Friday, April 20, 2018

Claude Giroux says Flyers will be back for Game 6


by 
http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/flyers/claude-giroux-says-flyers-will-be-back-for-game-6-20180419.html
April 19, 2018


Patric Hornqvist #72 and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Though they have been outplayed, outhustled, and outscored by an embarrassing 17-1 in their three playoff losses, the Flyers tried to put a happy spin on their predicament as they prepared for Game 5 on Friday in Pittsburgh.

Trailing three games to one in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal that has lacked intensity and drama and has felt like anythingbut a playoff series, the Flyers need to win to stave off elimination.

The Flyers have been badly beaten to loose pucks, lost a majority of board battles, and been outscored 5-0 in special teams in their three losses. In addition, the Flyers’ star players have been mostly invisible, and Penguins goalie Matt Murray (1.27 GAA, .948 save percentage in the series) has outplayed gallant Brian Elliott (4.74 GAA, .856), who has tried to return from core-muscle surgery.

So you can understand why the words coming from captain Claude Giroux (one assist, minus-7 in the series) seemed sincere but, at the same time, hollow.

“We’re not ready for our season to be over,” Giroux said after practice Thursday in Voorhees. He said Pittsburgh was a “tough building to play in, but we know we can win there. We know if we play our game, we can win. So we’re going to go out there, play our game, and be back for Game 6.”

The Penguins finished just two points ahead of the Flyers in the regular season, but they have been miles better than coach Dave Hakstol’s unassertive team in the series. Pittsburgh has been more focused, more relentless, more opportunistic.

Giroux said the Flyers have been pressing.

“I think our compete level is pretty good,” he said. “I know it’s tough to see. I think the guys are working a little too hard; we’re not playing smart enough, gripping our sticks a little too much, I think we need to take a breather and play some hockey.”

After Thursday’s practice, Giroux gathered the team together on the ice and spoke to the players about the situation.

Giroux’s message: “I think it’s believing in ourselves. All year we’ve done that. I know we’ve talked about it before, but you lose 10 in a row and you find a way to win and get in the playoffs. Not a lot of teams can do that. Just the fight in this team” was outstanding in the regular season.

The Flyers can be proud of the last four months of the regular season, when they overcame the odds and earned a playoff spot.

But they have not showed that same swagger in the postseason and have seemed overwhelmed by the spotlight. Getting outscored 17-1 equals their largest margin in the first three losses in any playoff series in franchise history. (It matches their 1979 series against the Rangers.)

Friday is “going to be a big game for us,” Giroux said. “If we go down,  we’re going to go down swinging.”

“We can play better. The good news is there’s a lot more ability there that can shine through,” general manager Ron Hextall said about the Flyers’ dismal showing so far. “… It’s an elimination game for us, and we need to match their hunger and be ready to go right from the start.”

In the series, the Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in the first period.

Giroux carried the Flyers to a playoff berth by scoring 19 goals in the last 29 games of the regular season and finishing with a career-high 102 points. But the MVP candidate has struggled mightily in the playoffs and conceded he was frustrated.

“Anytime the team is doing bad, everyone puts a little pressure on themselves,” he said. “In the past, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. I try not to, but you get frustrated, you try a little harder; you get down further, you try a little harder and nothing is working for you. You got to  keep going. At the end of the day you got to keep going and good things are going to happen.”

Hextall said it was the Flyers’ execution, not their compete level, that has caused them to fall into a 3-1 hole.

Giroux agreed.

“I think guys are working their asses off,” he said. “The execution just is not there. We know that. You know, we need to relax and play some hockey here.’’

After  practice Thursday, Hakstol was asked about the team’s mind-set.

“There’s a little bit of tension there,” he said. “We didn’t do a whole lot of talking. The guys talked a little bit on their own. Today was a day to just go out and work for 30 or 35 minutes, clear the mind a little bit, get the bodies going.”

