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Stars at Penguins - 03-18-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

PREGAME

-Remember when Robert Bortuzzo fought the Predators' Colin Wilson March 4?

-We were curious as to why Bortuzzo was so angry afterwards when he slammed his helmet to the ice. We asked him after today's morning skate and he explained on his hit against Wilson preceding the fight, he suffered a cut above his left eye brow. While he didn't have a problem with fighting Wilson, he felt he should have back off in that instance due to the cut. After leaving the ice, each player required stitches and were actually in the trainer's room at the same time to get repaired. Bortuzzo said he told Wilson, "Good fight," while waiting for his stitches.

-Quite a few eyebrows were raised at today's morning skate when Marcel Goc worked on a third line with Tanner Glass and Brian Gibbons while Brandon Sutter worked on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Taylor Pyatt. We can't really offer much of an objection to that move. While has has had a revolving door of sub-par linemates this season, Sutter hasn't been nearly as effective of a player as he was last season and it would be a stretch to say he was truly all that effective in 2012-13. Goc has been okay in his handful of games with the Penguins thus far. Giving him a game or two on the third line is certainly a worthwhile experiment.

-That said, as anyone who watches this team with any regularity can attest, Dan Bylsma's lines are hardly set in stone.

-Sergei Gonchar held court with the Pittsburgh media today as he often does anytime he returns to Pittsburgh. He talked about Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin who, like Gonchar, hails from Chelyabinsk, Russia. Gonchar was brought to Dallas in part to help aid Nichushkin in his transition to the NHL from Russia, much the same way he did for Evgeni Malkin as a rookie in 2006-07. Gonchar, who had Malkin live with him and his family for a few seasons, said there is a difference:

"He [Nichushkin] moved in with an American family because he wants to learn English. He’s done a pretty good job on it. He is a little different than Evgeni. It’s a little different case here. At the same time, you can see how much he has progressed since the beginning of the year, on the ice, off the ice."

-We chatted with former Penguin Alex Goligoski today as well. He has really taken a step forward this season after failing to completely live up to expectations after being traded from the Penguins in 2010-11. He's played in all but one game this season and has been eating up some significant minutes in all situations.

-Goligoski also talked about team captain Jamie Benn who has taken a step forward this season with Tyler Seguin. Goligoski said Benn's skating has improved quite a bit since Goligoski first arrived in Dallas. Goligoski had an interesting way of describing Benn's playing style by simply saying it's "different" than anyone else on the ice. He compared him to Blues forward T.J. Oshie in that regard.

-Some pregame sights. The barn:

-The ice:

-Ulf Samuelsson:

-Maxime Talbot:

-This is a good one. Greg Millen:

-John Cullen:

-We always seem to run into a Craig Adams fan:

-Here's a pair of heck-raisers. Darius Kasparaitis and Matthew Barnaby:

-Tomas Vokoun:

-Martin Straka:

-Fans entering the barn:

-There are a few Stars fans. Mike Modano:

-Brenden Morrow Stars:

-James Neal Stars:

-Jersey Foul of the Night: Unless you want to cite a rivalry between the Blues and Stars, Jaroslav Halak Blues:

-A few former Penguins/Stars. Bill Guerin:

-Jarome Iginla, who was a former Stars draft pick but never played for the franchise:

-Goligoski:

-Gonchar is still popular in the 412:

-Jersey of the Night: Jason Woolley:

-Warm ups:

-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Lee Stempniak, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Jeff Zatkoff.

-Their scratches are Deryk Engelland, Jayson Megna and Taylor Pyatt.

-In warmups, the Penguins top two lines were set while the bottom two lines were a mish-mash. If we had to guess, these would be their lines to start the game at least:

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Lee Stempniak
Jussi Jokinen Evgeni Malkin James Neal
Tanner Glass Marcel Goc Joe Vitale
Brian Gibbons Brandon Sutter - Craig Adams

Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Rob Scuderi - Olli Maatta
Simon Despres - Robert Bortuzzo

-The Stars starters are Jamie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin, Tyler Seguin, Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski and Kari Lehtonen.

-Their scratches are Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peveley and Aaron Rome.

-No Jimerson. No photo.

FIRST PERIOD

18:38: The Stars are in a hole early as Cody Eakin high sticked Scuderi near the Penguins' net. That's a two minute minor. Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Niskanen take the ice.

18:05: Off a feed by Niskanen, Malkin cranks a one-timer which Lehtonen fights off. Kunitz taps the rebound from the slot wide to the left of the cage.

17:17: From the right circle, Maatta slap passes to Jokinen in the slot. Jokinen chops a a one-timer on net. Lehtonen eats it up despite traffic.

17:00: The junior varsity power play has Despres, Goci, Maata, Stempniak and Jokinen.

15:59: Sutter pushes the puck up the right wing through a handful of defenders and taps a pass from below the goal line to Adams but it fails to connect. A nice effort by

15:43: Under pressure from Adams, Cody Eakin controls the puck in the left wing corner of his own zone and tries to play it up ice. Adams intercepts it and deals to Crosby down low. Crosby wheel around a stick-on-puck attempt by Gonchar in the slot and flings a backhander by the glove hand of Lehtonen. Adams gets the only assist. Nice effort by him to force that turnover. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 1-0.

13:49: Crosby rips a wrister from the center point on net. Lehtonen snags it.

13:05: Neal whips a wrister from the right point on net.

12:43: The Penguins third defensive pairing is a wrecking crew. Eakin races up the right wing and tries to chip and chase a puck up the boards. Despres stops him dead in his tracks with a hip check on the half wall. Antoine Roussel chases the puck and is slammed to the ice hard on a shoulder check by Bortuzzo. Oof.

12:36: A wrister by Tyler Seguin from the right circle is denied by Zatkoff

12:25: Goligoski lifts a wrister from the right right Zatkoff smothers it.

