Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Thoughts

I've been enjoying the Bruins too much lately to write anything about them. There's not much to say, but there are a few things.
  • Dennis Wideman hasn't looked the same since missing a game with an undisclosed injury back in the beginning of the month. He's still one of our most solid defensemen, as he has been all year, but Wides hasn't shown the same offense and in the past few games has made mistakes that belong back in the 2007-2008 season. Since he missed that game I've been suspicious that the injury was never resolved completely, but that the Bruins couldn't afford another top defenseman going down. The reduced offense from Wides could also be a result of the pairings, as he's not going to be able to take many risks if he's paired with a rookie. If that rookie is Matt Hunwick, as it has been a lot, then he's often forced into being the more conservative partner. No matter what his problem is, the return of Andrew Ference will help it, whether it means Wides taking a game off or just being paired more appropriately. Andrew would be fantastic with Hunwick, and seeing as all the de but Chara have been struggling a bit lately, his return will help everyone.
  • I was at both the Toronto and the Carolina game. While David Krejci's phenomenal hat trick and the B's offensive explosion cancelled out the terrible feeling we all had when Marco Sturm was hurt again, nothing could ease our minds after Patrice went down, and the Garden had a strange feeling for the whole game. Patrice was just getting his form back, at least physically, and now he has another concussion. Even if he's not out for long, this could be a major mental setback for him.
  • Tim Thomas should have started the St. Louis game. This may be the first real complaint I've had with Julien's coaching all year. Keep it up, Claude. But start Timmy.
  • Jack Edwards' announcing has gotten increasingly ridiculous, likely because as the Bruins keep winning he gets increasingly enthusiastic. He also has a very obvious crush on David Krejci, but I think at this point we all do (this includes Blake Wheeler). Besides the entire Dallas brawl game, the following was my favorite Jack and Brick moment of the year:
Jack: Say, what do you call the five-hole when it closes? The five-not-hole?
Brick: [pause] A save.
  • The Bruins are making it look so very easy. It's a new and welcome experience to see the Bruins do things right. That's really all it is. They're playing in a way that leads to wins. Again, this is very new. I wish I could say more, such as going into detail about what they're doing right, but I'm in shock and all I think about is how they're now leading the league in goal differential. Over San Jose. The Bruins.
  • What the hell is up with the Canucks? They not only don't suck, but they've actually played well enough to bait and hook Mats Sundin. I had no idea they were playing this well, and I live in Vancouver. Those fans need to get a little more feisty, though I guess they've never had much to be feisty about. I know it's blasphemous to say anything negative about Trevor Linden, and I'm not bashing him, but the worship he gets from Canucks fans is like a normal person encountering some isolated tribe of people and being called a god because he has a wristwatch. Linden's a classy player deserving of respect, but only on a team with so little history or character would he be considered a legend.

In honor of going to the games, my friend and I made a soundtrack for this year's Bruins team. Here is a sample in case you want your holidays to be full of Boston cheer.
  • Aaron "AawkWard" Ward: "If You Want It To Be Good Girl" by the Backstreet Boys, because he thinks he's tough but is about as effective as Nick Carter.
  • Zdeno "Charizard" Chara: "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred. Just picture it.
  • Claude and Wides: "Our Song" by Taylor Swift, because we suspect they listen to it when they're alone together.
  • Andrew Ference: "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye. When he returns from injury it will become "Let's Get It On". The reason is his face. Yowza.
  • Shane "The Hman" Hnidy and Mark Stuart: "An Honest Mistake" by The Bravery, because they put in an honest effort and together come out only with honest mistakes.
  • Matt Hunwick: "Miss New Booty" by Bubba Sparxx
  • Jack Edwards and David "The Kretch" Krejci: "Cupid's Chokehold" by Gym Class Heroes, because it captures the nature of their love.
  • Manny Fernandez: "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee, because I refuse to believe he's not actually latino.
  • Michael Ryder: "Summer Love" by Justin Timberlake
  • PJ Axelsson: "Take on Me" by A-ha, because he is an awkward but loveable Swede.
  • Blake Wheeler and David Krejci ("Wheeler and the Kretch", also an excellent name for a sitcom): "U+Me=Us" by 2Gether, because I like their calculus.
  • Tim Thomas: "Rock Lobster" by B-52's, because he is inexplicable and all goalies look like crabs.
One more game til the holiday break. Hope both are merry!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Milan Lucic Makes the Habs Our Bitch

I don't know what they put in the Bruins' water, but I want to thank whoever did it (my guess: Tim Thomas). It's hard to articulate quite how happy the B's 6-1 win over Montreal made me, mostly because I'm not used to the Bruins making me happy. Seeing as the last time they made the Stanley Cup finals was right around my first birthday, I've only ever known the terrible, disappointing, lackluster Bruins that seemed to suck the life out of any player unlucky enough to be stuck in the black and gold. Not that I'm bitter about this. No, everyone is bitter about this.
That being said, how quickly was all of it forgiven in last year's playoffs? My mantra for...well, my entire life, has been "I hate the Bruins", but after a few wins in a losing series we're suddenly on good terms again. There are many, many people in Boston who didn't even bother hating them- they gave up, instead just waiting for them to be good again. Even they're coming back, though we're all tentative. When the team blew a 2-0 lead to lose to the Leafs on October 23, I assumed they had just been leading us on, and this was the inevitable let down. I defaulted to hating them again. Since then they've won 8 of 9 games, which...exceeded expectations? That's not the Bruins I know and hate.
You can argue that a lot of things brought about this change- good coaching, better trades, actually spending money on players- but all of those will go back to one major difference: these Bruins care. Just a few years ago, Tim Thomas was the only player on the team willing to do anything to win. This year, everything just clicked, sparked by Milan Lucic and his violently passionate play. The players are oozing with character, from Lucic down to the fourth line, to Andrew Ference on the blue line, and all the way back to Thomas. And that's the difference. Maybe it's due to more than just Milan, but all of the reasons that the Bruins lead the division go back to the fact that they look like a real team. They've not only made other teams look bad in terms of execution, but also in terms of heart, causing every announcer to comment on how "flat" their opponents look. Yes, they're on a hot streak right now, but it's hard to be cautious about falling for this team. It's the first time I've had the opportunity to do so, and I'm not holding back. Hopefully the city of Boston feels the same way, because if they get passionate about hockey again, it'll be nearly impossible for the Bruins to stop caring.