Unless they get a much better effort Friday, those bodies could be going to the golf course.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sidney Crosby passes Mario Lemieux atop Penguins' all-time playoff scoring list


By Jonathan Bombulie
April 18, 2018

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — When Sidney Crosby broke Mario Lemieux's franchise record for most playoff points in a career Wednesday night, there was no announcement made over the public address system to commemorate the occasion.
That was probably a good idea.
A partisan crowd at Wells Fargo Center wasn't in much of a mood to help Crosby celebrate.
Crosby broke the record as he ruined yet another night for the Philadelphia faithful, recording a goal and an assist in a 5-0 Penguins victory in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series.
Crosby has 173 career playoff points on 62 goals and 111 assists in 152 games. Lemieux had 76 goals and 96 assists for 172 points in 107 playoff games.
"A lot of his records aren't going to be touched,' Crosby said. "The fact that I can be close to him and around that one, I've been fortunate enough to play in a number of playoff games, which helps a lot, but yeah, it's nice to be a part of that."
Crosby tied the record with a first-period assist. He made a cross-crease pass to set up Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at the 4:33 mark.
"You want to have a good start here, especially on the road. Build off the game before," Crosby said. "We knew special teams are important and we got a big power-play goal there to start and give us some momentum. I thought the first in general, even without the power play, we were on our toes there for the first 10 minutes and generated a lot of chances."
Crosby broke the record with a second-period goal that made it 4-0.
He collected a puck from defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on the forecheck in the right-wing corner and shuffled it to Jake Guentzel behind the net. Guentzel passed back to Crosby, who tucked a puck inside the right post before goalie Michal Neuvirth could react.
"I was lucky that the puck just kind of laid there on the other side of the net," Crosby said. "Most of the guys thought it had gone the other way. It was a fortunate bounce, but we'll take it. It was good to get that one."
The Flyers have used three goalies in the first four games of the series. Crosby has scored on all three.
He has five goals and four assists in the series, which has moved him into a tie with Boston's David Pastrnak for the league playoff scoring lead as well as breaking Lemieux's team record.
"I think he's in elite company," coach Mike Sullivan said. "Mario is one of the greatest players of all time. I think the fact that Sid has accomplished that at this point puts him in very elite company with Mario.
"I think that's a testament to Sid's talent level, but also his work ethic. He's played in a lot of playoff games. He's led this team to a lot of playoff success. That's the player and the person that I've really grown to respect. The fact that he's been able to accomplish that and be in the same company with Mario just speaks volumes of how good a player he is and how competitive a player he is."

