How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?


How did Crosby fare in his return to the ice?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly being answered. Questions such as: How good would the Penguins be if Sidney Crosby and the rest of their injured players were healthy in time for the NHL playoffs? Will the return of Crosby to a club surging without him disrupt the mojo that had the Penguins storming toward the top of the Eastern Conference? On Thursday, under the glare of intense media attention in the heart of New York, Crosby returned from a three-month absence caused by recurring concussion symptoms and helped the Penguins thoroughly beat the New York Rangers 5-2 for Pittsburgh's 10th straight victory. Not only didn't the Penguins skip a beat as they welcomed their captain back into the lineup, they thrived. Crosby earned only one assist on the score sheet, but he was on the ice for three of Pittsburgh's goals. Now the questions gaining lots of steam throughout the NHL: Are the Penguins the new threat to come out of the East, and can anyone stop them? "I don't like to say stuff like that," said Marc-Andre Fleury, who was overshadowed despite making 29 saves in his 38th win of the season, and ninth in the streak. "We're playing pretty solid hockey these days. It's a long season and nothing is over. We have to keep going, trying to get points, trying to catch the Rangers. Everybody feels pretty confident." The Penguins are suddenly the picture of health, and the NHL's hottest team is making the playoff race a fight to the finish. Crosby returned from a 40-game absence along with defenseman Kris Letang, who missed the past five because of concussion issues. That gave the Penguins their most complete lineup in months, and Pittsburgh responded by thumping the slumping and beat-up Rangers. The Penguins have beaten the Rangers twice during their spurt and now trail them by four points. Pittsburgh has 13 games left, compared to 12 for New York. Crosby was hoping he wouldn't mess up any chemistry created by his teammates while he was out. "I didn't want to be that guy," said the center, who got rare playing time at wing. "I obviously knew we were playing really well. There was a little bit of adjustment, playing wing, things like that. I thought everyone played great, and I'm happy we got the win." Crosby played for the first time since he was forced to the sidelines on Dec. 5. His presence was felt way beyond what can be analyzed by numbers. He took 18 shifts, and the Penguins scored on three without allowing any. "I think he played a great game," said Matt Cooke, who scored twice while playing on a new third line with Crosby. "He draws so much attention when he is on the ice. People are worried about how good he is. That makes the players on the ice with him that much better." That showed throughout as the Penguins became the first team this season to score five goals against the Rangers. Crosby joined Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on a line. Kennedy had two assists, and NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin added a goal for the Penguins, who haven't lost since Feb. 19 at Buffalo. Pittsburgh's winning streak started two days later with a 2-0 home victory against the Rangers. "That was the only way we could catch them, by beating them because they were winning a lot," Fleury said. Crosby is expected to play in each of Pittsburgh's remaining games -- including two this weekend at New Jersey and Philadelphia to complete a span of three games in four days against divisional foes.

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)


Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Braves are coming (but not yet)

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Atlanta Braves

2017 record: 72-90, 3rd place in NL East

Offseason additions: Preston Tucker, Charlie Culberson, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Peter Moylan, Chase Whitley, Grant Dayton, Chris Stewart, Anibal Sanchez

Offseason departures: Matt Kemp, R.A. Dickey, Jason Motte, Matt Adams

X-factor: Ozzie Albies

One of the youngest players in the league, Albies just turned 21 in January. He carries with him the pedigree of the game's No. 11 overall prospect entering last season and got his first taste of big-league life toward the end of 2017.

He hit well, posting a .286 average and .810 OPS while showing an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and providing some pop and speed.

Assuming he can avoid any sophomore slump and take another step forward, the Braves could actually surprise some people this year. But without Albies providing Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman some lineup support until a certain phenom gets to town, it's hard to see Atlanta contending.

Projected lineup

1. Ender Inciarte - CF
2. Ozzie Albies - 2B
3. Freddie Freeman - 1B
4. Tyler Flowers - C
5. Nick Markakis - RF
6. Preston Tucker - LF
7. Dansby Swanson - SS
8. Rio Ruiz - 3B

Projected rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Foltynewicz
3. Brandon McCarthy
4. Sean Newcomb
5. Scott Kazmir


The Braves are coming, you guys. 

Maybe not now, but they'll be here soon enough.

2018 will feature growing pains for a young group of up-and-comers including the aforementioned Albies, plus Tucker (a powerful outfielder acquired from the Astros), Swanson (the 2015 No. 1 overall pick who's since fallen on tough times) and Newcomb.

Oh and there's some guy named Ronald Acuna coming up next. You may have heard of him.

The 20-year-old phenom has absolutely torn the cover off the ball everywhere he's gone the last 14 or so months and we'll see the game's No. 1 overall prospect in the big leagues in mid-April, God willing.

Once Acuna does come, it adds another level to a lineup that frankly comes up a bit short right now, even with Freeman (one of the best hitters in baseball) and Inciarte (one of the game's most underrated players). 

The Braves have a solid bullpen, plenty of rotation depth and a decent bench. It wouldn't be shocking to see them challenge for the second wild card spot, but true contention will probably come in 2019 for this bunch.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves

Podcast: Eddie O discusses what went wrong for Blackhawks this season


Podcast: Eddie O discusses what went wrong for Blackhawks this season

Eddie Olczyk joins Pat Boyle, Steve Konroyd and Jamal Mayers to discuss what went wrong for the Blackhawks this season, and what changes could happen this summer to get the team back into the postseason.

Listen to the entire HawksTalk Podcast here: