Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drew Doughty Named to Candian Olympic Team

I'm not an L.A. Kings fan nor do I know much about Drew Doughty, but man... it's so cool to me that he was yesterday named to the Canadian Olympic team at the ripe old age of 20 (having just left his teens a few weeks ago).

Below is video of Doughty (against the Sharks) that I found at this link.

Friday, December 25, 2009

2009-2010 World Junior Championship TV Schedule

Really like me some World Junior Hockey... last year in Ottawa was great TV and looking forward to this year's tournament in Saskatoon.

16 games will be broadcast (hopefully all in HD) on NHL Network in the US with the schedule here and the quarterfinals starting at 2:00PST on Sat Jan 2. Also of note on the schedule is the US-Canada game New Years Eve at 5:00PST.

Good times.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Amazing Dwayne Roloson Saves

Yes, it may be excessive to have two posts in a row with content taken entirely from a different blog, but man... this is a great save.

Below is video taken this Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports post.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Minnesota Wild Equipment Fire

Wow, never seen anything like this story from the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports.

Below is an image from the Yahoo! post... crazy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ovechkin "Goal of the Decade"

This is a goal seen I'm sure many times over the last four years by hockey fans, but Michael Farber's inclusion of it in his "NHL: Highlights and lowlights of the Decade" piece on CNNSI illustrates that it's worth a second, third, fourth or fifth look.

Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals scores from his back against the Coyotes Jan 16, 2006. As Farber writes, the video is made even better by listening to Darren Pang's audio commentary from this clip.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Sports Jobs with Junior Seau" on Versus

It's not a hockey-centric show, but for those that haven't seen it, I recommend checking out "Sports Jobs with Junior Seau" on Versus (keeping in mind of course how many people don't get the channel).

The concept has Seau spending each half hour episode working behind the scenes in various jobs within sports. Episodes I've seen thus far had him working construction on the new Meadowlands NFL stadium, being an LA Dodgers ballboy and most recently a Washington Capitals equipment manager.

Here's the URL to the Versus microsite on "Sports Jobs" and video clips can be viewed by going to the page for each episode.

Seau himself may not be the most polished show host, but his history as an NFL all-pro probably also gives him a level of respect and access that someone else wouldn't have in doing this show.

Pretty entertaining stuff for any sports fan who likes this type of behind the scenes view.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy "10 Biggest NHL Goon Moments of the Decade"

Interesting piece from the Puck Daddy NHL Blog on Yahoo! Sports today.

Titled The 10 biggest NHL goon moments of the last decade it has... that ... and with videos!

I suppose this isn't surprising, but of the ten, nine were cheap shots, with the remaining one being the Sabres goons going out to fight the Senators (great video linked and below, especially the coaches yelling naughty words at each other) after Chris Drury was hit late with a head shot.



Also linked from this story (and also from the Puck Daddy on Yahoo!) was The 10 biggest NHL stories of the last decade. Maybe I'm just an NHL cynic (though not a hockey cynic), but it seems to me that a number of these "stories of the decade" are of the not so great variety and can be tied to how the league is run.

As to the cheap shots, players out to injury others deserve the most blame, but the league itself isn't in the clear given that it's the NHL dictating punishment for transgressions. The severity of said punishment is usually determined by... well, see one blogger's most excellent mock suspension flow chart...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Those Wild & Wooly Flyers Fans

Loved watching the Capitals-Flyers game the other game. Only in Philadelphia does the team welcome a new coach with an 8-2 loss and the fans act like... well, like Philly fans.

Two things from the game that spoke volumes about the fans known for booing Santa Claus. First was them cheering Daniel Carcillo for winning his "fight" (usually you challenge, wait and then throw rather than challenge, see a twitch of gloves dropping and then throw) against Matt Bradley below...



Granted, Carcillo got thrown out of the game and Washington a 9 minute power play during which they scored twice, but me thinks Philly fan was probably happy with the trade since you know... they got to see a good punch thrown by a Flyer.

Then later in the game, Philly fan had another cause for cheering... a referee injury. Yea, someone getting hit in the ear with a shot... there's something to get excited about. Nice.

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Silly me publishing this post before I went and saw this story from Puck Daddy at Yahoo! Sports referencing the four game suspension just received by Carcillo.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Today's NHL: What Does Happen

Remember the first season post-lockout when game announcers seemed to feel they weren't doing their job if they didn't say at least three times that "in today's NHL, no lead is safe"?

Those sure were times and now I feel like we've got a new "today's NHL", but it's about something entirely different than big comebacks. Here's what I see in the game today...

Players

- The ridiculous defending with fists of teammates who are hit with a clean check.

- Teams starting games with repeated cheap shots to "test the toughness" of the other guys. Just seems like silly posturing most of the time.

- The apparent disregard for the safety of fellow players. I'm not the first to say it, but the danger is someone eventually getting killed on the ice due to either a head shot or head hitting the ice. Scary stuff and there doesn't seem to be any efforts being taken to reduce the danger.


Management

- The dumbness of the league not going to 3 points for a regulation win. Even though I think shootouts are a gimmick of a way to decide games, I'm fine with them for regular season games. So silly, though, to have some games count for 2 points total and some for 3.

- The abject dislike of the Canadian market by league headquarters. Recently Commissioner Bettman talked about how no US teams would move to Canada, but perhaps an expansion team might go there? Taking a page from former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora... "expansion???, you want to talk expansion???!!!"

- Too high of a % of scoring coming during man advantage situations. This one could be argued as to what management could or should do about it, but I do find it frustrating that games are so frequently decided based primarily on special teams play.

Ok, all that said, I love hockey and will continue to do so. Just some stuff definitely bugs me about the NHL right now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rendition of Herb Brooks' Speech by 4 Year Old

Apparently this has been quite the viral web hit lately, but I just came across this video on this post by Greg Wyshynski in the Yahoo! Sports hosted Puck Daddy blog.

The video itself is brilliant and the post itself is well worth reading (probably even reading first) as it provides background.

Short description is it's a 4 year old kid doing the Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks "tonight we beat the Russians" speech from the movie "Miracle". Great stuff.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Original Six Piece from Sports Illustrated

So glad hockey's back. Along with that and detailed in the Michael Farber piece "It's All About The Six" are the cornerstone franchises: the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

Such good times.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Rookie Throwdown: Ducks at Sharks

Unfortunately I'll likely be unavailable for each of these three games (middle one is possible), but would be fun to catch one of the Ducks-Sharks rookie games coming up.

From the link... 7:00PM on Mon Sept 7, Tues Sept 8 and Wed Sept 9 on the North Rink at Sharks Ice at San Jose (formerly known as Logitech Ice as well as the Ice Centre).

Tickets go on sale at 5:00PM each day, cost $10 for adults ($5 for kids 12 and under) and are limited to the first 850 people per.

Sounds fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"New England Hockey: A Life at the Rink" on DVD

I wouldn't send a non-hockey fan to watch it, but for hockey fans who have Netflix, I highly recommend watching "New England Hockey: A Life at the Rink" on DVD (with Netflix page hyperlinked).

It's an hour or so documentary on hockey in the Boston area with various vignettes about the game in the community. Those topics that stood out to me the most are listed below:

- High School Hockey: storyline about Catholic Memorial and it's rivalry with Boston College High as played out in the Super 8 State Championship Tournament.

- Beanpot Tournament: the annual Boston-area college mini-tournament featuring Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern.

- The Bruins during the season of the Joe Thornton trade. Funny to see what I imagine are smart hockey fans who think Joe should have become like Cam Neely in Boston. Simply not that type of player, people!

