Kim Jong Un is trying to scare us with talk of a hydrogen bomb. Poor guy. It's hard to get traction when you're competing with ISIS, Trump and gun nuts.
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- The game was, at times, hard to watch, but the finish was about as good as I've seen in local college basketball the past few years.
Here are a few stray thoughts and observations from Duquesne's 67-65 victory against Saint Francis (Pa.).
Turning point: Micah Mason's fall-away jumper with two seconds remaining broke a tie and gave Duquesne its eighth victory of the season. You could tell from virtually the moment Mason got the ball from L.G. Gill off of a missed free throw with eight seconds remaining that the shot was going to be his. The play, all along, was meant for Mason to shoot it. Jim Ferry (wisely) opted not to take a timeout, allowing his senior guard to advance up court against a Red Flash team transitioning back and trying to get set defensively.
The play originally had Mason move around a ball screen set near the top of the key, but when he saw a help defender near where the screen was supposed to take place, he decided to refuse it and find an open shot on his own. He did just that and delivered his team a closely-contested win.
Game ball: It can't be anyone other than Mason. The Highlands grad scored a game-high 20 points and sort of defined the Dukes' ability to get baskets on an afternoon when Saint Francis did an excellent job of limiting the number of good 3-point looks they gave up. Mason made nine of his 14 shots and, more important, seven of his nine 2-pointers. Honorable mention goes to TySean Powell, who finished with a career-high 10 rebounds.
What it means: The win wasn't an aesthetically-pleasing one for Duquesne or its fans, but to me, that's what makes this such a notable sign of progress. The Dukes were held to a season-low point total, made only 28.6 percent of their 3s and only attempted 21 shots from beyond the arc, far fewer than you normally see from them. And they still won. I only covered the team for about a month last season, so I can't speak to this as much, but Mason said this was the kind of game they would have lost last season. I'm inclined to agree and even at this early point in the season, that means something.
What’s next: South Carolina State on Wednesday at the Palumbo Center. A win in that would match the program's best 11-game start since 1979.
Quotable: “I just knew I was going to make a play. I didn’t plan on passing.” Micah Mason
"I have such trust in these guys and I’m always a big believer in playing in transition when things are scrambled. You come out and you let the team set up defensively. You still have to get the ball back in. We had the ball, it was a tie game at the time and we had the ball in a great player’s hands. You just sit down, get out of the way and trust that these guys are going to make a play.” Jim Ferry
“When you have that kind of experience coming back and the continuity of players coming back, that’s huge. Those guys, Colter and Mason, were a year younger last year and certainly logged a lot of minutes. Those minutes they logged and the chemistry they’ve established has certainly carried over into this year.” Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel
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The Penguins have fired head coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan, previously the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The team also fired assistant coach Gary Agnew (above, with Johnston). Assistant coach Rick Tocchet will remain on staff while Jacques Martin, previously the "assistant to the head coach" will become an assistant coach. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins assistant coach Jay Leach is expected to take over as interim head coach of the AHL affiliate. Penguins player development coach Mark Recchi will serve as an assistant coach.
The team's press release did not mention if Sullivan's status is interim or otherwise.
UPDATE: According to Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, Sullivan's contract is for three years.
Hired in the 2014 offseason, Johnston was in his second season as head coach. In 110 games he had a 58-37-15 record. Last season, he guided the team to a 43-27-15 record and a playoff appearance where they were eliminated in the first round by the Rangers, 4-1.
This season, the Penguins had a 15-10-3 record and sat in fifth-place of the Metropolitan Division standings. The were also ninth in the Wild Card standings for the Eastern Conference. Neither position would qualify for the postseason.
Despite having the ample talents of superstars such as centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins had averaged 2.36 goals per game this season, the fourth-lowest total in the NHL. Additionally, the team's power play had a success rate of 15.6 percent, also fourth-lowest in the NHL.
In a statement issued by the team, general manager Jim Rutherford said:
“I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has underachieved,” Rutherford said. “Our expectations are much higher with this group of players."
Sullivan, 47, has directed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to an Atlantic Division-best 18-5-0-0 record this season.
