McCourty embraces different roles in the secondary

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McCourty embraces different roles in the secondary

FOXBORO -- As far as Devin McCourty's position in the secondary goes on game days, there are two things we know:

1. McCourty says he'll play wherever the coaches ask him to.

2. The coaches say they'll play him wherever it is deemed best for the team on a week-to-week basis.

Good to have that all figured out.

But for however uncertain his status may be -- especially considering safety Steve Gregory's possible return this weekend and last week's trade for cornerback Aqib Talib -- there are a few things to take from the situation.

For starters, the secondary has settled down some. McCourty has now played two games at safety this season. He remarked after last week's win over the Rams that he already feels more comfortable on the back end.

It seems he's embracing the move.

"It's cool. It's different. You get used to seeing more of the field," McCourty said of the new vantage. "I think you have more of a responsibility, since you have that viewpoint, to let everyone else know. Because I know when you're playing corner it's not as easy to see the different things that you see on film when you're just on that side of the field. So I try to just communicate and let guys know if I see anything from film study that might happen so they're aware of it."

Communication is key. Unfortunately, consistency in personnel -- something the Patriots haven't had in the secondary -- is key to communication.

Earlier in the week, head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged how roster upheaval can create problems.  

"I think the more consistent we can be as a unit then that builds their communication and better teamwork between the players that are involved.There are always going to be some moving parts, there are moving parts every week because of the team that we play and unfortunately weve had, like every team does, guys go in and out for various reasons, so its not perfect."

During games, much of that effort now falls on McCourty's shoulders. Belichick said Wednesday he appreciates his player's style.

"He's not a guy that has a lot of excess communication; he's concise, he's to the point: 'Here's the call, here's what it is.' It's good. Devin's more like, 'Here's what we need to do. Just get to the point and do it.' He does a good job at it."

As for the player himself, McCourty believes his positional flip-flopping actually provides an advantage.

"I have a good knowledge of, especially for our corners, what they're doing. I think a little bit of that helps when I can say things and communicate with them, to let them know that I'm going to call. My experience at corner helps me out with that aspect, and then just going out there and playing and listening to the guys that've been playing safety when they're trying to help me out."

Guys like Gregory.

Though he's been sidelined with a hip injury since Week 4, the veteran safety has been a valuable resource  in the film room and in meetings for the entire defensive backfield.

McCourty's appreciation for Gregory was returned in kind this week.

"Dev's a great athlete," he said. "He understands football; he's a smart football player. He understands what we're trying to do as a defense and he has the ability to play any position in the secondary, so he's done a great job."

So despite all the moving parts, all the instability, maybe there are fundamental aspects of McCourty's move that will make the whole thing work.

Gregory put it simply enough.

"Dev's a selfless guy. He's a team player. He just wants us to win, and whatever they ask him to do, just like the rest of us, he'll do."

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.