- Jack Falla and his backyard rink, the Bacon Street Omni. I wrote this blog post about Falla's book "Open Ice" earlier this month and it was interesting to see footage of the guy and rink... and a shame to know he has since passed away.

All in all, definitely worth watching for all hockey fan types.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Open Ice" by Jack Falla

I also posted this review on my writing blog, but figured that a review of a hockey book should also be on a hockey blog. So...

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Recently finished "Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer" by Jack Falla (also the author of the novel "Saved" that I reviewed here).



I enjoyed it quite a bit and what really struck me about the book is the coincidence of Falla's passing from a heart attack just prior to it's release. This is even more profound as the book deals quite a bit with Falla's view of mortality in this highly personal account of his life in hockey.

Some of the chapters I found to be of note are below:

"A Death in Montreal": About Falla's trip on his own dime to be at the memorial service for Maurice "Rocket" Richard. A fascinating account of how Richard impacted French Canada... which compels me to recommend the movie "The Rocket" (sometimes known as "Maurice Richard". Available on Netflix, it features some excellent hockey action from this era and shows the circumstances of Richard's career and why he mattered so much.

"Skating the Rideau Canal": One of the chapters that struck me in light of Falla's passing as his stated goal was to skate the canal through Ottawa while 80. Sadly, he didn't make it.

"Requiem for the Cucumber": About another Falla hockey field trip of sorts... this time to the small town of Chicoutimi, Quebec to learn about local legend Georges Vezina and view his grave. Just an interesting look back in hockey history.

"Searching for Hobey Baker": Chronicles a Falla trip to the New Hampshire school attended by perhaps the most famous American hockey player. The namesake for the college hockey player of the year, Baker was one of those larger than characters who died extremely young... actually, the last person to die in WWI. Similar to that on Vezina, a very cool history lesson of sorts provided in this chapter.

"Goodbye to the Backyard Rink": Details Falla's experience with his backyard rink and how it has influenced the lives of he and those close to him. Another poignant section of the book as Falla wrestles with the question of whether to stop putting the rink up of his volition, or whether to wait until he's no longer healthy enough to put it up.

Apart from the book, I found to be of interest a memorial Facebook group page that I found through a google search for Falla. Just seems like he was a really good guy and definitely an excellent hockey writer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NHL Franchise Empire Building

After just posting about the Penguins remarkable Cup Finals win over Detroit, I think it also makes sense to highlight and link to a couple of excellent articles about how the two team got there (and may well remain at this elite level for years to come).

First came a terribly interesting Sports Illustrated piece by Michael Farber (yep, he does do most of the SI hockey writing) titled "Spirit of '89". Written about the draft in which Detroit took the fairly unheralded Nicklas Lidstrom along with an additional cadre of players who would start the Red Wings resurgence, it's a great look at how the organization operates... and drafts really really well.

After this came not necessarily a companion Pittsburgh piece by Farber, but rather one which showed how the Penguins have perhaps as good of a chance as Detroit to remain at the top level of the NHL year over year. Titled "Same Time Next Year?", it's... a very descriptive title.

Solid stuff and lots of things can change in the NHL (perhaps even more so than with some of the other major sports), but one thing that likely won't soon is these two teams being the ones to beat in their respective conference.

Pittsburgh Penguins - 2009 Stanley Cup Champions

Wild. Absolutely a wild and incredibly entertaining Stanley Cup finals.

Here's a look told through the lens of Michael Farber and his Sports Illustrated articles as well as SI covers (not of course actually sent to all mailboxes in America covers, but covers that you can see on the magazine's website nonetheless).

Started up something like this (and with accompanying story):


Then the Penguins showed amazing resolve... leading up to this (copied from Getty Images):



Finally, it was all over (and written about here by Farber in SI):

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Penguins Gameplan vs Red Wings

I think I figured out the most likely way for the Pens to win the series... put everything out there tonight, get great performances from the stars in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury and hope that the Red Wings stars don't match them.

Then with their victory in hand, try to figure out how to have the Detroit team get food poisoning before a Friday night game 7 back at Joe Louis Arena.

Seriously... the Wings are good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mickey Mouse NHL

I suppose it doesn't make me a writing genius to simply link to a story, but "Potential Stanley Cup break could be long, very long" from Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports tells the story well enough.

Yea, no hockey for 10 days before the Cup Finals... that will be great for bringing in the casual fan. Guess it's important that the NHL do what NBC wants given $0 in right fees paid by the network (it's just an ad revenue-sharing deal).

Here's to hoping the Penguins do sweep, the Red Wings win in 5 and then league looks stupid enough that the owners sack Bettman and bring in as commissioner someone with a hockey background to run the league.

2009 NHL Playoffs: Almost Down to Two

Well, I haven't posted much since the Sharkies got eliminated so now is as good a time as any to look at how the second round series wound up and where we're at with the third round.

Western Conference Round Two

Detroit over Anaheim in 7 games: Now, that was a great series. It doesn't really give San Jose any consolation to know they got beaten by a good team, but the Ducks certainly gave Detroit all they could handle. At the end of the day, the series was a virtual pick-em affair with the Red Wings just happening to get and convert on a good scoring chance with 3 minutes to go in regulation. A great series that could have gone either way.

Chicago over Vancouver in 6 games: Very entertaining hockey... Chicago just a more talented team. Big credit also due to the Hawks for matching every bit of physical play put their way by a tough (and chippy) Canucks team.

Eastern Conference Round Two

Pittsburgh over Washington in 7 games. Another great series in the Detroit vs Anaheim vein. Washington was extremely entertaining to watch and gave the Pens a good run. At the end of the day, Pittsburgh having both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin simply gave them a 2-1 superstar advantage over the Caps and Alexander Ovechkin.

Carolina over Boston in 7 games. Can't say I watched a lot of this series, but from what I did, it made me view the Bruins season much as I did the Sharks... a really good regular season that got made moot due to playoff disappointment.

Western Conference Finals: Detroit is about to go up three games to one on the Blackhawks. I suppose it's possible for Chicago to mount a comeback starting with game 5, but... I doubt it.

Eastern Conference Finals: Pittsburgh vs Carolina reminds me of Vancouver vs St. Louis in round one. A good team playing fairly well again one that's simply better.

Stanley Cup Finals: Me thinks Detroit would be favored against a Penguins team that replaced their coach during the regular season, but if they can continue getting great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury along with Crosby and Malkin-like efforts from Crosby and Malkin... could be a great series.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NHL League Management

It's a shame to be doing a post like this during the midst of such great second round series (Caps-Pens Game 7, anyone?), but... this is lame. I really wish the league could be better run.

Exhibit A: non-suspension of Carolina Hurricanes forward Scott Walker.

The video of the incident that in the mind of the officials earned an automatic one game is below and a really good commentary piece from Jim Kelly at CNNSI can be found here.



Exhibit B: Game 5 of the Ducks-Red Wings series NOT ON NATIONAL TV.

Very bizarre and for a description of why (well, not really as there is no good reason why, but for the facts), look about halfway down this post from Greg Wyshynski as Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports.

I suppose exhibit C could easily be the Coyotes move/no move, NHL running/not running soap opera, but since the facts are yet to come out in court, I'll simply say that they... never should have left Winnipeg.

Hockey... a great sport. The NHL... it's top professional league. Oh well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009 San Jose Sharks Season: Game Over

Man, the Sharks just plain got beat.

I don't usually find myself agreeing with the musings of Sharks radio analyst Jamie Baker, but I'm completely with on the comments he made for post-game television last season.

To attempt to summarize his words...

"The Ducks played better than the Sharks this series and did so in each aspect of the game. They had better goaltending, a better powerplay, better penalty killing, better top line play, better second line play, better 3rd and 4th line play and better defense."

