December 10, 2010

Which is Better: Reebok's New Stick Technology or that of the Computers that Helped to Pull off Their Ads?

The question hockey fans seem to be asking themselves these days is if Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby can be the next player to score 50 goals in 50 games. The answer is "unlikely", not only because he is well off the pace now with 26 in 30, but also because he's not nearly this good. C'mon, tossing the puck over his head from off the ice and walking away as it gingerly makes its way into the open net? I think we can all agree that's about as believable as a skinny Santa Claus at a department store... in a blue suit for lack of his size in red.

There's no doubt that Crosby is the best player in the game and that this year and last he's also become the most complete, but, really? Reebok? These commercials of yours are becoming increasingly less realistic to the point that it's no longer about making your product and Crosby look good, but trying to outdo the latest viral video on YouTube of a dog barking at a television during a commercial break. Maybe yours was playing.

Now That's Using Somebody Else's Head!

Seventeen-year-old Oscar Milton, who plays for Almtuna J20 of the HockeyAllvenskan league in Sweden (the second-highest level of hockey in Sweden) takes the lacrosse goal we've seen at least one-hundred times (which still gets about as old as making Colin Campbell jokes) to a whole other level, by not even doing the opposing goalie in the clip the courtesy of aiming for the net. Instead, Milton chose to embarrass him by banking it in from off his head from behind the net. Shameless. I wonder what Don Cherry would have to say about this hot-dogging, if he wasn't busy ranting about communist sympathizers, apparently senile, and stuck in the Joseph McCarthy-ruled America of the 1950s, that is.

On first (and eventually fifth) glance, it looked as if Milton's stick may have risen above the crossbar, thereby making it illegal (or at least it would be in the NHL, not sure how it works in Sweden and I ain't planning on taking Swedish lessons to learn the language just for the sake of reading the rulebook), but it was pretty to watch and an ingenious reimagining of a classic, and not just in the vain of the new Battlestar Galactica series either... you know, with it having an actual ending and all.

Carkner's Decision to Fight Boogaard His First of Two Bloody Mistakes on the Night

The gesture Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner made to the New York Rangers bench on Thursday goes way beyond obscene. It borders on the dangerous.

There's no way to know for sure if malice was intended, because, even if the league were to look into the incident and ask the Rangers on the bench, it would all turn into a he-said, she-said fighting match, impressively enough without Sean Avery having to take on his usual role of the she. Due to the limited amount of camera angles available, no one can really tell for sure exactly what Carkner was doing, and he may very well be so stupid that he wasn't actually flicking blood at the Rangers, but experiencing a stoner's moment if there ever was one and just looking at the red stuff on his head and hands and wondering where it came from. Maybe Derek Boogaard beat in his head a little too well.

Whatever he was thinking (and the term "thinking" is used loosely), this is one of those rare instances where the league has to suspend based on the apparent intent and not the action itself. A player can stick out his knee 100 times during a game until the cows come home, but until he connects with the leg of an opponent all he is guilty of is looking weird and doing an even weirder aerobics routine minus the spandex. Here, there is an inherent danger as well as an extremely sensitive issue at play.

Of course, we don't know if Carkner is actually STD-ridden or just how he spends his nights on the road. For all we know, he may very well be in an uber-committed relationship with his wife and stay faithful to her. It's definitely no one's place to imply that he might be carrying something without the right amount of proof. However, by that same token, he shouldn't be making it anybody's business but his own.

The bottom line is if New York Islander James Wisniewski got two games for playfully letting the entire world in on what everyone already knows about Avery with his obsene gesture two months ago, than Carkner deserves at least that much for at the very least not being nearly as funny with his. Wisniewski's may have been classless, but Carkner's was downright filthy.

December 9, 2010

Richards Scores the Game-Winning Goal that Wasn't

For all intents and purposes, the "would've, could've" game works well in this situation, in which Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards put the puck in the net just after time had expired in overtime against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. If there had been just a few milliseconds more on the clock, the Flyers would have won. It's that simple. It's not as if San Jose goalie Anterro Niittymaki or any one of his teammates saw time expire and just stopped playing. He tried to make the save and just failed to do so.