Quick notes
  • Andrew Ference (officially my favorite Bruin) injured himself on a blocked shot and won't be traveling with the team on this upcoming trip. In his press conference, Claude Julien made it clear he's a few choked up cries of "Why?!" away from being as upset about this as I am. I have to say, Julien has really impressed me this year handling players, in that it's been exactly how I would. Rabidly praising Ference whenever possible? Rewarding Petteri "Angry Finn" Nokelainan for his effectiveness and work ethic? Finally limiting Aaron Ward's ice time? Yes sir.
  • Andy Brickley and Jack Edwards (who I'm convinced is on some kind of uppers) were wondering what the whole thing with Milan and Mike Komisarek was about. I've been told that last year Komisarek made fun of Milan for having a hunchback. Can't be sure whether this started it or was just another chapter, but we can be sure that it was a big, big mistake on Komisarek's part, and also that Milan is well on his way to being a Boston legend. Maybe the best part of the video of the event is Phil Kessel laughing to himself at the end as Milan has his psychotic episode (or as Edwards called it, "boyish enthusiasm").
  • Remember to vote Milan, Ference, and, of course, Tim Thomas into the All-Star Game.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tim Thomas

I was lucky enough to go to the Bruins/Cancucks game in Vancouver a few weeks ago. The win was nice, but it was a typical 1-0 game in that not much actually happened. Even Milan Lucic couldn't start something, though not for lack of effort (damn Bieksa). Tim Thomas was legitimately terrifying for the whole game, making me think that maybe people were right about his value as a goaltender. Looking back, though, the only thing in the entire game that made me stand up and cheer was his amazing save in the third period, and this is completely ignoring the fact that it was his second shutout in two nights. If he had let in a single goal in either game the Bruins may not have won.
It's nerve-wracking to watch him sometimes, but not only is he the biggest reason the Bruins have won any games in the past few years, he's also very often the only interesting thing on the ice. We love Tim Thomas, and he is an All-Star. Vote Timmy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

2008-2009 Predicted Standings

Eastern Conference
  1. Montreal
  2. Washington
  3. NY Rangers
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Buffalo
  6. Tampa Bay
  7. Boston
  8. Philadelphia
  9. Ottawa
  10. New Jersey
  11. Carolina
  12. Florida
  13. NY Islanders
  14. Atlanta
  15. Toronto
Western Conference
  1. Detroit
  2. San Jose
  3. Calgary
  4. Anaheim
  5. Dallas
  6. Colorado
  7. Chicago
  8. Edmonton
  9. Columbus
  10. Minnesota
  11. Phoenix
  12. St. Louis
  13. Nashville
  14. Vancouver
  15. Los Angeles
I won't go into too much detail about my methodology (highly scientific, much too complicated), but I will explain a few things.
  • I've been waiting a while for New Jersey's success to disintegrate, and clearly I'm pegging this as the year. In all likelihoods they'll sneak into the playoffs yet again, losing in the first round to a far, far superior team, but what little glimmer of hope I have that the Devils will fail is all I need.
  • Maybe it's because I've only ever predicted the playoffs, where goaltending is huge, but starting goalies were a pretty big factor in these picks. Ottawa and Columbus's skaters, for instance, are of vastly different quality, but vastly different qualities of goaltenders puts them both at 9th.
  • The possibility of trades was never considered with any team. Unless they're done early in the season, I don't believe they dramatically alter a team's position in the standings.
  • Personal biases were considered with pretty much every team. For instance, I claim goaltending is a huge factor, yet the only reason I put the Canucks as high as 14th is that the Kings are too disasterous to be anything but dead last. This is because I live in Vancouver.
Here's hoping the Bruins and Avs bump themselves up, and that someone bumps off both first place teams.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shaughnessy's Remarks Are Sad

I usually read mainstream sports articles only for recaps, quotes from players, or other bits of information I need. Especially with the writers we have covering the Red Sox in Boston, anything outside of that feels like a gossip column- sensationalist, idiotic, unimportant and self-important fluff. Ninety percent of the time, it's not even worth getting upset about.

Then there's the other ten percent. His name is Dan Shaughnessy.
Those air sickness bags come in handy sometimes. Flying coast to coast, you cram into your coach seat (like John Glenn in Mercury 1), open the paper to read Manny Ramírez's latest remarks, and you need the barf bag before you're over Kansas.
Quick show of hands here. Which person do you feel worse for- Shaughnessy for being stuck in a coach seat (from the sound of it, literally), or his seatmate for being stuck next to Shaughnessy? We can only hope that the poor guy had a soft spot for nauseas panderers, or at least that he had some way to entertain himself.