12:14: Sutter challenges Goligoski one-on-one from the right circle and lifts a wrister which Lehtonen snags.

11:28: Taking a pass from Stempniak, Crosby flings a backhander from the right wing corner. Lehtonen snags it.

7:30: Tie game. After a turnover by Niskanen in his own zone, Daley chops a slapper from the right point. It rise up and glances off a stick. Seguin has position in the right circle on Niskanen and deflects the puck down towards the cage by Zatkoff's glove hand on the far side. Zatkoff protests that the puck was struck with a high stick but no dice. Daley gets the only assists. Penguins 1, Stars 1.

4:55: Niskanen thumps Benn into the Penguins' left wing corner pretty goodl.

4:35: Welcome back Chris Kunitz. Off a feed from Kunitz in the right wing corner, Stempniak cranks a one-timer from the right circle. Lehtonen spits out the rebound to the right of the cage. From a bad angle, Kunitz is able to beat Dale to the puck and jab the puck by Lehtonen on the near side. A classic ugly goal by Kunitz. Stempniak gets the only assist. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 2-1.

3:04: Ryan Garbutt chases down a puck in the right circle and rips a wrister. Zatkoff snags it.

2:51: Jordie Benn lugs a puck from behind his net and deals a pass from his own slot juuuust as the great Joe Vitale pops him with a shoulder check.

2:09: Ray Whitney tries to move a puck out the Penguins' right hand corner and has his stick broken on a slash by Kunitz. That's two minutes. Scuderi Adams, Gocr and Orpik take the ice.

1:30: Seguin grips and rips a wrister form the left circle off the cross bar.

0:37: Nichushkin snaps off a wrister from the left circle which deflects off a Penguins player and out of play.

0:32: Daley rockets a one-tier from the right point. Zatkoff gloves it.

0:03: As Kunitz's minor expires, Seguin lifts a wrister from above the left circle over the cage.

0:00: Getting loose on the right wing after the penalty box, Kunitz takes a pass at the Dallas blue line and hurries a slapper as the horn sounds. Lehtonen kicks it out. End of period. Penguins 2, Stars 1.

FIRST INTERMISSION

-That was a slightly disjointed period with relatively little flow. That said, the Penguins had the bulk of quality play. The spent a slight majority of it in the Stars' zone.

-The Penguins' top line looks a ton better with Chris Kunitz. You don't really realize what he offers that line until he's missing. Crosby's seemed to have a lot more space with him in there.

-We're not sure we saw much from the second line with Neal back in the lineup.

-Brandon Sutter seemed to have a little extra juice in his game tonight. He's been marooned on the fourth line and had his spot on the junior varsity power play taken away. He wasn't even used on the first power-play unit Dan Bylsma used that period. He only logged 36 seconds of penalty kill time that period.

-The Penguins have a 12-8 lead in shots on net.

-The Penguins have a 19-17 lead in attempted shots.

-Crosby and Seguin each lead the game with four shots.

-Daley leads the game with 6:59 of ice time.

-Niskanen leads the Penguins with 6:50.

-Fire Joe Niewendyk.

-The Penguins have a 13-9 lead in faceoffs (59 percent).

-Goc is 5 for 6 (83 percent).

-Vernon Fiddler and Seguin are each 2 for 4 (50 percent).

-Maatta and Orpik each lead the game with two blocked shots.

SECOND PERIOD

19:18: Daley pumps a one-timer form the right circle. Zatkoff kicks it out.

17:21: Gibbons chases down a puck on the right wing, pulls up and backhands a pass to Sutter streaking down the slot Sutter taps the puck over the cage.

16:30: Attendance is announced as 18,659. It is the team's 318th consecutive sellout.

16:11: Seguin feeds a pass from the right circle to Chiasson in the slot. They fail to connect on on the pass.

15:52: A backhander by Chiasson from in tight is smothered by Zatkoff.

15:14: Despres chucks a wrister from the right half wall. Lehtonen steers it away.

13:55: Crosby races with the puck up ice, gains the Dallas blue line and dekes around Jordie Benn. He flips a backhand shot wide which Lehtonen denies.

12:24: Roussel gain the offensive zone on the right wing an deals a bacbkanded pass to Eakin above the left circle. Eakon rips a wrister to the far side which Zatkoff coolly gloves.

11:50: The Penguins dodge one. Niskanen pinches in the neutral zone and allows the Stars to create a two-on-one against Orpik. With Jamie Benn in the left circle, Seguin lifts a wrister well over the cage. Oof. The Stars missed a nice opportunity there.

11:32: Orpik chucks a wrister on net from the left circle. Lehtonen fights it off.

10:40: Colton Scevior chucks a wrister from the right circle wide of the cage.

9:18: Jamie Benn whacks a wild one-timer from the right point over the cage.

8:43: Seguin hustles by Adams in the neutral zone, gains the Penguins' blue line and whips a backhander by Orpik on the far side.

7:50: Taking a pass in the neutral zone, Jokinen pushes his way up the left wing and lifts a wrister which Lehtonen fights off.

6:39: Welcome to Pittsburgh Lee Stempniak. Taking a cross-ice pass from Crosby in the right circle. Kunitz feeds a gentle pass to Stempniak into the slot. Stempniak muscles his way by Brenden Dillon, goes backhand/forehand and clunks a wrister under the glove hand of Lehtonen. He crashes down to the ice to the right of the cage and celebrate his first goal with the Penguins. Kunitz and Crosby get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 3-1.

5:23: A wrister by Gibbons from the left circle is denied by Lehtonen.

5:03: Sceviour chucks a wrister from the left half wall. Zatkoff holds it out as Fiddler crashes in. Maatta and Scuderi battle a few Stars players for position as the puck comes to a rest on the goal line. Officials blow play dead.