However, it's not as if the Flyers or their fans can turn anyone into a scapegoat for this latest defeat, which saw them succumb 5-4 in a shootout, with Logan Couture getting the winner.

There was no money being exchanged between Sharks head-coach Tood McLellan and the referees. There was no phantom timekeeper that purposely put the scoreboard out of sync with the offical game clock. There was no Montreal Canadiens defenseman that was talking smack out of turn, distracted Richards, and prevented him from shooting the puck one second sooner. There was just the Flyers getting legally bested by the Sharks. But Flyers fans can take solace in the fact that their team most certainly deserved a better fate. They deserved to win, plain and simple.

Of course, that's not really taking into account the fact that they gave up three-straight goals and a 4-1 lead to get to that point, where a last-second goal would have had a direct impact on the outcome of the game, but, still, in the spirit of how the game was meant to be played, the Flyers won. Only they didn't. Confused? Well, it's like when you read the winning lottery numbers in the morning, seeing that your numbers actually won, and for a split-second that overwhelming dislike you've been carrying around for everything in the universe, God included for never, ever giving you a break the length of your tired, long, miserable existence, dissipates suddenly and you actually feel a smile forming on your face... until you realize you didn't buy a ticket this week because you were hungry and went for the beef jerky at the convenience store instead.

It's a moral victory. And how sweet are those? Am I right?

Obviously, the need for timekeeping is there, and there's little point in ridiculously making an argument that the goal should have counted. It will just be interesting to see how the regular season plays out and if Philadelphia ends up needing one extra point to clinch the Atlantic division in April, and falls just short. Of course, there's hardly any reason to worry in that regard. The way the hated Pittsburgh Penguins are playing, the Flyers will never find themselves in that situation. Feel better, now? I thought so. But, hey, Flyers fans, just remember: if they do, when the Penguins are bulldozing their way through the competition thanks to the higher seed en route to the Stanley Cup Final, it should be you in their place.

Crawford Loses It over Missed Call, but Has no Bertuzzi on His Team to Get Even with Refs

Yeah, Dallas Stars head-coach Marc Crawford pretty much lost it on Wednesday night, belittling referees Dave Jackson and Dean Morton (not by name, just in general) over a critical missed call, but it's Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook we're all somehow looking down on instead. Throwing your stick into the play is as cheap as you can get during actual gameplay, you know, if you're not Sean Avery (or Chris Pronger acting like Sean Avery, which actually isn't as rare as you would think).

It's not that we've come to expect this sort of acting out from Crawford either (just google "Bertuzzi" and "Crawford" to find out what I mean if you just so happened to live under a rock six years ago between the dates of February 16 and March 8, 2004... you could probably also search for "Bertuzzi" and "Moore", or, if you're aided by simple word association, "Bertuzzi" and "oversized dumb-ass"). It's that Seabrook is a decent defenseman and we've just come to expect more out of him.

So, as much as Crawford likes to throw his temper tantrums like a big baby (who somehow is already greying and looks like he's in his mid-50s; progeria?), he does have a point. There should have been a penalty shot on the play in question to allow the Stars a chance to tie the game 4-4 on a penalty shot instead of losing 5-3 thanks to a late empty-net goal by Patrick Sharp. The official rule, 53.6, states the following:

"When any member of the defending team, including the Coach or any non-playing person, throws or shoots any part of a stick or any other object or piece of equipment at the puck or puck carrier in his defending zone, the Referee or Linesman shall allow the play to be completed and if a goal is not scored, a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending team. This shot shall be taken by the player designated by the Referee as the player fouled."

As clearly as that bit about "the Coach" was included to cover all bases in such an instance that Crawford is ever behind a bench during a game, the refs surely screwed up. However, while the game resulted in a six-to-one power-play advantage for Chicago, I don't think it's fair to subscribe to the belief that anyone had it out for the Stars yesterday. Mistakes happen...  and it isn't like Gregory Campbell was anywhere in the general vicinity. Think about it like this: a six-to-one advantage for one team is pretty one-sided. A referee would have to be crazy to allow that to happen and draw attention to his lack of partiality. So, said referee (or tandem of referees) can likely justify every one of those calls and calls not made; or he's just crazy-stupid.