Penguins vs. Flyers turning into men against boys

By Tom Moore
April 18, 2018
Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins gets his shot past Brian Elliott #37 of the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — The Penguins made it get late early for the Flyers on Wednesday night. That shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody who’s watched the teams’ playoff series.
Pittsburgh again proved to be faster, more talented, deeper and with better goaltending in Wednesday night’s 5-0 Game 4 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
It’s essentially men against boys. Perhaps that explains why the Flyers appeared so listless and were booed at home in a game they had to win to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins can close out the best-of-seven series with a victory Friday evening in Pittsburgh.
To think the Flyers are capable of winning three in a row, two of which would be at PPG Paints Arena, against the Pens would be taking optimism to a whole other level based on the last two games.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said. “It’s not where we went to bed thinking how this game would end up. You just have to regroup.”
“It’s disappointing,” rookie center Nolan Patrick said. “We know the position we’re in and we’re going try to bounce back.”
Philly nemesis Sidney Crosby, who surpassed Mario Lemieux’s franchise record for postseason points with a goal and an assist to reach 173, started the night with a beautiful feed to Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal 4 minutes, 33 seconds into the game. The second straight rout in South Philly had begun.
“Game 4 is usually a tough game to win, but we have experience and confidence,” said Malkin, who added an assist on the Phil Kessel’s goal to make it 2-0.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol pulled starting goalie Elliott after allowing three goals on 17 shots, but Michael Neuvirth didn’t react to Crosby sneaking in with a wraparound from behind the net until it was too late less than three minutes later. It didn’t matter who Hakstol put in the net because none of the Flyers can compare to Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray, who permitted one goal in the three Pens wins.
That the Flyers were without top-line center Sean Couturier, who sat out with a lower-body injury that occurred from a collision with teammate Radko Gudas during Tuesday’s practice at the Skate Zone, didn’t help their chances against high-powered Pittsburgh.
With one goal and two assists in a 5-1 Game 2 victory, Couturier is the only Flyers forward with a multi-point game in the series (defenseman Ivan Provorov had two assists in the same game).
The Penguins didn’t have winger/power Patric Hornqvist (upper-body injury). While Hornqvist is an important part of the Pittsburgh power play, the Flyers lost out in that trade-off because Couturier is a key element on the penalty-kill, even-strength and power-play units, with the Pens boasting more high-level forwards than Philadelphia.
The Flyers are just 2 of 16 on the power play in the series, which is one of numerous telling stats.
Patrick took Couturier’s place on the top line between captain Claude Giroux and winger Jake Voracek (no goals, two assists in the series). None had any success, with Giroux still stuck at one point (an assist) in the four games after finishing with 102 in the regular season.
“We’ve all got to be better,” Giroux said. “We know that. Somehow we have to get our confidence back.”
As for his individual struggles, Giroux said, “You want to help the team any way you can. I’m frustrated and a lot of guys are frustrated.”
By comparison, Crosby has accumulated five goals and four assists in the four games. All of the Flyers’ forwards have a total of three goals.
“We’re working as a group out there,” Crosby said. “They’re good players. They’re going to get their chances. You’re trying to limit them, clear rebounds and play in their end.”
It’s working out extremely well for the Pens.
Pittsburgh has scored at least five goals in seven of its eight meetings with the Flyers in 2017-18, counting the regular season. The Penguins won all four at the Wells Fargo Center by a combined 20-4, including 10-1 in Games 3 and 4.
“We’re one game away from the season being over,” Giroux said. “We’re going to fight until the end.”
There’s no reason to think the Game 5 will be any different than the last two outings.
Tom Moore is a columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times. You can reach him at tmoore@couriertimes.com;@TomMoorePhilly