3:29: The great Joe Vitale thumps into the Dallas end boards and forces a turnover.

2:31: On a three-on-three rush. Crosby pushes the puck up the left wing. As Kunitz drives to the net, Crosby deals a pass to Stempniak trailing in the slot. Stempniak lifts a wrister which Lehtonen fights off.

2:27: Off their "quick draw" faceoff play in the Stars' left circle, Malkin clunks a puck back to Neal. Neal rips a wrister which gets blocked.

0:52: Orpik chucks a wrister from the left point. Lehtonen kicks it out.

0:28: The Stars will get late power play as the great Joe Vitale is called for slashing Chris Mueller on a shot attempt in the right circle. Adams, Goc, Orpik and Scuderi take the ice.

0:00: End of period. Penguins 3, Stars 1.

SECOND INTERMISSION

-The Stars had a little bit of pushback that period. They created a few more quality scoring chances. Despite that, the Penguins still managed to increase their lead.

-We're been somewhat impressed by the "new" defensive pairings tonight. Maatta and Scuderi have meshed pretty well while Bortuzzo and Despres have had chemistry going back to their days in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Orpik-Niskanen pairing appears to be a work in progress. Orpik has been pretty steady while Niskanen has had a rough game to this point with a turnover and a bad pinch which led to a two-on-one for the Stars.

-So far so good for Jeff Zatkoff. He hasn't really fought the puck that much and has made a few tough saves.

-If the Penguins are sending a message to Brandon Sutter, it appears to be received thus far. He's been involved in a handful of scoring chances of varying quality.

-Marcel Goc looks more than comfortable in a third-line role.

-Kunitz, Crosby and Stempniak looked pretty comfortable that period.

-Seguin looks like he wants to do some damage.

-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 21-17.

-The Penguins have a 37-36 lead in attempted shots.

-Crosby leads the game with five shots.

-Seguin leads the Stars with four shots.

-Goligoski leads the game with 15:33 of ice time.

-Orpik leads the Penguins with 14:23.

-The Penguins have a 21-17 lead in faceoffs (55 percent).

-Goc is 8 for 11 (73 percent).

-Seguin, Scevior and Eakin are each 3 for 5 (60 percent).

-Maatta, Scuderi, Orpik, Despres and Daley each lead the game with two blocked shots.

THIRD PERIOD

20:00: The Stars will have 1:31 of power play time on fresh ice. xx take the ice.

18:29: The vitale minor iskille with little threat.

18:09: Goc pushes teh puc up the right wing against Dillon and chucks a wrister on net. Lehtonen eats it up.

18:04: Matt Niskanen makes amends. After Crosby wins a faceoff in the Stars' right circle. Kunitz plays the puck to Kunitz at the right point Niskanen swats a one-timer on net which Lehtonen saves. The rebound slides to the right of the crease where Crosby kicks it to his stick and punks it behind Lehtonen on the glove hand side. Stempniak and Niskanen get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 4, Stars 1.

17:50: Another power play for the Penguins. Kunitz was hooked up by Garbutt on the right wing wall. That's two minutes for hooking. Malkin, Niskanen,

17:37: A one-timer by Malkin from the right circle is rejected by Lehtonen.

17:22: Creating a two-on-one against Niskanen. Eakin pushes a puck up the left wing and lifts a wrister which Zatoff fights off. Eakin continues towards the net and bumps into Zatkoff who falls over. A scrum develops in the Penguins' crease. Eakin is immediately sent off to the penalty box. Eventually he is send to the dressing room. Dillon and Kunitz carry on and each of them are sent to the penalty box. It looked like Kunitz might have speared Dillon. He will get a double minor for roughing. The Penguins will still have a five-on-four power play for 1:32. Crosby, Neal, Niskanen, Jokinen and Malkin take the ice.

16:56: Off a give and go with Malkin, Jokinen lifts a wrister from the right circle. Lehtonen fights it off.

16:41: Crosby golfs a one-timer from the right point Lehtonen snags it.

16:01: A wrister by Benn is denied by Zatkoff.

14:38: Gibbons blocks a wrister by Daley.

15:50: Garbutt's minor expires.

12:12: A wrister by Jamie Benn from the slot is wide of the cage.

11:01: HUGE save. Lehonen flings a puck up from his own net to the neutral zone. Roussel pushes the puck past the Penguins' blue line and blow by Bortuzzo as well as Scuderi. He attacks on his forehand and tires to sneak in a shot through Zatkoff's five hole. Zatkoff challenges with a poke check and smothers the puck.

9:55: Lehtonen matches that save. Off a neutral zone turnover by Goligoski, Jokinen feeds a pass from the right circle to Malkin driving down the slot. Malkin taps a puck on net. Lehtonen reads it all the way and eats up the shot.

9:37: Despres fumbles a puck in his left circle . Sceviour picks it up and tries to flip a backhand shot but puts it off the side of the cage. He collects the rebound behind the cage and tries to go with a forehand wraparound. Neal backcheck and steals the puck. Huge play by Neal.

9:20: Malkin tries to jam in a forehand shot from the right of the cage. Lehtonen holds it out.

9:08: Malkin is called for tripping Garbutt behind the Dallas net. That's two minutes. Adams, Goc, Scuderi and Orpik take the ice.

8:35: Taking a pass in the slot, Whitney whips a wrister which Zatkoff eats up.

8:25: Jamie Benn lifts a slapper from the right half wall. Zatkoff fights it off.

7:29: Seguin swats a shot from the right circle.