But this article ("Ramirez's remarks are sad") isn't about Dan Shaugnessy's numerous personal hardships, or about getting back at Manny for hating on the Boston sports media. It's about the fans, who should be enraged at the unbelievably pompous way Manny has taken them for granted.
We know what he thinks of you. He thinks all you Sox fans are losers who need to get a life. You just care too darn much. It doesn't matter how much love you showered on his head. You bothered him with all that caring.
It's a horrifically disrespectful, completely unwarranted, and almost painfully delusional thing to say. For Shaughnessy, that is, because Manny didn't actually say that. He said this.
"It's just a different atmosphere. The fans in Boston got your back no matter what, but I'm talking about the people who write all this bull because it means so much to them. If your happiness depends on Boston winning or losing, you have to get a life."
This was quoted in Shaughnessy's article. It was his "favorite part of the rant". If he expects to pull off that sort of blatant misrepresentation, it should be clear to Sox fans who really thinks they're losers. I know- it isn't worth getting upset over something so crassly manipulative, and even hypocritical to respond so cruelly. But in this article, Shaughnessy almost perfectly demonstrates what's so wrong about most sports writers. They don't care about sports.

A fan is someone who wants their team to win. They watch the game from their team's perspective. They root for offense when their team is batting and defense when their team is fielding. They always see calls in their team's favor, however irrationally. They love players that help their team win and hate players that help their team lose. Behind all of that there's a passion that causes them emotional trauma and ecstasy but can never be extinguished or satisfied.

A good sports writer is someone whose writing is relatable to fans, not because he also has to fly coach, or is also overweight, or also failed either history or math in high school (there was no Mercury 1), but because he is also driven by that same passion. I don't know what Shaughnessy's driven by (greed, fame, totally distorted self-image), but I don't really care. He said all he needs to when he tried to prove why Manny was actually talking about the fans.
He's right about some of this. There certainly are people in Boston whose happiness is connected to the Sox' fortunes. But it's not the "people who write this bull." Trust me when I tell you that Sox wins and losses have zero bearing on my happiness.
Real fans of the Red Sox shouldn't be reading someone who admits to not caring about the team (someone who would be happier with the Sox losing if it gave him something to write about), and maybe real fans don't. CHB is pretty universally hated by anyone even mildly familiar with Boston sports media, and it'd be nice to think that at least these people are intelligent enough to form their own opinions on issues surrounding the team. But there's no denying that a mass exists that lets itself and its passion for their team be poisoned by all the negativity we're being bombarded with.

Professional sports aren't all hugs and sunshine and unicorns, and I'm neither defending Manny nor claiming anything he says actually makes sense. But I've let it go. That's the result a lot of people want from this situation, and soon. Manny puts it well.
"Just let me be happy someplace else."
Yeah, he's still talking about it, but Shaughnessy isn't exactly convincing with his "give it up, Manny" routine. He's the one still reporting it, "reluctantly" or not. The Sox are in the playoffs. We just won our first game against the best team in the league. We get to look at Jacoby Ellsbury almost every day. And Manny is having a good time, too. Instead of letting us be happy, Shaughnessy fabricates insults to incite the rage of Boston fans, and while he may be the worst with this, it's not just him. I'm just tired of the hyenas that cover the team I love, and I wish there were more of those writers whose passion is their team and not their ego.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Avs Season Preview

Goaltenders: Peter Budaj, Andrew Raycroft

Defensemen: Adam Foote, J-M Liles, Scott Hannan, Ruslan Salei, Jordan Leopold, Brett Clark, Kyle Cumiskey, Daniel Tjarnqvist

Forwards: Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos, Tyler Arnason, Ian Laperriere, Ben Guite, Darcy Tucket, David Jones, TJ Hensick, Scott Parker, Cody McLeod, Cody McCormick

Before we get started on this, I have to admit that it takes effort to feel good about this season in Colorado. Lined up side-by-side with the Bruins, the Avs don't seem to be in very bad shape. Their goaltending situation isn't that much worse, their offense isn't that much thinner, and there's no one in their division that strikes immediate fear in my heart. It just seems worse because of the way last season went. Usually the Bruins are the ones with the potential they never live up to and the Avs are the powerhouse that deservingly has our faith. While the roles aren't reversed exactly, they have switched a bit. To overcome the holes in their lineups, both of them have to come together as a team and work for it. For once, that sounds more like the Bruins. It's funny what one season can do.
Anyway, here's how the Avs are looking going into 2008-2009.

Stopping Goals
There's reason to be nervous about the goaltending situation on the Avs. With Jose Theodore gone, they're relying entirely on Peter Budaj. He's shown in the past that he can thrive in a starter's role, but he's never had to do it for the entire season. If he hits a rough patch, Andrew Raycroft isn't exactly the rock they need to pick up the pieces. God knows Boodz can come through, but if he doesn't then the season is lost. Gulp.
The defense is another story. Wow. Can I just say wow and leave it at that? Where's the weak link? There's not a guy in our top six that would be out of place in a top pairing. Barring injury, the Avs defense can make up for a lot of weaknesses at both ends of the ice.
In last year's playoffs, the Avs were most (or only) effective when the forwards were very aggressive defensively. The defensemen can- and need to- play their minds out, but if the forwards slack off in their own zone, they'll be spending most of the game there.

Scoring Goals
I'm curious to see how the offense will shape up. It can actually end up looking pretty good if the right people have good years, such as Marek Svatos. If he plays like a top-sixer, they'll have two solid lines, one excellent checking line, and an energy line that can fill in the gaps (I'd like to see Jones and Hensick there). However, if any of the top six forwards are injured or go through serious slumps, there aren't really any good replacements for them. Considering who's on the top two lines, this makes me very nervous.
Like the forwards have to play well defensively, the defensemen have to play well offensively. There's no way the power play can be as terrible as it was last year, and while most of that will have to do with coaching, it will also hinge on players like J-M Liles, Jordan Leopold, and Ruslan Salei. The Avs should use their speed and smart defensemen to dominate teams on the transition. If your players alone can't put the other team on their heels, then your plays should.