Battle of Pennsylvania not much of a fight as Penguins win again


By Don Brennan
April 18, 2018
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period power-play goal against Brian Elliott #37 of the Philadelphia Flyers with Sidney Crosby #87, Kris Letang #58, and Jake Guentzel #59 in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
Before these NHL playoffs began, if somebody had offered you a free pass to any first-round matchup, the Battle of Pennsylvania would’ve had plenty of appeal.
It seemed to have the makings of an intense, hard-fought, interesting series to watch.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were kicking off their quest to three-peat against the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished two points behind them in the regular-season standings. The same state rivals meeting in the playoffs for the first time in six years. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who finished second in scoring with the first 100-point season of his career, versus Sidney Crosby, who has won the Conn Smyth Trophy the last two springs.
In the opening round of the 2012 post-season tournament, when the Flyers won the first three games before finally dismissing the Penguins in six, Giroux had six goals and eight assists. Crosby had three goals and five assists. The two dropped the gloves and fought in Game 3. 
But so far, this Penguins-Flyers series has been a major disappointment.
There is no nastiness, no apparent anger. And the four games to date have been no contest. 
The Penguins took a 3-1 stranglehold on the set with a 5-0 victory Wednesday. They won Game 1 by a 7-0 score and were 5-1 victors in Game 3. Somehow, the Flyers were 5-1 winners of Game 2.
And the battle of the captains has been just as lopsided.
Crosby’s most recent one goal, one assist performance gives him five and four, respectively, in the series. The nine points has moved him ahead of Mario Lemieux as the all-time playoff scoring leader in Penguins history.
Giroux has just one assist in the four games.
It’s not just him.
The Flyers best players have not been good at all. And the Penguins best, led by Crosby, are revving up for what looks like will be another long playoff run.
STARTS AND STOPS
If you’re of a particular vintage, you’ll remember how the Flyers rarely lost when they had Kate Smith sing God Bless America before playoff games. The late Kate was great. So great, in fact, that the Flyers still go to her now and then (usually when they need a victory as badly as they did in Game 4) by putting her on the video board in a powerful duet with Lauren Hart, who is standing on the ice below. The magic is no longer there, however, and it just might have something to do with Brian Elliott being no Bernie Parent  … There were two really weak calls against the Flyers in the opening period. First, Matt Read gets whistled for holding Brian Dumoulin’s stick (barely) in the neutral zone. Shortly thereafter, Phil Kessel-to-Sidney Crosby-to-Evgeni Malkin puts the Penguins in front on the power play. The other one was in the last minute, nullifying a Flyers power play, and it again involved Dumoulin’s stick.  From here it looked like Dumoulin threw it to the ice, when it was lightly tapped by Wayne Simmonds, not that it was broken or knocked out of his hands … The only Radko Gudas hit I’ve noticed this series was on video from Tuesday’s practice. Accidentally bumping into Sean Couturier kept the Flyers best player in this series out of Game 4 … The Penguins fared better than we thought they would without the injured Patric Hornqvist, who was a going concern in the first three games.
BETWEEN PERIODS
Trailing 1-0, the Flyers put together back-to-back dominant shifts in the first. They had stolen momentum. The crowd was getting into it. Finally, the Penguins managed to get out of their zone. Malkin made a nice pass to Kessel, who shot the puck right at Elliott. It was a terrible goal and it zapped the life out of the home team and the building … Still in it, down by two late in the second, the Flyers had a great chance to close the gap when Travis Konecny stepped out of the box and into a clear breakaway. He was stopped by Matt Murray, and they could have sent everybody home right there and then … The Philly boo birds came out during what would be a shot-less Flyers power play in the second period. Wonder what took them so long?
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Elliott was finally replaced by Michal Neuvirth after giving up three goals on 17 shots. The third, like the first, wasn’t on him. The Kris Letang shot went off a stick and then the post before entering the net. Elliott didn’t look very happy with the hook on the way to the bench, but something had to be done … In getting pulled during the second periods of Games 1 and 4, Elliott has given up a total of eight goals on 36 shots … Neuvirth was looking over his right shoulder for the Crosby shot that slipped in by his left skate. That’s not great.
BUTT ENDS
Nolan Patrick is going to be a very good one. Still just 19, he was promoted to first-line centre, between Giroux and Jacob Voracek, and he didn’t look out of place at all. I liked how, after losing the opening draw to Crosby, he nailed him into the boards, in front of the Flyers bench, seconds later. By the end of the game, Patrick led all players from both teams in shots, with six … How is it possible that linesman Brian Mach was working his first playoff game when he has more than 1,800 under his belt during the regular season? It can’t be that he’s never trusted at this time of year — if such was the case he wouldn’t have lasted more than 21 seasons. Maybe he’s just been busy. 

Undermanned and underwhelming, Flyers go quietly in the night


by 
http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/
April 18, 2018


Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers greets Brian Elliott #37 as he enters the game after Elliott surrendered 3 goals on 17 shots by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the Flyers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first-round playoff series, they needed everything to go right.

Not for everything to go wrong.

They needed Brian Elliott to play as he had in December, or at least how he played before suffering that core muscle injury. Not be taken out prematurely in two of the four games played thus far.

They needed Claude Giroux to carry his Hart Trophy worthy season into the postseason. They needed Wayne Simmonds to relocate the speed, strength and balance that made him such a force last season and at the start of this one. They needed Radko Gudas to cease with his hot potato act every time the puck is on their sticks, as if seeking to avoid blame by pushing it to his partner – often in an impossible to play position.

They needed Sean Couturier, the Selke Trophy finalist who was averaging 24:35 of playing time over the first three games of this series, playing against Pittsburgh’s top lines, on the penalty kill and the power play to… play.

Hurt in a collision with Gudas during Tuesday’s practice, Couturier’s absence sent a team already in search of answers in search of miracles. The Flyers countered Pittsburgh’s holy trinity of centers – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Derick Brassard  with rookie Nolan Patrick, 34-year-old Valtteri Filppula and Scott Laughton.

With Wednesday’s 5-0 Game 4 victory over the Flyers, the former have combined for nine goals thus far in this series.

Patrick has the lone goal of the latter triumvirate.

In the three games they have lost to the Penguins so far, the Flyers have scored one goal.

One goal.

Which would imply that it’s not just the goalie. Or goalies.