That may sound severe, but I think it's true. I watched much of the Vancouver-St. Louis series and saw the same concept at work with St. Louis being a very solid team, but one that was slightly outplayed in every aspect of the game.

In that series, the end result turned out to be a series sweep and this one resulted in a 4-2 series win, but... the result is the same, the team that played better in the series is moving on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Historical Results for Teams Down 2-0 in a Series

As the question in the above title was asked of me last night, I found the answer at this post from James Mirtle's "From the Rink" blog (which takes the data from elsewhere, but makes it easy to read)...

From Mirtle:

"According to www.whowins.com, when the 'home' teams have had a 2-0 series lead in previous NHL series, they have a 202-21 series record (good for a .906 win percentage).

When the 'visiting' teams have had a 2-0 series lead in previous NHL series, they have a 52-16 series record (.765 win percentage)."

Now... should the Sharks (or any of the teams down two games to zero) lose game three, forget about it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

2009 NHL Playoff Goaltending

Note from self: This post was written prior to this morning's Rangers-Capitals game so if there's no mention below of any 90 save or 15 goals against performances, that's why...

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Goaltenders are weird. Similar to a box of chocolates as described by Forrest Gump, you never know what you're going to get (as exhibit A, I give you former Caps goalie Jim Carey).

This being the case, fans of this season's playoff teams have to simply hope their guy gets hot (or in the case of the Hurricanes a few years ago... hope their guy gets pulled and his replacement gets hot). The question that then arises is who is most likely to get hot and carry their team to the promised land (that being the Cup Championship for those not digging the metaphor).

Let's take a look see (on a 1-3 scale with 3 being most likely to reach "hotness" status):

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov - 2. Good goalie, has never proved it at crunch time.

Detroit Red Wings: Chris Osgood - 2. Has been good enough to win a Cup before.

Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo - 3. Me thinks he one of only two truly elite goalies.

Chicago Blackhawks: Nikolai Khabibulin - 2. Similar to Osgood, he's done it before.

Calgary Flames: Mikka Kiprusoff -2. Has been elite in the past, not so much the last two years.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Steve Mason - 2. I love his performance this season, but it's just one regular season.

St. Louis Blues: Chris Mason - 2. Would be tempted to give him a 1, but has played well the first two games.

Anaheim Ducks: Jonas Hiller - 2. Parallels to Steve Mason... excellent season, but relatively new on the scene.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas - 2. A great story and super fun to watch. Still new to the top tier, though.

Washington Capitals: Jose Theodore - 1. Yes, he previously won a Hart Trophy as league MVP, but certainly doesn't look like that guy this season (or this postseason as I wrote about the other day).

New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur - 3. Yep, he and Luongo are the only guys I see at this top level of potential greatness.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury - 2. Very solid. Should help him that he made it all the way to the Finals last season.

Philadelphia Flyers: Martin Biron - 1.5. He gets a fair amount of flak, but did get the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. That said, I stand by my writing that he should have had Bill Guerin's OT goal in game two.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward - 2.5. Has taken his team all the way to the Stanley Cup before.

New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist - 2.5. Great potential. Has carried his team at times.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price - 1.5. I keep hearing about how great he should be... haven't seen it much this season.

2009 NHL Playoffs: Day Three

Well, a couple of games in and a bit more is being worked out. Here's what was played today...

Pittsburgh-Philadelphia

Game two seemed quite a bit less one-sided with the Flyers and Pens pretty tightly matched. Same result, though... a Pittsburgh victory which now puts them up two games to none. Two thoughts I had watching this game:

1. I wish Bill Guerin was as good for the Sharks as he seems to be with the Pens. Two goals (including the OT game winner) and an assist in a 3-2 victory is pretty solid.

2. I thought Pittsburgh would be way chagrined after going offside entering the offensive zone during their OT 5-3 given how gassed (and injured) the Flyers were. Guerin then scoring on the next play I'm sure took the sting of that chagrin... just a touch.

3. Martin Biron played a good game in net with some 45 saves, but I suspect he would have liked to have back the OT goal. Not that every goalie doesn't want to have back every OT goal, but it went right through Biron... that whole stick on the ice thing.

Philadelphia is certainly still in the series, but I think back to the Sharks-Stars series last postseason. A team can be playing well towards the end of the series, but if they start deep in the hole, sometimes it's too deep to climb back out. The Flyers being down 2-0 are getting close to that point.

New Jersey-Carolina

Oh yeah... they did play. Wasn't televised on Versus so I didn't see it, but in the matchup of what to me are the two least interesting teams in the playoffs, Carolina won in OT to tie the series at 1-1. There ya' go...

Vancouver-St. Louis

Now that Philadelphia has shown themselves to be a solid adversary (as in being close to winning against) for Pittsburgh, that series reminds me of Vancouver-St. Louis. The Blues are a pretty good team that's sound in a lot of areas of the game, but Vancouver just seems a bit more sound in each and every area.

After a 3-0 victory today, the Canucks go up two games to zero. St. Louis will probably not back down all series, but in the end they appear to be a bit short of Vancouver.

San Jose-Anaheim Game 1... 2-0 Ducks

Well, that was a game. Having attended it, I had a few impressions of the Sharks... none of them of the "it's over, we're done" variety, but all of them I felt adding up to a game one defeat.

1. I don't see any reason why to dress Jody Shelley. I discussed this in a prior post, but not even counting Torrey Mitchell (and I don't see how you can count him until the time he actually plays a game), I see five other options I'd rather have out there. Heck, make that six if you want to throw Claude Lemieux out there for the same (very low) number of shifts as Shelley receives. Now, to rebut the argument that you need Shelley to counteract the pugilistic stylings of George Parros, I say both why? and... if you need someone to lose a fight to George Parros, why not use Brad Staubitz?

2. The Sharks breakout of their defensive zone was abysmal compared to the breakout by Anaheim. Especially at the start of the game, the Ducks were using what I'll call a home-run breakout straight up the middle of the ice to great success. The Sharks on the other hand seemed to only be effective exiting their defensive zone when they just gave the puck to Dan Boyle and had him skate with it.

3. The Sharks entry into the offensive zone was probably even worse than their defensive zone breakout. Closely related to San Jose's 0 for 6 powerplay effort, they just never seemed to be able to get set up in the Ducks end of the ice. I suppose I could make a separate point about this, but if you don't set up and then convert when you have the man advantage, there's no reason for your (less disciplined) opponent to not take liberties (and have a few calls go against them).

It's odd. I was the "happiest baby on the block" when Ron Wilson was let go... and subsequently replaced with Todd McClellan, but now the three things that bothered me from game one are all coaching related. I do think, though, that the advantage this regime has over that of Wilson's is a much greater flexibility and willingness to change things up when needed.

We'll see how it all plays, and if for a few breaks here and there the Sharks could have won game one anyways, but I really hope to see some tweaks to the lineup and on-ice tactics for game two.

Long series and I still believe San Jose to be the better team, they just have to you know... play better than their opponent.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009 NHL Playoffs: Day One Impressions

Well, after watching pretty much all of Pittsburgh-Philadelphia and Vancouver-St. Louis... I'd say some pretty interesting stuff going on thus far.

Penguins 4 - Flyers 1: Wow, Pittsburgh looked dominant in this game. They really appeared to be a study in how good a team can and should be when they've got two of the top five players in the game. The Flyers attempted to "play their game" and get chippy in the final minute, but it actually seemed more sad than what I'll call "send a messageish". The announcers were right when making the comment that there wasn't really a point anymore to the antagonism.

Canucks 2 - Blues 1: Interesting game. The two teams played very similar games with grinding forwards, stout D, excellent goaltending, lots of driving the net and action after the whistle. After seeing them match up for 60 minutes, it appears that St. Louis will likely remain game for as long as they're alive in the series, but Vancouver just does each thing a little bit better.

