Mark Madden: Pens camp, Steelers’ loss, Pitt-Penn State make for refreshing sports notes
The Steelers lost by 30. The Penguins open training camp Friday. Pitt football plays its only interesting game of the year Saturday. All bases are covered with refreshing sports notes!
• If recent reports are to be believed, Evgeni Malkin has pondered what went wrong for him last season and taken steps to remedy. That’s great news for the Penguins, because if Malkin fixes it, the Penguins fix it. If Malkin plays up to his talent five-on-five, other problems that the citizens fixate on fade into insignificance.
• That said, seeing is believing. Malkin’s biggest task is to accept he’s 33 and make his game less dangle, more fundamental. Easier said than realized.
• Malkin reportedly asked to be traded if Phil Kessel wasn’t. See? It wasn’t the stinking media that ran Kessel out of town.
• Matt Murray’s play wasn’t a negative last season. But, at 25, Murray’s talent dictates there’s another level he can reach. Murray will. He’s not yet the age when goalies hit their prime. But the sooner, the better. Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang aren’t 25.
• The biggest experiment at Penguins training camp will be determining who skates on a line with Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Whoever allows Guentzel to play left wing, not right, should get first blush. Crosby’s feelings should be considered … later. Coach Mike Sullivan should decide initially. My first look at camp would go to Dominik Kahun, the devil we don’t know. Bryan Rust always will be the safety valve because of his speed.
• How will the power play adjust sans Kessel? Put Letang at the left half-wall where Kessel was, and Justin Schultz up top. (Two defensemen on the unit should cut down the NHL-worst 15 shorthanded goals allowed last season.) Play mostly flows through Malkin on the right half-wall. But the wild card is newly acquired Alex Galchenyuk, who has first-unit PP ability but sees Crosby and Malkin in the spots he could sensibly play.
• It was a perfect NFL weekend in Pittsburgh except for Sunday night at Foxborough. Cleveland lost. Le’Veon Bell’s New York Jets lost. Oakland won in the wake of Antonio Brown’s betrayal, and the Raiders faithful serenaded Brown with an obscene chant. It was delightful dominoes of schadenfreude for Pittsburgh football fans.
• JuJu Smith-Schuster flunked his first test as a No. 1 receiver. But he won’t always face cornerbacks like New England’s Stephon Gilmore, who marked him out of Sunday’s debacle until garbage time. Gilmore is of rare quality. But part of being a No. 1 receiver is besting No. 1 corners and beating double-teams. Brown did that.
• Devin Bush should be a reasonable facsimile of Ryan Shazier at some point. But the Steelers need that sooner, not later, and Bush was nowhere close at Foxborough. Inexperience betrayed him, as it did Kam Kelly and Terrell Edmunds. The Patriots had free passage through the center of the Steelers defense all night.
• Receiver Ryan Switzer is too small to get on the big kids’ rides at Kennywood yet played 67% of Sunday’s snaps — more than James Conner, Diontae Johnson, Jaylen Samuels and James Washington. Switzer was targeted six times, third-most on the team and two times more than tight end Vance McDonald. He made six catches for a whopping average of 4.8 yards. All that beggars belief.
• Fans who fret about trading third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs and losing backup linebacker Tuzar Skipper to the New York Giants via waivers while celebrating the return of practice squad QB Devlin Hodges are fiddling while Rome burns. Those scrubs are meaningless, and the Steelers just lost by 30. Some kid on Twitter bemoaned that Skipper got cut right after he bought a Skipper jersey. Buddy, the tragedy isn’t Skipper’s departure. It’s you buying that jersey.
• New England likely would not have signed Antonio Brown had his sexual assault lawsuit been public before. The Patriots should cut him now. They don’t need him, and the chaos already has started. Is Brown still going to stay at Tom Brady’s house?
• The clubhouse fight between relievers Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez is the Pirates’ third such altercation this season. Everybody should be fired: president Frank Coonelly, GM Neal Huntington, manager Clint Hurdle, the entire coaching staff. The team is out of control. Hurdle postures as a tough guy, but he’s a toothless blowhard.
• Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, as usual, isn’t letting his players talk to the media the week of the Penn State game. He’s made it clear, though, that he is available as much as needed. Is Narduzzi keeping the pressure off his players, or is he hogging the spotlight in the only week Pitt football truly has a chance to grab it?
• If Narduzzi and I were in the same sports bar, a lot more people would recognize me. He doesn’t understand where a college coach is on a pro sports town’s totem pole.