That's really the key to the Avs this year- playing more cohesively. They have the heart players to spark the effort, but they need a coach that can focus it. It's also vital that Boodz comes up big, that no one on the top two lines is injured or slumping for an extended period of time, that the defense plays phenomenally in all three zones, and that special teams are at least good enough not to cost them games. If they do all that, they can be a pretty solid playoff team. There's a lot to be optimistic about, but there's even more that can go wrong, and for the first time in a while it seems more likely than not that it will.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bruins Season Preview

Goalies: Tim Thomas, Manny Fernandez, Tuukka Rask

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference, Andrew Alberts, Aaron Ward, Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy, Matt Lashoff

Forwards: Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Michael Ryder, Marco Sturm, PJ Axelsson, David Krejci, Chuck Kobasew, Peter Schaefer, Petteri Nokelainan, Shawn Thornton, Vladimir Sobotka, Jeremy Reich

The Bruins don't look bad.
They're no Red Wings, and we all know that just because they seem to pass on paper doesn't mean they won't fail miserably on the ice, but the B's are a few answered question marks away from being a solid team. Even if they stall at first, there are plenty of options for trading. Seeing as they've preferred to take their time in recent years bringing prospects up, I'll assume for now that this is going to be pretty close to the starting roster.
Let's take a look.

Stopping Goals
The Bruins' biggest unknown going into the season is goaltending, and one that won't likely be solved immediately. Barring an injury or a total collapse, the B's will start the season with three goaltenders. Though he'll get more ice time and a much more serious look than last year, Tuukka Rask will still be limited for the first half and probably won't take over as the starter this season. My bet is that Tim Thomas once again wins his job, the Bruins trade Manny Fernandez, and at some point in the second half of the season they start splitting time evenly between Thomas and Rask. That being said, it will probably happen completely differently. For all I know the Bruins are starting Jeremy Reich in net.
Whatever happens with goaltending should be buffered by defense. The de on this team have gotten way too much credit
in the past couple of seasons (probably because it seemed more plausible than giving the credit to Tim Thomas), but they might actually deserve it this year. Once Dennis Wideman stops making terrible mistakes, the Bruins will have a genuine top pairing, and though the thought of Aaron Ward and Mark Stuart together is terrifying, at least Stuart is bound to improve. The cherry on top is the return of Andrew Alberts, i.e. the return of a large, physical, surprisingly intelligent de man who clicks well with Andrew Ference. Fantastic.

Scoring Goals
On offense there's a good mix of experienced veterans who haven't quite slowed down yet (sorry, Muzz) and young talent that's coming into its own. Though it's never out of the question for Boston forwards to muddle around in mediocrity for the whole season, I think the team is poised to score some goals. Marc Savard, a playmaker who feeds off the energy of his linemates, should put up big numbers playing with the likes of Phil Kessel and Michael Ryder. If all three can keep their heart in the game, they'll kill. I can't believe that Patrice will be anything less than phenomenal, especially if he has Milan Lucic to watch out for him and his old linemate Sturm at his side. With all the attention on the top two lines (something Lucic will have to deal with better to be successful), David Krejci can have himself a strong year flying under the radar. They can end up mediocre, but with some effort and luck they can also be very good.
Charizard and Wideman will make the power play unit intimidating, which can hopefully translate into actually scoring power play goals this year. Besides those two, the defensemen aren't particularly dangerous offensively. Andrew Ference, for instance, is an excellent playmaker in all three zones, but lacks the shot to score from the blue line. The de will have to become more of a threat in order to open up the offensive zone for their forwards, who (as a whole) aren't big enough to thrive in tight checking.

Everything can go either way. They've got big defensemen, talented forwards, and three decent options in net. They're also the Bruins. But that's not such a bad thing anymore. The team is full of heart (Patrice, Milan, Thomas, etc.) and after last year's playoffs the whole team should have a jump in their step. Maybe one series is too much to glean hope from, but for the first time in a long time the Bruins came together and willed themselves some wins. I think the team finally knows what they have to do, and with Claude Julien coaching them, hopefully this year they can do it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Go Pens?

Glory, gloryHallelujah.

A break was necessary after the Bruins dragged me mercilessly back into caring about them in a non-sarcastic way, then left me with the Avs, who responded by giving up on the series halfway through their first game against Detroit. But there's no way I could take off a Stanley Cup Finals in which neither team is from California or the Southeast Conference. Still, I didn't expect to care, and the Penguins have won me over. It's likely because I've developed definite man-crushes on Jordan Staal, who has played with intelligence, poise, and effort way beyond someone half a year older than me, and Ryan Malone, whose gritty, "I don't care if I fall down when no one's around me" style of play should be an inspiration to his team. The latter was also the subject of this series' "Tim McCarver Award for Inexplicableness in Broadcasting" (the actual recipient of which I forget) for the following statement:
Announcer: Look at Ryan Malone's face. He's sporting all sorts of colors. Red beard, red scabs, yellow nose, black helmet...

All that aside, before the series started, it looked like this to me: Detroit should and probably would win, but Pittsburgh could win. I imagined it ending up fairly even, with Detroit sticking to their system and Pittsburgh occasionally overwhelming it to score a goal. It just wasn't clear if the Penguins were really good enough to throw the Red Wings off their game. I suspected they weren't, so it came down to a matter of which was worse: believing in the Pens and being wrong, or not giving them a chance and being right. Pens in 7 is the retrospective prediction, which is unfortunate, because the Red Wings have managed to bring their dominance to the Finals.

