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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hello all, and happy St. Patrick’s Day.  Because I am a semi-mature adult who is a large part Irish, I do not really like to be involved in the toolfest that is March 17th in America.  So, let’s talk hockey.

We went 2-1 last night, incorrectly picking Carolina to take care of business at home against Toronto.  Cam Ward came back down to earth and allowed 3 goals on 19 shots, while Table villain James Reimer stopped 36 of 37 to keep the Leafs alive in the playoff race.  Kudos to him; I’ll admit when I’m wrong.

Tonight’s schedule sees a lot of games involving one good team and one team that will miss the playoffs, so I suppose the highlight game of the night is Chicago at Dallas.  Chicago sits 6th in the west with 84 points, while Dallas is one spot behind them with 82 points.  This is a 4 point game in the sense of the term, and both teams will roll out their usual starting goalies in net.  Both Corey Crawford and Kari Lehtonen boast decent save percentages at .917 and .914, which are good for 17th and 23rd in the league.  The difference between the two comes in their goals against averages, which of course is more of an indictment on the skaters in front of them when the save percentages are so close.  Crawford has allowed 2.31 goals per game (6th in NHL), while Lehtonen sports a 2.61 GAA this season (24th in the NHL; tied with James Reimer).

This is the fourth and final meeting between these two teams.  Dallas has taken two of the first three, and will be looking to take the season series for the first time in five years.  In order to do that, Dallas will likely have to win without the team’s second leading scorer, winger Loui Eriksson.  Reports call him day-to-day, but the description sure sounds a lot like a concussion.  With Eriksson out of the lineup, recent offensive stud Jamie Benn will be called upon to continue his wonderful form.  Benn has an impressive 7 goals and 4 assists in his last 8 games, and has been keyed as a future 50 goal scorer by many insiders.  Dallas will be with the services of the recently returned Brad Richards, who along with fellow center Mike Ribeiro offer some offensive threat for the Stars.  The backline will be anchored by the terrific all-around defenseman Stephane Robidas and the newly acquired Alex Goligoski, who is more of an offensive threat, although that is not to say that Goligoski is a bad defender in his own right.

Those blueliners will have their hands full tonight with the surging Blackhawks, who come into tonight’s game with only 2 regulation losses in their last 15 games.  Chicago will have the services of all of their star forwards, including center and league MVP candidate Jonathan Toews, who leads the team with 71 points, and leads the league with 780 faceoffs won.  Skating with Toews on the scoring lines will be Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and the recently acquired Michael Frolik, who has added an agility to the Hawks that has shown up in their recent run.  With this overdose of talent in addition to the puck possessing defensemen in the Hawks’ stable, I expect Dallas to find it hard to develop a lot of sustained pressure in Chicago’s zone, which means they will need to take advantage of the opportunities they do create.  They will also need a very strong showing by Lehtonen, but he has come up big at home over the course of the season.  Both teams are in the thick of the playoff race, but the general sense is that Chicago will be safe and probably push for the 4 seed.  I feel that Dallas is teetering, hanging by a thread, just trying to hang on and find a way into the playoffs and begin to justify the decision to not trade Brad Richards last month.  A win tonight would go a long way to change that perception that Dallas is on its way down and is not strong enough to compete with the western conference giants.  If Dallas can’t hunker down and bring it tonight, then I think it’s safe to say they are not a great threat to defeat any of the top 4 seeds in a playoff series.  But for some reason I expect them to play well tonight and to show the inspiration that saw them jump out to an early division lead this season.

The game starts at 8:30 eastern time, and I hope you all enjoy it, but I know that most eyes will be on day one of the NCAA tournament.

And for those celebrating, if you haven’t hooked up by 8:30 on St. Patrick’s Day, then it’s probably not in the cards, so why not enjoy a solid late season western conference tilt?

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I wrote an article prior to last night’s highlight game between Carolina and Buffalo, and said that while a win would be nice for Buffalo, it was nearly imperative for Carolina.  I said that Carolina would either have to outshoot Buffalo or have their star captain Eric Staal tally some points in order to prevail.  Well, I was wrong.  It turns out Cam Ward has entered the proverbial zone, as he stopped all 40 shots fired on him last night.  While Buffalo certainly registered a shot total deserving of a few goals, it was not the sustained onslaught that one might assume.  The Sabres took a jaw-dropping 22 shots on Ward in the first period alone, but couldn’t quite keep up that blistering pace as Carolina did well to control a good amount of play over the last 40 minutes, and brought home a crucial 1-0 road victory to close to within 2 points of Buffalo for the last playoff spot in the eastern conference.

