Horton's recent hot streak good news for Bruins


Horton's recent hot streak good news for Bruins

BOSTON -- Let's face it. Nathan Horton may never have a worse scoring drought than he did midway through last season, in which he scored only one goal in 20 games.

But entering January, it was getting awfully close. From Dec. 5 to the end of the month, Horton scored only twice in 11 games.

The Bruins weren't struggling, so it wasn't that big a deal.Still, big picture, Horton is a major part of Boston's success. His presence on the right wing on the team's top line was crucial in the playoffs last year, until he went down with a concussion in the Stanley Cup Final.

His presence is all about intensity, and at the end of the day, that intensity -- for Horton -- turns into goals.

Sometimes, though, Horton doesn't seem to be fully engaged in the game that he's playing -- a reason he went through such a horrid stretch last season. It was also a reason for his latest drought, before the last four games.

Because in those last four games, Horton now has five goals, thanks to his two goals in Tuesday night's 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the TD Garden.

"I think he's doing more of what we had talked about when we wanted him to be a better player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the win. "I think he's more engaged in the dirty areas, battling. I think he's being more physical than he had been lately. And he's a lot stronger on the puck. Even near the net, he's trying those chances, where at the beginning of the year, he was there but the goaltenders were making the saves and he wasn't burying his opportunities.

"So I think when you look at all those little things, it's more about how engaged he is in the game. I think he's more mentally engaged in all those little areas."

Julien said that his team lacked a killer instinct in the first two periods on Tuesday night. But Horton seemed to have it from the get-go, scoring the Bruins' first goal of the night while going hard to the net in the final minute of the first period.

Milan Lucic completed a breakout by skating the puck down into the left corner of the offensive zone, and dished a pass out to the right post, where Horton beat the defense to the puck and tapped it into the open net, tying the game at 1-1 with 39.4 seconds left in the first period.

Horton's second goal started a third-period scoring spree, as he once again went hard to the net, beat the defense to the top of the crease, and put his stick on the ice to knock home a David Krejci spin-o-rama pass from the left corner, just eight seconds into the period.

That goal -- his 14th of the year -- tied the game at 3-3, and was the first of three unanswered Bruins goals to end the game.

"I'm just trying to get pucks to the net and go to the net, and get it to open people," said Horton after the win. "Im just trying to give David Krejci and Milan Lucic the puck as much as I can, and just go to the net, and good things happen."

Good things happened for Horton on Tuesday night, as he seemed fully engaged in the game, getting to those dirty areas.

And after that, the rest of the Bruins followed suit.

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.

Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers


Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers

A quick look at the information you need to know about today's Patriots-Steelers game:

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 5-1, Steelers 4- 2

GAME TIME: 4:25 p.m. EST


TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson


NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Larry Kahn, Mark Carrier and Troy West

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak


LAST MEETING: Patriots 28, Steelers 21 on Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

* * * *
-- The Patriots are 8-11 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in their history, but are 4-2 at Heinz Field. Included in those four Heinz Field victories are two in AFC Championship Games (in the 2001 and 2004 seasons).

-- Tom Brady is 8-2 against the Steelers in his career.

-- The last time Brady played the Steelers, in 2015, he set a Patriots franchise record with 19 consecutive pass completions.

-- The Patriots are 108-70 (.607) in road games since 1994, the best record in the NFL over that span. The Steelers (97- 82, .542) are second.

-- The Patriots have yet to throw an interception in 2016, setting a team record for consecutive games without an interception at the start of a season (6). The NFL record for consecutive games at the start of a season without a pick is 9, set by the 1960 Browns. The Patriots' franchise record for overall consecutive games with no interceptions is 8, set in 2010.

* * * *
-- Rob Gronkowski has 67 overall touchdowns and needs one to tie Stanley Morgan (68) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 66 receiving touchdowns and needs one to tie Morgan (67) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 22 100-yard receiving games, including two in 2016, and is tied with Jackie Smith for the third-most among all NFL tight ends. The only TEs who have more are Kellen Winslow (24) and Tony Gonzalez (31).