Sullivan's only previous head coaching experience in the NHL came during two seasons with the Bruins in the mid-2000s. In 2004-05, Sullivan (right) directed the Bruins to a 41-19-5 record and a playoff appearance. Following the 2005-06 lockout, the Bruins went 29-37-0 under Sullivan in 2006-07 and missed the postseason. Sullivan was fired in the 2007 offseason. In parts of six seasons 2007-08 through 2013-14, Sullivan served as an assistant coach under John Tortorella with the Lightning.
Last season, Sullivan served as a player development coach with the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. The Penguins hired him to coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this past offseason.
Sullivan spent 11 seasons as a center in the NHL with the Sharks, Flames, Bruins and Coyotes. In 709 career games, he scored 136 points.
Rutherford spoke at a press conference this afternoon:
-EN Says: This was only a matter of time. It seemed like anytime the Penguins pieced together a win or two, it only delayed the inevitable. Mike Johnston just wasn't the right coach for this team.
Johnston and staff did a commendable job of keeping the team afloat when injuries and salary cap woes ravaged the roster last season and got them into the postseason barely. But this season, with the team being inconsistent and, worst off all, offensively challenged, change had to be made if the Penguins were to salvage a season with immense expectations.
When Johnston joined the Penguins, he spoke of puck possession and promoted heavy shot volumes and the Penguins certainly seemed to adhere to those principles in the early stages of 2014-15. But when injuries hampered his defense, the Penguins were forced to adopt a more defensive approach.
After the Penguins added all-star right winger Phil Kessel (right) this past offseason, it was expected that the Penguins would return to the high-shooting ways Johnston spoke of early in his tenure but the team has struggled to piece together consistent offensive performances since the first game of the season.
It wasn't so much that the Penguins just weren't scoring. They weren't doing things that would allow them to score. Johnston asked his centers, including former Hart Trophy winners Crosby and Malkin, to play a much more defensively demanding game over the entire rink.
That said, whatever system he wanted to deploy was hampered by the limitations he had on defense. He simply didn't have many puck movers on the blue line. With Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff jettisoned as free agents this past offseason, Olli Maatta still rounding back into form from shoulder surgery, prospect Derrick Pouliot marooned in the AHL and Kris Letang dealing with an "upper-body" injury, the Penguins were forced to use career minor leaguer David Warsofsky as their power-play quarterback in last night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings.
In a press conference this afternoon, Rutherford touched base on the defense:
"In fairness to [Johnston], part of this falls on me because I didn't get the defensemen that was necessary to get the movement from the backend. And I think movement from the backend generates more scoring opportunities."
The lack of depth on defense has hampered the Penguins in so many ways this season.
Additionally, there was ample evidence of some disconnect between Johnston and management. This was very evident in how Johnston deployed rookie right winger Daniel Sprong. After Rutherford suggested Sprong needed to play more and not be a healthy scratch, Johnston responded by playing him less than seven minutes a game in each of the team's past two games and cited defensive liabilities in Sprong's game as justification for his limited play.
Based on our observations, Johnston had not lost the attention of the players. They were attentive to his instructions and respected him. During Dan Bylsma's final season as head coach in 2013-14, veterans would skip off-ice meetings. We saw little evidence of any players doing that under Johnston.
It remains to be seen what Sullivan will change given that he isn't even physically in Pittsburgh yet. During a development camp with Penguins prospects in July, Sullivan's voice boomed with demands on how to perform drills. It's one thing to direct 18- or 19-year-old prospects that way. It's another thing to do it with entrenched professionals.
As mentioned above, Sullivan spent quite a bit of time with Tortorella (right). During that time, the fiery Tortorella demanded his teams play a disciplined defensive style which called for virtually every player on the ice to block shots. This past summer, Sullivan was asked to compare his coaching philosophy to Tortorella's:
“I think we're very different personalities. I think the one thing that we both bring to our team is that we love the game and we bring passion. Having said that, I think we do it in different ways because we're different personalities. Is he a guy I learned a lot from? Absolutely. The time I spent with [Tortorella] has certainly made me a better coach. … My logic when I joined him was to take a step back and work beside someone that's had success in the hopes that I can hone the craft and become a better coach myself. And I know that has happened.”