7:16: Brandon Sutter is redeemed. Gibbons chips a puck up the right wing wall of his own zone up ice. Sutter picks it up and coasts in on net from the right wing. He approaches the net and flips backhander by the blocker of Lehtonen. It clunks off the left post and deflects off the left skate of Lehtonen. The puck juuuuust barely nudges over the goal line. Officials hesitate to make a call but eventually point at the net to signal a goal. Gibbons follows up on the puck to push it into the net even more just to be safe. A video review confirms the goal. Sutter needed that. Gibbons and Bortuzzo get assists. The "Hey Song' is played. Penguins 5-1.

7:12: Play returns to five on five.

6:27: Roussel moves in off the right win and attacks the net. He's able to sneak a pass to Eakin in the slot. Eakin whips a wrister into the cage with a pile of bodies in the crease. The referee immediately waves off the goal as Garbutt crashed into Zatkoff. Goaltending interference is called. Garbutt heads to the penalty box. Lindy Ruff is protesting a storm. Neal, Malkin, Niskanen, Crosby and Kunitz take the ice.

6:07: Taking a pass at the Dallas blue line, Neal blows right throw two Dallas defenders and attacks the net. He goes backhand but Lehtonen closes his five hole.

4:10: Goligoski sneaks down low an lifts a wrister from the left circle.

3:58: Crosby chips a puck from his own right circle to Jokinen at the Penguins' blue line. Jokinen hustles the puck up the ice fending off Daley. He lifts a shot over the cage from the slot.

3:30: Sutter take a pass in the slot and lifts a wrister. Lehtonen kicks it out.

1:44: Roussel is given a 10-minute misconduct after mixing it up with ahandful of Penguins palyers in the left wing corner of the Penguins' zone.

1:31: A slapper by Sceviour is kicked out by Zatkoff.

0:42: The great Joe Vitale whips a wrister on net from the right circle. Lehtonen kicks it out.

0:00: End of game. Penguins 5, Stars 1.

POSTGAME

-Over the past few days, plenty of amateur general managers have proclaimed the injuries of Chris Kunitz as well as James Neal this past weekend as "excuses" for the Penguins' losses to the Flyers' Saturday and Sunday. Apparently, the absence of two top-six forwards with a combined 54 goals and a handful of all-star team nominations weren't legitimate reasons that the Penguins would be an inferior squad. With that in mind, we wonder have if their presence and health tonight are legitimate reasons for the Penguins producing an impressive win.

-As we've stated before, the "injuries can't be excuses" mindset has become a mindless, thoughtless cliche in sports, especially those sports with salary cap. When you lose an all-star forward or two out of your lineup, no one can reasonably expect a team to play at the same level as it accustomed to. Saturday and Sunday, the Penguins did not play with two all-star scoring wingers and lost by a combined score of 8-3. Tonight they had two all-star scoring wingers back in their lineup and won 5-1.

-It would be naive to lump tonight's victory and change in play as strictly as a byproduct of Kunitz and Neal being back in the lineup. There were other changes which benefited the Penguins as well. But this team clearly looked so much better with those two back in the lineup.

-Kunitz was a bigger addition than Neal tonight. He meshed well with Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak and those three looked like Crosby, Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis at times. Kunitz helped create some space for Crosby tonight. Kunitz only logged 11:51 of ice time, but he made the most of it.

-Neal didn't have an outstanding night by any means as he was held off the scoresheet but he was involved in a handful of scoring chances and had one key defensive play when he backchecked and stripped Colton Sceviour of a puck near the Penguins' net with 9:37 remaining in play. A goal there could have made it a 4-2 game and made things a tad more interesting in the final minutes of the contest.

-Another big change was using Marcel Goc on the third line and Brandon Sutter on the fourth line. Goc took on a lot of faceoffs against the Stars top players and played a role in limiting their scoring chances. Goc even took over for Sutter in the special teams as well as he was the center for the junior varsity power play and was one of the first men over the boards for the penalty kill on several occasions.

-If the Penguins wanted to see a reaction from Sutter from his demotion, they certainly got a positive one. He was involved in a handful of scoring chances of varying quality while playing with Craig Adams and Brian Gibbons. And his short-handed goal was a thing of beauty (with a little bit of luck). Sutter made sure the coaching staff was aware he wants his old job back on the third line.

-We liked the defensive pairings as well. Olli Maatta and Rob Scuderi looked like hey had played together for years. Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres had a fairly clean game aside from one ugly turnover by Despres. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen saw plenty of assignments against the Stars' top line and Niskanen had a few iffy plays, but they eventually rounded into shape.

-Jeff Zatkoff played one of his better games of the year. He got a little lucky with the Stars missing the net on some quality scoring chances. On a few of those chances, they hit the side of he net or the post, but Zatkoff kicked out a lot of safe rebounds and didn't allow too many second chance rebounds.

-If this game was replayed a few days later, we have a feeling you would see a much better effort by the Stars' offense. They missed quite a few shots. Tyler Seguin, one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, had a clean look at a two-on-one early in the second period and whipped it over the net. A goal there would have made it 2-2.

-Kari Lehtonen was okay. He was coming back into the lineup after dealing with a concussion. If he was rusty, the Penguins did what they could to take advantage of it.

-The Penguins' power play had a few quality chances but failed to convert on three chances. Conversely, their penalty kill had a strong rebound after a rough weekend by going 3 for 3.

-The Stars led in shots on net, 33-32.

-The Stars led in attempted shots 59-51.

-Crosby led the game with seven shots.

-Seguin led the Stars with six shots.

-Alex Goligoski led the game with 23:25 of ice time.

-Fire Ray Shero.

-Scuderi led the Penguins with 21:36.

The Penguins led in faceoffs, 31-24 (56 percent).

-Goc was 10 for 16 (63 percent).

-Cody Eakin was 7 for 11 (64 percent).

-Orpik led the game with four blocked shots.

-Daley led the Stars with two blocked shots.

-Lee Stempniak is the 469th player to score a regular season goal for the Penguins.

