Pregame thoughts - Blue Jackets at Penguins - 11-13-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The Penguins figure to have some different looks on defense tonight. According to a source, defenseman Rob Scuderi did not participate in today's optional morning skate due to an illness. If he is absent for the game, Adam Clendening would slot in.

Clendening hasn't played for nearly a month. His last game was a 2-0 home win against the Senators Oct. 15. He had 13:16 of ice time, one shot and four penalty minutes.  

He estimated this is the longest he has ever gone without playing during a season at any level of play. Given the team's recent's success, he realized why there has been a lack of change on defense:

"I understand where the coaches are coming from. You don't really mess something up when you've won I think it's 10 of our last 12 or nine of our last 10 or whatever it is. It's a lot. I understand where they're coming from. It is what it is."

-Even if Scuderi is available tonight, Clendening could get into the lineup with the team playing three games in four nights according to head coach Mike Johnston:

"As far as looking the need to make a change, he may get in here with three [games] in four [nights]. Those are always times you look at that a little bit closer when you look at three in four nights. But we just didn't want to force him back into the lineup if we thought our defense was doing a good job and they were in a rhythm as far as our pairs go. But it's always something we discuss for sure."


Defensemen Kris Letang (above) and Olli Maatta appear set to be paired together tonight. They worked together for part of practice yesterday. They seemed set to be paired together to start the season. They practiced together quite a bit during training camp and would even stay on the ice working on their passing for upwards of a half hour after practice somedays. Then at some point, the coaching staff abandoned those plans. 

-Given their steady and reliable play as of late, the coaching staff doesn't want to break up Ben Lovejoy and Brian Dumoulin.


-The Blue Jackets are in town. They are trying to turn their season around after a rotten start with new coach John Tortorella. Left winger Brandon Saad, a Gibsonia native, talked about adjusting to Tortorella's demanding manner:

"I didn't know too much about him [prior to him taking over the Blue Jackets]. You hear things but I never met him personally or anything like that. Talking to a couple of guys and getting to meet him, he really cares about his players and wants to get the best out of his players and teach them as much as he can. I think he's done a good job so far. I've like him a lot. It's still been early but we've got a long way to go."

-Tortorella talked about his former colleague Mike Sullivan, currently the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach. Sullivan used to work as an assistant coach for Tortorella with the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks. Tortorella was effusive in his praise of 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 peoples. He's very good with people also."

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)


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Reaching across the aisle: Texas

Written by Craig Meyer on .

(Photo: Getty)

West Virginia will look to creep back above the .500 threshold with a game Saturday against Texas. To get a better idea of the Longhorns -- as we have done with each of WVU's Big 12 opponents -- I spoke briefly via email with an opposing beat writer. This time, it's Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman.

You can find Ryan's work here and can follow him on Twitter at @AutulloAAS.

1) Even by looking at Texas' schedule, it's clear this is a pretty erratic team, one that can beat Oklahoma but turn around three weeks later and lose to Iowa State. Is that a pretty fair assessment? And, if so, why does that seem to be the case?

Charlie Strong would agree with your assessment. The biggest issue is Texas is awful on the road. Like, really, really bad. In three road games, UT has been outscored 112-10. Blowouts at Notre Dame (38-3) and TCU (50-7) are understandable. A 24-0 blank job at Iowa State is not. If you can't win on the road, or even be competitive on the road, you're gonna have problems. The Longhorns looked awesome in a neutral-site win over Oklahoma, but that performance looks like an outlier stacked up against UT's eight other games.

2) A lot has been made this week of Texas' heavy emphasis on the blitz on defense. Is there any reason to see that strategy shifting against West Virginia?

None than I can tell. Of Texas' 30 sacks, 23 have come in the past four games. WVU QB Skyler Howard can expect to see a heavy dose of pressure, particularly from linebackers Peter Jinkens and Malik Jefferson. Fans like to cry about the defense not fully aware just how difficult it is to stop high-powered, uptempo offenses in 2015. UT's defense is solid and is steadily improving.

3) What kind of difference have you noticed in this offense from the switch in play calling from Shawn Watson to Jay Norvell? How much, if at all, has it benefited a young quarterback like Jerrod Heard?