This past November, Tortorella, currently the Blue Jackets' head coach, was asked about Sullivan:
"He is very cerebral about the game. Really good [at] understanding the Xs and Os. Understanding the athletes. And I think he relates well to players too. He's the full package. Not because he worked with me but I think he is one of the most underrated coaches around. He should be back in this league sometime. He has strengths everywhere in coaching. The great thing about him is he's a better person. I think he is going to do wonders for that organization because of just how he handles people. He's very good with people also."
It doesn't seem like Sullivan is a carbon copy of Tortorella but there certainly are some similar elements. Today, Rutherford said Sullivan reminded him of Predators coach Peter Laviolette. Rutherford won the Stanley Cup with Laviolette in 2006 with the Hurricanes.
As far as the assistant coaches go, Tocchet (right) was hired a week before Johnston was in 2014 while Johnston brought Agnew to Pittsburgh. Tocchet is friends with owner Mario Lemieux and whoever the Penguins hired in 2014 to replace Bylsma was going to have to work with Tocchet.
Tocchet has been in charge of the power play the past two seasons. At the early stages of 2014-15, the power play was clicking at over 40 percent. But eventually, those lofty totals took a steep decline. This season, the power play has been inconsistent at best. The Penguins have failed to score a power-play goal in their past four games. This dry spell follows a run of seven consecutive games with a power-play goal.
Agnew worked with the team's defensemen and there were some successes under his watch. Letang was in the midst of potentially winning the Norris Trophy last season prior to having a concussion end his season. Brian Dumoulin has broken out this season as a shutdown defender. But those individual triumphs don't outweigh the fact that the defense as a whole has been sub par.
The promotion of Martin is interesting. He has served as an assistant coach during Bylsma's last season in 2013-14 and is universally respected around the NHL. A former head coach in St. Louis, Montreal, Ottawa and Florida, he has a wealth of experience.
Will the Penguins be a better team by the time they face the Capitals Monday? It's impossible to tell a few hours into Mike Sullivan's tenure as head coach.
This much is certain. They weren't going to achieve their goals with Johnston as head coach.
(Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Doug Pensinger/Getty Images, Christian Petersen/Getty Images, Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press and Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press)
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-The Post-Gazette's recap from last night's game. “It’s a valuable point. At the end of the year, hopefully, we won’t need it — we’ll get plenty — but still, you never know. Like last year, when it happened, every point counted.” - Left winger David Perron.
-The Associated Press' recap. "Big guys show up at big times in the game. That was pretty clear tonight." - Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.
-The Los Angeles' Times recap. "We've been fortunate this year we've been winning in overtime and shootouts, compared to last year, which was huge. I think it was a pretty good game to watch for the fans." - Kings right winger Marian Gaborik (above, beating Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the shootout).
-Mike Lange's goal calls.
-A good look at Perron beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the shootout:
-Assistant coach Rick Tocchet apparently had some water in his ear:
-Here's a familiar sight. Right winger Daniel Sprong on the bench:
-Centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby just chilled on the bench:
-Head coach Mike Johnston speaks:
-Defenseman Kris Letang will be sidelined for "a little bit" due to an "upper-body" injury.
-Goaltender Matt Murray made 23 saves for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 4-0 shutout against the rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Center Dominik Simon and left winger Scott Wilson each scored two goals for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while left winger Conor Sheary recorded two assists.
-Goaltender Franky Palazzese made 36 saves for the Wheeling Nailers in a 2-1 road shootout loss to the Toledo Walleye.
