It is hard to recognize the Democratic Party candidates running in all of those red state midterm elections. They are trying to appear as conservative as their Republican rivals.
Pitt fumbled five times en route to a 56-28 loss to Georgia Tech today at Heinz Field. Here are a couple of thoughts to send you off into the night...
1. This game was lost in the first quarter
There are plenty of points later on in the game when Pitt could have made things closer, but make no mistake, this game was lost with the five fumbles (and four subsequent Georgia Tech touchdowns) in the opening six minutes. You can't spot any team, especially a team that can grind games out on the ground like Georgia Tech, a four-touchdown lead in the first quarter. Ball security is obviously a skill that can be improved, but Pitt also got a little unlucky in not recovering any of their five first-quarter fumbles (usually a team recovers about 50 percent of its fumbles).
2. Voytik showed some improvement tonight
Granted, he was playing most of the game in catch-up mode, but I thought Chad Voytik was pretty sharp tonight. He finished 15 of 20 for 193 yards. He didn't throw any touchdowns, but also didn't throw any interceptions. He made a couple of key plays, including a third-down scramble and a nifty play on Pitt's second touchdown drive when he scrambled around before floating a ball up to Chris James for a 23-yard gain. It'll be interesting to see how he builds on it next week, but I thought this was a step in the right direction for Voytik.
3. There's a wide spectrum of possibilities for Pitt the rest of the way
Would anyone be shocked if Pitt came out and beat Duke next week? I wouldn't. That's just sort of how life is for Pitt and for the ACC Coastal. Pitt is still, technically, in the race for the division title, and there isn't one team on the rest of the schedule that looks like it's impossible to beat. There are still plenty of scenarios where Pitt corrects some things and gets itself into the mix as we move into November. Now, that being said, I also think a bowl game is anything but a certainty at this point. Pitt should beat Syracuse at home, but the other three games (Duke, at North Carolina and at Miami) are anything but gimmes. For as much as Pitt's still in this thing, they're also walking a fine line. I think this season is going to be viewed as an overall disappointment no matter how it ends (barring a miracle run to the ACC title game down the stretch), but not making a bowl game in Paul Chryst's third year would be near-disastrous.
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-The Penguins face former teammate James Neal tonight. Much has been said and written about Neal the player and the person after he left the Penguins.
-As a player, his success in the regular season was undeniable. Scoring 40 goals, as he did in 2011-12, didn't happen by accident. Teamed with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, Neal's skill blossomed and he became a first-team all-star. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Neal's game had some blemishes. First, his production seemed to dry up when the postseason rolled around.
-In all fairness, one should dismiss Neal's first postseason in 2011 when he was put on a "top" line with Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev. Letestu was an overachiever who was playing on one leg while Kovalev was well past his prime and also laboring on one healthy knee. Neal did get that double overtime goal in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Lightning but that was more of a fluke than anything. Overall, Neal wasn't really put in a position to succeed that postseason.
-His other three postseasons are fair game. In 2012, Neal did score six points in five games during the first round against the Flyers but offensive standards in that wacky series made his numbers seem tame. And who could forget his selfish actions in Game 3 which led to a suspension?
-To his credit in 2012, Neal managed to get 10 points in 13 postseason games while playing on an injured ankle he suffered against the Islanders during the first round. That said, he was a big part of why that team's offense was almost non-existent in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Bruins in the Eastern Conference final.
-Last postseason, Neal struggled badly as he only had four points in 13 games. While he didn't benefit by having Malkin moved off his line, he was teamed up with Brandon Sutter who had a strong postseason as well as a productive Jussi Jokinen. He was in a position where he could have produced.
-As mentioned earlier, Neal had a propensity for taking penalties and suspensions. His cheap shot of a knee to the back of Bruins forward Brad Marchand last season was despicable and was rooted in a personal spat he had with Marchand.
