Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Thanksgiving Weekend Recap

As always on Sunday night of Monday morning, here's my weekend recap, complete with thoughts, links, stories, and inane anecdotes about all the teams from around the Three Rivers, with some other stuff thrown in to boot.

-Sidney Crosby suddenly is a man on a mission these days. Granted Geno still holds a 5 point lead on Sid for the scoring title, but there is little question as to the identity of the hottest player on the planet right now. In the past few seasons, Sid would often go on these tears where he'd put up (at a minimum) a couple points a night, but the point totals usually were heavy on the assist side, as the playmaking gene in the Kid emerged. But this time, it's been mostly the actual scoring of goals that Crosby has been involved with. Which leads me to this bold statement: The way Sid is playing right now is the best total hockey he has played in his entire career. The goal scoring, the playmaking, the work on the PK, the way he and Geno can take over a game when they are paired together. If Crosby can even come close to sustaining this pace, he will run away with the scoring title, and the Pens will blow past the Rangers to the division title.

-I don't want to shortchange Geno, either, as he is having one unbelievable season right now. I've been very surprised to notice his development as a playmaker this season, as evidenced by his huge assist total. It's sort of interesting to note that he and Sid have sort of reversed their stereotypical roles of late, with Sid having a comfortable team lead in goals and Geno having the edge in assists. I might be an enormous Pens Homer, but I really think there is a very good chance these two end up being far and away the 1 and 2 in the scoring race come season's end. Not sure who finishes on top (at gunpoint I'd probably say Sid) but I wouldn't be shocked at all to see each go well past 120 points, assuming they both stay healthy.

-While John Curry certainly is no Ty Conklin, I thought he at least proved he has the ability to be a backup 'tender in the league. Of course, he'd be best served spending this season with the Baby Pens developing himself. Still, I was highly skeptical of his future prospects, but I thought he showed poise and skill in his two appearances.

-And of course, there's the work of Dany Sabourin, who has really brought his A game since the Flower went down. He also still sits atop the league in Goals Against Average. A downright jaw-dropping achievement if you had seen him a few years ago in his first start for the Pens when he gave up 4 goals on 14 shots in just over a period of work.

-Janne Pesonen's bizarre season continues to amplify in bizareness. The Swedish import, who some thought might spend the season playing on the wing of Geno or Sid was sent back down to Wilkes-Barre yet again this morning. It's not surprising that he was sent down if you watched the two games he actually dressed for, as he played about 6 minutes Friday night and just over 7 minutes last night. Still, I thought he put together solid efforts when he was out there, and although he was a -1 last night, I think he deserves more of a chance up here to show himself. Apparently Mikey Therrien disagrees though.

-It was also interesting that Pesonen dressed for the Buffalo game Friday night when Ruslan Fedotenko was a healthy scratch, and that Pesonen dressed again last night while Pascal Dupuis was scratched for reasons unknown.

-Marc-Andre Fleury's injury looks like it will hold our top netminder out for at least a few more games, as he was described by Mikey Therrien as being "week-to-week"

-Dave Molinari has an interesting look at the state of nutrition in the NHL these days, which includes an amusing little anecdote about our beloved Super Mario, and also gives us a reason to ask, "What do Eric Godard and Elvis Pressley have in common?"

-If you watched the game last night, is there really any player in the league that is more dramatic and breathtaking than Sidney Crosby? I mean don't even think there can be a debate on this topic. Even if you think Semin or Ovechkin or Zetterberg or whoever is the best player in hockey, none of them can make you rise to the edge of your seat like Sid can when he is playing like he is now. He was flying around the ice all night, and each of his three goals were "WOW" goals, even the empty-netter.

-That was one heck of a show the Steelers just put on earlier tonight in their statement game win over the Patriots. To answer the question that I asked earlier today in my game preview, yes, the Steelers are a legit, top-of-the-AFC contender right now. I would put them on an even plane with the Titans, and ahead of the rest of the AFC's squads and behind only the Giants in the entire NFL after this tour de force performance.

-After a shaky start, Ben Roethlisberger really came around today. His final numbers might be a bit deceiving: 17/33 179 2 TD 1 Int, but if you watched the game, you saw a very solid performance. His receivers hurt him big time, as Heath Miller uncharacteristically dropped 2 very catchable passes, Willie Parker dropped an embarassingly easy swing pass, and Nate Washington dropped a sure touchdown pass that was perfectly thrown after making two more difficult catches earlier on.

-The defense was, in a word, dominating. The Patriots were able to make some head way on the ground with 122 yards rushing, most of it coming on 6 wildly effective carries by Kevin Faulk. Sammy Morris also grinded out 45 tough yards too. However, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were monsters in the second half after struggling through the first. Troy Polamalu also had a monster of a game, with several passes defensed and was all over the field as usual, and added a league high 6th interception. Polamalu is even better than I thought possible now that he has been consistently healthy.

-Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker were once again a very effective tandem. Parker had some early issues and sat out the entire second quarter, probably due to lingering issue effects, but was excellent toward the end of the game at killing the clock. Moore, meanwhile, was a very dangerous run in Parker's absence, and for someone his size is also a very tough runner as well. I was also pleased to see Gary Russell punch one in for a touchdown, but with 3 carries for 1 yard, Russell still has quite a bit to prove as an everydown back.