“We lost to a better team,’’ Michal Neuvirth said plainly after replacing Elliott after the score grew to 4-0 in the second period.

Yeah, it hasn’t been much of a fight. And while that’s not earth-shattering news, Patrick’s lone goal among the team’s centers underlines an underreported aspect of this series – and, really, their season.

It’s not the kids who make you grind your teeth watching this team. Patrick, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, even Travis Sanheim of late: You feel generally good when the puck’s on their sticks.

And as ineffectual as Giroux has been in this series – and really Couturier before his injury – that seems to be a byproduct of the abyss in talent between the teams. Giroux and Couturier – and last night Giroux and Patrick – spend too many of their shifts trying to alter momentum, not continue it.

There are spots when they do generate momentum. For nearly 3 ½ minutes of the first period Wednesday night, down by just a goal, the Flyers pinned the Penguins in their own zone, rolling all of their lines in the process. Giroux’s slapshot was stopped by Murray. His tip-in try went wide. Andrew MacDonald’s slapshot was turned away, Provorov wristed one wide, Voracek got off a snap shot from 31 feet and Konecny missed wide with a wrist shot.

Finally, Laughton coughed up a puck in Pittsburgh’s zone. Six seconds later Phil Kessel took a pass from Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1 and fired it past Elliott for a deflating second goal.

“We had some good spurts,’’ said Patrick. “And then we’d make a mistake and it would end up in our net.’’

Too much talent. Too much firepower. Too much experience in these kind of games.

The Flyers lineup for Game 4 of their postseason contained three players who spent chunks of their season in the AHL – Matt Read, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim — and two players, Jordan Weal and Jori Lehtera, who have scored 11 goals between them.

All this could be salvaged perhaps if the one position General Manager Ron Hextall tried to cover with the low-budget signing of Michal Neuvirth amid last season and the equally cost-conscious free-agent signing of Brian Elliott had played out in any way, shape or form the way he professed it would last summer. Two guys sharing the load. Not one guy used in back-to-backs, ridden from the depths of the division to, for a brief time, the top of it, before his 32-year-old body broke down.

If this sounds like an epitaph one game too soon, well, you’re right. The Penguins finished last game the way they had in their two other wins, with all the intensity of a Friday afternoon pickup game – and all the resistance of one too. The few Flyers who showed up in their dressing room afterwards seemed worn down by their previous no-quit proclamations.

And as it ended, as the remaining fans exhausted of their Eagles cheers and Crosby jeers, a chant grew among the few who remained.

“Fire Hakstol,’’ it sounded to some in the press box.

“Fire Hextall,’’ it sounded to others.

Who knows? Maybe the chant contained both.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Patric Hornqvist's injury will be hard to surmount