Other (not watched) action...

Well, given the whole "not watched" thing for the other two games, I'll link to some interesting analysis from Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports (not sure if I worded that correctly, but it'll do).

The long and short of it... New Jersey is good and Jose Theodore in the Caps net... maybe not so good.

Yea, I understand that Theodore won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP back in 2002, but me thinks goalie years are kinda like dog years... meaning stellar play 7 years ago does not necessarily equate to the same performance today. Maybe they looked around and found the asking prices too steep, but I just don't know how Washington didn't go get some solid backup insurance at the trade deadline. Hello... Scott Clemmensen, anyone? Now the Caps coaching staff has to decide between rolling Jose back out there for game 2 or going with Simeon Varlamov and his 6 career NHL games played. Fun choice...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Sharkies X Factor: D (as in Depth)

Yea, I like lines... really I do. A Center, a left wing, a right wing, they're great to have. What's also great is a bunch of parts that can be plugged into line combinations. Whether the reasons for said plugging be injuries, lack of production, or those magical "hunches", it's really nice to have options.

Thus... options are what I like about this iteration of the Sharks. To whit...

Forwards

1. Thornton-Marleau-Setoguchi
2. Pavelski-Clowe-Michalek
3. Moen-Goc-Cheechoo
4. Grier-Roenick-Plihal (or with someone switching betwixt lines 3 and 4)

Here's where it gets good. Need a replacement on the top two lines, easy... move Cheechoo or Roenick (probably for a shorter period of time than Cheech) or even Moen up.

Now, you ask, who would take the spot of the "replacer"? Here's the choices:

Jody Shelley - Would prefer to see him in the press box. This series should be won in part by Anaheim getting stupid, not the Sharks.
Claude Lemieux - I don't see it... and don't want it.
Alexei Semenov - Not as bad an option as I would have felt him at the start of the year.
Brad Staubitz -Sure, I'd be good with that.
Torrey Mitchell - Would love to see it, but I doubt it.
Jamie McGinn - See Staubitz, Brad comment.

The long and short of it is that I really like the Sharks top line players and depth at forward. Furthermore, given what I think is Anaheim's complete and utter inability to not take dumb aggression penalties, I think this series "should" be won on San Jose's power play. Thus... the need for the top line players to come through.

Defense (not thinking about pairings here)

Boyle-Vlasic
Blake-Murray
Ehrhoff-Lukowich

Other options: Semenov, Huskins, McLaren... Yep, that Kyle McLaren.

On D, I'm most concerned above Lukowich as he hasn't seemed to be as good since coming back from mid-season injury. I'd love for Huskins to be healthy and be an option... no idea how good of an option until I see him play, though.

I think the D is plenty good enough to win.

Goaltending

Nabokov-Boucher

Nabby scares me. I'm happy enough having him as I think he a top 5 or 10 goalie, but I don't see him as a "playoff rock". That said, the only people that I do see that way are named Brodeur and Luongo. Everyone else (Nabby included) will have to prove themselves this postseason.

I like Sharks.

Dream Playoff Matchups

I was thinking about the matchups as I described them in a post yesterday and... while these are good, they're not my "dream matchups".

Now, dream matchups are rare because of the confluence of events (ranging from who my personal favorites are to the standings) required, but let's imagine for a moment they did come together.

Here's what things might look like (using this season's playoff teams... not like we can wait forever on the Maple Leafs):

Western Conference

First Round

Detroit vs St. Louis - Norris Division rivalry reprisal. What's not to love?
San Jose vs Anaheim - Ok, I'll give. While it scare me as a Sharks fan, it's good story.
Vancouver vs Calgary - Sure, why not have the Northies play each other?
Chicago vs Columbus - True, they're the left over teams, but playoff newbies who are geographically close... not bad.

Second Round

Detroit vs Chicago - Original Six.
San Jose vs Vancouver - This one was tougher, but I'll take Vancouver over a repeat matchup from last season.

Third Round

San Jose vs Detroit - The two best teams. Good stuff.

Eastern Conference

First Round

Boston vs Montreal - Check, then check again after the whistle. Another Original Six.
Pittsburgh vs Washington - Crosby / Malkin vs Ovechkin can't be passed up.
New York Rangers vs New Jersey Devils - Avery... Brodeur. Greater New York area.
Philadelphia vs Carolina - What's left. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this, but the Hurricanes are boring (stupid Maple Leafs).

Second Round

Boston vs New York Rangers - The whole New York - New England thing. Again, Original Six.
Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia - Crosby vs Richards. In-state rivalry. Nice.

Third Round

Boston vs Philadelphia - Was tough to eliminate Crosby and the Pens, but I like the mayhem (one the ice and in the stands) that this series would bring.

Stanley Cup Finals

San Jose vs Boston - Thornton past vs Thornton present.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Witching Hour is Upon Us

NHL playoffs start in two days... I love this time of year. Without further adieu, here's the first round matchups:

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs (8) Anaheim Ducks

To quote from an e-mail I recently sent... "as a Sharks fan I was cursing J.S. Giguere when he allowed that shootout goal Saturday night... taking the Ducks down from a 6 to possible 8 (which of course came to pass) seed. I do fall back, though, on something I was told be a fellow Sharks fan... 'the goal isn't to win one round... the goal is to win the Cup, and to do that you have to beat everyone'. That said, I would have preferred either Anaheim or Detroit to knock the other out in a 2-7 matchup. The way the universe does things, though, San Jose would probably have lost to St Louis as the 8 seed."

So, it should be a highly entertaining series to watch and I'm viewing it as an enormous litmus test to see just how good this Sharks team is. Whereas last season's first round win over Calgary in 7 games was cause for concern (justifiably so it turned out), me thinks a win over Anaheim in 7 would be just fine.

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs (7) Columbus Blue Jackets

An interesting series. I will be very curious to watch to see just how good this Steve Mason fellow does against the Wings.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs (6) St. Louis Blues

Roberto Luongo vs Chris Mason... I wonder if anyone will score.

(4) Chicago Blackhawks vs (5) Calgary Flames

Not sure what to expect. Me thinks Calgary will be the better team, though.

Eastern Conference

(1) Boston Bruins vs (8) Montreal Canadiens

I think the Bruins will roll. Actually, I think first they'll beat up Montreal, then roll.

(2) Washington Capitals vs (7) New York Rangers

Intriguing, but I think Washington will be too good for the Rangers.

(3) New Jersey Devils vs (6) Carolina Hurricanes

I know there are people really interested in this series, I'm just not one of them.

(4) Pittsburgh vs (5) Philadelphia

Should be great hockey, can't wait to watch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

2009 NHL Playoffs: Last Four Spots

So... very... close. Almost every team is down to their final two games of the season and here's the race for the final four playoff spots (two left in each conference):

Eastern Conference

#7 - Montreal Canadiens - 92 points. Games Thurs at Boston & Sat vs Pittsburgh
#8 - New York Rangers - 91 points. Games Thurs vs Philadelphia & Sun at Philadelphia
#9 - Florida Panthers - 89 points. Games Thurs at Atlanta & Sat vs Washington
#10 - Buffalo Sabres - 87 points. Doesn't matter... too far back

Prediction...
Rangers win one and lose one for 7th
Canadiens lose both and back into the playoffs at 8th
Florida wins one... not enough

Western Conference

#7 - Anaheim Ducks - 88 points. Games Fri vs Dallas & Sat at Phoenix
#8 - St Louis Blues - 88 points. Games Fri vs Columbus & Sun at Colorado
#9 - Nashville Predators - 86 points. Games Thur at Detroit & Fri at Minnesota
#10 - Minnesota Wild - 85 points. Too far back

Prediction...
Anaheim wins both... 7th place
St Louis wins at least one... 8th place
Nashville... not gonna win both

Friday, April 3, 2009

No, I Don't Want It... You Go Ahead

Well... there were four "close to must win" games played by on the bubble teams tonight. At the end of the day, two wins and two losses.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo... defeats Washington 5-4 in OT. This puts the Sabres four points back of the 8th place New York Rangers, but with Buffalo having a game in hand on New York. On the negative side, there's also the Florida Panthers to deal with in 9th place two between Buffalo and New York. Not likely the Sabres will be able to find there way in, but they certainly needed these two points to remain in the conversation.