The biggest switch under Jay Norvell was the use of back up QB Tyrone Swoopes. When Norvell took over play-calling after week one, he benched Swoopes for Jerrod Heard and installed a jumbo package for Swoopes to run behind. It has been highly effective. Swoopes, at 250 pounds, has bulldozed to nine rushing TDs on 44 carries. He's a better runner than he is a manager of the offense.

4) At 4-5 in his second season, does there seem to be mounting pressure on Charlie Strong, even if it's just from a fan/perception standpoint? Does it at least seem like his system/style is starting to take hold?

Sure, there's pressure. But short of a scandal, he'll be back for year three. His freshman class is very talented and features several leader-types. This bodes well for Strong, who can point to the future as reason for patience. But he has struggled at parts of this job, including the road woes discussed in question one. He has also yet to figure out the offense, and will likely have another new play-caller, his third in three years, when the 2016 season opens. Texas is a great job, but it's not an easy job. The pressure to win is immense. And recruiting has gotten more difficult with the rise of TCU, Baylor and Houston, as well as A&M's transition to the SEC. Texas is now SEC country, and LSU and Alabama have swooped in to land some big-time players.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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About the Blue Jackets - 11-13-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Blue Jackets.

When and where: 7 p.m., EST, Consol Energy Center.

TV: Root Sports, Fox Sports Ohio, Sportsnet 1, TVA.

Record: 4-12-0, 8 points. The Blue Jackets are in eighth and last place in the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division.

Leading Scorer: Left winger Scott Hartnell, 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists).

Last Game: 5-3 home loss to the Canucks Tuesday. Center Boone Jenner had a goal and an assist for the Blue Jackets.

Last Game against the Penguins: 5-3 home win April 4. Left winger Nick Foligno (right) had a hat trick for the Blue Jackets.

Blue Jackets Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Foligno. He has four goals in his past two games against the Penguins.

Ex-Penguins on the Blue Jackets: Assistant coach Gary Agnew.

Ex-Blue Jackets on the Penguins: Head amateur scout Ville Siren.

Useless Blue Jackets Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen has scored 177 career NHL points, most among any player who played for current Penguins coach Mike Johnston with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks.

The last time the Penguins played the Blue Jackets, this happened: 

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (8-5-0, 2.01 GAA, .931 SV%) for the Penguins. Sergei Bobrovsky (4-9-0, 3.64 GAA, .882 SV%) for the Blue Jackets.

Injuries: For the Penguins, defenseman Rob Scuderi (illness) is questionable. Right winger Bryan Rust (right hand/wrist) is on injured reserve. For the Blue Jackets, right winger David Clarkson (back) and center Alexander Wennberg (foot) are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins had an optional morning skate. Consider this a guess at their lines and defensive pairings:

9 Pascal Dupuis - 87 Sidney Crosby - 19 Beau Bennett
57 David Perron - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 81 Phil Kessel
14 Chris Kunitz - 13 Nick Bonino - 72 Patric Hornqvist
16 Eric Fehr - 7 Matt Cullen - 41 Daniel Sprong

3 Olli Maatta - 58 Kris Letang
8 Brian Dumoulin - 12 Ben Lovejoy
28 Ian Cole - 4 Rob Scuderi

-The Blue Jackets had an optional morning skate. Their expected lines and defensive pairings are:

43 Scott Hartnell - 17 Brandon Dubinsky - 20 Brandon Saad
38 Boone Jenner - 19 Ryan Johansen - 71 Nick Foligno
11 Matt Calvert - 25 William Karlsson - 13 Cam Atkinson
40 Jared Boll - 9 Gregory Campbell - 18 Rene Bourque

7 Jack Johnson - 58 David Savard
51 Fedor Tyutin - 47 Dalton Prout
4 Kevin Connauton - 29 Cody Goloubef


-Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, is expected to be a healthy scratch.

-The referees are (No. 47) Trevor Hanson and (No. 13) Dan O'Halloran. The linesmen are (No. 50) Scott Cherrey and (No. 66) Daren Gibbs.

(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Behind Enemy Lines: Duke

Written by Sam Werner on .

This week, Duke beat writer Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer was kind enough to join us to lend some thoughts on the Blue Devils ahead of Pitt's game in Durham tomorrow. You can read Laura's stuff here, and follow here on Twitter @LauraKeeley.