By Mark Madden
April 17, 2018
Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins prepares to deflect the airborn puck against Brian Elliott #37 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are a few players the Penguins could do without less easily than Patric Hornqvist in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But not many.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at the top of that list, with Kris Letang and Matt Murray a bit lower.
But Hornqvist provides so much that his teammates don't: He's got a level of physicality that combines with intensity, determination and a dash of criminality to make Hornqvist an almost-constant source of frustration to foes.
That's especially useful against Philadelphia, as it distracts the Flyers from promulgating their usual shenanigans.
More tangibly, Hornqvist scored 29 goals this campaign, just one shy of his career high. Including the playoffs, the power play this season has converted a torrid 26.2 percent of the time (72 for 275) with Hornqvist in the lineup. Without Hornqvist, it's at 12.9 percent (4 for 31). Not good.
No one jumps to mind as an easy replacement on Crosby's right wing, the spot Hornqvist occupied in the Penguins' 5-1 Game 3 victory.
Dominik Simon practiced there Tuesday. He looks like the next man up and performed reasonably well when skating with Crosby previously.
But Simon's level of physicality is negligible. Hornqvist's presence induces Crosby to play down low more, which is the captain's biggest strength. Now Jake Guentzel is second fiddle on that line. Guentzel is better in a tertiary role. Crosby, Guentzel and Simon will attack off the rush and not much else.
The top power play is even more hampered.
Guentzel will replace Hornqvist on that unit, which means it won't be anywhere near the same. Hornqvist is a bruiser. Guentzel is a finesse player. Hornqvist is a net-front presence. All Guentzel does is stand in front of the net, and the Flyers will make sure that won't last long.
Hornqvist's absence absolutely cripples the first power play. It can't remotely be the same. It is likely to languish on the perimeter.
Coach Mike Sullivan doesn't have options. He only has one Hornqvist. There aren't many players like Hornqvist in the entire NHL.
It's worth trying Simon on Crosby's wing. Bryan Rust occupied that spot earlier in the series and has often skated with Crosby.
But Game 3 saw Rust be part of a solid third-line effort with Derick Brassard and Conor Sheary. Moving Rust to Crosby's trio might put Simon with Brassard and Sheary. The wings on Brassard's line would be defensively deficient, too small and, frankly, too soft.
Perhaps that's where Zach Aston-Reese comes in.
Aston-Reese might be used to solve a few problems while Hornqvist is out.
Aston-Reese is a definite option for the top power play. He's no classic blue-paint battler like Hornqvist. But Aston-Reese is cagey. He's willing to take a pounding, drift around a bit in the house, and when the moment of truth comes, Aston-Reese is adept at making plays in tight quarters.
The 5-on-5 configurations offer several decent options. Sullivan can't make a gratuitously bad decision but should take into account that Aston-Reese is superior to Sheary or Simon right now and a better fit in certain situations.
On the power play, Aston-Reese is by far the best choice to replace Hornqvist.
Sullivan won't see it that way, at least not at the start of Game 4. But Sullivan is better than most coaches at adjusting on the fly and knowing just when to pull the trigger on mid-game switches. What Sullivan uses when the puck drops Wednesday might well change because of circumstance.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Forget messy divorce: James Harrison remembered as Steelers great


By Jeremy Fowler
April 16, 2018
Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison
PITTSBURGH -- With James Harrison announcing his second and final retirement Monday, the 39-year-old should be known for his timely playmaking and Super Bowl pedigree with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Harrison's clunky exit out of Pittsburgh in 2017 affected his standing with the team in the short term but won't be an issue years from now. His legacy will age as well as he did.
He's the franchise's all-time sacks leader, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and the owner of one of the best defensive plays in Super Bowl history, a 100-yard interception return during a victory in Super Bowl XLIII.
In December, several teammates blasted Harrison for basically forcing his way out of town over lack of playing time. The Steelers had signed Harrison to a two-year deal as a positional hedge in case a draft pick didn't develop. Well, T.J. Watt developed in a hurry, leaving Harrison in street clothes for parts of the season.
Harrison expressed displeasure in part by missing practices and sleeping through meetings. Players had no problem revealing some of Harrison's issues in 2017, with center Maurkice Pouncey saying Harrison had tarnished his Steelers legacy, a statement Pouncey softened a month later at the Pro Bowl.
But Harrison has always been a different dude. Considering how he fought his way into league prominence as an undrafted free agent who played in the World League, Harrison going out on his own terms was hardly a surprise. His short stint with the New England Patriots made the Steelers salty for a time, but he needed a job and Bill Belichick offered him one.
That doesn't change the reality that inside Heinz Field, Harrison almost always produced. His 80.5 career sacks with the Steelers won't be touched for a while. The franchise's active leader, defensive end Cam Heyward, has 37 sacks.
Even in his late 30s, Harrison showcased moments of brilliance. He first retired in 2014, then returned for 23 sacks over four seasons, including the playoffs. His 7.5 sacks over an 11-game stretch in 2016 energized the Steelers during a midseason lull. Even in limited action in 2017, Harrison showed his fastball with a Week 6 sack against tackle Eric Fisher in Kansas City.
The modern Steelers defense has emphasized speedy linebackers who can cover, which isn't Harrison's game, but he could apply pressure on quarterbacks until the very end.
Steelers fans don't remember Franco Harris for his one season in Seattle, and they won't remember Harrison as a Patriot.
They'll remember him taking a Kurt Warner pass to the house, his insane workout regimen and his bull rush off the edge.
As it should be.