Florida... loses to Atlanta 3-1. C'mon... Atlanta? I know they've won four in a row, but the Panthers would have pulled even with idle New York at 8th in the standings.

Western Conference

Minnesota... defeats Calgary 4-0. Similar to Buffalo, Minnesota needed this win to entertain their notion of making the playoffs. With the win, they pulled to two points behind 8th place St Louis... with 9th place Nashville between them.

Nashville... loses to Chicago 2-1. Whoops... a win over the Blackhawks would have jumped the Preds into 8th place and a playoff slot (for now). Not meant to be, though.

End result of the action was 4 games that mattered... two that were won by teams that desperately needed them and two that were lost by teams that could have put themselves in good spots with a win.

I guess desperation really does help.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Final Two Weeks - Storylines to Watch

Two weeks left in the regular season and there's some really interesting things to watch for...

1. Teams "sending a message" to potential playoff opponents. As evidenced by the recent pugilism in the March 29 Vancouver-Calgary game and March 26 Calgary-Columbus matchup.

2. The race for the #1 seed in the West. Detroit is certainly trying help San Jose with them having two straight losses, but the Sharks are still going through a world of injury hurt (which won't be getting any better should Captain Patrick Marleau miss any time).

3. Battle for the final playoff spots in the East. Looks to be three teams for two spots remaining...

- 7th spot: New York Rangers - 87 points. 6 games left.
- 8th spot: Montreal Canadiens - 86 points. 7 games left.
- 9th spot: Florida Panthers - 85 points. 6 games left.

Prognosticating this race, I gotta think that the Rangers and Canadiens hold their playoff spots (Montreal's game in hand should help a lot). Anything's possible, though... and in that category, Buffalo is only 3 points back of Florida).

4. Battle for the final playoff spots in the West. Assuming that Columbus is safely in, that leaves five teams for two spots...

- 7th spot: Nashville Predators - 84 points. 6 games left.
- 8th spot: St Louis Blues- 83 points. 6 games left.
- 9th spot: Anaheim Ducks - 82 points. 6 games left.
- 10th spot: Edmonton Oilers - 81 points. 6 games left.
- 11th spot: Minnesota Wild - 80 points. 6 games left.

Lots of interesting things going on here. Out of this quagmire, I'd love to see St Louis make it as they've fought hard to reach a level this season people wouldn't have expected and would love to see Anaheim not make it. Just don't like them... and they're a scary opponent.

With where things stand right now, the playoff matchups would look like this. Under the "teams in the hunt" category, note the Anaheim at Edmonton game this Tuesday night... a pretty big one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Power Rankings Revisted

It's been almost two weeks since I posted last so I might as well jump back in easy with links to the newly posted power rankings from Ross McKeon at Yahoo! Sports and those from Allan Muir at CNNSI.

My thoughts on some of the teams (with first their Yahoo! and then CNNSI ranking)...

New Jersey Devils (1/1) - Looking really good right now. Should be nice having a rested Martin Brodeur in net come playoff time.

Detroit Red Wings (2/2) - Great playoff team last year, probably going to be great again this season.

San Jose Sharks (3/3) - Scuffling a bit in the last month, but still has the horses needed. Just gotta get them back running in tandem.

Pittsburgh Penguins (5/7) - Don't have the talent they did after the trade deadline last season, but opponents should be very afraid of any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Calgary Flames (4/10) - Good team, got better at the trade deadline, but seem a bit dysfunctional with Coach Mike Keenan playing Captain Hook with all-star goalie Mikka Kiprusoff.

Washington Capitals (9/4) - Not surprising to see a disparity in the two sets of rankings. Hard to know what to make of a team with such offensive talent (see: Ovechkin, Alex) and inconsistency in net (see: Theodore, Jose).

Philadelphia Flyers (7/8) - Good team, entertaining to watch what with the short-handed stylings of Mike Richards and frequent mayhem contributed from Daniel Carcillo.

Columbus Blue Jackets (12/9) - Anyone want to play this team (including Steve Mason in net) in the postseason?

Vancouver Canucks (8/6) - Not sure what it is, but I just don't like this team much.

Boston Bruins (6/5) - Haven't heard much about them lately, but should be an intriguing team to watch come playoff time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Now We Poke Through the Rubble

With the NHL trade deadline come and gone, it's time to take stock of what's left... and who made the best moves. Really, you have to group the teams into buckets based on spot in the standings to see who made out well on their big trades (I don't bother listing some smaller moves like Kyle McLaren from the Sharks minor league system to Philadelphia)...

First bucket: elite teams (who also happen to be the division leaders)

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks - Acquired Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from Anaheim. I like it a lot. Helps in the depth and enormously in the grit department. To that point... I think Claude Lemieux played his way out of any postseason role with his non-response to Joe Thornton being checked from behind in the last Red Wings game.

Detroit Red Wings - Didn't do anything, but didn't seem to need anything (yeah... always nice to have more, but not at any price).

Calgary Flames - Big step forward with the acquisition of Jordan Leopold and Olli Jokinen. Wouldn't have thought so at the start of the season, but this is a dangerous team.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins - Got a bit tougher and more battle-tested with the addition of Mark Recci and Steve Montador. Looking good going into the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils - Good team, a bit better with the addition of Niclas Havelid.

Washington Capitals - Nothing doing, but still a high-level team. Might have benefited from investing a bit (not a lot, just a bit) in a solid backup goalie should Theodore have a rough go of it.

Second bucket: good teams that could do some playoff damage

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks - I certainly like the pickup of Sammy Pahlsson, but question whether the Hawks will be good enough this season to come out of the West. Best seasons are likely in front of this team.

Columbus Blue Jackets - I don't see the Jackets being able to get far in the playoffs, but it is the proverbial "time" for this club to make the postseason. Getting Antoine Vermette from Ottawa for a big-contract backup goalie doesn't give them the top-line center needed, but does help.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Flyers - Always a fun team to watch for the mayhem they bring to the ice.... so, no surprise that they would bring in a personal favorite in Daniel Carcillo from Phoenix. Kyle McLaren won't hurt to have as depth at D... and good for him making it back to the NHL this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins - They certainly aren't messing around. Fire the coach, ship out the hot young defensemen, put the superstar on the shelf to heal. All of it seems to have worked thus far and the addition of Bill Guerin shouldn't hurt (may not help a lot, though, as the Sharks found with Guerin two years ago).

Third bucket: everyone else

Well, the Rangers, Hurricanes, Sabres and Oilers among other teams gunning for the playoffs did a bunch of stuff. Will it matter (even if they do make the postseason)? Me don't think so at this point, but ya' never know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

T Minus One Day to Trade Deadline

One day left till the deadline and... it's still all pending. Let's take a look at what's happened thus far...

- Mathieu Schneider to Montreal for... someone: An important deal by Les Canadiens as they were floundering badly and needed to do something (course, that something also involved switching seemingly indifferent goaltender Carey Price out for Jaroslav Halak).