-As far as James Neal the person goes, the author of this blog doesn't miss him. Neal could be very insightful and descriptive when describing details of the game. Last season, we talked to him about the differences between the wider IIHF rinks used in international tournaments such as the Olympics to the slimmer NHL and North American rinks. We were happy with how the post turned out and actually learned a few things from Neal.
-Sadly, many of our interactions with Neal weren't nearly as pleasant. Neal could be surly, curt, combative and just flat-out rude. Other members of the media had better relationships with him but that seemed to be a select few. We never discount the possibility that we ask dumb questions, but Neal had a way of making you feel many of questions were dumb.
-Neal certainly has no obligation to be polite or agreeable with any member of the media, but his general relationship with many reporters was apparently a big enough issue that management discussed it with him. And to his credit, he did get better over time.
-Neal's dealings with team staff members and arena employees wasn't great either. When he was dealt to the Predators during this summer's draft, not too many tears were shed around Consol Energy Center. Depending on who you talk to, it wasn't necessarily general manager Jim Rutherford's choice to deal Neal.
-On to a more light-heated subject, bobbleheads! The Predators are giving away Neal bobbleheads tonight:
-It's actually only the sixth time the franchise has given away bobbleheads and the Predators are 3-0-2, with two ties, on such occasions. Two of the previous five bobbleheads they've given out are former Penguins. Forward Greg Johnson:
-And goaltender Tomas Vokoun:
-An EN reader altered his Neal bobblehead:
-By the sound of things, there are plenty of Penguins fans in Nashville tonight:
-The Penguins' starters are Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Spaling, Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Coaches will typically give a player a start in their first game back in the town they used to play in. That's why Hornqvist and Spaling are starting on a line with Malkin.
-Their only scratch is Robert Bortuzzo.
-The Predators' starters are Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.
-Their scratches are Victor Bartley, Gabriel Bourque and Rich Clune.
18:47: Sidney Crosby rips a loose puck from the slot wide of the cage.
17:47: Seth Jones chucks a wrister from the right point wide on the near side.
17:12: Ekholm winds his way around behind the cage and whips a wrister from the right of the cage. Fleury hugs the near post and fights it off.
17:03: Calle Jarnkrok cranks a one-timer from the right circle. Fleury says no.
14:06: Collecting a loose puck off a turnover by Zach Sill, Craig Smith chops a slapper from the left point wide of the cage.
13:39: Crosby turns his own bad pass into a goal. Crosby leads a rush up the left wing on a two-on-one with Kunitz against Ekholm. Crosby puts a little too much on the pass and it misses Kunitz's stick. It hits off the right wing boards and deflects towards the right circle. Maatta rushes in and pushes it forward towards the crease. Crosby is positioned to the right of the cage and sweeps it behind Rinne. What a strange play. Maatta and Hornqvist get assists. Fire David Poile. Penguins 1-0.
11:37: Off a drop pass from Steve Downie, Sutter chucks a wrister from the left half wall. Rinne snags it.
10:34: Crosby tries to muscle a puck around the right wing corner of the Nashville zone but is pinned against the boards by Ellis and loses the puck.
9:46: Marcel Goc rushes up the left wing and lifts a wrister on net. Rinne snags it.
9:35: Malkin rips a wrister in the right circle. Rinne fights it off. The rebound hops up to the right of the cage. Malkin tries to tuck it in but no dice.
9:12: Blake Comeau fires a pedestrian wrister from the right circle. Rinne snags it.
6:43: Olli Jokinen chucks a wrister from the slot wide of the cage.
5:45: After Crosby sort of throws a shoulder at Neal and spins off a check, Letang takes a feed in the right circle and fires a wrister into a cluster of bodes and it deflects wide.
5:26: Neal fights off a hit by Paul Martin behind the Penguins' net and tries to jam in a wraparound from the right of the cage. He loses the puck before he can get off a clean shot.
3:48: Ellis chops a slapper from the right point. Fleury eats it up despite a screen.
2:47: Taking a feed from Letang, Maatta has a clean look at the net from the left circle. He snaps off a wrister which deflects out of play.
