Starling Marte, Jake Guentzel, excuses & Kessel tattoos: Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings

A tattoo of Phil Kessel riding a hot dog will never not be No. 1.

Austin Meadows, Starling Marte, Penguins goalies and Phil Kessel riding a hot dog.

Austin Meadows, Starling Marte, Penguins goalies and Phil Kessel riding a hot dog.

USA Today Sports/Twitter

It’s time for another edition of the Pittsburgh Sports Power Rankings. Please let it be known that despite various rumors, the Power in these Rankings is achieved honestly and without any synthetic help. This column has never tested positive for anything. In fact, there is an argument to be made that sometimes this column is a bit too negative. Onto this week’s rundown.

10. Slow starts

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Despite holding a 3-1 lead over the Blue Jackets, the Penguins have been outscored 5-2 in the first period so far in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The Pirates are off to a 6-9 start to the season, tying the team for last place in the NL Central. And let’s not forget that any chance the Steelers had of getting a first-round bye in the playoffs was ruined by their 4-5 start last season.

While I enjoy procrastinating as much as the next guy, Pittsburgh’s teams could really use a shot in the arm to get going. Oh, and to clarify: I meant that figuratively, Starling Marte.

9. Our 2015 takes

This is not to pick on Mr. Pompeani or anyone else who said two years ago that the Penguins had zero NHL-caliber forwards in the minors. No one — zero people alive — predicted that Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary would becoming unstoppable scoring machines that will dominate the NHL for the next 15 years along with Daniel Sprong. Absolutely everyone got it wrong back in 2015. Thankfully, none of us have written wrong opinions on the Internet since.

8. Bulk

Going all in on size and strength isn’t a great idea in sports. Ask Starling Marte. But Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella is learning this lesson, too. He filled the Team USA roster with slow bangers — and therefore no Phil Kessel — for last year’s World Cup of Hockey and went 0-3.

Even after that, he decided the Blue Jackets’ best bet to defeat the speedy Penguins was to out-physical them. That approach dropped Columbus into a 3-0 hole in the series. So before Game 4, Columbus hit on a novel approach. “As much as you want to hit them, I don’t think, well, obviously it’s not working,” said Blue Jackets forward/linebacker Scott Hartnell. “Basically, all it does is tire you out. Watching the other [playoff] series, there hasn’t been that much of the ‘I’m going to run you over for the fun of it.’ At the end of the day, you’ve got to outscore them.”

Congratulations to the Blue Jackets on learning how to play the sport of ice hockey. Let’s hope they forget again soon.

7. Steroids

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates

Starling Marte was suspended 80 games for violating MLB's PED rules.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Doing drugs? It’s bad. That’s a fact. This is also a fact: the Pirates are bad at doing drugs. While the rest of baseball was bashing home runs at an historic pace through the ‘90s and ‘00s, the Pirates were the worst team in baseball. And now Starling Marte not only gets caught taking anabolic steroids, but gets caught after hitting just nine home runs last season, a career-low for a full season. The Pirates can’t even cheat right. Sad!

6. Excuses

Here is Ian Cole trying to explain to Mike Sullivan what happened on Brandon Dubinsky’s goal that tied Game 4 late in the third period.

Let’s go forward.

5. Pitching

Jameson Taillon

Jameson Taillon

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates starting rotation was supposed to be the team’s weakness this season, but Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl have been outstanding so far and rumored ace Gerrit Cole has put together back-to-back strong starts, as well. In fact, through 15 games, more than a third of the earned runs the Pirates have allowed are the responsibility of just two pitchers: Tyler Glasnow and Antonio Bastardo.

If the team’s playoff hopes survive the absences of Marte and Jung-ho Kang, strong pitching will be the reason. Unless the Pirates offense is saved by …

4. Austin Meadows

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates

Austin Meadows

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates uber-prospect could be called up at some point during Marte’s absence, at which point it could really help the team if he proceeds to win the Triple Crown. “But he’s only hitting .156 at Triple-A so far this season,” you say. You fool! He’s saving all his hits for Pittsburgh.

3. Jake Guentzel

So maybe Austin Meadows isn’t quite Ted Williams yet. But Jake Guentzel has reached legendary status.

Now he just needs a nickname that is as good as Rocket Richard. Ice hockey has come a long way over the years, but olden-times hockey was far better with the nicknames. I don’t think something like “Jakesy” or “Guentzy” is quite worthy of the world’s greatest living hockey player.

2. The Goalie Who Isn’t Playing

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

You know who would have saved that puck that went in? The goalie who currently isn’t playing. That guy is the absolute best. He didn’t give up a goal all night, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is a liar.

1. Fine art

Andy Warhol made the Campbell’s soup logo into art. But even he never conceived that such a masterpiece as this could be achieved with a food product.