-Kunitz scored his eight game-winning goal of the season. The franchise record is 12 set by Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.

-Kunitz tied his career best in points with 61.

-Niskanen now has 40 points. Dang.

-Crosby broke through the 90-point barrier this season and is now up to 91.

-Game summary.

-Event summary.

-Highlights:

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About the Stars - 03-18-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Stars.

When and where: 7 p.m. EDT. Consol Energy Center.

TV: Root Sports, KTXA.

Record: 32-24-11, 75 points. The Stars are in fifth place in the Central Division.

Leading Scorer: Tyler Seguin (right), 69 points (30 goals, 39 assists).

Last Game: 7-2 road loss to the Jets, Sunday. Tim Thomas made 13 saves for the Stars.

Last Game against the Penguins: 3-0 home win, Jan. 25. Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves for the Stars.

Stars Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Ray Whitney. He has 49 career points in 45 career games against the Penguins.

Ex-Penguins on the Stars: Alex Goligoski, D; Sergei Gonchar, D; Jiri Hrdina, amateur scout; Mark Recchi, advisor to hockey operations.

Ex-Stars/North Stars on the Penguins: Jason Botterill, assistant general manager; Chris Conner, RW; Bill Guerin, player development coach; Jussi Jokinen, LW; Matt Niskanen, D; James Neal, LW; Warren Young, amateur scout.

Useless Stars/North Stars Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Stars captain/forward Jamie Benn (330 games) is one of two fifth-round picks from the 2007 draft who have over 100 games of NHL experience. The other is Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin (119), who was selected by the Penguins.

Best Stars/North Stars Video We Could Find: Stars goaltender Eddie Belfour giving Red Wings right winger Martin Lapointe a ... uh ... questionable hit ... in a sensitive area during the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs:

Probable goaltenders: Jeff Zatkoff (10-4-1, 2.63 GAA, .914 SV%) for the Penguins and Kari Lehtonen (25-16-10, 2.47 GAA, .917 SV%) for the Stars.

Injuries: For the Penguins, left wingers Chris Kunitz ("lower body") James Neal (concussion) are questionable. Right wingers Beau Bennett (hand/wrist), Chris Conner (foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee), defensemen Kris Letang (stroke), Paul Martin (hand) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) are on injured reserve. For the Stars, Kari Lehtonen (concussion) probable. Center Rich Peverley (irregular heartbeat) is out. Center Shawn Horcoff ("upper body") is on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins' lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:

14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 22 Lee Stempniak
36 Jussi Jokinen - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 18 James Neal
15 Tanner Glass - 57 Marcel Goc - 49 Brian Gibbons
17 Taylor Pyatt - 16 Brandon Sutter - 27 Craig Adams

Consider this a guess at their defensive pairings:

44 Brook Orpik - 2 Matt Niskanen
3 Olli Maatta - 41 Robert Bortuzzo
4 Rob Scuderi - 5 Deryk Engelland

-The Stars expected lines and defensive pairings are:

14 Jamie Benn – 91 Tyler Seguin – 43 Valeri Nichushkin
72 Erik Cole – 20 Cody Eakin – 22 Colton Sceviour
21 Antoine Roussel – 38 Vernon Fiddler – 15 Ryan Garbutt
13 Ray Whitney – 18 Chris Mueller – 12 Alex Chiasson

33 Alex Goligoski – 6 Trevor Daley
24 Jordie Benn – 4 Brenden Dillon
23 Kevin Connauton – 55 Sergei Gonchar

Notes:

-The last time the Penguins played the Stars, this happened:

-Our live blog begins at approximately 6 p.m. Please tune in.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Q & A: Talking St. John's with Norman Rose

Written by Craig Meyer on .

http://cdn.newsday.com/polopoly_fs/1.3583433.1331074604!/httpImage/image.JPG_gen/derivatives/display_600/image.JPG

(Photo: Newsday)

With Robert Morris playing in its second consecutive NIT tonight, this time against St. John's, it'd probably be helpful to know a little bit about the team they're playing tonight.

I can look at all that stats and film I want, but in these kind of situations, it's usually best to turn to the people that have followed the Red Storm all season long.

Earlier today, I did a Q & A with Rumble in the Garden and the website's editor-in-chief, Norman Rose, was kind enough to do one for me over here.

Since January 18, SJU has gone 11-4. Is this a team that started to figure things out and hit its stride?

The term "hit its stride" indicates a team that has completely figured things out, a team ready to upturn the expected order of things and pull out wins that weren't possible a few months before. It's hard to put that much on the Red Storm, despite what the coach has said about the team peaking; there are still obvious problems and inconsistencies. St. John's has figured out its rotation, is playing with more confidence, and has been generally defensively stout since mid-January.

You look at their schedule and see they've had wins against teams like Creighton, but also losses against the likes of DePaul. Is there a sort of bipolar quality to this team?

It's very obvious. There have been all manner of distractions, to be sure, but the team is hard to get a real handle on.

That said, there seem to be themes to what can create a poor St. John's performance - packed in defenses, an opponent that is good at handling the ball and the chaos that is DePaul. They've given St. John's trouble for years by lulling the Johnnies into a false sense of security and goading them into a ragged, mistake-filled game that would get the stink eye on a play ground.

Faith and confidence are huge for this team, maybe more so than other squads. When they believe in what they're doing and share the ball, they're extremely competitive. When they don't, when they play tentative basketball OR take bad shots too eagerly, they struggle and muddle through opponent runs.

Statistically, SJU is one of the top 30 defensive teams in the country. What defines their game on the defensive end and what makes it so effective?

Blocks. The Red Storm have three players in KenPom's top 200 for the rate of blocked shots - Chris Obekpa, Sir`Dominic Pointer and Orlando Sanchez - and God'sGift Achiuwa doesn't have enough minutes to qualify. JaKarr Sampson is very effective blocking shots. Even D`Angelo Harrison will swipe at a shot.