1:40: Taylor Beck chips a wrister from the left half wall. Fleury snags it.
0:41: Ribeiro fires a tricky wrister from above the right circle. Fleury fights it off but allows a rebound which hits off the far post. Neal is right there for the puck but can't get a clean shot thanks in part due to a stick from Martin.
0:31; A low wrister by Hornqvist from the slot is kicked out by Rinne.
0:18: Crosby is run over at his own blue line by Eric Nystrom.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 1, Predators 0.
-Aside from spurts at the start and end of the period, the Predators didn't really get much sustained offense in that opening 20 minutes. The Penguins had the puck most of the period.
-He has certainly scored prettier goals in his career, but Crosby's score probably felt pretty good to him considering he had been shut out the previous two games.
-Rinne was pretty sharp that period. He saw a fair amount of rubber.
-The Penguins' top three lines each seemed to have a few decent chances.
-Sill had a pretty ugly turnover in his own zone which led to a scoring chance for Wilson. Sill is experienced enough he should know he can't make that pass.
-Maatta looks like he's playing with a ton of confidence.
-Neal was the Predators most dangerous scoring threat that period.
-Shea Weber was rather quiet.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 10-8.
-The Predators lead in attempted shots, 17-13.
-Letang, Crosby and Beck each lead the game with two shots on net.
-Ellis leads the game with 8:17 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 8:05 of ice time.
-The Predators have a 9-6 lead in faceoffs (60 percent).
-Paul Gaustad is 3 for 3 (100 percent).
-Sutter is 2 for 4 (50 percent).
18:16: Weber tees up his big one-timer from the left point. Hornqvist rushes over to block it and slides down. Fortunately for him it misses and goes wide of the cage.
17:35: Letang chases down a loose puck deep on the right wing and whips it on net. Rinne boots it out.
16:09: Weber booms another one-timer from the right point. It hits Ribeiro in the back. Oof.
14:45: On a delayed penalty, Crosby deals a pass to Crosby at the left point. Ehrhoff rips a wrister which Rinne denies. Jokinen is called for holding Hornqvist in the neutral zone. With much of the first power-play unit on the ice that last shift, the J.V. power play of Maatta, Letang, Downie, Sutter and Comeau take the ice.
14:04: A wrister by Letang from the right cirlce is fought off by Rinne.
13:54: Letang sweeps a one-timer from the left circle is wide of the cage and ends up clearing the zone by itself.
13:43: Malkin collects the puck in the defensive zone and hits Kunitz with a stretch pass at the Nashville blue line. Kunitz fends off Jones and lifts a wrister on a breakaway. Rinne fights it off.
13:32: A backhander by Malkin from the slot is blocked. Jones backhands the rebound down ice.
12:45: The Jokinen minor is killed. The Penguins had a few chances but didn't look all that sharp with that power play chance.
12:06: The Predators will get a power play as Downie is nabbed for hooking Anton Volchenkov. Sutter, Maatta, Letang and Pascal Dupuis take the ice.
11:16: Ellis cranks a slapper from above the left circle. His shot is off the mark.
10:31: Wilson has a chance in tight off a nice pass but can't get a clean shot off
10:19: Wilson fires a wrister from the right circle which is fought of by Fleury.
10:06: The Predators' power play expires. They didn't generate many chances with that two minutes. We're not sure it was more their doing than the Penguins'.
8:27: Letang chases down a puck on the right wing and lifts a wrister on net. Rinne fights it off.
8:07: Letang fumbles a puck at his blue line and allows Neal to hit Forsberg with a pass creating a mini-breakaway. Forsberg movies in from the right circle and tries to lift a wrister but ends up shooting the puck out of play. Ugh.
7:44: Jones snaps off a wrister from the right wing. Fleury fights it off.
7:33: Sutter rips a wrister from above the left circle. Volchenkov blocks it over the cage.
6:53: A wrister by Goc from the right circle is kicked out by Rinne.