As for Crawford, yeah, he as justified in this instance, but for a guy that really does look like he's approaching 60 and is just 49, calm down. Take some yoga. Breathe. Remember: Things aren't that bad for you overall. For instance, things could have turned out a lot worse for you after the Steve Moore incident. Hell, you could be Steve Moore.

December 8, 2010

Shootouts in Hockey Are A-OK, as long as Firearms Aren't Involved

Sports-reporter Michael Farber's declaration of love for the shootout in hockey (link here) couldn't have aired on a better night. Mere hours after he warmed hockey fans' hearts on Tuesday with memories of then-New York Rangers defenseman Marek Malik's 15-round shootout-winner a half-decade ago, the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers were melting the ice at Rexall Place with a 10-rounder of their own. And, truth be told, it was so exciting it pulled me away from my nightly dose of Comedy Central's own unique brand of medication long enough to realize that, while not a cure-all, the shootout has done its job in the NHL's post-lockout era well enough to divert attention away from the game's more unsightly problems. Here is yesterday's in all its 14-minute glory:

Of course the stand-alone game was exciting in its own right, but the fourth and fifth frames were simply incredible. At one point, you had to wonder if the zamboni was going to come out again to resurface that one wide streak in the middle of the ice. The action was so hot, one could have easily imagined goalie Nikolai Khabibulin as a supermodel under all those layers of equipment and mask... given enough alcohol, that is, and a car in which to DUI. He was impressive, is all I'm trying to say. 

After he made that toe save on Corey Perry in round three, it really was as if he was in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey once again making that kick save on then-Calgary Flame Jordan Leopold in the dying minutes of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. Of course, reality eventually set in that he's an over-the-hill, overpaid, and overworked soon-to-be retiree, but for a few seconds there... WOW. And they say time travel hasn't been invented yet.

As Farber points out, the shootout's detractors say that it's merely a skills competition. Seeing as that's the one part of All-Star Weekend anybody actually likes watching, so what? And in theory isn't the most skilled team supposed to win every night? There's no harm in deciding a game in entertaining fashion just as there wasn't when teams used to take turns faking entry into the offensive zone before the lockout and made a conscious effort to try and play to a standstill, lest they give up two points instead of one. Now they have no choice but to try and score.

To those that ask ignorantly "if the shootout isn't good enough for the postseason, why is it alright from October to April," the same argument holds. Playoff hockey is already entertaining. Even if it's 2 a.m., you need to get up in four hours, and the game isn't yet out of its fifth intermission, you're not going to pull away from your television set and are going to risk having to pull out a six-pack of Red Bull at work the next day - every other hour - to make sure not to fall asleep. Now, you will most certainly bomb that presentation for which you were supposed to be preparing instead of watching the game, but you'll have no regrets, for you'll have just witnessed one hell of a game the night before.

And to those very same purists that believe the shootout isn't fit for hockey at all because the NHL doesn't deem it fit for the playoffs, look at the logic of your argument. There's just as much of a case to be made for shootouts in the playoffs as there is for never-ending overtimes in the regular season. No one deems those fit for games in October... yet.

In essence, the tie can be construed as a gimmick itself, an ingenious way for sports leagues to allow games to end before a resolution to prevent wear and tear on their players. Baseball doesn't allow for ties. Hockey in theory needn't either. And, yet, purists tend to cling to the belief that just because there had been ties since before the dawn of time, the formula can't be improved upon. Not to mention comparing regular and postseason games is like comparing apples and oranges. Through 82 games last year, the Montreal Canadiens were mediocre. In 19 playoff games, well... they were still mediocre, but they put on an awesome performance that couldn't have been replicated the length of one regular-season schedule.

Gimmicks either fall flat or serve their purpose, and the shootout has done its part in bringing back some fan attention to the game. It's strange that all those that have vilified it for being a gimmick haven't even looked in the direction of the Winter Classic, which is as much a gimmick for hockey as his toupee is for Donald Trump.

"No gimmick here... just a goalie wearing a tuque in the middle of a football stadium skating in a pile of snow."
All things taken into account, it's likely that the shootout is here to stay, unless, as Farber points out, Detroit Red Wings general-manager Ken Holland and company are able to convince the league to take another route. But, if it ain't broke, don't try and fix it. Instead focus your attention on other things, like, just a thought, poor attendance below the Sun Belt or in New York where the Islanders are making a case for Long Island to become the next Atlantis: sunk and to be forgotten, minus the advanced intelligence of the Lost City's braintrust.