- Chris Kunitz & top prospect to Pittsburgh for Ryan Whitney: Similar to the Canadiens situation... a move made by the Pens who desperately needed something, in this case to get a wing to play with (now injured) Sidney Crosby. Also a good deal by Anaheim as it both gives them a good young defensemen and lets them seriously consider trading Chris Pronger if the right package gets offered.

- Niclas Havelid to New Jersey for... someone: Not a huge trade, but solidifies the Devil blueline. A good team just got better.

Is that going to be it for trades this year? Not even close... there's an interesting story from Allan Muir at CNNSI titled "Playing Trade Deadline Matchmaker" with his suggestions / predictions. Props to him for already nailing the Havelid deal.

So... with the benefit of having already seen Muir's piece and knowledge of Nicklas Backstrom having signed an extension with Minnesota, here's my thoughts of what teams might look for:

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks - Would benefit tremendously if Muir's idea of Chris Neil from Ottawa came to pass... and would also effectively end the Claude Lemieux experiment (Ian Laperriere would also be very welcome here). Another interesting move would be recently out of favor in Florida and Joe Thornton buddy Nick Boynton coming over from the Panthers to shore up the D. Final thing about the Sharks is there's a new rumor I just heard which would have Ryan Smyth coming from Colorado... likely with Jonothan Cheechoo going the other direction. Personally, I would rather not take on Smyth and his huge long-term deal at the cost of Cheech... much rather get our grit more cheaply.

Chicago Black Hawks - Not sure if it would be at the front or backline, but could use some veteran presence.

Detroit Red Wings - Nah... they're good. Goaltending could be better, but probably no move now would accomplish that.

Calgary Flames - Could benefit greatly from someone else who could put the puck in the net. Maybe it is the Jordan Leopold idea put out by Muir.

Columbus Blue Jackets - This really does seem to be the year for them to make the playoffs. Big need is a top center to play with Nash. Again, will steal Muir's idea... Tim Connolly from Buffalo.

Anaheim Ducks - Sort of in the driver's seat. If either Boston, New Jersey (less likely) or St Louis (really, St Louis) knock their socks off they could trade Chris Pronger, but don't have to.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins - Would of course love Chris Pronger, but if that doesn't work out... perhaps Tomas Kaberle could be had. Tough, though, because it would come down to asking price... don't think that it would be a good move for Boston to move Phil Kessel (as rumored) even to get a Pronger.

Florida Panthers - They hold a big card in soon to be unrestricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester. However, like Columbus they're close to the playoffs and should probably do everything possible to get there. I would expect to see Bouwmeester traded only if they got excellent able to play now talent back. Heard a rumor yesterday of Braydon Coburn coming from Philly, but if I'm the Flyers I don't give up such good young talent for a rental player.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Seems like they gotta be able to find to pull Crosby's buddy Colby Armstrong back from the Panthers.

Washington Capitals - Same as Detroit, would like to have better goaltending, but I don't think a trade is the way it would get done. Better to continue with a combination of hoping either Jose Theodore plays better or a young kid takes the role from him.

There's also some good spare parts out there like Oli Jokkinen and Keith Tkachuk.

Will be fun to watch the whole thing shake out.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

San Jose at Montreal - Sat Feb 28: "He Shoots... He Almost Scores"

Well, the Sharks went into "this city is hockey" (written about on this blog last month) and did everything except for win Sat night. After a fast start, they then yet again figured out how to allow the first goal on the road (power play goal no less) and proceeded to allow two more 1st period goals for good measure.

They woke up in the 2nd with two fast goals and a ringing post shot just after. Beyond this... lots of chances with no more goals.

Shouldn't feel bad about the effort and I like the start of Boucher just to remind Nabokov that he's got to earn his #1 spot. One thing I do wonder is whether Claude Lemieux is really accomplishing anything that any number of rookies couldn't bring to the same roster spot. Me thinks once Torrey Mitchell is back, it might be tough to keep Messer Lemieux with the big club.

We'll see, though and it's likely to be entertaining.

The NHL "Code"

Fighting in the NHL is such an interesting thing. It's exciting to be sure, but also... well, I don't know how to describe it other than to say it's got odd circumstances around it.

What I mean by that is you hear long-time hockey people talk about it's important role in the game, but also decry the style in which it's executed today. The short jab whilst holding the jersey, the takedown, the non-removal of the helmet and visor... so many things for player/pugilists to remember as taboo, it's a wonder they even have time to fight.

I don't have an enormous opinion of fighting or the video below, but it does I think raise questions to consider...

- Should Lucic have stopped?
- Should the Ducks not have gotten all huffy with him just because they were losing big?
- Should the league do anything at all about fighting and "how it's done"?

Welcome to the Top Spot, San Jose

Guess it shouldn't be surprising... after being placed at the top of heap in the both the Yahoo! Sports NHL Power Rankings from Ross McKeon and the rankings from Allan Muir at CNNSI, San Jose goes and gets beaten 4-1 in Detroit by the Red Wings.

Well, it is only the regular season and San Jose is still an excellent team (along with those pesky Red Wings), but as a Sharks fan, I'd be quite happy to see them return to the form they showed early in the season.

However, they've got time and the ingredients to win the Cup are still there. Not the least of which is Captain Patrick Marleau. To this point, there's an excellent article from Darren Eliot at CNNSI titled "Marleau and Sharks all business" that details the reemergence from a tough start to last season.

Good stuff, hope it translates in the playoffs.

2010 Canadian Olympic Hockey Team Preview/Prediction from CNNSI

I previously posted about the U.S. team roster options with a link to the CNNSI predictions. While this is interesting to myself and other hockey fans in the U.S., the roster that's much more anticipated (to say nothing of the anticipation for how that roster does) is that of the Olympic host Canadian men's hockey team.

Also from CNNSI is Allan Muir's predicted Canadian roster along with detailed analysis of each spot. To give the names without the analysis, here's his picks...

Goaltenders:
1. Martin Brodeur
2. Roberto Luongo
3. Steve Mason

Defensemen:
Robyn Regehr & Duncan Keith
Chris Pronger & Shea Weber
Jay Bouwmeester & Mike Green
Brent Burns (extra guy) & Drew Doughty (taxi squad guy)

Forwards:
Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby & Jarome Iginla
Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf & Rick Nash
Simon Gagne, Joe Thornton & Patrick Marleau
Benden Morrow, Mike Richards & Shane Doan
Marc Savard (extra guy), Jonathan Toews & Corey Perry (taxi squad guys)

A formidable lineup to be sure, but where things get interesting is in looking at the people that Muir currently is leaving off the roster (keeping in mind that this is a writer's take and not necessarily that of GM Steve Yzerman. Here's some of the guys mentioned in the Fan Nation story linked from Muir's CNNSI piece:

Defensemen: Dion Phaneuf, Brian Campbell, Dan Boyle, Braydon Coburn
Forwards: Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Sakic

My opinion after watching Dan Boyle for a season is you have to find a place for him on the team and Vincent Lecavalier certainly belongs as well.

Regardless of how the details shake out... it's gonna be fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blog Moved to http://mvn.com/ahockeyguy/

I've now officially moved this hockey blog from Blogger to the Most Valuable Network collection of blogs and writing.

Blogger has been an excellent platform and I'll continue to use it for my writing blog at http://liketowritestuff.blogspot.com/, but I'm drawn to MVN to see how many additional readers I can bring to my hockey writing.

The new URL is below and please visit there for my additional hockey writing in the foreseeable future.

http://mvn.com/ahockeyguy/

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2010 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Preview/Prediction from CNNSI

Only a year away till Vancouver. What may well be the last time that NHL players participate in the Olympics (if the league office gets their way) is highly anticipated and the subject of much debate.