6:12: Simon Despres goes in deep on the right wing and lifts a wrister which Rinne rights off. The rebound kicks out to the left wing where Dupuis booms a one-timer which is off the mark.
5:29: Crosby patiently holds the puck on the right half wall and zips a wrister through traffic wide to the far side.
5:16: Crosby appears to get away wit a trip on Roman Josi at the Nashville blue line.
5:04: Off a feed from Kunitz, Martin chops a slapper from above the left circle. Rinne fights it off.
4:24: The Predators end up with a power play as the Penguins are nabbed for too many men on the ice. Downie will serve the minor. Sutter, Dupuis, Maatta and Letang take the ice.
4:18: Derek Roy chops a slapper from the left circle. Fleury fights it off. Dupuis chips the rebound down ice.
3:27: On a short-handed two-on-one against Weber, Adams pushes the puck up the right wing. Weber slides down to take away the pass to Goc. Adams takes the wrister and is denied by Rinne.
2:28: Ellis chops a slapper from the right point which is wide of the cage.
2:24: The Penguins' minor is killed.
2:04: Hornqvist takes a feed from Crosby and rips a wrister from the right circle. It rings off the near post.
0:29: A wrister by Gaustad from the right point is blocked wide.Penguins
0:06: Ellis chops a loose puck form the high slot which is blocked by Sutter.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 1, Predators 0.
-Things leveled off that period as both sided exchanged offensive chances. For a 1-0 game, that was a pretty back and forth period.
-The Penguins have done a good job of contesting most of the Predators' shot. It seems like a stick or skate is in the way of every shot by Nashville.
-The Penguins' power play continues to struggle.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 22-12.
-The Penguins lead in attempted shots, 32-30.
-Letang leads the game with four shots on net.
-Ellis and Beck each lead the Predators with two shots.
-Martin leads the the game with 16:39.
-Josi leads the Predators with 15:38.
-The Predators lead in faceoffs, 13-11 (54 percent).
-Gaustad is 4 for 5 (80 percent).
-Malkin is 5 for 9 (56 percent).
-Letang leads the game with three blocked shots.
-Ekholm leads the Predators with two blocked shots.
18:56: Chasing after a puck in the Penguins' right wing corner, Maatta is wrapped up by Nystrom. That's two minutes for holding. Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Letang and Kunitz take the ice.
17:57: The Penguins' power play strikes and it strikes pretty. Crosby corrals a puck at the right point and chops a slap-pass to Malkin sneaking in from the left circle. Malkin re-directs the puck with his forehand behind a sprawling Rinne. What a snazzy play. Crosby and Fleury gets assists. Penguins 2-0.
16:10: The Penguins get another power play as Neal is called for hooking Sill. Crosby, Kunitz, Hornqvist, Letang and Malkin take the ice.
14:35: Remnants of the junior varisty power play strike. Crosby is able to force a pass from behind the net to Downie to the left of the crease. Downie jabs t it and Rinne fights it off. Dupuis jumps all over it and pokes the rebound by Rinne's left leg. It's Dupuis' 400th career point. Downie gets the only assist. Penguins 3-0.
11:40: Beck pushes the puck up the right wing and is thumped to the ice by Dupuis. Nice hit.
10:52: Neal tries to get his team back into it. He races into the offensive zone on the left wing, cuts to the high slot and uncorks a heavy wrister which rings loudly off the right post. Yeesh.
10:29: Forsberg chucks a wrister from the right wing on net. Fleury kicks it out. Josi follows up on the rebound and Fleury fights it off.
9:43: A slapper by Volchenkov from the left point is blocked by Spaling.
8:51: Off a neutral zone turnover by Scuderi, Derek Roy gets a chance in tight to the right of the cage but is denied by Fleury.
7:30: Ellis dodges a sliding block by Hornqvist and cranks a slapper from above the right circle. Fleury snags it despite traffic. Kunitz clobbered Ellis to the ice after the shot.