-Ryan Clark's hit on Wes Welker was RIDICULOUS. I don't think I have ever seen a more violent hit that wasn't head-to-head in my entire life. Just a sickening sound, a sickening sight, and a sickening result.

-It would have been a very different game if Randy Moss doesn't drop that touchdown pass from Matt Cassel that he would have had 99 times out of 100. When Gostkowski shanked that field goal, you knew the Pats were in trouble, but if Moss snags that sucker, the game is on.

-Not much to report on the Pirates these days, but you should check out Dejan Kovacevic's story about the Pirates happenings in the Dominican Republic. If you are a real baseball fan and understand the workings of the league in present day, it will give you some renewed faith in the Pirates organization's overall workings, even if their major league club may struggle mightily in 2009. Also, this is the first part of a 3-part series on the Bucs in Latin America, so be sure to check back on the PG's website the next few days for the remainder.

Pitt Football
-I covered quite a bit of Pitt football stuff in my post-Brawl column, but thought of a few more things I wanted to add.

-The experts seem to like our Panthers heading to the Brut Sun Bowl to play Oregon State. Would be interesting to see how they would fare against a team that was on the cusp of going to the Rose Bowl. It's also worth noting that this is all assuming that Pitt beats UConn.

-With one game remaining, there is a pretty strong chance that LeSean McCoy will at least tie for the national lead in touchdowns at the end of the regular season, and maybe even lead the thing outright with his 20. Javon Ringer currently leads with 21 but is done until bowl season, and Shady is tied for second with MiQuale Lewis of Ball State (who has the MAC Championship this weekend) and Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State (who is done until the Bowls).

-The Panthers are back in all of the rankings thanks to Friday's win.

Pitt Basketball
-Sam Young continued his march toward all kinds of postseason awards with a pair of excellent performances Friday and Saturday night to go with his career performance from Tuesday. What's more, those were two nice wins the Panthers put together as well over Washington State and Texas Tech. Hard to say if either is a tournament-caliber squad (I doubt Tech is, not sure about Wazzu) but wins over Big Conference schools, no matter which ones, are looked upon favorably.

-I was more than a little surprised to notice that Nasir Robinson didn't get into the game at all last night against Wazzu. Not that he'd be lighting the world on fire or anything, but I would not have expected him to be a guy to plummet to the bottom of the bench so quickly given his athleticism and reputation as the top recruit from this class. I can't really argue much with it, though either, and I think that Gil Brown's return to the lineup might make it difficult for Nas to get minutes, as they are similar types of players, and Gil is obviously the better player right now.

-While I made quite a bit about the Panthers bench and depth early on in the season, I also want to add that I think this could quickly become a team whose minutes are dominated by 6 players: Fields, Dixon, Young, Biggs, Blair, and Brown off the bench. Of course McGhee will get his minutes spelling the big guys, and Woodall and Gibbs will see time at the point when Fields is given a rest, and Wanamaker and Robinson will carve out some minutes as well, but the versatility of the top 6 guys makes it so that Jamie Dixon can rely heavily on the cream of the crop for probably 25+ minutes each. I mean think about it: Gil can play the 2,3, and even 4. Sammy is adjusting to the 3, and has a brilliant history at the 4. Blair and Biggs can both move seamlessly between the 4 and 5. And while Dixon and Fields are both probably only going to play their respective guard spots, Fields is a warrior who will probably average 35 minutes a game in Big East play, and Dixon has been nothing but impressive in his early play, and should have no trouble assuming a heavy workload.

-I've been very impressed by Levance Fields' newly found scoring touch. I would not have pegged him as the guy most likely to pick up the Panthers scoring slack this season, but he has been excellent this season. He has emerged as a surprisingly potent 3-point scoring threat, nailing over 40% of his bombs so far this year, establishing himself as the definite top option on the team in that regard.

Other Stuff
-This Texas/Oklahoma/ Texas Tech mess really makes its own case for a college football playoff system of some sort, doesn't it? I mean this is absolutely ridiculous. And since I already have my plan for a playoff system laid out, here's what it would look like as of now, if the season ended today.
1 Alabama (SEC Champ)
2 Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ)
3 USC (Pac-10 Champ)
4 Utah (Mountain West Champ)
5 Texas (At-Large Bid)
6 Penn State (Big Ten Champ)
7 Cincinnati (Big East Champ)
8 Boston College (ACC Champ)
9 Florida (At-Large Bid)
10 Texas Tech (At-Large Bid)
11 Boise State (WAC Champ)
12 Ohio State (At-Large Bid)

First Round Matchups:
Texas vs. Ohio State
Penn State vs. Boise State
Cincinnati vs. Texas Tech
Boston College vs. Florida

Second Round Matchups
Alabama vs. Boston College/Florida
Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati/Texas Tech
USC vs. Penn State/ Boise State
Alabama vs. Texas/ Ohio State

-Lastly, I wanted to give you a heads-up, for the next week and a half or so, I will be forced to dive headfirst into school work, what with Finals week looming on the horizon, and because of this, the blog is likely to take a hit as far as activity. I'm not giving up entirely, but will be forced to tone it down. I will give it my best effort to be on here with something at least every other day, but circumstance will dicatate that.

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