To that end... CNNSI just published Michael Farber's take on the U.S. roster as well as Allan Muir's predictions for the Canadian roster. In addition to these posts, CNNSI also links to a comments page from the site Fan Nation.

From these, I want to first look at Farber's predictions for the U.S. team along with players he may have left off. Subsequently, I'll look at Muir's view of Team Canada. The links above to each story are very much worth viewing as there's analysis of each player.

2010 U.S. Olympic Team - by Michael Farber

Goaltenders
1. Tim Thomas
2. Ryan Miller
3. Jonathan Quick

Defensemen
Ryan Suter & Brian Rafalski
Ryan Whitney & Mike Komisarek
Paul Martin & Jack Johnson
extra guys: John-Michael Liles & Matt Niskanen

Forwards
Zach Parise, Paul Stasny & Phil Kessel
Dustin Brown, Scott Gomez & Patrick Kane
David Booth, Chris Drury & Brian Gionta
Jason Blake, Ryan Kesler & Jamie Langenbrunner
extra guys: Blake Wheeler & Jason Pominville

Here's the guys brought up on the Fan Nation comment page as others that may get the nod...

Defensemen
Brooks Orpik, Keith Ballard

Forwards
Tim Connolly, Erik Johnson, Peter Mueller, Brian Gionta, Lee Stempniak, Erik Cole, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ryan Malone and Keith Tkachuk

Finally, there's an interesting story from The Sporting News linked on Yahoo! Sports about the choices facing U.S. GM Brian Burke as he and the other team leadership decide what to do with longtime stalwarts such as Mike Modano, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and... Keith Tkachuk.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sharks-5 Bruins-2: What it Meant

Quite the preamble to the San Jose Sharks game at the Boston Bruins earlier today... Joe Thornton's 2nd return to Boston since his trade by the Bruins, the Sharks needing a win to avoid a four-game losing streak and... oh yeah, a matchup between a couple of pretty good teams.

Earlier in the day, San Jose was ranked #3 in Ross McKeon's Yahoo! Sports Power Rankings and Boston #1. In the CNNSI Power Rankings from Allan Muir, yep... the same #1 for the Bruins and #3 for the Sharks. Take this and throw in the fact that each team has the best record in their respective conference and the ingredients were there for quite a barnburner.

And for the game itself...

The Bruins were the dominant team in period one with Evgeni Nabokov playing well enough in net to keep San Jose in the game. The second period was filled with back and forth hockey... lots of chances and excellent action. Third period, that was Sharks time. Four goals including an empty net goal resulted in the win.

What it meant... well, it meant that these were in fact a couple of good teams that played in other. Huge props to the Sharks for weathering the 1st period storm (with help in goal), getting their legs in the 2nd and then pouring it on in the 3rd. Nice recipe for a victory. The Bruins, though, also looked like an excellent team with a combination of grit (see: Lucic, Milan), playmaking (see: Savard, Marc), dominating D (see: Chara, Zdeno) and really really entertaining goaltending (see: Thomas, Tim). They will want to do a better job of protecting 3rd period leads, but... can't do it each and every regular season game. Now, the playoffs... that's when you really want to.

All in all, fun game to watch between two of the best teams in the league. Man, like that good hockey.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bobby Ryan Story from Sports Illustrated

Really interesting story in the February 9 issue of Sports Illustrated on Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.



To this point in his career Ryan has been best known for being the second pick in the 2005 NHL draft behind Sidney Crosby. However, the piece by Michael Farber titled "No Looking Back" (linked from the SI Vault) shows just how many different layers of interest there are to Ryan's story (which is totally different than "Brian's Song", but any chance to drop in an "I love Brian Piccolo" reference can't be passed up).

His current status as an NHL Rookie of the Year candidate (11 goals scored in the month of January) combined with his time spent in the minors this year due to Anaheim salary cap reasons (odd, but true) is a good story in and of itself, but Ryan was a story even before the Crosby draft year. As Farber does an excellent job summarizing (a book could I'm sure be written about it), Ryan spent from 1998 to 2000 living under a false identity given to him by his father that had jumped bail and taken the family with him. Yep... an interesting story to be sure.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prognosticating Playoff Participants II - NHL Eastern Conference

After laying out my predictions and associated reasons why for the Western Conference playoff hopefuls in a prior post, it's time to look at the East. First, the current picture...

Eastern Conference Standings

1. Boston - 82 points
2. Washington - 70 points
3. New Jersey - 67 points
4. Montreal - 64 points
5. NY Rangers - 63 points
6. Philadelphia - 61 points
7. Buffalo - 59 points
8. Florida - 56 points
9. Carolina - 55 points
10. Pittsburgh - 55 points
11. Toronto - 47 points
12. Tampa Bay - 45 points
13. Ottawa - 41 points
14. Atlanta - 41 points
15. NY Islanders - 37 points

My various and sundry thoughts...

- #1 (Boston) at 82 points and #2 (Washington) at 70 points. Wow... quite a delta.

- New Jersey is 3rd in the conference without all-world goalie (and some would say all in the family guy) Martin Brodeur. Impressive... and makes one wonder how good they'll be with a healthy and rested Marty.

- It wouldn't have been a stretch the predict the Islanders would be so bad, but Ottawa... who would have thought that? Well, actually... I would have in my Eastern Conference season preview.

- To the question of who will make it... I think the top six teams above are all good enough to hold those spots, or at least hold a spot in the top eight. Additionally, I think Toronto and below are both too far back and not good enough to fight their way into the top eight. This creates an "an then there were four (with only two spots)" scenario featuring: Buffalo, Florida, Carolina and Pittsburgh.

- Carolina I'm going to discount and say I don't think they'll make it... just not good enough. Now, if they would just move back to Hartford and put a snazzy green whale on their chests, I would certainly want them to be good enough, but... I digress.

- Florida is the surprise of the bunch (well, the good surprise if you're like me and are surprised to see Pittsburgh currently out of the playoffs). One thing I think will hurt them down the stretch is the likely trade of #1 defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. This probably wouldn't be a bad move as it would prevent him from leaving for nothing as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but would weaken the Panthers' chances this year.

- With these two teams out, that would mean that I think Buffalo and Pittsburgh both are in. True, it's my prediction, but it's not just by elimination... the Sabres and Penguins both have going something I think helps a lot, superstar players. Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek on one side and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the other are exceptional enough to win a few games almost by themselves and make me think both Buffalo and Pittsburgh are playoff teams.

But, that's why they play the games...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prognosticating Playoff Participants - NHL Western Conference

Living by the credo of "it's never too early", let's take a look at the current NHL standings and see how that would translate to the 8 playoff teams in each conference (starting off with the West in this post).

Actually, granted... it is just the first week of Feb, but an interesting fact I heard on Hockey Night in Canada Radio the other day (love that Sirius) was that last season the only two teams to be out of the top 8 in their conference at the end of January and still make the playoffs were Washington and Nashville. So, in this case... past performance really does indicate future results, but I digress.

Western Conference Standings

1. San Jose - 77 points
2. Detroit - 71 points
3. Calgary - 64 points
4. Chicago - 62 points
5. Anaheim - 55 points
6. Dallas - 53 points
7. Minnesota - 53 points
8. Edmonton - 53 points
9. Columbus - 53 points
10. Phoenix - 53 points
11. Vancouver - 52 points
12. Los Angeles - 47 points
13. Nashville- 47 points
14. Colorado - 47 points
15. St. Louis - 45 points

Well, there's a bunch of numbers and teams... what to take from it? Here's some observations...

