there’s any suspicion at all, we’re going to be cautious, run all the tests and wait until they come back before we clear anybody.”

Less than 24 hours later, the Penguins announced Crosby did indeed have the mumps.

This narrow eight-month window isn't the only time circumstances involving the Penguins have been murky. When Crosby was hit in the head repeatedly in at the start of the 2011 calendar year, he did not fly with the team prior for a game in Montreal Crosby flew to Montreal but returned to Pittsburgh prior to a game Jan. 6. Bylsma explained Crosby as having a "mild concussion" and said he would not play "for about a week."

Crosby would ultimately be sidelined for approximately 11 months and did not play in an NHL game until Nov. 21. His comeback would only last eight games as he left the lineup again after being jostled during a home game against the Bruins Dec. 5. Crosby would be sidelined another four months and did not play again until a road game against the Rangers March 15.

As it turned out, Crosby's ailment was related to soft tissue neck injury.

Last season, the Penguins held a wiffle ball game on ice after practice Oct. 1, 2013 to "celebrate" a Pirates playoff game. Two days later, former left winger James Neal left a season-opening home game against the Devils due to what was labeled as an "upper-body" injury. He would miss 15 games due to the ailment. The full nature of his injury was never disclosed on the record.

The Penguins aren't the only ones who operate in this fashion with regards to personnel. NHL game notes are filled with descriptions of players having "upper/lower-body" injuries. Some teams don't even acknowledge a player as having an injury in any official sense. The Sharks, for example, barely even acknowledge something as simple as man-games lost.

A culture of paranoia has festered in the league - probably since the start of the league in 1917 - when it comes to acknowledging the availability of personnel. The NHL was founded due in part to a lack of trust among owners of its precursor, the National Hockey Association.

In many of these situations such as the ailments suffered by Dupuis and Crosby, circumstances are very fluid in a narrow window of time. Chances are the team and the player don't have a true answer to offer. The Penguins and the rest of the NHL seems to be mystified as to how mumps are spreading among its players. But this team has a very recent history of contradiction and confusion when it comes to their personnel as outlined above.

Like any other NHL team, the Penguins are certainly under no obligation to offer the complete and full details of how they operate, especially with intimate, personal matters such as a player's health.

At the same time, the public has no obligation to place any credibility into the Penguins. They've provided little reason to do so.

(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images and team video)

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And the No. 1 movie of week is ...

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .

“Exodus:  Gods and Kings” reigned supreme at the box office with an estimated $24.5 million, knocking “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” out of first place. 
Here are the early figures from Rentrak:
1. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — $24,500,000.
2. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” — $13,200,000, bringing its North American gross to $277,398,249.
3. “Penguins of Madagascar” — $7,300,000, for $58,838,709 so far. 
4. “Top Five” — $7,210,000.
5. “Big Hero 6” — $6,145,000, or $185,325,009 since release. 
6. “Interstellar” — $5,500,000, for $166,799,576. 
7. “Horrible Bosses 2” — $4,630,000, bumping its gross to $43,600,934.
8. “Dumb and Dumber To” — $2,756,740, for $82,117,350.
9. “The Theory of Everything” — $2,525,000, or $17,148,183.
10. “Wild” — $1,550,000, in limited release, for $2,423,170.
On Wednesday, the final movie in “The Hobbit” series will arrive.
Opening this Friday in Pittsburgh:  “Annie,” “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” “Wild” and — at the Manor in Squirrel Hill, “Foxcatcher.” 

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Crosby diagnosed with mumps - 12-14-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The Penguins officially announced center Sidney Crosby has been diagnosed with mumps today.

That announcement follows two days of denial by Crosby as well as Mike Johnston that he had contracted the disease after he had noticeable swelling on the right side of his face following Friday's morning skate.