Looking at tonight’s slim NHL pickings, it is likely that Carolina’s game is again the most crucial, at least as far as qualifying for the playoffs are concerned.  The Canes have a quick turnaround, as they are currently hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit four points behind Carolina.  A loss tonight would all but end Toronto’s playoff hopes, but we’ve already written about that situation a few articles ago.  On the flipside, a Toronto win would at least keep hope alive for them, and would also dampen the progress that Carolina made last night.  And since I don’t consider Toronto to be a true playoff contender anymore, I would say this game is squarely about the Hurricanes.  If they are able to consolidate last night’s break, then they would end the night even on points with 8th place Buffalo, who they host later in the season.

In other games tonight, Colorado travels to Vancouver to lazily skate through another confidence building exercise for their opponents.  St. Louis heads to Anaheim for a game that is more important to the Ducks, who will pull into 8th place in the west with a win.  And in the only other game on tonight’s slate, Washington checks into Joe Louis Arena for a rare date with the Red Wings.  Both teams are 2nd in their respective conferences, and many are pointing to the possibility of this being a Stanley Cup Finals preview.

I’ll take Carolina, Vancouver, and Detroit at home, and roll the dice on St. Louis in a road OT victory.

*** Amended at 9:59p.m. *** With Ray Emery starting in net for Anaheim, I cannot pick against him.  Too close to my heart.  Good luck to him and to Jaro Halak in that game.

There are ten games on the NHL lineup tonight, but none is larger for the teams involved than the 7:30 p.m. tilt between Buffalo and Carolina.  The game takes place at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, and that could be a cause for concern for the Hurricanes.  Carolina is 1-6-2 in their nine road games since February 1.  While neither the offense nor defense is solely to blame, it is worth noting that team captain and star center Eric Staal has only one multi-point game in that span, home or away (a 19 game span).

The Sabres, on the other hand, have been trending upward since the sale of the team to Terry Pegula last month.  Buffalo concluded a 7-game road trip on Saturday, and came home for a 6-4 win over Ottawa on Sunday.  Throw in the emotional passing of franchise legend and French Connection member Rick Martin, and the team is in full us-against-the-world mode.  But what is on the line for both teams is more than just two points, but instead an opportunity to go a long way toward qualifying for the playoffs, which of course offer opportunities for team building and maybe even conference glory considering the vulnerability of eastern teams this season.

Buffalo sits in a 7th place tie with the New York Rangers, who play at home tonight against the Islanders.  Buffalo has a game in hand on the Rangers, and therefore can expect to need a win tonight to keep pace, and something of a cushion between themselves and the dreaded 9th spot.

That 9th spot currently belongs to the Hurricanes, who come into tonight’s game with 72 points and also that one game in hand on NYR.  For the Canes, tonight’s game is as close to a must-win as one could see in game 70 of a regular season.  Should Carolina take zero points from tonight’s game, they risk falling six points out of the last playoff spot.  While that is not insurmountable, Carolina does not have the luxury of facing the Rangers later in the year to make up two points on them.  Buffalo does host NYR on March 30, before traveling to Carolina on April 3 for a rematch of tonight’s game.

As far as keys to the game go, the goaltenders don’t seem to want to give any insight as to the result of this one.  Cam Ward and Ryan Miller have faced each other twice this year, splitting the games and sporting nearly identical GAAs (2.53 for Ward; 2.49 for Miller).  The lone discernible difference may show up in the save percentage department, as Ward sports a healthy .922 against Buffalo, while Miller carries a slightly below average .906 versus the Canes.  If Carolina is to avoid being outshot on the road tonight, then Staal should figure to play a key role with his size, speed, scoring ability (29 goals), and creativity (34 assists).  If he cannot find a way to unlock the Sabre defense and get pucks past Ryan Miller, it should figure to be just another in a growing line of disappointment and missed opportunities away from home for the Hurricanes.

And that would suit Pegula and the surging Buffalo Sabres just fine.  The game is tonight at 7:30 on Versus in the U.S.

I was unfortunate enough to watch the season finale of The Bachelor last night, and despite numerous reports that Chantal O’Brien was the one that Brad Womack had picked during the taping of the show, it turns out that Brad ended up taking the other finalist, Emily Maynard.  Now, there’s no reason that most guys wouldn’t love to start dating Emily, but based on the 5 episodes I saw this year, it seemed as if Emily was not quite as into Brad as most of the other contestants.  Brad kept “opening himself up to Emily” (read: spoke really slowly and said painfully corny things to her) and Emily seemed to continually shut him down, all the while talking to the confessional camera about how in love with Brad she was.

