THURSDAY'S DAILY FIVE
1. TORTORELLA FAILED MISERABLY IN GAME 2: The New Jersey Devils evened up the Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-2 victory at MSG on Wednesday night. The Devils controlled the play and the better team took Game 2 as the Devils rallied from a 2-1 deficit scoring late in the second period and early in the third. This game kind of resembled Game 2 of the Devils - Flyers series where the Devils won Game 2 and took over the series from there. We'll see where things go as New Jersey has momentum with the series shifting to Newark.
My top storyline out of last night's game was John Tortorella for all the wrong reasons.
Tortorella failed miserably behind the bench and it became evident that David Clarkson was in Tortorella's head as he started matching up Mike Rupp against Clarkson in the second period and Clarkson made his presence felt less than a minute into the third period when he delivered a hard hit on the forecheck in the corner.
At the 1:56 mark of the third period, Tortorella sent seldom used tough guy Stu Bickel to line up next to Clarkson on a faceoff in the Rangers zone and Bickel began chirping Clarkson. Moments later Bickel would have an awful shift, twice sending the puck around the boards without ever looking up ice for a good outlet pass after the Rangers won the draw and Clarkson would eventually deflect a point shot past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Devils a 3-2 lead. Bickel's inability to clear the zone led to the goal and to be honest Bickel shouldn't even be in the lineup during the playoffs and it's astounding that the Rangers don't have a better No. 6 option. Bickel had 5 shifts in the game with 4:13 of ice time.
Tortorella often pushes the right buttons with his hockey club but he lost his touch in benching his top goal scorer in Marian Gaborik who made a casual clearing attempt in the second period that led to the Devils scoring with 1:51 remaining in the period to tie the game.
Gaborik would not see the ice again until 11:03 into the third period and wasn't on the ice for the final 1:29 of the third period when the Rangers pulled Lundqvist. There's a time to send a message with your stars but this wasn't a regular season game, and Game 2 of the East Finals was the wrong time.
2. SLUMPING PRESLEY: Left fielder Alex Presley has gone from a .298 hitter in 52 games last season to batting .309 in his first 19 games this season to now being sent to the minors.
Presley, 26, batting .220 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI's was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday. By optioning Presley to Triple-A, the team recalled reliever Evan Meek who continued his struggles, allowing 3 earned runs and walking 2 in an inning of work in the Pirates (17-20) 7-4 loss to the Washington Nationals last night.
Meanwhile, Presley last season hit .298 with a .339 OBP and .465 slugging percentage, showing promise as a top of the order bat. His numbers though are significantly down with .220 average, .246 OBP and .305 slugging percentage.
Presley was 3-for-42 with 1 extra base hit in his last 15 games.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington says Presley is not being intelligent at the plate.
"We optioned Alex out to get him going, " GM Neal Huntington told me last night. "We need to get him back to being intelligently aggressive where he attacks his pitch or works the count when he does not get a good pitch to hit, " Huntington said.
3. LAROCHE HAVING HUGE IMPACT WITH NATS: - Former Pirate Adam LaRoche had a monster game against his former team in the Nationals 7-4 win, going 3-4 with a home run, 4 RBI's and a double.
LaRoche who collected hit No. 1,000 of his career, is batting .339 on the season with 7 home runs and 29 RBI's.
LaRoche .339 avg is tied for first among NL first baseman and his 29 RBI's is good for 4th in the NL and first among NL first baseman.
LaRoche on base percentage (.429) and OPS (1.024) ranks 6th in the National League and third among NL first baseman, behind Joey Votto and Bryan LaHair.
A notorious slow starter, LaRoche has had a huge impact for the Nationals who are in first place in the NL East with a 23-14 record.
LaRoche numbers at this point of season in previous 5 yrs:
May 17, 2011 - .182 avg
May 17, 2010 - .262 avg
May 17, 2009 - .235 avg
May 17, 2008 - .199 avg
May 17, 2007 - .194 avg
4. McGehee FINISHED? Batting cleanup, Casey McGehee was 0-3 with 2 strikeouts in the Pirates 7-4 loss Wednesday night. McGehee is now 1-24 with 2 RBI's and 7 strikeouts in his last nine games as he continues to show that his days of being a power hitter are long gone.
Batting .210 with 0 home runs and 5 RBI's this season, McGehee being on the downside of his career is not a surprise to some scouts we spoke with last winter at the time the Pirates acquired McGehee.
In 2009, McGehee hit .301 with 16 home runs, 66 RBIs, a .360 on-base percentage and a .499 slugging percentage in 116 games and 394 plate appearances. He followed that in 2010 by batting .285 with 23 homers, 104 RBIs, a .337 OBP and a .464 slugging percentage.
However, his numbers dipped dramatically last season when his batting average fell to .223 to go with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, a .280 OBP and a .346 slugging percentage in 155 games and 600 plate appearances. McGehee did not start any of the Brewers' 11 postseason games as he was benched in favor of veteran utility infielder Jerry Hairston Jr.
One scout who covers the National League Central regularly for an NL team had this to say about McGehee when the Pirates pulled the trigger on the deal on December 12, 2011.
"He lost a lot of bat speed last year and he didn't drive the ball very much, made a lot of weak contact when I saw him on off-speed pitches on the outer half of the plate," the scout said. "I don't think he's a real good fit in (PNC Park). He likes to pull the ball and left field there is where fly balls go to die for right-handed pull hitters."
McGehee now has just 13 home runs in his last 632 at-bats, dating back to October 2, 2010.
5. TOMLIN 9TH HIGHEST PAID COACH IN SPORTS: - Forbes released a feature this week on the 10 highest paid coaches in sports. Bill Belichick was No. 1, although Forbes doesn't know for sure of what Belichick makes due to the secrecy in the Patriots organization.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was No. 9 with an annual salary of $5.75 million. 8 of the 10 coaches are NFL coaches, with two NBA coaches making the list.
Tomlin could soon become a $6+ million a year coach as he has just two years left on his deal. Forbes though needs to do some fixing on Tomlin's bio as it reads, " A fellow assistant of Whisenhunt's in Pittsburgh under Bill Cowher, Tomlin stayed put for the top job when Cowher retired in 2007, while Whisenhunt to Arizona. He got a big raise after the SteelersÃ¢Â€Â™ 2009 Super Bowl victory."