Anyone who's watched Detroit this year knows there shouldn't be any competition for the Jack Adams. That team is a machine. The phrase "puck possession" is beaten like a dead horse, and it doesn't do their system justice. I get the feeling it's become one of those phrases that people parrot without understanding, like "leadership qualities" or "beating a dead horse". To some people (ie Crosbunnies) it likely comes off like some elaborate game of keepaway. It's so much more, and so freaking good, that I think their system can only be explained in Chuck Norris-like expressions.

The Red Wings know where you're going with the puck, and they will get it from you.
Because they clog up dangerous areas, attacking players have to choose between settling for perimeter scoring chances, and risking a turnover in a heavily-defended area. Eventually they have to choose the latter, with a small success rate. In addition to basic positioning, Detroit also finds advantages in their opponent's game. Against Pittsburgh, for instance, they favor low coverage (sometimes with all five players below the hashmarks), knowing that the Penguins rely heavily on their forwards.

The Red Wings will pass the puck back down the ice with dazzling crispness to places you didn't even know another Red Wing was.
Their impossibly smooth transitions are the most devastating part of their game. Here's where the term "puck possession" may mislead people (if it actually does), since Detroit prefers passing, which moves the puck much faster. Yes, their forwards will carry the puck if they have space and no better options, but they usually hold on just long enough for defenders to collapse on them, opening up a quick dish to a teammate. If they can pass immediately they will, since the faster they move the play up the ice, the more likely they are to catch the defense flat-footed. However, their willingness to carry the puck (in addition to skill and positioning) is one reason they rarely make very sloppy or forced passes.

Even if you get the puck from one Red Wing, another will get it back.
Close puck support enables those quick dishes, but even more importantly it recovers control after mistakes. They've managed to turn botched attempts at offense into creative-looking plays that almost seem deliberate. Whatever the intention is, the result is overwhelming. If one player loses the puck, his teammate is right there to make sure the drive doesn't die, which can spell trouble for a defender who's accustomed to dismantling an attack with one poke check (coughHalGillcough).

The Red Wings have many tricks, and they're not afraid to use every last one of them.
Players are encouraged to, within the system, use their strengths to create chances. If Datsyuk has space, he'll twirl around you. If Franzen doesn't, he'll go through you. If both of them are stopped, Holmstrom will continue to slash your goaltender long after the whistle has blown out of the possibility that the play is a zombie and will come back to life, or because he is an asshole. They utilize their best option on the ice, no matter what it is, which forces teams to defend them by reacting, not anticipating. There's no cheating when defending against the Red Wings. And even if you do gain control of the puck, the Red Wings know where you're going with it, and they will get it from you.

I hate to praise them so irrationally, but to watch a team as confident, enthusiastic, and freakishly talented as Pittsburgh be controlled and intimidated like they were in Detroit is frustrating. Game three played out a lot like I imagined the rest of the series would. Part of me is encouraged enough to think it will turn around now. Penguins players have been saying the right things in interviews (like get the puck back to the de more) and have adjusted their forecheck a bit to be more effective. The rational part of me, however, expects the Red Wings to own the next game, seeing as they only lost the last one because they didn't play like the Red Wings (ie the Brad Stuart turnover). You never know- maybe the Penguins were really just good enough to throw Detroit off their game, and I say it's better to believe that than to believe Ryan Malone's nose is yellow and scabs are red and helmet is black for nothing. Go Pens!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Second Round 2008

Detroit over Colorado (6 games)
The Avs play the kind of game Detroit can completely dominate. Their defense has played well and Theodore gives them a clear edge in goaltending, but their disorganized offense leaves them vulnerable to the Red Wings' transition game. Detroit picks apart and quickly turns back weak attacks, which have become the Avs trademark. It's not impossible for them to win the series, but they would have to play with more strength, creativity, intelligence, consistency, effort, and edge than they have all season. All the Red Wings have to do is score on Theodore, though Nashville proved last round that goaltending can go a long way. It's because of Theodore that the Avs have any shot at all, as even with massive improvements they will still likely be the lesser team. Detroit always seems to play to their potential; the series depends entirely on if the Avs do.

San Jose over Dallas (7 games)
It's all up to San Jose's forwards. Despite overall talent, the strength of both teams lies in their defense. If either team really breaks out offensively, it'll be devastating. Neither goaltender had a very good first round, but Turco was a bit worse. Because Nabokov is (more) likely to raise his game and the Sharks give up far fewer powerplays than the Ducks, Dallas' offense will struggle more in this round than the first. Therefore, if San Jose breaks out (which they can against Turco and with Boucher injured), they also win. It's not at all out of the question that Dallas will win (they're just full of surprises), but it's more likely that they'll crack first.

Montreal over Philadelphia (7 games)
While goaltending is the biggest key with two open teams like this, and Price will likely outduel Biron in most games, the series also depends on whether the Flyers can use their physicality to overwhelm the Habs. This will not only take away space from Montreal's forwards, but also put pressure on their sketchy de (and take pressure off of the Flyers'). If their effort is inconsistent or they end up in the box too much- two very possible outcomes- they won't win.
One note on the Habs- they beat Boston so badly in Game 7 for the exact reasons they should have beaten them that badly in the series. In addition to being genuinely outplayed in the first half of the game, their defense was incredibly shaky in their own zone and their forwards fairly inconsistent. But, like they have been all year, the Habs' weaknesses were cancelled out by their strengths. Their lethally opportunistic forwards seemed to capitalize on every mistake we made (mostly by Chara), while Price made sure that we couldn't do the same. By the third period the Bruins looked completely broken and hopeless. The Habs don't play flawless hockey- they can just play flawed hockey better than other teams. If they're really on their game, the Flyers' effort level is inconsequential. They'll win.