How about shots to the head, or the implementation of no-touch icing, or permanently banning Jose Theodore from ever donning the pads again? Really there are dozens of issues that should be tackled before the topic of the shootout is even grazed as a topic for debate.

Unlike Farber, I'm not addicted to shootouts, but I am rational and unbiased enough to know that they should not be taken out of the game. If they eventually are it would represent yet another example of the huge disconnect between the league and its fans. Truth be told, it's a minor miracle more haven't gone at least little a postal by now.

Old Man Recchi still very much a Wrecking Ball into His 40s

Mark Recchi is 42 years old. Think about that for a second. He could likely be your dad. Hell, he's older than Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who's 41, and he's a grandfather! Still, unlike Favre, who seems keen on finding new and interesting ways to help his team lose, Recchi continues to contribute to the Boston Bruins, scoring his sixth goal of the season, the game-winner in overtime, against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

Recchi is now on pace for 55 points, which is inspiring considering when he broke into the league in 1988-89 teammate Tyler Seguin had not yet been born, while Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic were still in diapers. I have it on good authority that a four-year-old Patrice Bergeron was already adding and subtracting, but he's just been known to just faster than others.

So good has Recchi been that he's making the Pittsburgh Penguins look oh, so foolish for placing him on waivers back in 2007, which is pretty hard to do considering their draft history in recent years (of course, they did draft Angelo Esposito, but everyone's entitled to a quagmire every now and then). Had the Penguins, a team so short on wingers that they're being forced to move Jordan Staal from his bread-and-butter position of center - if he ever returns, kept him there's no telling what would have happened in the Stanley Cup Finals that spring against the Detroit Red Wings. I mean he would have been back from Florida for the winter and everything.

All this means is that if the Bruins are getting key contributions from players they weren't expecting, they will be very dangerous come the playoffs. That and they won't have to sign Miroslav Satan again, which is always a plus. Recchi's likely made enough of a deal with the devil for the entire team.

Pang Destined for Sensitivity Training after On-Air Gaffe?

It's something you don't ever want to have happen to you... come across as a White supremacist on national television, or at all for that matter, but now TSN analyst Darren Pang will have to deal with a whole lot of evil looks into the long term. And that bald head of his sure doesn't help matters.

On Tuesday, during TSN's coverage of the Montreal Canadiens - Ottawa Senators game, Pang suggested Habs defenseman P.K. Subban, who is black, model his game after St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who is white. Normally, minute details such as these wouldn't matter all that much, at least not in our socially advanced, colour-blind civilization (or so we at least like to believe), but Pang committed a slip-of-the-tongue of colossal proportions, saying that Subban ought to do things "the white way" instead of the right way. He corrected himself immediately, as if no one would notice, but later apologized, perhaps realizing that everyone, in the hockey-watching world, did.

Now, I'm not saying that Pang is an actual racist... there is little to no other actual proof to that effect. All this likely adds up to is a really embarrassing moment for him, one that likely caused really awkward ones in bars tuning into the game on TSN. He might not get put back on the air for a while if the mail to TSN in response to the gaffe is about as large as one would have to expect, but his career being derailed after something like this is unlikely to say the least. I wonder though who he would blame if he did lose his job.

December 7, 2010

Hockey’s not High School and the Caps’ Goaltending Situation Isn’t a Popularity Contest

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ joy just may amount to Michal Neuvirth’s misery.

Neuvirth missed a chance to get in Washington Capitals head-coach Bruce Boudreau’s good graces on Monday when the Caps led the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 in the third period and ended up losing 5-4 in a shootout, an unfortunate twist of events that boils down to an ill-advised and badly timed error in judgment.

Think something along the lines of letting your guard down and that wimpy kid in gym class get in a free shot with the dodgeball and then getting surprised when he doesn’t just knock you out of the game, but on your ass for all the school to see. It’s a pain deep within the cockles of your heart that won’t subside until you get a chance to beat up that same kid in retaliation beyond all recognition. FYI, on a totally unrelated topic, the Leafs next play the Caps next January 22. Should be fun.