1. For most of the season, Duke's defense has looked fantastic. Against UNC did not. Basically, what happened? How has this unit that has been so good all year suddenly so bad against, admittedly, a great Tar Heels offense?

The last part of that is key: the Tar Heels are great. As safety Jeremy Cash explained, when you have a team that has legitimate running threats as well as an explosive passing game, and said team is playing extremely up-tempo and spreading the field's just tough. And the Tar Heels exploited the fact that the Blue Devils were focused on stopping the run game from the very first snap, the flea flicker that lured deep safety Deondre Singleton forward, leaving no one to cover Ryan Switzer deep on his 89-yard touchdown reception. The Blue Devils were having communication issues on the back end, too, which wasn't helping anything. The alignment and assignment issues, compounded by the fact that Duke's secondary just wasn't fast enough to stay with the Tar Heels' receivers, made for a long day.

I do think Duke's defense will play better against Pitt. But it is worth noting the national ranking, in terms of total offense, of the FBS teams Duke has beaten: Tulane (124 out of 128), Georgia Tech (62), Boston College (128), Army (120), Virginia Tech (86). And the teams Duke has lost to: Northwestern (114, though that loss was on Duke's offense), Miami (62) and UNC (17). Pitt ranks 89th, for what it's worth.

2. How has the team responded to the controversial end of the Miami game? It certainly seems like David Cutcliffe isn't totally over it, but do you get the sense that it has lingered around the team at all?

I don't think the Miami loss had any impact on the UNC loss, to be honest with you. UNC was just so much better on Saturday that all the motivation in the world wasn't going to make a difference. If the Blue Devils would have beaten the Tar Heels, then they still would have controlled their own destiny in the Coastal. But that didn't happen. Obviously, no one was happy about it, but playing a rivalry game, with so much on the line, helped the players move past it fairly quickly. If anything, the physical toll from playing Miami was the biggest negative in terms of impacting the UNC game.

3. On the offensive side of the ball, what makes this year's Duke team different from Cutcliffe's past teams? Is it just a Thomas Sirk vs. Anthony Boone thing, or is there more to it?

First off, a note that Sirk is questionable for the Pitt game with an upper body injury sustained against UNC (though when, exactly, is unclear, as his final play was a touchdown run, and when he didn't return for the fourth quarter of a blowout, that didn't seem weird). Redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme is the backup, and he has been used sparingly this year. He can run, though, like Sirk, so I would doubt there is a large-scale shirt in scheme if he starts.

This is the most one of Cutcliffe's Duke teams has ever run the ball—53 percent of Duke's offensive snaps have been running plays (it was 51 percent last year). Sirk is a much more capable runner than Anthony Boone, and that was the difference between a win and a loss at Virginia Tech, as Sirk set career highs in rushing attempts (18) and rushing yards (109). The passing numbers for Boone and Sirk are remarkably similar, and I do think the BLue Devils were hoping for better than the 58.7 completion percentage Sirk has given thus far. Like Boone, he has struggled at times to hit receivers down the field.

There's no doubt that the Blue Devils miss Jamison Crowder. Replacing him has been a by-committee type thing, as Duke does not have a clear No. 1 receiver this year. Senior Max McCaffrey leads the team in receptions, but he's a possession receiver, not a dynamic deep threat. The coaching staff wanted junior Johnell Barnes to take over that role, but that hasn't happened on a consistent basis. Probably the biggest change from last year to this year is the level of involvement running backs Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson—who is out for the Pitt game—have in the passing game. Cutcliffe wants his best playmakers to get the ball in space, and this year, that has meant a lot of bubble screens and checkdowns to Powell and Wilson.

4. With a lot of coaching positions coming open, is there any worry in Durham that Cutcliffe could jump ship? He obviously seems comfortable there and has built a really good program, but sometimes it seems like you never know with these things.

I would say there isn't a worry. The general consensus around Duke is (correctly) that Cutcliffe is happy, comfortable with an A.D he likes working for in Kevin White and deeply committed to continuing to build the Duke program up. That is all absolutely true.