-Today would've been the 64th birthday of former Penguins defenseman Steve Durbano. Acquired midway through the 1973-74 season along with defenseman Ab DeMarco Jr. and left winger Bob Kelly in a deal which sent defenseman Bryan Watson, left winger Greg Polis and a draft pick to the Blues, "Mental Case" spent parts of three seasons with the Penguins. He finished 1973-74 by appearing in 33 games for the Penguins and scoring 18 points while accumulating 138 penalty minutes. In 1974-75, Durbano was limited to one game, one assist and 10 penalty minutes due to a wrist injury. After 32 games, eight assists and a team-leading 161 penalty minutes, Durbano was traded to the Kansas City Scouts along with right winger Chuck Arnason and a draft pick for for right winger Simon Nolet, center Ed Gilbert and a draft pick. In 66 regular season games with the Penguins, Durbano scored 27 points and recorded 309 penalty minutes. Durbano died Nov. 16, 2002 at the age of 50.
-After the Jump: Patrick Kane keeps scoring
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Observations from the Penguins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings:
-There's a glass-half-full and a glass-half-empty way to look at this game.
-Glass half full: The Penguins stole a point against a very good team.
-Glass half empty: The Penguins failed to convert some quality chances in a home loss.
We'll go with both views. The Penguins shouldn't have won this game or even gotten it to overtime or the shootout. They missed a ton of quality scoring chances, particularly in the second period, and were lucky to even get a point out of this. At the same time, the Kings are one of the NHL's best teams and they're in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
There's a lot to like and dislike out of this game.
-The Kings scored the game's opening goal at 7:34 of the first period. Kings left winger Tanner Pearson deked around Penguins defenseman Ian Cole at the Penguins' blue line and attacked the net. As he approached the cage from the left circle, Pearson ripped a wrister off the underside of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's blocker and into the cage.
-The Penguins tied the game with 1:15 left in the second period. During a four-on-four sequence, Penguins center Matt Cullen drove a puck deep on the right wing, spun off a check from fromer Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and fed a pass to center Eric Fehr. Fehr chopped a one-timer through the five hole of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick to make it a 1-1 game.
-Only 34 seconds into the third period, the Kings reclaimed a 2-1 lead. Just as a penalty to Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta had expired, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty fed a pass from the left point to defenseman Jake Muzzin above the right circle. Muzzin, a former Penguins prospect pounded a one-timer by Fleury's glove hand on the near side for a goal. Fire Ray Shero.
-The Penguins tied the game, 2-2, with 1:10 remaining in regulation. With Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, left winger David Perron whipped a wrister from the left half wall. After the puck hit a cluster of bodies above the crease, center Evgeni Malkin was able to push the rebound by the left skate of Quick for his 13th goal of the season.
-The overtime period was just intoxicating. Both teams had some excellent chances but Fleury and Quick had a staring contest. Quick pulled off a stunner of a save when he used his blocker to punch a one-timer by Perron out of play:
Steal city pic.twitter.com/Ma8KJCjA9z— LA Kings (@LAKings) December 12, 2015
-In the shootout, goals by center Anze Kopitar and right winger Marian Gaborik gave the Kings the victory. Perron scored the Penguins' lone shootout goal.
-The power play is in the dumps right now having failed to score in four consecutive games and going 0 for 8 over that span. Tonight, they had some quality chances in the second period. But right winger Phil Kessel hit a post off a dazzling pass from captain/center Sidney Crosby with 2:25 left in the period. A few seconds later, center Nick Bonino rang one off the near post from the right circle.
-With defenseman Kris Letang absent, the power play had a different look. Defenseman David Warsofsky manned the center point of the first unit while left winger Chris Kunitz served as the net-front presence.
-After leading the way in Wednesday's 4-2 win in Colorado, the Penguins' top line of Crosby, Kunitz and right winger Beau Bennett was held in check fro the most part.
-After three mostly quiet games, Malkin was a force. He shot the puck with aggression and was really engaged. He even duked it out with Kings center Jeff Carter at one point in the second after Carter slashed him on the back of the legs:
-Malkin did everything he could to get his team a victory.
-Right winger Patric Hornqvist was a pain in the butt for the Kings most of the night. He did what he normally does and barged in on the Kings net. Quick is one of the more feisty goaltenders in the NHL and gave Hornqvist plenty of abuse.
-Right winger Daniel Sprong continues to see limited playing time. He saw 5:01 of ice time on seven shifts. And he didn't record a shift after there was 6:10 left in the second period. Head coach Mike Johnston cited Sprong's defense as reason to limit his playing time. But with a team struggling to score consistently, Sprong's scoring touch could come in handy in times like this.