Pittsburgh over NY Rangers (6 games)
The Rangers' lineup looked like a recipe for a turnaround- if they got Lundqvist and the forwards playing as well as their incredibly solid defense, they'd be a force. But as soundly as they beat the Devils, they still haven't made the leap. Lundvist was good, and could give them the advantage in goaltending, but it seems that their offensive "breakout" was helped a lot by Brodeur. Additionally, their defense was less than solid against a very bad New Jersey offense. It's like they tried to morph into the Penguins, but they're not good enough to play like Pittsburgh does. They need to be firing on all three cylinders to compete with the Penguins' two. Even if they do, it still might not be enough. It would take elevated play from all skaters, robbery from Lundqvist, and at least a minor breakdown from the Penguins for New York to win this.

It's becoming customary for me to put these up after the first day, but I did have both of tonight's series done before the teams played (as is evident by the comments about Theodore). His strange game aside, the Avs-Red Wings game went as well as I could have hoped, especially given how Colorado played in the first period. They looked terrified. The effort was mostly there, but without confidence it was unfocused and they were just lost. Pierre McGuire insightfully pointed out (many, many times) that Detroit's speed was too much for the Avs, but that was really only the case with Datsyuk. It wasn't that the Red Wings were getting places faster- it was that they were already halfway there by the time the Avs realized where they were going. As they spent the first period simply reacting to the Red Wings, it's no wonder the Avs had trouble stopping them. Detroit's intelligence was too much for them. It was only after Liles' goal (wonderful play all-around) that they gained the confidence to control the puck in the offensive zone and aggressively step up on the Wings' attack. For the second half of the game, they stayed with Detroit, and if not for a partial relapse into weak puck support and a late recovery from Osgood, they could have come back to win. They need to play like that for the rest of the series (especially Tyler Arnason, who inexplicably decided not to suck) and they've got a shot.

Shout out to Medford: I don't hate the Bruins anymore. It's a miracle...but there's always next year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 19

1775: American Revolutionary War begins (Battle of Lexington and Concord).
1861: American Civil War begins (Baltimore Riots).
1943: First LSD trip (Bicycle Day).
1996: A record 36 tornados documented in one day.
2004: After being down 3-1 in the series, the Montreal Canadiens cap their first-round comeback against the Boston Bruins with a game seven victory.
2008: Katie O'D is able to legally drink in all of Canada.

It may seem unlikely that the Bruins take this series to seven games, but April 19 is a strange day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quick Notes and Thoughts

Phil Kessel is sitting again. I have no complaints about the Bruins' play last game- they did everything they could, and it just wasn't enough against Price. But doesn't that mean we need something else? We need offense, and Phil can bring that. If it's an issue of effort, I can't imagine that watching a series like this from the sidelines is going to make him complacent and lackadaisical. I respect Claude Julien for sticking to his decision, and maybe he sees that Phil isn't ready attitude-wise to come back, but if the Bruins lose tonight because they can't score that decision of his could look pretty bad.
[Edit: Phil is a "possibility", according to an update from my "source". Additionally, he's skating warmups, which might be a pretty good indicator itself.]

That being said, these are the five biggest keys of the game:
  • Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price. The obvious one- it's whoever cracks first (or worst).
  • Officiating. Special teams have had less of an impact than most people thought, but the calls still make a difference. Since the first brutal couple of games in Montreal, it's improved, but poor calls have the ability to sap a team of its momentum.
  • The reliability of the Bruins' defense. Another improved facet of the team since the start, the defensemen have to play smart. The Habs will be pumped up enough by their crowd to convert any mistake into an opportunity, and goals are precious.
  • The first period. The first period has been low-scoring for the Bruins all series, despite strong play in later games, but if they can do some actual damage early it'll go a long way to improving their confidence and taking the Montreal crowd out of it a (little) bit.
  • The "Milan Lucic Effect". After Kovalev took exception to his hit, Milan responded by mockingly wiping his cheek with one glove and taunting, "Boo hoo." Best moment of the series. The kid has been so relentless, Josh Gorges admitted in between periods that their defensive strategy was to let him go into the corner and get the puck first, as the hits were taking them out of the play and wearing them down. It isn't empty, mindless goonery, either- not only does he create chances and play sound defense, but it's clear his heart is 100% invested in the game. His insane efforts have been contagious, spawning even players such as Savvy to start finishing their checks. The Bruins last game refused to let down, and they have to carry the Milan Lucic Effect into this one.
It's going to take a miracle to win this series; that miracle will have to happen tonight. Go B's!

The Avs keys are covered a bit in the last post, but just for good measure, go Avs!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Five Reasons the Avs Scored Five Goals

1) The Defense
I never would have thought sitting Jeff Finger would help a team whose biggest problem was heart and team play, but the Colorado defensemen had an outstanding game. From the inconspicuous dependability of Scott Hannan and Kurt Sauer to the fierceness of Adam Foote and (oddly) J-M Liles, the defensemen both fueled and supported the offense.
Jordan Leopold, for instance, showed a poise, creativity, and intelligence that I hadn't seen from him before. He made effortless-looking plays all night that kept the ice tilted in the direction of the Wild net. It's even harder to find a fault in Ruslan Salei's play. A defensive wall and offensive force, he led the team with 25 minutes of ice time- and I wish it could have been more. He was the best player on the ice.