It is my personal opinion, however, that Duke fans that just assume Cutcliffe would never leave shouldn't assume that's some sort of birthright. Yes, he had two great chances to go back to Tennessee and turned both down. And I think he would turn down 98 percent of jobs out there. Cutcliffe is an Alabama native who cut his teeth on SEC football and has never worked north of the Mason-Dixon line. He's not going to Southern Cal, for instance. But, if, say, his alma mater, Alabama, came calling, I think he would listen. I think it would have been very interesting to see what would have transpired if Florida had been interested, too (he had a brother that played for the Gators).

I can think of one other program, honestly, that might offer the right set of circumstances and location—and this is the reason I even dove into this line of thinking—Georgia. Now I don't know enough about the inner workings of that school to know if their A.D. is considered a good guy to work for, and that would certainly be crucial. And I certainly have no idea if Georgia would be interested in him. But I think anyone would be crazy to assume that Cutcliffe would have zero interest in working at a top-10 program in the South, one that's on the more winnable side of the SEC, too. He loves Duke, but, come on—opportunities like that would cause anyone with a pulse to at least think.

I hope I didn't just start a crazy rumor mill cycle for myself. But that's my honest answer to your question.


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Football playoff glance in Western Pa. outside of WPIAL

Written by Mike White on .

Thanks to Kenny "The Horse," here is a look at what teams are in district playoffs outside the WPIAL:

Regional Semifinals
Friday — Westinghouse (2-7) at Chestnut Ridge (6-4), 7 p.m.
Bye — Bedford (10-0).

Friday — Everett (4-6) at Northern Bedford (7-3), 7 p.m.
Saturday — Shade (4-6) at Meyersdale (6-4), 7 p.m.
Byes — Berlin Brothersvalley (10-0), Conemaugh Township (8-2).

Regional Championship
Friday — DuBois (5-5) vs. State College (7-3) at Hollidaysburg, 7:05 p.m.

Regional Semifinals
Friday — University Prep (5-4) at Somerset (8-2), 7 p.m.; Johnstown (5-5) at Clearfield (9-1), 7 p.m.

Friday — Forest Hills (5-5) at Martinsburg Central (9-1), 7 p.m.; Huntingdon (6-4) at Tyrone (8-2), 7 p.m.
Saturday — Southern Huntingdon (7-3) at Juniata (8-2), 7 p.m.; Mount Union (7-3) at Ligonier Valley (8-2), 7 p.m.

Friday — Cambria Heights (5-5) at Bishop Guilfoyle (10-0), 7 p.m.; Northern Cambria (6-4) at Moshannon Valley (10-0), 7 p.m.
Saturday — Westmont Hilltop (7-3) at Penns Manor (10-0), 7 p.m.; Bellwood-Antis (7-3) at Portage (8-2), 7 p.m.

Friday — Moniteau (4-6) at St. Marys (7-3), 7 p.m.
Bye — Karns City (10-0).

Friday — Coudersport (5-4) at Redbank Valley (7-2), 7 p.m.; Elk County Catholic (7-2) at Brockway (8-2); Port Allegany (6-4) vs. Kane (9-0) at Bradford, 7 p.m.; Curwensville (7-3) at Clarion (6-4), 7 p.m.

Friday — McDowell (5-5) vs. General McLane (7-3) at Erie Veterans Stadium, 7 p.m.

Saturday — Conneaut (10-0) vs. Erie East (1-9) at Meadville, 7 p.m.; Erie Central (5-5) vs. Franklin (5-5) at McDowell, 1 p.m.; Erie Cathedral Prep (9-1) vs. Meadville (6-4) at Erie Veterans Stadium, 7 p.m.
Bye — Oil City (6-4).

Saturday — Sharon (8-1) vs. Harbor Creek (6-4) at Wilmington, 1 p.m.; Fort LeBoeuf (7-3) vs. Greenville (7-3) at Edinboro University, 7 p.m.; Fairview (7-2) vs. Slippery Rock (5-5) at Erie Veterand Stadium, 1 p.m.; Hickory (8-1) vs. North East (7-1) at Slippery Rock University, 7 p.m.

Friday — Sharpsville (10-0) vs. Maplewood (5-5) at Hickory, 7 p.m.; Iroquois (8-2) vs. West Middlesex at Fairview, 7 p.m.; Cambridge Springs (9-1) vs. Wilmington (6-4) at Meadville, 7 p.m.; Farrell (9-1) vs. Eisenhower (6-4) at Greenville, 7 p.m.

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