6:08: Roy chucks a wrister on net from the right wing. Fleury eats it up.
5:25: After icing the puck, the Penguins call a timeout to get a breather.
5:05: Jones chops a one-timer from the right point which is blocked. Forsberg has a chance on the rebound but has a shot blocked by Crosby.
4:12: A slapper by Josi is wide of the mark.
2:19: A wrister by Wilson from the right wing is blocked.
1:56: Smith has a wrister from the slot blocked out of play by Maatta.
0:21: The Penguins are nabbed for too many men on the ice once again. Downie will serve the minor. Sutter, Goc, Scuderi and Martin take the ice.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 3, Predators 0.
-This was a game which tested the Penguins' patience. While the Penguins did have a 1-0 lead after the first period, neither team got a ton of quality chances until the third period. That's when the Penguins' sputtering power play struck twice and really won this game for the team.
-Another part of the team which came to life after a few bad games was the captain. Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal and set up the other two goals on the power play. He needed a game like that after rough outings his previous two games.
-From a team-wide approach, the Penguins did a much better job at contesting every shot by the Predators than they did the previous two games. Outside a few spurts here and there, just about every shot by the Predators had to get past a stick, a skate or some other part of a Penguins' player. The Predators didn't get many clean looks at the net.
-That resulted in Marc-Andre Fleury recording a shutout. When he did face a quality shot, he kicked out a lot of safe rebounds and didn't appear to fight the puck much tonight.
-One area of concern was how much pressure the Predators had in the offensive zone late. Yes they were playing desperate and the Penguins maybe were a little more consevative after two goals in the third period, but after the comeback by the Red Wings Thursday, you had to be holding your breath a few times seeing the Predators bombard the net area with shot attempts.
-The defensive pairing of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta was really efficient tonight. The just looked like they had everything under control anytime they stepped on the ice.
-The Christian Ehrhoff-Paul Martin pairing looked a lot better after two games where they didn't look terribly comfortable.
-The Rob Scuderi-Simon Despres pairing was hard to notice, and that's not a bad thing.
-The Penguins' penalty kill continued to excel. It's now 15 for its past 15 during the past four games. During that time, Maatta and Letang have usually been the first defensemen over the boards for the penalty kill. During their first three games of the season, the Penguins' penalty kill was 9 for 15. In those three games, Martin and Scuderi were usually the first defensemen over the boards.
-James Neal was easily the Predators' most consistent scoring threat. He didn't have much help.
-Shea Weber, the highest-paid player in the NHL this season at $14 million, was really, really quiet.
-Pekka Rinne was pretty solid tonight. The Penguins didn't get any soft goals on him.
-The Penguins led the game in shots on net, 26-25.
-The Predators led in attempted shots, 51-38.
-Letang led the game with four shots on net.
-Derek Roy led the Predators with three shots on net.
-Martin led the game with 25:20 of ice time.
-Roman Josi led the Predators with 24:14.
-The Penguins led in faceoffs, 25-18 (58 percent).
-Brandon Sutter was 11 for 16 (69 percent).
-Paul Gaustad was 5 for 7 (71 percent).
-Maatta, Sutter and Letang each led the game with three blocked shots.
-Mattias Ekholm led the Predators with two blocked shots.
-Fleury's shutout was the 29th of his career.
-It was the Penguins' first shutout of the Predators in franchise history.
-It was also the Penguins' first shutout of a Western Conference team since a 2-0 home win against the Flames, March 25, 2009. Fleury made 31 saves in that game.
-Fleury recorded his 13th career assists. He still trails Tom Barrasso (31) by quite a few for the franchise mark among goaltenders.
-Pascal Dupuis recorded his 400th career point.
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A preview of the Predators.
When and where: 8 p.m., EDT, Bridgestone Arena.
TV: Root Sports, Fox Sports Tennessee.
Record: 5-0-2, 12 points. The Predators are in first place in the Central Division.