With the heart-wrenching defeat, Neuvirth can now expect teammate Semyon Varlamov to get another kick at the can when the Caps take on the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Monday marked the third-straight defeat for the Caps, who had lost to the Dallas Stars and Atlanta Thrashers beforehand, with losses credited to Neuvirth bookending one to Varlamov.

That isn’t to say the Capitals’ goaltending situation is lacklustre. The three-game losing streak is just one of two such low points this season for the Southeast division-leading Caps, who are an impressive 18-8-3. And, discounting the shootout-winning goal yesterday, the team has still only allowed nine goals in those three games, which, admittedly isn’t spectacular, but still amounts to a better goals-against average than that of the Tampa Bay Lightning since the start of the season, who wouldn’t know a starting goalie from Andre “Red Light” Racicot if a young Patrick Roy suddenly materialized in front of Steve Yzerman in complete hockey gear, asking to point him in the direction of Mike Vernon so he can go deal with some unfinished business.

In fact, the Capitals’ goaltending has been a breath of fresh air, just one example of a truly bizarro season thus far that has already seen Alexander Semin lead the team in goals, Alexander Ovechkin once go nine games without one, and Steven Stamkos somehow move past him in fans’ eyes as the second-best player in the game today. I think we can all agree Carey Price has usurped Sidney Crosby as number one, but that may just be my inner Habs fan talking.

In any case, since returning from injury, Varlamov has compiled a 4-2 record, with a 1.92 goals-against average, and a .934 save percentage. Neuvirth hasn’t exactly been a slouch, going 12-4-2, with a 2.66 GAA and .909 save percentage, but what once seemed like a certainty, that it was Neuvirth’s job to lose once Varlamov got his lower body in check following what must have been a few visits too many to the local bordello, is now embroiled in anything but.

"Okay... quickly, when no one's looking. Give me your helmet and then your jersey. This is the only way I'll get another start."
Varlamov has played himself back into the driver’s seat, meaning the next bend in the road is his through which to navigate. It’s the outcome most envisioned taking place when the Caps brass made the incredibly hard decision to let Jose Theodore walk last off-season. This one is considerably easier, however. You go with the more talented goalie, and that’s Varlamov.

Feel sorry for Neuvirth if you must, because Boudreau won’t, nor will anyone else, be looking to give him a break… even if he deserves one. There aren’t any phys-ed teachers looking to give everyone a chance with the ball here… just bullies looking for the upper hand and to crush you square between the eyes when you least expect it.

Bogosian Celebrates His Second Goal of the Season like only a Two-Goal Scorer Can: Memorably

When the celebration is more noteworthy than the actual goal, it's kind of a bad sign, but, no matter. Zach Bogosian and the Atlanta Thrashers will take the goal no matter how embarrassing a celebration will forever be attached to it in fans' minds.

It was his second goal of the year and 21st of his career, meaning, maybe, just maybe, he felt the need to get a little light-headed and take a tumble now that he's of legal goal-scoring age. Whatever the case, the goal helped to enable yet another Thrashers victory, which, if you haven't been paying attention, have been piling up as of late. The team is currently in sixth place in the Eastern conference, while Ilya Kovalchuk's New Jersey Devils are just three points out of last. Perhaps most embarrassing, though, is that Niclas Bergfors has six goals and 17 points, while Kovy has five goals and 11 points. What's most embarrassing is that Kovy would likely kill for even the chance to celebrate as Bogosian did yesterday night.

Maybe the Sharks Were the Ones that Drank all the Red Bull Last Night

Anytime you make the Detroit Red Wings look like an ill-prepared team of experienceless rookies instead of the wise sages and greybeards they really are, you know you're doing something right. As such, the San Jose Sharks deserve mad props for not only beating the Wings quite handily 5-2 on Monday, but taking the lead for good by scoring twice in eight seconds, which is usually about the amount of time it takes captain Joe Thornton to come out of the penalty box for boarding and promptly nail an unsuspecting David Perron. Good to see the Sharks actually benefiting from a quick change in momentum for once.