The Red Storm guards will encourage opponents to drive inside, where the swatting trees await. When the scheme works, the defense not only blocks shots but makes opponents think twice about how they run their offense, which can lead to turnovers. When it's working less well, teams locate opportunities for second shots and draw fouls.

With their scoring numbers, D'Angelo Harrison and Jakarr Sampson obviously stand out. Who are some other guys to keep an eye out for?

Chris Obekpa, when he's on, can be surprisingly effective in the paint as a dunker/pass recipient. Rysheed Jordan is the most dangerous offensive player on his own. He can break down most opponents and either get shots at the rim (unlike his teammates, who tend toward jump shots). And if he gets into the defense and Obekpa or JaKarr Sampson are waiting, even better. Jordan creates points.

Steve Lavin's in his fourth year with the Red Storm and just recently signed an extension. Are SJU fans pretty comfortable with the direction he's led the program?

Some are happy with the raised expectations and increased profile of the school.

Some are upset that after three years with very good recruiting classes (which were touted as excellent recruiting classes), the Red Storm have not gone back to the NCAA Tournament. Some wanted him fired in the middle of the year, when the team was in the Big East cellar.

Which reaction is justified? Hard to say, given that St. John's has had 13 or 14 years with very little success on the court. But the team was expected to be better, were slow to develop this year. So I wouldn't say the general feeling is "comfortable" - it's not like Fred Hoiberg signing an extension in Ames, where I wouldn't be surprised to see a street named after him.

Final thing: how awesome is it to support a team that have guys named God'sgift and Sir'Dominic on it?

It's almost as awesome as watching a team with a "Karvel" on it. Which reminds me, I need to go get some ice cream for breakfast.

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All four WPIAL boys champs still alive ..... other PIAA notes

Written by Mike White on .

Notes, quotes and thoughts with the PIAA basketball semifinals on tap for tonight. 

All four WPIAL boys champions have made it to the PIAA semifinals. You might ask "what's the big deal?" 

Well, it's an unusual occurrence.

Since the PIAA and WPIAL went to four classifications in the 1983-84 season, this is only the fourth time that all four WPIAL champs have made the semifinals.

The first time was 1993 when New Castle, Valley, Sto-Rox and Duquesne made it to the semifinals. It happened again in 1994 when Penn Hills, Beaver Falls, Aliquippa and Duquesne advanced to their final fours. The last time it happened was 2000 when Cornell, Aliquippa, Blackhawk and Penn Hills made it to the semifinals.

The WPIAL champs this year are New Castle, Central Valley, Seton-LaSalle and Lincoln Park. I think there are two reasons why the champs have made it this far this year. First, this is an "up" period for WPIAL basketball, I believe. We've got some pretty darn good teams in a number of classes. That might not be true again next year or the year after. Looking ahead, Class AAAA seems down for next year.

Secondly, the Erie area is down. Erie usually has a few top teams, but not this year.

**** I'm still trying to figure out how Hampton's Ryan Luther got only one shot and did not score in the second half of that New Castle game Saturday.

**** Speaking of New Castle-Hampton. Considering everything that was on the line, considering the history between the two teams, the crowd and how the contest unfolded, that was one of the best games I've seen in a while.

**** Hampton had trouble scoring down the stretch and one of the reasons was New Castle's hands. It might not seem like much, but the way New Castle uses its hands on defense is tremendous. Down the stretch, New Castle was constantly knocking balls away, stripping Hampton players from down low as they went up for a shot and getting their hands in passing lanes. I think New Castle's hands play a big part in their defensive success and Malik Hookerespecially the hands of Malik Hooker (pictured driving to the hoop against Hampton). His quick hands came up with so many big defensive plays for New Castle. It makes you wonder if those hands will help make him a good defensive back at Ohio State.

"His hands are like a weapon. They're so big and so strong and they're quick," said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. "Often times, I see him soft off the ball and I get upset because he's not in a defensive stance. But he's just baiting you to make a defensive play. Malik Hooker is the greatest athlete I've seen at New Castle. I haven't seen them all, but he's the best I've seen and I don't think it's even close."

As for the hands of the rest of the team?

"You hear so many coaches talk about not using your hands on defense," said Blundo. "But we talk a lot about using your hands. Not to hand check but I think active hands and active feet give you a better opportunity to be successful defensively and generate some offense." 

**** New Castle carries an undefeated record into tonight's game against Abington. It is the second year in a row New Castle takes an unbeaten mark into the semifinals. The last WPIAL boys team to take an undefeated record into a PIAA title game was Blackhawk in 2000. The team had heralded point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. But Blackhawk lost to Steelton-Highspire, 68-56, at Hersheypark Arena. I remember Blackhawk having trouble solving Steelton-Highspire's 3-2 zone.

**** From the Do You Remember department? Steve Lodovico is Blackhawk's girls coach and will try to get the Cougars to the PIAA title game. Blackhawk meets Palmyra tonight. Eighteen years ago, Lodivico was a starting guard for the Blackhawk boys and scored nine points as the Cougars beat Valley View, 67-55, for its second consecutive state championship. Blackhawk also won a state title in 1995, but Lodovico came off the bench for that team. He was a starter in 1996.

**** The past few days in gathering information on the PIAA semifinalists, it is amazing to me how many transfers play for the Philadelphia teams. It's more evident on the boys side but it also exists on the girls side. Do PIAA administrators in Philadelphia care? Apparently not much. The transfer subject has been brought up at PIAA board of control meetings also, but apparently hardly anybody seems to care there, either. Oh well. It's almost as if there are two different athletic worlds in Pennsylvania - Philadelphia as opposed to the western side of the state.