Leading Scorer: Filip Forsberg, 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists).
Last Game: 3-2 home win against the Blackhawks, Thursday. James Neal (right, in bobblehead form) had a hat trick for the Predators.
Last Game against the Penguins: 3-1 home loss, March 4. Pekka Rinne made 16 saves for the Predators.
Predators Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: James Neal. We have a feeling.
Ex-Penguins on the Predators: Tom Fitzgerald, assistant general manager; Marcel Goc, C; Patric Hornqvist, RW; Nick Spaling, C.
Ex-Predators on the Penguins: Kevin McCarthy, assistant coach; James Neal, LW.
Useless Predators Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Neal is one of two former Penguins who have worn No. 18 for the Predators. The other is right winger Adam Hall.
The last time the Penguins played the Predators, this happened:
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (3-2-0, 2.81 GAA, .906 SV%) for the Penguins. Pekka Rinne (5-0-1, 1.62 GAA, .939 SV%) for the Predators.
Injuries: For the Penguins, defenseman Roberto Bortuzzo ("lower body") is doubtful. Right winger Beau Bennett ("lower body") is on injured reserve. For the Predators, centers Matt Cullen ("upper body") is on injured reserve. Center Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon) is on non-roster injured reserve.
Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins' lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate:
14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 72 Patric Hornqvist
9 Pascal Dupuis - 16 Brandon Sutter - 71 Evgeni Malkin
17 Blake Comeau - 13 Nick Spaling - 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 Predators' primary lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:
9 Filip Forsberg - 63 Mike Ribeiro - 18 James Neal
33 Colin Wilson - 21 Derek Roy - 15 Craig Smith
13 Olli Jokinen - 19 Calle Jarnkrok - 41 Taylor Beck
24 Eric Nystrom - 28 Paul Gaustad - 25 Viktor Stalberg
59 Roman Josi - 6 Shea Weber
20 Anton Volchenkov - 3 Seth Jones
14 Mattias Ekholm - 4 Ryan Ellis
-Adams has 99 career assists.
-Dupuis has 399 career points.
-Malkin has 399 career assists.
-Neal has appeared in three career games against the Penguins and has one assist.
-Jokinen has 38 points in 38 career games against the Penguins.
-The Predators are giving out Neal bobbleheads tonight. They are 3-0-2 - with two ties - all-time when they give out bobbleheads. Previous players who have been honored as bobbleheads include former Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun and forward Greg Johnson. The others have been forwards Scott Hartnell, Greg Johnson and goaltender Mike Dunham.
-The referees are Francois St. Laurent (No. 38) and Rob Martell (No. 26). The linesmen are Brad Kovachik (No. 71) and Tim Novak (No. 77).
-Our live blog begins at approximately 7:45 p.m. Please tune in.
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We're just under two hours away from kickoff between Pitt and Georgia Tech here at Heinz Field. The Panthers will look to maintain any positive momentum they picked up in last week's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech, but will face an entirely new test today with the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense. Here are a few pregame notes for you...
- In case you missed it (and, really, how could you?) Pitt announced yesterday that it would be returning the script logo to the helmet for today's game and into the future. At least for now, though, it's just the helmets. The new navy and gold script logo isn't displayed anywhere other than the jumbotron at Heinz Field today, and it doesn't look like merchandise stands have any gear with the new logo. I'm sure it'll get phased in as time goes on, but, still, kind of odd for a rebranding that everyone was clamoring for.
- In terms of on-field action, DT Tyrique Jarrett, LB Zach Poker and DE Luke Maclean are out for Pitt with injuries today. Maclean and Poker are depth guys, but the loss of Jarrett could be big in terms of defending Georgia Tech's option offense. It'll likely increase the number of snaps that K.K. Mosley-Smith has to play (and he played very well against Virginia Tech last week).
- If you've got some time to kill on your way down to the stadium, have a listen to this week's Post Route Podcast, where Stephen Nesbitt and I preview this week's college football action.