First Call: Penguins’ schedule eases up; Raiders’ win bad for Steelers; Stephen A. Smith’s huge contract | TribLIVE.com
Breakfast With Benz

First Call: Penguins’ schedule eases up; Raiders’ win bad for Steelers; Stephen A. Smith’s huge contract

Tim Benz
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AP
Penguins right wing Bryan Rust celebrates after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the third period Thursday in New York.

So when does the load get lighter for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Maybe now.

Over the last three games, the Penguins have faced Pacific Division-leading Edmonton, Atlantic Division-leading Boston and the New York Islanders, who were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak entering their game Thursday.

And then Bryan Rust came along.

That goal finished off a 4-3 overtime win for the Penguins.

Despite that weeklong gauntlet, the Penguins managed to get three of a possible six points. Now they face three teams this week that should allow them to catch their breath.

Up next is a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. Then they have road games Tuesday and next Friday at the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, respectively.

Chicago’s 13 points are tied for the second lowest in the Western Conference. Only Minnesota is behind them in the Central Division standings. The Rangers are 7-6-1 and in sixth place in the Metro Division with 15 points. New Jersey has 12 points, last in the Metro.

Those last two teams are a combined 5-7-5 at home.

As for Chicago, the Blackhawks only have 38 goals, the lowest total in the West. And they come to PPG Paints Arena with 1-4-1 road record.

One area where the Penguins desperately need to get better is the power play. Coach Mike Sullivan’s team went a 10th straight game without a power-play goal. Maybe one can come against one of these next three opponents.

Chicago’s penalty kill ranks 20th (80.0%). New York’s is 15th (81.1 %), and New Jersey’s is 26th (74.5%).

The Penguins have only six power-play goals. Only Ottawa and Anaheim have fewer (four). And they aren’t doing a good job of drawing penalties, with a lowly 28 power-play opportunities. That’s 28th out of 31 teams.

The Penguins better scoop up points while they can because the week after gets rough.

Toronto comes to town Nov. 16. Then they have back-to-back games against the Islanders. They host New York on Nov. 19 and go to Brooklyn again Nov. 21.

The Leafs are second in the Atlantic with 21 points, and the Islanders have 23 points, good for second in the Metropolitan.

Elsewhere …

• The Oakland Raiders won on “Thursday Night Football,” beating the Los Angeles Chargers, 26-24. That’s not great for the Steelers.

It’d be better to have the Chargers finish higher than the Raiders in the AFC West.

If the Steelers were to finish tied with the Chargers in the wild-card standings, they have a head-to-head tiebreaker over L.A., having beaten the Chargers earlier this season.

They have no such tiebreaker over Oakland, which improved to 5-4 and has an easy schedule remaining. As of now, Jon Gruden’s club has just one game left against a team that currently has a winning record (Kansas City, Dec. 1).

• There’s a big, yet off-the-radar, football game in Pittsburgh this weekend. Duquesne visits Robert Morris at 1 p.m. Saturday. Both teams are 4-0 in NEC play, tied for first place with Central Connecticut State.

The Dukes won the title last season, beating CCSU on the last weekend of the season to claim the championship. RMU was 0-6 in the conference a year ago and has turned the ship around under coach Bernard Clark.

The Dukes won this regional rivalry a year ago, 48-24.

• A.J. Green’s comeback attempt in Cincinnati has been stalled.

• Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is sick and missed practice Thursday.

• It appears Cris Carter is out at Fox Sports.

• Stephen A. Smith’s new ESPN contract is going to pay him almost $8 million a year.

• No one at MetLife Stadium can find the black cat that interrupted the “Monday Night Football” game.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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