The Penguins had team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas and general manager Jim Rutherford address the media this morning. Here is the transcript:


Opening statement:

"Mr. Rutherford has asked me to give a timeline on Sidney Crosby having the mumps. I’ll start by telling you sort of how we came about to this diagnosis. Sidney developed, at the Carolina game, he sustained an injury to the right side of his neck. At that time, he injured the submandibular, or salivary gland, on his neck. We came back to Pittsburgh, we tested him, including a CT scan, which showed the injury. Also, just to be safe, we tested him for mumps at that time and all the blood tests came as negative. We continued to follow that. He was on medications to bring the swelling down to let the injury resolve and once the medications were stopped, he developed swelling just next to that area. We once again ran a series of tests, including CT scans, and also tested him for mumps at that time. Early tests showed that there was no indication of infection, and we continued to follow him closely. At that time, I should also tell you that during this period, we tested the entire team for mumps. We ran a series of titers, which is antibodies against the virus. Sidney was one of the highest on the team protecting him against the virus. He had had all of his immunizations as well as had a booster shot as recently as less than a year ago for the Olympics. So he was well protected from his antibodies standpoint. He also had no symptoms such as fever or chills or generalized body aches. But we nevertheless continued to follow him closely. This is a rapidly evolving process, and we then did a series of tests on him, including specifically sending out DNA for PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which is a highly sophisticated test. We kept him out from the Calgary game [Friday] in anticipation of test results and we found out last night that the test results came back positive. He’s been in isolation and he has the mumps. We will continue to follow him closely. This is a self-resolving process and we’ll evaluate him daily."

Could he play next week:

"That’s the presumption, yes. The CDC recommends five days of isolation before the virus infection period is completed. So we’ll follow those recommendations. However, we’ll continue to evaluate him daily and follow him closely to see how he’s doing clinically.

How did he contract mumps if he’s been immunized recently:

"That’s a great question, and that’s why it came about as a bit of a surprise to us because every indication was that he was well protected against the disease. We had made sure that the whole team was checked. We immunized all of the players and staff who had low titers in protection of this. That was done approximately two weeks ago just because of the outbreak of mumps in the NHL. We’re trying to stay ahead of it."

Will there be any further testing with his teammates:

"We will only if they develop symptoms. So we’ll continue to monitor them. Should they develop any symptoms, then yes, obviously we would test them further to see what the situation is."

Did the injury in Carolina impact how he contracted the mumps:

"We don’t think so. However, it clearly confuses the picture and we had to do a series of tests because of the fact that he had swelling on that side of the neck, and we tried to stay ahead of it because of that."

On Crosby participating in a morning skate Friday:

"This is a rapidly evolving process. So we tried to do as much testing as possible, and we tried to stay ahead of it with all the different tests that were available to us."

Was he contagious when he skated on Friday:

"As soon as we have some more information about it, we’ll notify. But obviously we will keep all these things in mind ... the fact that a player has been vaccinated but nevertheless can still contract the virus. So we’ll definitely continue to maintain a high level of vigilance on this."

How long will he be sidelines:

"I can’t say for sure for now. Based on the medical timeline that the CDC provides us, that would be the time frame that he should be off of the infectious period. However, we’ll continue to evaluate him daily and just take it day-by-day at this point."

The sample that was sent to the CDC, was that after he was cleared to skate Friday morning or before:

"The sample was sent on Friday afternoon to the CDC."

Was the swelling of his face on Friday morning something that alarmed you:

"Absolutely. It was rapidly evolving and his condition worsened from the day before. And as soon as we noted that, that’s when we sent off additional samples. During this whole period, we’ve had several medical staff involved in his care, ear, nose and throat, oral maxillofacial, infectious disease, internal medicine. Everyone has been evaluating him for this injury as well as the potential for any disease process for a few days."

What are the other symptoms beyond facial swelling:

"Mostly the symptoms of mumps would be fevers, chills, none of which he has. Pain at the site, body aches, difficulty swallowing and just a generalized feeling of malaise and being tired. All those symptoms, we’ll continue to watch if he develops any of those. He didn’t have the classic presentation of mumps. The majority of mumps is bilateral. It’s on both sides of the face, and again, at that time when we saw him and tested him, it was just one-sided."

What are the precautions the team needs to take:

"We’ve been actually sterilizing our room since the mumps outbreak started in the NHL. We frequently clean out the rooms and did again yesterday. We’ll do that on a regular basis. Then just generally viral transmission precautions, washing hands, not sharing water bottles as much as we can for a professional hockey team."

Have staff members been alerted or tested:

"Sure, absolutely. We’ve talked to all of our staff, we’ve been talking to them since the NHL outbreak started. If they develop any of those symptoms, such as body aches, swelling, fevers, chills, develop pain or tenderness along the jawline, then they definitely need to report it and have it assessed."

What can the NHL do to curb the outbreak:

"Trying to avoid transmission is probably the best way of getting this controlled. There’s no pharmacological, medical treatment for it. It’s just trying to curb the transmission from person to person."