While the two goals in eight seconds were pretty quick, there is little to no information easily accessible on the web to confirm whether or not it was a team record. Eight seconds does also represent the two fastest goals in Sharks playoff history, with current New Jersey Devils head-coach John MacLean and current Darryl Sutter-cronie Ron Sutter scoring against the Dallas Stars in a 3-2 loss back in 1998. Also of note, defenseman Brad Stuart scored two goals in the last 17 seconds of regulation back in 2004 against the Los Angeles Kings, you know, back when he could actually score. It's the fastest two goals one Sharks player has ever scored in the regular season, but there appears to be no word on what the two fastest regular-season goals, period, in team history are, so, for now, let's just assume yesterday's by Niclas Wallin and Logan Couture were it. It's a fair assumption to make, along with the fact that Couture and Dallas Star Bryan Sutherby are squinty-eyed twins separated at birth, by seven years, and, of course, one actual skill set.

Interesting to note that the Sharks tied another record last night, that of the most goals scored in Detroit by the team, with the 1994 edition of the squad scoring that many in the opening game of the 1994 playoffs, which actually saw the eighth-seeded Sharks upset the heavily favoured Wings. It was the first time the Sharks made the playoffs and advanced past the first round in franchise history... and thus began a long line of disappointing their fans with mediocre playoff run after mediocre playoff run. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?

Leafs Win! Leafs Win! Leafs Win! And Impressively too!

I don't know if it's that the Toronto Maple Leafs have suddenly realized that they won't be making the playoffs and that all the pressure of doing so has been alleviated or what (although that probably is it), but the Leafs are playing well, really. Case in point would be their 5-4 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night, which was punctuated by this spin-o-rama winner on goalie Michal Neuvirth by none other than Mikhail Grabovski.

Yes, that Mikhail Grabovski, the same Mikhail Grabovski that was once a throw-in to the Montreal Canadiens' acquisition of highly touted fifth-round (FIFTH!) selection Greg Pateryn two years ago... the same Mikhail Grabovski that is on pace for a relatively decent 55 points this year. Not bad at all.

Of course, one can't forget that the Leafs are clicking as a whole right now, with goalie Jonas Gustavasson being the only one Leaf to consistently show up. He would probably have more wins to show for his effort than the mere four he has now if, you know, the Leafs bothered not to lead the league in six shutouts, which is honestly a fact I didn't check for the simple reason that it's just one of those stats that is just so astoundingly bad that it's pretty much impossible to be "bested" ("worsted?") by another club. If I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll hear about it, but pretty sure I ain't. In any case, the victory would not have been, were it not for Gustavsson's stick-save on Mathieu Perreault right after Grabovski's goal to help preserve the victory. Insane stuff.

And, of course, I would be remiss not to mention Clarke MacArthur, who made it all possible by  tying the game late and continuing to be the bright light in the Leafs line-up to help Leafs fans forget all about Phil Kessel's point-scoring troubles. Think the memory eraser from Men in Black, if you need a visual aid. He's that compact (5'11", 191 pounds) that the comparison actually works pretty well. He scored his second of the game late in the third to force the game into overtime. MacArthur has 21 points in 26 games is now on pace for a career-high 65 points. Kessel? He has just 15.

At this point, while Leafs fans would like to be getting more offense from the guy for which they traded three high draft picks to the Boston Bruins, they can't really be too picky and should be glad they're getting offense from anybody... especially after their latest shutout, a 5-0 embarrassment of a loss last Thursday to the Edmonton Oilers. So bad were they in that game that Leafs fans actually started a petition to try and convince general manager Brian Burke to trade Nazem Kadri away for Taylor Hall. Steve Tambellini has yet to get back to him, but I'm sure the offer's out there.

It can't be denied at this point in time that the Leafs have rattled off two-straight, great wins against superior opponents over the past few days against the Caps and the Bruins. In fact, every so often, the Leafs do find a way to compete, as they also proved against those very same Caps in an early-November shootout loss. The only conclusion to be derived? That the Leafs are actually good when they want to be... which is a horrifying thought. For Leafs fans, think the same feeling you get when pondering the likelihood of the Bruins getting Sean Couturier next entry draft and you'll be where the rest of us are.