2) The Lines
At first both exciting and inexplicable, the new line combinations last night seemed to address a stagnant Avalanche offense that lacked any chemistry or coordination. While some players just didn't suck as noticeably, others immediately found themselves more effective- and everyone looked a bit more comfortable.
How putting Wojtek Wolski on the checking line causes him to score is beyond me, but he had a game for himself. It wasn't flawless, but he played with an almost strange sort of confidence and seemed even more devoted to his defensive responsibilities than usual.
Ryan Smyth, the Avs best forward this series, found his superhuman grinding powers actually lead to a goal by a very gracious (and deserving) Milan Hejduk. And, in a bizarre and blissful twist on Smytty's previous line, the peskiness of Cody McLeod and energy of David Jones reacted in such a way that almost completely neutralized the suckiness of Tyler Arnason.

3) The Wild
Minnesota is as upset with their play as Colorado is pleased. The defense were caught back on their heels, their normally suffocating system collapsing under pressure. The defense wasn't helped much by their forwards, who couldn't manage to keep the puck in the offensive zone for very long. Over the course of the night, there were more than twice as many faceoffs in Minnesota's end than the Avs', due in large part to the skewed shot count. Clearly the frustration got to the Wild, as they took so many penalties that a fairly terrible Colorado powerplay still converted twice. By the midway point of the game, it seemed like the Wild players had forgotten that the point of hockey was even to score goals.
While all of those problems were due in large part to strong play by the Avs, Backstrom's weak game was all on him. Letting in so many early goals, some of which he could have stopped when he's on, took the life out of his team.

4) The Attack
All the Wild had to do the game before this to kill the Avs' offensive attempts was clog up the middle of the ice. The forwards were too slow and weak on the puck to drive to the net, and their sloppily forced passes to the middle of the ice were read and stopped easily. Minnesota expected it all the way, and rightly so- even with the slot packed with Wild players and the points open, the Avs kept at it.
Last night was a shocking turnaround. Aiming to capitalize while they had all their energy, the Avs lacked any of the tentativeness they had shown before and came out flying. Our forwards kept their feet moving and drove through tough areas, led by again Smytty, the only player to consistently do this all series, and Jones, who has also played hard so far. Not only did all four lines play strong hockey, but the defensemen also contributed to the rush. Andrew Brunette's goal (a perfect example of the reformed attack) was entirely the making of Ruslan Salei, and J-M was all over the offensive zone (unfortunately, so was his shot). Even Scott Hannan was leading the charge early on. They were relentless, and it forced the Wild to play terribly.

5) The Fire
In the first few minutes of the game Jose Theodore received a face full of snow, and J-M Liles immediately stepped in to tell the Wild player off. As the CBC announcers discussed what sort of message Minnesota was sending Theodore, a close-up of the play showed that J-M's message wasn't too hard to make out: "Fuck you, man."
When your 5-10 defenseman is looking to get into it right from the start of the game, you know you're set. For the first three games, plays like Sean Hill's psychotic tackle of Peter Forsberg went unchallenged, something that seemed to demoralize Foppa a bit as time went on. The players looked detached and disinterested.
Evidence that things changed (or that every person on the team simultaneously took up meth) was everywhere last night. In addition to the Jones-exacerbated spectacle that was Cody McLeod, Adam Foote infuriated Brent Burns by telling him off for his work on Forsberg. Foote also responded with ferocious enthusiasm to a challenge from Derek Boogaard before Ian Laperriere stepped in to (try to) pull Boogaard off. Lappy later followed up on Stephane Veilleux for his dangerous hit on Stastny and general douchiness.
All over the ice players were pushing back for themselves and their teammates, from the Liles and Wolski types (attempted to start something late with Hill) right up to the McLeods and Lappys. It explains why McLeod was put on the third line- to light that fire. It may seem irrelevant to scoring, but hockey can't be played like a business. You need to be a real team to win in the playoffs, and nothing makes someone a teammate faster than when they stick up for you.

I don't expect them to score five goals every game. Clearly everything just fell into place last night. However, I don't remember the last time I saw the Avs play so cohesively as a team, and I believe it's due to a change in attitude more than any change in tactics or lines. The Avs can win Game 5 with Sakic centering McLeod and Laperriere (joking, Q), but if they don't respond to the inevitable Minnesota brutality, they're through. The key to the rest of this series- and any success the Avs hope to have this postseason- is whether Colorado can keep it on now that they've turned it on. Was that a random burst, or will the Avs finally be the dangerous team we all know they should be? Strangely enough, we'll probably have to ask Cody McLeod.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dennis Wideman plays 10 minutes more than J-M Liles

Memo to Claude Julien
Defensive suggestions:
  • Show your players a map of the defensive zone, with "Little Billy"-type directions if need be. The reason the PK is so good is that the guys seem most comfortable when they can sit back and blindly whip the puck out of the zone, but 5-on-5 they have to be cleaner and more aggressive. They can't be if they don't know who or where to attack.
  • Only Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara make sound decisions in all three zones, and only sometimes. Keep it as simple as possible for your defensemen and take measures to insulate their inevitable mistakes.
  • Dennis Wideman is talented. He is also dumb. Do not put him out on the penalty kill. Do not put him out with Aaron Ward or Mark Stuart.
  • Stuart and Shane Hnidy are terrifying, and not in a good way. Split them up and please, please play Andrew Alberts. A lot, if possible.
  • Never forget Tim Thomas. Buy his children extravagant gifts.
Offensive suggestions:
  • Please develop a forechecking system that doesn't consist of one forward running the defensemen and hoping they make an egregious error while his linemates watch interestedly from a distance. This may occasionally force a mistake, but a forecheck that relies on the opposing defense sucking might backfire against some teams. Try running Chris Pronger and waiting for Scott Niedermayer to panic.
  • I know you don't like Phil Kessel, but every time Jeremy Reich is on the ice I die a little inside. Phil is pissed off enough now to "grind it out" like you want, and as a plus he actually has talent.
  • For the love of all that is holy, keep Milan Lucic and Marc Savard together. It's a favor to Savard, trust me. And skate Marco Sturm with that line instead of Glen Murray- he's played well since game one. If you like Muzz too much to bench him, put him on a young, energetic line (ie with Kessel), but something must be done with that man.
  • After a Montreal goal, immediately put out either the Savvy-Lucic line or the Metropolit-Schaefer line. Skate Sobotka with Metropolit-Schaefer.
  • When you yell at the refs, look angry, not like a constipated duck. (Too offensive of a suggestion?)

