MONDAY’S DAILY FIVE: On Board with Malkin, Staal playing together once Crosby returns

1. On Board with Staal/Malkin together for a “Regular Season” Look: Jordan Staal (8G-4A-12Pts) is showing signs for the first time in his career to carry a scoring line and he’s scoring some goal scorers type of goals, evident in his first of two third period goals in Saturday night’s 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Should Staal’s progression offensively make it a no brainer for the Penguins to at least explore Staal centering Evgeni Malkin on the second line when Sidney Crosby returns? It sure does.

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We are still in November hockey and there’s no reason for the Penguins not to explore that route when Crosby returns.
When the organization made the decision during the summer of 2010 to move Malkin to wing, it was because the team felt the move would increase Malkin’s goal scoring ability. As everyone knows, that plan never took off last season due to injuries.
Malkin’s best position is center, there’s no denying that, but he’s still not peaking in the goal scoring department. Malkin has 4 goals in 10 games this season and only 11 goals in his last 30 regular season games.
By comparison, Jordan Staal has 13 goals in his last 30 regular season games.
The two showed good chemistry in the third period of Saturday’s game and with the coaching staff having full intentions of loading up a top line with Sidney Crosby centering Chris Kunitz and James Neal, the emphasis of at least giving Malkin and Staal an extended look together increases.
2. Brown reminding scouts of a young Santonio Holmes: I texted a scout in the middle of last Sunday night’s Baltimore game about Antonio Brown and the scout said that Brown reminds him of Santonio Holmes every time he see’s Brown on the field and it’s hard to argue with that.
Brown has emerged as a true gem, being a 6th round pick out of Central Michigan in the 2010 draft. Second on the Steelers with 44 receptions for 626 yards and 1 touchdown, Brown has 26 receptions for 364 yards and a touchdown in his last four games, seeing his most extensive minutes of the season during that span, including starting the past two games.
Where Brown has emerged as a true game changer is on third down where he’s coming up with big grab after big grab, showing Holmes attributes.
Late in the third quarter against Baltimore, trailing 16-6, if it wasn’t for Brown’s 21 reception on a 3rd and 17 at the Pittsburgh 23, the Steelers likely never mount a comeback and take a 4th quarter lead.
Against Cincinnati, Brown was dynamite on third down again. In the second quarter on a 3rd and 19 at the Pittsburgh 15, Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a 21 yard reception. Brown had 4 receptions for 74 yard on that drive as the Steelers went 16 plays and 01 yards on their final drive of the first half.
Also on the drive in a 3rd and 7 at the Pittsburgh 39, Brown had a 15 yard reception and had two third down catches for 36 yards in the game.
Against Cincinnati, all five of Brown’s receptions went for first downs.
3. No Interceptions for Troy through 10 games: Even after two 4th quarter interceptions in Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Bengals, the Steelers go into the bye week with just 6 takeaways and 4 INT’s on the season.
For this defense to peak the rest of the way and into the playoffs, Troy Polamalu has to become the game changer in the secondary.
Polamalu through 10 games has 0 interceptions for just the second time in his career since becoming the team’s starting safety in 2004. The last time Polamalu had 0 INT’s in the first 10 games was in 2007 when he didn’t record an interception that season.
Polamalu by the numbers through first 10 games of each season:
2004: 4 Interceptions in first 10 games
2005: 1 Interception in first 10 games
2006: 3 Interceptions in first 10 games
2007: 0 Interceptions in first 10 games
2008: 4 Interceptions in first 10 games
2009: 3 Interceptions in 5 Games (only played 5 games in 2009)
2010: 3 Interceptions in first 10 games
4. Wide Open AFC: Who’s the best team in the AFC? The best answer is to just let it play out. It changes every week and in the AFC there isn’t a dominant team like the Green Bay Packers in the NFC. It’s hard to not like Pittsburgh in any matchup but the team that I fear as potentially the worst playoff matchup for the Steelers could be going on the road to Houston.
However, Houston has never been there before and I have serious questions about Baltimore being able to get it done, even if they finally get to host a playoff game. Meanwhile, the Patriots are going to be there but New England’s days of being a dominant playoff team are in the past.
The safest bet at this point might be the defending AFC Champions, even if they don’t win the AFC North.
Going into week 11, the top Super Bowl contenders in any order are Pittsburgh, Houston, New England and Baltimore. Let it Play Out.
5. PITT Hoops survives scare vs Rider: The No. 10 Pittsburgh Panthers survived a scare at the hands of Rider Sunday night, holding on to win 86-78. Ashton Gibbs scored a team high 24 points, hitting the clinching 3-pointer with a minute remaining and Pitt got a strong game from Nasir Robinson who added 22 points and six rebounds for the Panthers (2-0). Pitt trailed by as many as six in the second half but ended the game on a 16-5 run to win their 58th straight nonconference game at the Petersen Events Center.
The dynamic for Pitt was attempting 34 three pointers and this is a team that has the ability to push the play, space teams out and be aggressive from the arc but Jamie Dixon wasn’t too thrilled about the team settling for three’s.
“I thought we got a little bit stationary, didn’t get as much penetration for a stretch there, relied on too many threes, way too many, 34 of our 62 shots. I don’t think we’ve ever had a percentage like that, ” head coach Jamie Dixon said.
Rider shot 53.6% in the game and a focus for the Panthers this week will be shoring up their defensive play. “They spaced us and drove on us early. We put a big focus on not giving up layups. I think the number was 13 that we gave up. It was layups, it was 3-pointers, they shot 53 percent and they had five turnovers, so that was offensive efficiency, ” Dixon said.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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