December 6, 2010

Who's Travis Walsh? An Apparent Magician with the Puck, that's who

This from Saturday night, in a game pitting the Muskegon Lumberjacks against the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL. Many fans tend not to know that the USHL is the American equivalent of the CHL, but this video will definitely prove that the talent level isn't necessarily below par south of the border. What's most impressive is that Travis Walsh is a defenseman. Let's just hope for his sake he's not the next Marek Malik.

You Don’t Know what It’s like to Sing the Blues, but Saint Louis Does

Let me start off by saying that Edmonton Oiler Shawn Horcoff’s hit on Saint Louis Blue Andy McDonald on Saturday was about as dirty as a martini that’s really heavy on olive juice... it’s unfortunate and interesting to look at, maybe even leaves a bitter taste in your mouth if you’re a Blues fan, but illegal? No.

Really, after looking at the replay about five times, I’m still not exactly sure it can be labelled as a hit as much as an accidental collision after McDonald lost his footing entering the Oilers’ zone. That Taylor Hall scored the game-winner off the giveaway only added insult to injury, literally. The point isn’t that things were going so well for the Saint Louis Blues, because they weren’t, but that things were going so well for McDonald. Whichever way you look at it, neither he nor his team really needed this right now.

Of course, things like that tend to go without saying, and yet sometimes they bear repeating especially if the victim has suffered through concussions in the past, as McDonald has, most significantly in 2002-2003. He missed 50 games that year, his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks, including all 21 of Anaheim’s incredible playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils.

At the time, McDonald was arguably a fringe NHLer, who at the age of 25 had yet to really solidify a spot as a top-six forward or team up with Teemu Selanne and Chris Kunitz to enjoy his greatest success. That really puts into perspective just how crushing these types of injuries can be, how much potential they can wipe away with a single split-second check. That isn’t to say McDonald is the greatest Saint Louis Blue that ever laced them up... that honour obviously belongs to goalie Marek Schwarz.

I mean, clearly McDonald was the beneficiary of Selanne’s superstar skill to the point that he was made into a point-per-game player from 2005-2007. It nonetheless can’t be denied that McDonald has become a legitimate secondary scoring threat since then. He was leading the Blues in points and goals when he got injured, with 17 (8) in 25 games. He was admittedly also held pointless in four games before then, but that really points more to the Blues’ woes than it does his own.

Prior to Sunday’s victory over the Vancouver Canucks (without McDonald), the Blues had lost five-straight and 10 of their last 13. The Blues are just one of those up-and-down teams, with which you never know what you’re going to get. Heading into this year, with the team’s acquisition of Halak, people were considering them realistic dark horses in the West. This after they were essentially duds last season, one year after being the hottest team in the entire league following the All-Star break en route to being ousted in four games by the Canucks in the first round that year.

"Stop as in 'make the bleeding', not a save."
Almost miraculously, the Blues are still holding down the seventh spot in the Western conference. Were it not for goalie Jaroslav Halak’s early-season heroics, people might very well be talking about the Blues in the same vein as the Islanders nowadays... up a river without a paddle.

As such, you have to feel sorry for Blues fans as well as for McDonald as each’s futures are about as cloudy as that very same dirty martini at this point. I’d suggest one to help calm the nerves, but with injuries also to David Perron (concussion), T.J. Oshie (ankle), and Roman Polak (wrist), one has to believe that Saint Louis’s collective blood-alcohol level, at least among hockey fans, is already well above the legal limit. When the phrase “what’s one more?” can just as easily refer to injuries or concussions as it can drinks, you’re in trouble. Here’s hoping the Blues and McDonald find their way out of it.

Islanders just too much for Flyers... for about 36 Seconds

We won't get into how, technically, the Islanders' second goal on Sunday shouldn't have counted because of the referee's incompetence in whistling the play dead earlier than it took the team to hire Garth Snow after replacing Neil Smith as general manager four years ago (and that was pretty early on in their search for a replacement for Smith; hell, it was pretty early on in their search for a replacement for Mike Milbury). For all intents and purposes it was a goal, and even if the ref intended on blowing the whistle a few milliseconds before the puck reached Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (meaning the play should have been dead at that point, when he intended to blow it, down on his knees and all), it was nice to see the Islanders get a call just one time, because God knows they needed it, and a few hundred others up to this point this season.