- Draw a line below Chicago at #4 because there's your clear delineation point between the elite and other. One interesting thing is that you'll likely not have the situation this season with a weak division champion taking the 3rd spot. Going with the assumption that Calgary isn't as good as San Jose, Detroit (or even Chicago)... I still would fear them in a playoff matchup.

- Seeds 5-11 separated by three points... yowzer.

- Anaheim has had an on and off season, but they're likely just too good, experienced and nasty to not make the playoffs.

- Dallas being in the situation they are (a playoff team as of right now) is amazing given the dire (i.e. Sean Avery still on the active roster) straights they were two months ago. I have to believe if they've pulled themselves out of the abyss, they'll likely not fall back in it. Count them in as a playoff team.

- LA and below in the standings are a combination of just too young and not quite good enough this season. Count these four teams out.

- Vancouver is in free fall mode right now (even with Roberto Luongo back and Mats Sundin getting a bunch of money from them). I think current status combined with the memory of falling flat the final week of last season will cause them to... do the same this season.

- This leaves four teams for two spots... Minnesota, Edmonton, Columbus and Phoenix.

- I think Phoenix has the toughest road of the four to the playoffs. They have a difficult division top to bottom and uncertainty about the viability of the franchise in Arizona (back to Winnipeg, anyone?). Definitely a good young team and I'd like to see them make the postseason, but I wouldn't predict it happening this season.

- Columbus benefits from having both Nashville and St. Louis in their division (even though the top of the division is pretty darn "top" with Detroit and Chicago). I think this combined with the magic of a hot rookie goaltender in Steve Mason will put them into the dance for the first time in franchise history.

- Final spot (but, not necessarily only the #8 seed)... Minnesota-Edmonton, Oilers-Wild... I gotta go with the better goaltender in Nicklas Backstrom and nicer arena in the Excel Energy Center. Minnesota makes the playoffs.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kyrgyz Hockey Championships

Hockey in the country of Kyrgyzstan is not something I've given a tremendous amount of thought to, but the same day that I finished Dave Bidini's book about the game in faraway lands "Tropic of Hockey" (which I wrote about on this blog), I came across a picture in Sports Illustrated of the 2009 Kyrgyz Hockey Championships.

If that's not reason enough to go searching on the world wide interweb superhighway information place, I don't know what would be.

So... I first landed on a "The Azamat Report" blog post which featured images from the 2008 Krygyz Hockey Championships and linked to a LiveJournal blog from "Morrire" that was the source of said images.

A few of those are shown below and to view the rest, simply click on the above link to Morrire's LiveJournal blog entry.


Pregame Ceremony:





Going out for warmups. Note the goalie pads... and especially the mask.





Game on.





Well, of course they have rink signage. It's the National Championships.






Awesome stuff. Guess this relates closely to what Bidini wrote about with hockey being hockey wherever played, but the images don't look that different than those I posted from the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.

"Tropic of Hockey" by Dave Bidini

Note from me: This isn't a common occurrence, but in addition to this blog, I'm putting the post below on my writing blog at http://liketowritestuff.blogspot.com/. The reason for the dual-location post is simple... I'm writing about a book that I just finished... and it's about... hockey!

"Tropic of Hockey" is from Canadian musician/author guy Dave Bidini (his website here) and it's a chronicle of his experiences with the game in such hockey hotspots (maybe literally, but not figuratively) as Dubai, remote (and not so remote) China and Transylvania.



As I touched on in my hockey blog post about the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, the impetus for Bidini to write "Tropic of Hockey" was a growing sense of disillusionment he felt with the NHL version of the game and a desire to reconnect with it by playing and seeing it from different parts of the globe. While I do love the NHL, I could understand his romantic notions of the game and this desire to experience it in a new way. Not entirely the same, but it makes me think of my appreciation for the "Original Six" teams of the NHL and the fans in hockey markets that care deeply about their local team (see: hockey blog post about Montreal).

This said, there's a lot of stuff that struck me from the Bidini book, so I'll run through some of it here and try to explain why...

Chapter 4 - "Wendel and the Bells": Bidini's story about how he became a hockey fan again as an adult. A very cool description of how it came about and how one player (the aforementioned Wendel Clark of the Leafs) became his favorite.

Chapter 9 - "Bobby Clarke's Teeth": Mention of Bidini communicating with people in China entirely through the language of Russian hockey players they all know of. I like how the words "Fetisov", "Tretiak" and "Kasatonov" can tie people together.

Chapter 14 - "Journey to the Temple of the Dog": Includes anecdotes about Bidini and his friend masquerading as members of the press to secure interviews with favorite players and entry to parts of one of my most vividly remembered hockey events... Rendez-vous '87 in Quebec City between the Soviet National Team and NHL All-Stars.

Chapter 17 - "A Busload of Espo": Primarily about Phil Esposito the '72 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. The description of the eight-game set makes me wish I had been a fan then (difficult since I wasn't born until a year later).

Chapter 23 - "The Last Canadian Game": Interesting to me for two reasons... one is how much I appreciated the description of Bidini's attendance at the final game in Maple Leaf Gardens (which I wish I had been able to watch Toronto play in). The second (and very different) reason is Bidini's mention of "The Whiskey Robber" during this section of the book on Transylvania. As I was reading this portion, much sounded familiar to me and it was because of my reading of "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" by Julian Rubinstein. I had completely forgotten this it was a true (or at least mostly true) story about a Robin Hood-esque Hungarian hockey player. So cool... I love when stuff comes together.

So, all this said about the Bidini book... I liked it a lot and think that most hockey fans would as well... particularly those of us that love the history of the game and it's impact.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

Granted, I don't know much about it other than what I've come across online, but I'm fascinated by the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.

Played last weekend in Minnesota it sounds like an amazing event that gets at the sentimental hockey fan side of me... and makes me think of Dave Bidini's book "Tropic of Hockey" that I recently finished. Written in large part due to Bidini's disillusionment with the NHL, it seeks out hockey in different venues around the globe. But, I digress (and there will more more to come on this blog about the Bidini book)...

Back to the tournament. The 30 second video below is a television ad for the 2007 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and gives a pretty good flavor of the event.



Very cool stuff.

Additional details can be found on the tournament webpage at http://www.uspondhockey.com/ , with the images below taken from the site.






For those whose interest has been piqued by all this, there's the 3 minute segment below about the 2008 tournament from The Today Show.


Yet again... very cool, and cold.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Montreal: This City is Hockey"

Really compelling story from http://www.cnnsi.com/ titled "Montreal: This City is Hockey". By Sports Illustrated writer (and current Montreal resident) Michael Farber, the piece examines the site of this year's NHL all-star game on this, the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens franchise. Especially interesting is the look at the close personal connections to the NHL shared by the residents of the city.

Stories (and associated lore) such as this are why I love cities that care so passionately (and have the history to match) about the game.

Accompanying the Farber piece is this photo gallery of the 15 Canadiens whose numbers have been retired. Some of the gallery highlights are below...

With his #1 retired, Candadiens goalie Jaques Plante has had impact on the game far beyond his playing achievements. In 1959 he became the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game.


#9, Maurice Richard is perhaps the most famous member of "Les Habitants" and previously written about here on this blog as the subject of the film "Maurice Richard" (alternately known as "The Rocket").

Additionally, Richard (and a season-ending suspension to him handed down by the NHL) was the cause of the famous "Richard Riot on St Catherine Street" immortalized in the movie.



#10, Guy Lafleur. As his wikipedia page notes, he was known among English-speaking fans by his nickname "The Flower". So cool...



#33, Patrick Roy. Even given some highly questionable parenting skills (details in the last two paragraphs of the "post retirement" section on wikipedia)... 10 straight overtime wins en route to a Cup victory in the 1992-1993 season. Amazing.