-If defensive shortcomings are grounds for being benched, Sprong should have ample company on the bench.
-Warsofsky and defensive partner Olli Maatta seemed like a good fit. They moved the puck up ice well and just seemed to read off each other pretty well.
-Cole has lost a few one-on-one battles this season to guys with speed. We're not sure it's a "trend" but it's happened more than a few times as it did tonight on Pearson's goal.
-Fleury allowed one weak goal to Muzzin but beyond that, he was pretty sharp. He stole a fair amount of goals tonight.
-Speaking of stealing goals, Quick did that quite a bit tonight. Don't dismiss his presence as to why this game ended how it did. He was dazzling.
-The Kings once again used their size to create some opportunities. Players like Carter and Kopitar just kind of bulled their way around the Penguins' zone.
-Doughty is just such a good player. He just seems to have total control of the game when he has the puck. It's such a pleasure watching him.
The officiating in this game was pretty bad. It worked against both teams. THere were plenty of missed hooks and holds and moments of interference.
-During the thrid period, Jordan Nolan actually shoved away a linesman and was not penalized:
-If the officials aren't even going to protect themselves, what chance do the players have?
-A number of the Penguins players were happy with how they played. Malkin:
"Tonight, it's a good game for us. We lose in the shootout but I think it's a very good game for us. Of course we have mistakes but I'm happy with how the team played tonight."
-Malkin was asked about the Penguins' failure to score a power-play goal in the past four games:
"Maybe [there's no] confidence right now. We [didn't] score. I don't know. We need practice. It's tough because it's a good [opponent], good goalie tonight. We have a couple good chances. Phil [hit] the post. It's a little bit bad luck. If we work, we start [to] score. Right now, it's a little bit bad luck."
-Johnston said his team just needs to bury its chances:
"We've been averaging I think in the last few games two power plays a game. So we haven't had a lot of power plays. You just have to convert on the back-door chance Kessel had. Those ones have to go in on the power play. We're just missing some great grade-A chances that look like they should go in and we just aren't converting. It's missing some good opportunities lately and there's been very few power plays in each of the last three games that we've played."
-Crosby also talked about burying chances:
"I think tonight, we've hit two posts on some really good looks there. Every game is different. You bunch them together and you look at that being the difference in some of the games. We've got to find ways to score. I think to try to evaluate it based on how you're executing. The last couple of games, we've executed pretty well and I like our chances scoring if we do that."
-Johnston talked about Sprong's limited play:
"He still has to be better defensively. His first shift of the game, he dove in to go get a loose puck and the Kopitar line had a three-on-two quickly back the other way at the end of their shift. He just has to recognize defensively where to be."
-Perron compared Quick's save against him to a similar save he had in last Saturday's game between these teams:
“It's always fun playing against this guy. I don't feel like I score a lot on him. I get a lot of good chances like in overtime. Phil gave me a similar look in [Los Angeles last Saturday]. I don't know. I have to do something else next time.”
-Malkin spoke about his fracas with Carter:
“I skate to the middle of the ice. I think he slashed me behind my knee. I [didn't] see. But I'm a little bit mad because it's a little bit dirty I think. It's a tough game. It's a tough battle. But it's fine.”
-The Penguins had a 42-40 lead in shots on net.
-Malkin led the game with 10 (!) shots.
-Gaborik had a "mere" seven shots.
-Doughty led the game with 30:21 of ice time.
-Maatta led the Penguins with 25:02 of ice time.
-The Penguins had a 38-37 edge in faceoffs (51 percent).
-Crosby was 16 for 30 (53 percent).
-Kopitar was 20 for 35 (57 percent).
-Muzzin and Doughty each led the game with four blocked shots.
-Fire Ray Shero.
-Cole led the Penguins with three blocked shots.
-Kunitz recorded an assist on Malkin's goal. He now has seven assists in his past five games. He started the season with no assists in his first 23 games.
-Dumoulin recorded an assist on Fehr's goa. He now has five assists in his past five games.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)