On the diagnosis:

"Well it's obvious we're concerned about it. It's a disease that's going throughout the league. You just don't know how far it can spread. Like Dr. Vyas said, we're watching this on a regular basis."

Did the team make a mistake allowing him to skate Friday:

"We can only go by the recommendation from the medical people. We're not going to overrule them on on anything. Quite frankly, that decision was approved that he could be here. His condition worsened after the skate. That's when I got the call from Dr. Vyas, I think its was like five o'clock in the afternoon. He said he could play in the game but there would be certainly some risk. At that point, we said we're not going to do that. We're not going to do it, not only for our team but for everyone around the visiting team."

Did he see Crosby Friday:

"I did not see him. I've only seen the picture. I was here and aware that he was skating. I was just going based on what [athletic trainer] Chris Stewart was telling me and what Dr. Vyas was telling me."

The swelling his face was pronounced:

"It was. Yeah, it was. But in our business you see those things with players at different times. It's not always a disease. It comes from hits and things like that. But my understanding of mumps is usually this is two-sided. It was kind of odd it was on the one side."

Did you discount mumps in light of the throat injury he suffered when his neck was grabbed the day before?

"No, I think the doctor was looking at everything. But certainly that was one thing that they felt that it could be related to the gland swelling from the hit against Carolina. But with that being said, that wasn't the only thing at that point they were zeroing in on. Everybody's aware mumps are going through the league and that's a possibility but at that point, all the test were negative."

Has the NHL offered any guidance on this issue:

"No. No."

On the variety of medical ailments the team has endured:

"Well you just keep going day by day. You sympathize with the players. They work hard to be ready to play and play a full season and then they run into injuries. In our case, we're going through a full period here which is pretty rough. We have a lot of guys out whether it's from bumps or hockey injuries and obviously [defenseman Olli Maatta] with the cancer. It's a period that builds character. And if you can get through it, it's going to help you in the long run but certainly, it's hard."

Is there any update on Olli Maatta (who is on injured reserve due to an undisclosed injury):

"Just that he's going for a second opinion. I would suggest by sometime next week we'll have a better understanding of where's he's at."

Is Maatta's current situation related to his recovery from thyroid cancer?

"No it's not."

(Photo: Team video)


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Empty Netter Assists - 12-14-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. "It's always frustrating when you have that many chances and don't convert." - Kris Letang on the team's power play going 0 for 4.

-The Columbus Dispatch's recap. "It was a playoff atmosphere. You could hear it in the crowd, you could see it on the ice. There is no love lost from last year’s playoffs. I think the fans got their money’s worth tonight, for sure.” - Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno.

-The Associated Press' recap. "That's still in your mind. Doing those handshakes after Game 6. It's always in your mind. It doesn't go away. To play them here the first time this year, the crowd was electric." - Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner on facing the Penguins for the first time since last season's playoffs.


-Bobby Farnham versus Columbus' Jordan Leopold:

-Steve Downie versus Columbus' Brandon Dubinsky:

-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Happy times for the Penguins:

-Columbus' Dalton Prout gave Patric Hornqvist a rough hit into the boards:

-Hornqvist and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky each kept an eye on this puck:

-Ditto Thomas Greiss:

-Bright times for Jenner:

-Bobrovsky was all over this puck:

-“Nobody thought he had mumps. They’d run their tests and didn’t feel he did, so he was cleared to come to the rink. After that, they decided to take more precautions. I think what’s happened is, because of the mumps scare [around the NHL] and because of the concern, everybody is taking that extra step and saying, ‘Let’s hold on. If there’s any suspicion at all, we’re going to be cautious, run all the tests and wait until they come back before we clear anybody.” - Mike Johnston on Sidney Crosby. There was still no update on Crosby's health.

-How will Canada's economy impact the Penguins' offseason plans?

-Matt Murray made 23 saves for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 2-1 shootout loss to the rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

-Eric Hartzell made 21 saves for the Wheeling Nailers in a 2-1 loss to the Reading Royals.

