Game 27Ladies and Gentlemen Would You Please Welcome The Pittsburgh Penguins

Game 27Ladies and Gentlemen Would You Please Welcome The Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season, the very first
game the Flyers played was against their current top rival, the
Pittsburgh Penguins. They helped to open a new arena in western PA,
although not quite the way the home team would have wanted. This year,
we've had to wait more than a quarter of the season to see Jaromir Jagr
and Max Talbot face their former club, which we'll finally get to do
tonight.

That storyline aside, the Pens and Flyers are also deadlocked at the
top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings,
separated by just one point. Pittsburgh has played and lost two more
games than Philadelphia, and the teams aren't alone at the top. There's a
lot of hockey left to be played, but we get the feeling it's going to
be tight most if not all of the way through to the spring.

The division races are heating up as the schedule gets more
Atlantic-heavy, which should provide for some great theatre as the
winter months kick in. The players come and go, but the rivalry never
seems to change much. The coming and going seems to be the spark that
will fuel some of this season's battles, with Jagr and Talbot taking top
billing.

Their stories are quite different, their Pittsburgh tenures
separated by years, but in the eyes of some Pens fans and media members,
the current most important characteristic Jagr and Talbot share isn't
that they won Cups for Pittsburgh—it's that they signed with the Flyers
this past summer. [Puck Daddy has more]

Jagr hasn't played for the Pens since 2001, having stopped in
Washington and New York before heading to Russia for three seasons. When
news broke that he'd be returning to the NHL, it was assumed he play
for either the Pens or the Red Wings, who were rumored to have interest.
But, like a thief in the night, Paul Holmgren worked a deal with former
Flyer and current Jagr agent Petr Svoboda, bringing Jagr to Philly.
Along with the departure of Talbot to none other than the Flyers he once
battled in a memorable playoff series (memorable for the wrong reasons
if you're from Philly), two playoff heroes had traded in their status as
flightless water fowl for roles with a team known for Flying.

The money, and in Talbot's case, years, that the Flyers gave these
two prodigals helped soften the blow for many Pittsburgh fans. Some said
Talbot was overrated and Jagr might dazzle here and there, but these
weren't currently guys you could pin big hopes on. With both playing at
the very least to the potential they were brought here for, I wonder if
the pill's as easy to swallow today as it was in July.

In truth, it probably is. The Penguins are doing just fine without
them, and there's still plenty of time for any Jagr and Talbot haters to
be proven right. But all indications are that if healthy, these two
will be key contributors to a versatile and dangerous Flyers team that
will contend for the division some thought would certainly belong to the
Penguins or Rangers once Homer pushed ctrl+alt+delete on last season's
roster. No one knew what to expect. It's safe to say that as the puck's
about to drop between the Penguins and Flyers for the first time this
season, fans on both sides wouldn't trade their players for their
counterparts in the other sweaters.

Just the way it should be in a great rivalry.

Quick notes:
As you already know, Sidney Crosby won't play tonight. Hope to the gods
that all is soon well with him and that we're not seeing the beginning
of concussion symptom recurrence so soon after his return. 

Also, HBO is shooting at tonight's game, gathering footage for the first episode of 24/7.

Ilya Bryzgalov will get his second start in as many nights, facing
Marc-Andre Fleury. Crosby's a well known Flyers assassin, and his
bullet's been dodged for the night, but the Flower's numbers (20-10 in
33 career appearances) against Philly aren't anything to shrug off… 

Quite possibly my favorite hockey pump-up song:

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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USA Today Images

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.