I mean, you can kind of see how the ref would assume that Bobrovsky would make the save on Frans Nielsen. For one, it was a routine save. For another, it was just 30 seconds after the previous goal, meaning a goal being scored was doubly unlikely. Finally, it was the freakin' Islanders!

Still, however nice it was to see the Islanders get a break, the Flyers responded with two quick ones of their own against Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory, bringing into question the very questionable goaltending situation on the island.

By far, Roloson has the better numbers between him and Rick DiPietro. Roloson has a decent 2.50 goals-against average, compared to DiPietro's horrid 3.76. Roloson's .913 save percentage also easily trumps DiPietro's .874 (of course, no offense to Roloson, but so would my grandmother's .895 in her senior league). Roloson even has one assist to DiPietro's none, and, somehow has compiled two less penalties in minutes. Evidently, DiPietro got the extra penalty, two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, after throwing a tantrum upon realizing that the local hospital he frequents stopped serving his favourite flavour of Jell-O at lunch. He's clearly due for a return visit after playing through a third of the season unscathed.

Oddly enough, however, Roloson can't seem to win as often as DiPietro. The loss yesterday was Roloson's 11th, to go along with two wins and one overtime loss. DiPietro meanwhile has a 3-4-4 record. As such, it begs the question: does head-coach Jack Capuano go with the goalie that gives his team the best chance at winning, or the goalie that actually wins, although "wins" is used very loosely here. It would probably be more accurate to say "loses less". It's a fair question, but one that doesn't have a relevant answer.. the Islanders are screwed no matter what. Even once the likes of legitimate talents Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit get healthy, the Islanders will find themselves way out of playoff contention, and attention must turn to next year already. Hardly the kind of mindset you want your team to have in early December, but one that is unavoidable with the team already 16 points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern conference.

For the record, the two goals were not the fastest in Islanders history, with the team actually scoring five in a mere 2:37 in a January 1982 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Among those were goals 16 seconds apart care of John Tonelli and Bryan Trottier. How depressing it must be to realize that even when this edition of the Islanders does something right, they're still so far away from matching the success of the team during its dynasty years. I wonder what Billy Smith is up to these days.

Blackhawks' Depth Take a(nother) Major Hit with Injury to Kane

Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks still won 4-2 on Sunday, despite star Patrick Kane getting injured in the first minute of play. And, yes, the Hawks are in fifth place in the Western conference, despite everyone counting them out this off-season after they were forced into trading away about a third of their Stanley Cup-winning line-up.

Still, there's little denying the fact that Kane, not including Sunday's game, is one of two point-per-game players (Patrick Sharp) on the team and arguably their most valuable, that he was in the midst of his hottest streak of the season, scoring 12 points in the last nine games, and that the Hawks were thriving as a whole during that stretch, going 6-3.

And, oh, yeah, there's also the fact that they were playing Calgary, hardly much of a challenge even if they had to play two men down. I mean, yeah, the Flames did account for one of Chicago's three losses in those last nine games, winning 7-2, but those were not the Flames we've come to know and pity... those were the Flames that had just gotten rid of, coincidentally, Patrick Kane-impersonator Brett Sutter, and had just had the benefit of getting a load of tremendous proportions off their collective back with something to prove. Needless to say, a much different team now that the reality of the situation, that cabbie-suckerpunching Sutter's no cabbie-suckerpunching Kane, has sunk in and that losing him doesn't really alter the make-up of the team all that much... they're still a bunch of gross underachievers that wouldn't win consistently even if their opponents were to be handicapped for an entire game... which is what they proved yesterday.

In any case, now that Kane is out, the Hawks need to realize that they won't have the benefit of playing the Flames every game. Admittedly, head-coach Joel Quenneville said that it's nothing really serious, but he preceded that by saying: "Kaner will probably be out a bit. We'll know more [Monday]." So what to gather from that is that hockey nicknames are so ridiculously stupid that players sometime even add a syllable for no apparent reason, and that it could very well be serious. No one really knows yet.

For the record, when the team was without Marian Hossa for five games in late October, early November, the team went 2-3, with losses against the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils. Ouch. As such, no injury on any team should be taken lightly, especially seeing as Brett Sutter is currently in the AHL.