-Happy 52nd birthday to former Penguins defenseman Chris Dahlquist (right). A free agent signing the 1985 offseason, Dahlquist spent parts of six seasons with the Penguins. As a rookie in 1985-86, Dahlquist saw action in five games and scored three points. He followed up in 1986-87 by playing in 19 games and recording one assist. In 1987-88, Dahlquist appeared in 44 contests and scored nine points. The 1988-89 campaign saw him play in 43 games and record six points. During that spring's postseason, Dahlquist played in two games and failed to record a point. In 1989-90, Dahlquist saw action in 62 games and scored a career-high 14 points. After 22 games and three points in 1990-91, Dahlquist and Jim Johnson were traded to the North Stars in exchange for Larry Murphy and Peter Taglianetti. In 195 regular season games with the Penguins, Dahlquist scored 36 points.

-After the Jump: Ladislav Smid lands on injured reserve thanks to Simon Despres.

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1974 flashback: Steelers crush Bengals, 27-3

Written by Dan Gigler on .

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Steelers first Super Bowl season, the Post-Gazette is reprinting the game story from each week of that year. This story was first published in the Pittsburgh Press on Dec. 15, 1974.

Steelers Crush Bengals, 27-374press

By Phil Musick / The Pittsburgh Press
It should've become the first game called on account of nausea. It lasted two hours and 27 minutes, or two hours and 20 minutes too long. Paul Brown, that dour, living legend who coaches the Cincinnati Bengals, let the air out of the ball before the first quarter was over. You kept looking over there at Paul standing there rooted and expressionless and you wondered when he was going to break out the white flag. 
Cincinnati lost, 27-3. The Steelers won ... sort of. A marginal victory that allowed them to finish  the year at 10-3-1 and left in their mouths the taste of ashes. 
In reality, the 42,878 fans who came to Three Rivers Stadium yesterday should've asked for their money back, and only a lewd imagination could conjure up what the nationally televised game did to the sale of whatever products NBC-TV was peddling during the commercials. 
"To have played a game like that ..." said a disgusted Joe Greene, his competitor's soul wounded after the Bengals had thrown eight passes and spent the afternoon running deceptionless off-tackle plays although they fell behind 14-0, in the first 11 minutes of play. 
"His (Brown's) players won't forget that. He can't trade the whole team and the guys left next year won't forget today. I always respected Paul Brown. I shouldn't say anything, but ..." 
"He couldn't have been thinking about his players with that strategy. And, dammit, without the players you don't have a game. That's disheartening, a game like that. But I don't have to deal with it." 
Brown will, although maybe his strategy, or the lack of it, made him as dumb as the proverbial fox. The defeat left Cincinnati with a 7-7 record. Should Houston (6-7) beat Cleveland today, the Oilers will finish second in the AFC Central by virtue of two wins over the Bengals. All that would do is improve Cincinnati's position in the draft. 
"So what?" sneered Greene. "They'll have the whole off-season to look in the mirror and say, 'We're not as good as those guys.' And that's what the whole thing is about. ... that's what gets you out there."
In fact, Cincinnati wasn't out there very long before the Bengals, according to one Steeler, "were laughing and telling jokes." 
The big joke was perpetrated on the fans when the Bengals curled up and died after the Steelers took a 14-0 lead. After moving to the Bengal 22 on their first series without scoring -- Chuck Noll opted for a punt "hoping to get the field position that would give us more than three points" -- the Steelers quickly grabbed a 7-0 lead. 
Lynn Swann, who finished the year with 578 yards in punt returns to rank second in NFL history, slithered 69 yards with one, and minutes later Terry Bradshaw drilled a pass to John Stallworth. The next time they had the ball, the Steelers made it 14-0. 
Stallworth springted 56 yards with a screen pass and Noll pulled the wool over Brown's eyes for a touchdown. Guard Gerry Mullins, lining up as a tight end in the Steelers offense, caught a seven-yard lob from Bradshaw for the score. 
That the Steelers managed two more field goals and another touchdown meant so little that Jack Ham was wont to observe, "You can tell what kind of game it was when they tried to run the clock out on our 20-yard line." 
Nioll did not send in a pass play after the first five seconds of the fourth quarter in the face of a Steeler ball-control game powered by Franco Harris, who picked up 79 yards on 17 pops to finish the year in that most select of running back circles with 1,006 yards. 
Although Harris' second fumble set up Cincinnati's field goal, Noll turned him loose to get the magical 1,000 and following the play on which he breached it, removed him. 
"It's been a long, tough hard season, and we gave him his chance to get it," Noll said, indicating he had given serious thought to removing Harris earlier and thus safeguarding him for the playoffs. "He's already hurt some. I felt it wouldn't get worse."
The way Brown had the Bengals playing, you had to figure Noll's strategy was sound. 

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