The Avs coaching situation is above my head. I can't even pinpoint what's wrong- just that no one seems to really know what they're doing. Any success players have seems to come from natural talent alone, and even that has been stifled in a few cases. I can criticize Julien because I can tell what he's trying to do; I can't criticize Quenneville because it doesn't appear that he's trying to do anything. I give him credit with the defensemen, as he has both paired them up well and played them in appropriate situations, but like many people I believe he has mismanaged the forwards. Consistency has been the main problem, with some forwards being immediately chastised for somewhat weak games and some immune to punishment after a season of suckiness. My memo to Joel Quenneville is simply this:
Stick with it for the whole game and see if the offensive zone gets detangled a little.

Go Avs, Go B's, and for god's sake someone beat the Red Wings
-Katie O'D

Saturday, April 12, 2008

2008 Playoffs

Random, I know, but I couldn't resist. Though it's a bit better here in Canada, when I talk to normal people about hockey they still go pretty quickly from thinking it's cute, to being impressed, to being genuinely concerned. This is mostly for my benefit.

Team Rankings

1) Detroit
Scarily complete team with effective, suffocating puck-possession system. Potential weaknesses in goaltending (shielded for most of the season) and the fact that they're the Red Wings.
2) Anaheim
Confident, dominant team with excellent playoff goaltender and best defensive unit in the NHL. Very physical but not as much natural offensive talent as some teams.
3) Montreal
Oozes offensive talent, up front and on the blue line. Well-coached for the regular season but the over-reliance on offense and a young goaltender could be deadly in the playoffs. Price is key and his confidence will likely be reinforced by playing the Bruins. Risky team.
4) Pittsburgh
Mix of terrifying talent and veteran toughness up front, but the defense is suspect and goaltending situation curious. Dangerous but vulnerable.
5) San Jose
Excellent two-way defense and solid goaltending, but top-heavy, underperforming forward squad needs to be addressed by otherwise good coach.
6) NY Rangers
Underperforming (and unlucky) talent at forward and goaltending supported by unspectacular but extremely solid defense. Numbers weaker than the team is, which has the potential to be very good.
7) Minnesota
Team carried by excellent goaltending and one-sided but effective system, as talent is thin at forward. Injuries to defense severely cripple them.
8) Dallas
Have been lucky (league-leading Sh%) to score as much as they have with forwards not playing well all season. Team can be effective within system if good defense and Turco perform.
9) Washington
Not very deep on forward or defense, but has some amazing players. Regular season numbers may not say much as they were in a terrible division, and also acquired Huet late. A flawed team that is carried by youth and enthusiasm.
10) Colorado
Based on players, should be higher; based on numbers, should be lower. Success depends on Theodore and if their painfully talented but painfully mismanaged players can find some sort of organization amongst themselves.
11) Philadelphia
Dirty team with decent depth and talent that put up good numbers in a good division. May have benefitted from regular season luck, and both injuries and a lack of sufficient defense could hurt them in the playoffs.
12) Calgary
A fairly balanced team that suffered from subpar regular season goaltending. Can come together to win games, but have been inconsistent and no one aspect of the team is very intimidating (though their defense should be).
13) New Jersey
Completely one-sided and successful mostly due to system, which relies on defense (have outperformed their talent level, to their credit) and Brodeur (still good but not quite as scary). Not enough offense to win.
14) Nashville
Despite good goaltending, have struggled against better teams. Injuries to their somewhat thin collection of talent can't likely be overcome by the hard work and solid team play that got them to the playoffs.
15) Ottawa
So much talent and so many problems, from dehabilitating injuries to poor performance from a talented defensive squad to a high-scoring system that's too reckless. The biggest flaw of all in the playoffs is their lack of goaltending.
16) Boston
They can't score (24th in GF), can't defend (over 30 shots against/game), are either dumb as dirt, poorly coached, or allergic to making clean plays, and unfortunately, every goaltender plays as hard as Tim Thomas in the playoffs. I hate the Bruins.

First-Round Predictions

Detroit over Nashville (5 games)
Nashville might be able to pull off a win if they work hard and Detroit loses focus.
San Jose over Calgary (6 games)
San Jose is a much better team that won't win any games easily. Could go to seven.
Colorado over Minnesota (7 games)
Minnesota doesn't have the ablity to win; Colorado has to start using it. If the Avs hit their stride it could end sooner, and if they don't Minnesota could will themselves a series win.
Anaheim over Dallas (6 games)
Dallas is pesky and frustrating enough to steal a couple of wins.
Montreal over Boston (5 games)
Best case scenario: the Bruins rally together to win one game after finally taking Tim Thomas' suicide threats seriously, then are shut out for the rest of the series. I hate the Bruins.
Pittsburgh over Ottawa (5 games)
Ottawa wins by out-scoring, and they can't outscore the Pens. They might not win a game.
Philadelphia over Washington (7 games)
Though Philadelphia injuries give the Caps an advantage, the Flyers may cancel that out by the end of the series. A Washington win would be nice but if the Flyers break their spirit at all (which they can) they won't pull it off.
NY Rangers over New Jersey (6 games)
The Devils will drag the series out longer than it should go just because they're the Devils, but they're done.

Back to life now,
Katie O'D
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