I found one of the most interesting comments from the playoff so far came from St. Basil girls coach Terry Mancini after his team lost to Neumann-Goretti, 64-29, in the Class AA quarterfinals. Neumann-Goretti has some transfers and Mancini said to the Montgomery News, "I can't tell you why it got away from us so early. That was not the team I coached all year. I think they bought into the hype of Neumann-Goretti because they saw them play. What can you say? They are the best AAU team in the state. ... We got this far with four-year seniors, no transfers. Unfortunately, we are playing against teams with an influx of transfers. We can't compete with that at St. Basil. We are too small of a school."

**** Follow @PGVarsityXtra on Twitter tonight for score updates on all semifinal games.

**** If you are interested on some notes and news on the semifinal games, check out this morning's P-G boys semifinal forecast and the girls semifinal forecast.

**** See ya. Can sports writers take a pregame nap, too?

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Extra notes from Karvel Anderson story

Written by Craig Meyer on .

For anyone that maybe hasn't seen it yet, there's a story I did in today's Post-Gazette on Karvel Anderson that delves a lot into his background and how he became who he is today. Obviously, over the past year or so, there have been a couple of pieces done on Anderson and his general story arc, from his mom's incarceration, to his various living situations, to his stints in junior college to where he is now.

The best piece of journalistic advice I ever got was from a professor my senior year of college who said this job's basically all about telling people something they don't already know. With this story, that's what I tried to do.

I had read, and enjoyed, all of those previous stories and in each of them, I noticed the name Jerel Jackson. When I interviewed Karvel for the story and we delved into some of the more critical moments of his life, Jackson's name always came up. He was the first person to approach him about living in a park (and getting him out). He was a major force in helping him forgive his uncle, which was the reason he was in the park in the first place. He, along with Elkhart Memorial's head coach, was an instrumental force in making Karvel's jump shot into what it is today.

Karvel and Jerel

(Anderson and Jackson on his senior day last month. Photo courtesy of Jerel Jackson)

Originally, I planned on doing something more in-depth on Karvel's month living in Elkhart's McNaughton Park, but Karvel's extremely adamant that his time there wasn't all that bad. He obviously didn't enjoy it, but he believes that a lot of what's been written about his time there has been exaggerated. You can't tell Karvel's story without mentioning the park, but this is HIS story, not mine. So much of his background makes for such great fodder for a story, but I got the sense that Jackson was such a big reason why he's become the person (and player) that he is.

I'll add one final thing: the term "good guy" gets thrown around a lot in sports journalism. You'll routinely hear writers like myself use it to describe someone who they cover. In a lot of cases, that person may be a total sleaze, but he isn't a jerk to you during interviews, so he's automatically great. I've gotten to know Karvel a bit over the two years I've covered him and I can say without a doubt he is a genuinely good and special person.

Needless to say, I think it's going to be hard for Robert Morris to find something close to a replacement for him.

Below, I've got a partial transcript of interviews I did with both Karvel and Jerel Jackson:

Karvel Anderson


On Jackson's impact when it came to his on-court game: “He’s helped a lot of people back home on their game, but he spent a lot of time with me personally, off the court and on the court. We developed a really strong relationship. Every single day, him and I would do a lot of form shooting, a lot of different shots off the dribble – one, two dribble pull-ups. A lot of those ways to get my shot off that I learned from him are really my go-to moves now. I thank those two for bringing the shooting out of me because it was definitely a weakness of my game at one point.”

On Jackson's impact off the court: “A tremendous impact. I wouldn’t say he’s the first, but he’s one of the biggest father figures I’ve had in my life. He’s one of those people that taught me a lot of things that a dad would teach you. It was kind of a perfect match. He never had a son and I never had a dad. We were both looking for the same thing and fortunately we found each other. It’s been a perfect match ever since.”

“I talk to him every day to this day, he calls me after every game. He’s been one of those people I credit with being the man that I am.”

On the fracture of the relationship with his uncle: “I’m not going to tell the story of why we had that falling apart, but when that happened, I think it hurt both of us so much. The relationship him and I had, it was so fragile that once it happened, it tore us both.”

“That was just the type of relationship him and I had. It built so much tension between us two that I didn’t feel comfortable staying with him.”

On living in the park: “I thought a lot those nights. Night time is quiet, I’m right by a river, so all I’m listening to is bugs and that type of stuff. You do a lot of thinking and soul-searching in those type of moments.”

On how that experience has maybe been overplayed: “It’s been over-exaggerated to me. Regardless, yes, I was homeless. But it wasn’t like I was kicked out. It was by choice. It was a pride thing, which I’d definitely take back in a second if I could. Even staying out there wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I was never put in any harm, I was fed once a day, so I would have been fine even if I didn’t find a way to eat that night. It wasn’t as serious as it sounded, but at the same time, it was one of those things that not a lot of people go through. It strengthened me that I was able to do things on my own at such a young age.”

On how he and Jackson kind of gravitated to each other: “The way he is, he’ll find a person and spend all his time trying to improve that one person. He’s not a guy who works out with multiple guys at a time. He’ll find one person and put everything he has into that one person. Basketball-wise, he chose me right away.”

On Jackson asking him about his living situation: “He approached me about it and I respected him too much to lie to him. I respected him too much to make up anything, so I told him the truth. He took me in and let me stay with him for a while. He fed me a lot and him and his wife sheltered me in a lot of different ways. He was one of the few people that came to me and let me know everything would be alright. That means a lot when you don’t have much.”

On repairing his relationship with his uncle: “He told me that if I wanted to be a man that I would have to say sorry. That would be a big growing up part for me since I’m such a stubborn individual. Me and my uncle mended that relationship. Because of coach Jackson, I was able to go back and stay with my uncle for a little while. He sat us both down. He talked to us about some things and helped us out. He saved me at that point.”