Rebonding of Harrison, Steelers will come, but not yet


By Tim Benz
April 16, 2018

Related image
(Mark Albert/Icon Sportswire)

James Harrison posted his retirement message on Instagram around 7 a.m. Monday. By mid-morning, many talk shows and the internet were filled with columns and commentary , discussing the prospect of the Steelers reconnecting with their estranged defensive hero in his retirement years.
Some were even asking for Harrison and the Steelers to pull off one of those dippy, ceremonial one-day contract stunts so he could "retire as a Steeler."
That would be phony emotional manipulation. That would come off as manufactured and forced.
If the hope of having a nice, tidy rebonding between a great player and his team is to come to fruition, let's wait until it can honestly be nice and tidy.
Because it can't be now.
The wounds have to scab over before they can properly heal. Things are still somewhat raw at present.
Jersey retirements. One-day contracts. Rings of honor. Much of that stuff is done for the fans. Yeah, it's good of the franchise to acknowledge great players and their impact. But it's basically done as a public relations move.
I'm not sure all of the fans would give the crowd pop we're visualizing so soon in this case. In fact, some might explode with anger. Many took Harrison's eventual decision to sign with the Patriots as the football equivalent of a sin.
Some of his own teammates did. The day after Harrison was released, Anthony Chickillo was asked if it was hard to see Harrison go.
"It's hard to see him go...there," is all he could manage as a response.
Maurkice Pouncey flatly stated "he erased his own legacy here." Bud Dupree insisted Harrison "spit" on the whole team by going to New England.
When players widely criticize a legendary teammate just a few days after he got released, chances are they aren't going to be excited to stand on the sideline and cheer for him as he goes out for a ceremonial coin toss.
Or, in the case of Pouncey, maybe be out at the 50-yard line next to him while the coin is in the air.
Awkward, right?
Maybe some of those players will have to be gone before a scripted return of Harrison to Heinz Field takes place. Perhaps linebackers coach Joey Porter or even Mike Tomlin may need to absent by then, too.
Given Pouncey's age, Porter's shaky ground, and the status of those other linebackers on the roster, that may not take long. But knowing how the Steelers covet keeping coaches, don't hold your breath on the Tomlin part of that equation.
Let's be clear on a few things. First of all, Harrison is going to want this at some point.
He may act distant now. But he'll want a reunion soon. He already informally made an appearance at Brett Keisel's "Shear Da Beard" fundraiser this offseason.
Harrison isn't going to be like Jack Lambert and Troy Polamalu, intentionally staying away from the franchise.
Those guys don't like the media attention and the hoopla. For real.
Harrison pretends like he doesn't. It's part of his act.
Oh, he may hate actual media members. Like, probably the guy you are reading right now.
But he loves the attention. No one basked in his own bad guy, tough-old-man-strength image more than Harrison. Remember the infamous Men's Journal cover piece? You don't post constant Instagram videos of yourself working out unless you crave attention and are looking for hugs from the internet.
As proof, Harrison was even posting Monday, two hours after his retirement announcement.
Those videos get play because he's an NFL player. He's retired now, though. And if he remains divorced from his team, he'll just be an old guy bench pressing.
Secondly, the Steelers will want a Kumbaya moment, too. It'll happen. But it'll happen on their clock.
They patched things up with guys who left on worse terms than Harrison's.
Santonio Holmes was unceremoniously traded. Mike Merriweather sat out the 1988 season. The Steelers cut Franco Harris when he asked for a raise in 1984. Mel Blount went so far as to sue Chuck Noll. The Steelers even trumpeted a return of Terry Bradshaw in 2002 despite his self-created drama with the team over a stretch of decades.
The Steelers even took baby steps Monday by sending out a "thank you" post on social media to Harrison.
It took 12 hours. But they did it. And a full blown a Harrison-Steelers reunion will take time as well. It should take time.
Everyone loves a redemption. Everyone likes the prodigal son story. But let's actually let him stay away from home for a bit until this fully cools off.
Let Harrison sleep on it for a while. You know, like he used to do in all of those defensive meetings when he was trying to get himself cut.