On how he viewed his uncle, even when they had a grudge: “My uncle was somebody who I looked up to so much and he still is to this day, regardless of what happened. But at that time, even more, he was my hero. My uncle had a good job, a good family. He moved out of the bad part into the nice neighborhood, he had a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids. I wanted to have what my uncle had. He came from the same, if not worse, than what I did growing up. He was successful, maybe not athletically, but he still was having a successful life from where we came from. He was somebody I wanted to be like. He never gave up.”

“He had a lot of chances where he could have shut his life down and just given into things and he never did that. He kept working, he kept doing things to provide for his family to try to make their life better and make his life better. Being able to have him back in my life was a big step for me. He was kind of the first person to instill the perseverance type mentality with me.”

On Elkhart, Indiana and how it shaped him:  “It made me everything I am. I faced so many things growing up in Elkhart. I faced every experience that people my age shouldn’t experience. I’ve seen some things I wish I didn’t see that I can’t forget to this day. But at the same time, it strengthened me. It gave me the toughness I have mentally, to never give up and the heart and passion to be able to strive for something. It’s one of those places where you either make it out or you fall in the trap. Those are the only two choices you really have.”

“There was a point where I was like ‘Dang, maybe I’m supposed to just be stuck here with everyone else.’ But people like coach Jackson and my uncle, from talking to them, they kept me going. I always credit Elkhart with being who I am.”

On where he'd be without Jackson: “Without coach Jackson, I'd be in Elkhart, dead, in jail or struggling, living day-by-day. Those are really the only three options. There’s just nothing there and that’s all people resort to. The violence is increasing, a lot of people are getting killed that don’t deserve to be, the unemployment rate is very high. It’s just not a good place to be living a life right now.”

“Hopefully I’m blessed with the opportunity to play professional basketball. But whether I do or not, I don’t plan on starting a life in Elkhart."

[Note: You'll see this later, but there's an interesting juxtaposition in the way that Karvel and Jackson view Elkhart. Jackson has lived there basically his whole life and sees it as the type of town where you can raise your kids, be safe and lead a happy life. It's not what it once was, given the economic recession's impact on the RV industry, but it's still not this post-industrial midwestern ghost town that some maybe make it out to be.

For Karvel, as the quotes indicate, it's obviously different. And it's understandable. He had to see and experience the kind of things that nobody that age (or really any age) should ever have to see or experience. Whether it's fair or not, there's a natural tendency to tie those kind of things in with the identity of the place where they occurred.]

On his professional basketball prospects: “It was always a dream, it was always something that, if you asked me, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’ But until then, I didn’t think I had the chance. I didn’t think I’d be given the opportunity. I always felt like if I were given the opportunity, I could show people I was good enough to play professionally. It’s just like now, if someone gives me a professional chance, I’ll prove to them that I’m worth it.”

 

Jerel Jackson


On working to develop Karvel's game: “I took more time to Karvel than any others by coaching him and helping him out, trying to guide him the right way. I can’t say it’s all on me. He did all the work. I just helped him out and tried to guide him the right way.”

“He was one of the kids I saw that I liked. He was aggressive, he was the type of kid that, if things didn’t go right, he wanted it to go right. He was always on others, trying to encourage them. I was like, ‘I like this kid.’ As coaches, we try to select the players that we want and he was the first name that popped up.”

[Something that I wanted to add to the story, but wasn't able to fully elaborate on: Beginning his sophomore year pretty much until he left Elkhart for college, Karvel would have long workouts with some of his coaches EVERY DAY around 5:30 in the morning and then later in the afternoon.

One of the drills in particular sounded pretty interesting. Before they could finish things up, he had to stand a few feet from the basket and make seven shots in a row without the ball touching any part of the rim. Once he was done with that, he would have to step back a few more feet and do the same thing. Given all that work, it's pretty evident why he's the shooter he is today.]


On getting to know Karvel and figuring out his situation: “He’s the type of person that doesn’t like to go out and just tell you. You really have to figure him out and by me knowing him now, I can figure him out really quickly. If something’s wrong with him, I know.”

On developing a bond with Karvel: “When Karvel came into my life, that was a joy to me. Friends of mine were saying ‘Are you going to pick your son up?’ We were together every day and I would treat him like he was mine. It feels good when he would say that to others. I consider him my son.”

“For kids that had a hard life and hard time, if I can do anything to help them out, I like to be a part of their lives.”

“If there’s any guidance that they need, I’ll try to guide them the right way. And if they want to form a relationship with me, they can and if they don’t, they can try to do it on their own. With Karvel, he and I had a relationship with each other.”

On getting Karvel to forgive his uncle: “Life is hard. You have to bond with family because without family, you’d be lost.”

“I was lost and I didn’t want him to feel that way. By him being from Michigan, he really didn’t have anybody here. Get to know your family. All the beef and stuff you have with your uncle, let it go. He may not have liked it, but I think he listened.”

On Elkhart: “It changes like any other place. Some people live here for most of their life. Some people, after high school, they move on and move out of here. It’s like anywhere else. It’s what you make out of it.”

“It’s a nice place to raise your kids. Back when I was younger, you could leave your bike outside all night, you could have your door open and nobody would bother you. It’s still pretty much like it, but it’s not quite what it used to be."

“It’s not a bad place, not at all. By him being young, he probably took a lot of things to heart. When I was young, I was angry at a lot of stuff to. But as you get older, you can see it’s not so bad.”

On what his relationship with Karvel is like today: “I love that kid like he’s my own. Just like any parent would do for their kids, whatever I can do to help out, I’m always there.”

On what he admires about Karvel: “He’s a goal-getter and that’s what I like about him. Whatever he wants, he goes after and I’m glad he’s like that, I’m glad he doesn’t give up.”

 

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

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