The contrast with Chantal was obvious.  She and Brad seemed to pass the eyeball test much better than Emily and Brad.  There was chemistry, clicking, etc.  And while Chantal was the one who slapped Brad right out of the limo in the first episode, she was also the woman who seemed to require the least amount of the lying / dancing around issues aspect of the game that we all have to play.  It seemed that they were something of a good match, at least for one of these reality-looking-for-love-and-going-to-push-it-to-the-point-of-creepiness-by-proposing-way-too-soon kind of programs.  On top of that, Emily has a kid who’s father died on that Hendrick Motorsports plane crash a few years ago.  Very sad, but also relevant.  Brad is 38 years old and from all accounts either isn’t sure he wants kids, or definitely does not want kids.  So even if there was a tie between Emily and Chantal, wouldn’t the kid factor tip the scales in Chantal’s favor?  Then tack on the obvious discrepancy between the chemistry in the two relationships, and it seems that Chantal wins on both fronts.  And this somehow totaled up to… a loss?

Let me explain why Brad did not pick Chantal as his fiancĂ© and the winner of The Bachelor.  He didn’t pick her because there was a chance that it might actually work.  Bachelors are bachelors for a number of reasons, but it seems that a big reason Brad is a bachelor is because he enjoys being one.  To pick Chantal would be to put an actual ring on the finger of a pretty girl that seems to really want it and whom Brad seems to have no serious issues with.  That would be dangerous to Brad, because it might turn out that there is no real good reason to call off the engagement, and he would have to be the bad guy… again.  So instead, he picked Emily, a woman that he admitted on the confessional had defeated him, had failed to reciprocate the feelings that he had expressed to her.  A single mother for a guy who doesn’t really want kids, or at least isn’t sure he wants kids.  A woman with some clear-cut excuses for calling off the engagement.  Hell, a big part of it is that Brad probably thinks that Emily will be the one to break it off with him, and then he can have it both ways: 1) he doesn’t have to get married, and 2) this time he can be the victim and collect on all the pity and goodwill that comes with that.

In my opinion, it was his only move.  If his subconscious goal was to remain an unmarried man, then Emily was the right choice.  There are obvious problems that set up an easy exit strategy.  With Chantal, there was the danger that it might actually be too good to happily throw away, so Brad had to get out ahead of it, and he did.

Today I want to address something that my hockey friends and I have been screaming about for a couple of weeks.  In short: What in the world are the Toronto Maple Leafs doing?

Specifically, why are they rolling out James Reimer in net every game down the stretch in a season where they were actually in the playoff race?  One answer is that it was a rebuilding year anyway, and so the Leafs had no expectations of making the playoffs once they decided to trade forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Tomas Kaberle to competing eastern conference teams.  So with it being a rebuilding year, the Leafs had to try to get James Reimer some experience down the stretch so that in future late-season runs, he would have these memories from 2011 to call upon.

I find this to be a poor answer given this season’s circumstances.  As we currently stand, Toronto is 10th in the East, 6 points behind 7th and 8th places.  Even at this point with around 12 games to go, that is not an insurmountable task.  But instead of giving an honest go of it and starting a man in J-S Giguere who is the not-so-proud owner of the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy (his team lost in 7 games), the Leafs continue to roll the obviously struggling Reimer in net.  Over the last ten days, Reimer has allowed 5 goals in 40 minutes against Chicago, 4 goals at the Islanders, 3 goals a piece at home against the Flyers and Sabres, and 5 at home to Tampa Bay Monday night, a TB team that has been struggling to score of late.  It could be noted that in the game against Chicago, J-S Giguere came in and backstopped a scoreless third period.  Yes, the game was in hand for Chicago, but still.

While I do understand the idea behind giving a guy like Reimer the keys for a test run, I also think the Leafs made a mistake in not taking their fans quite as seriously as they probably should have.  Will it result in a boycott or revolt?  Absolutely not.  Do I tend to believe teams owe fans anything?  Not really, but there is a certain basement level of attempted success that the team should aspire to.  When a team finds itself in the thick of things, albeit “accidentally,” and the choice is to either push hard for a top 8 finish or concede and still not finish in the top 3 or 4 of the draft order, why not have a go at it?

Another thing worth noting is that this is the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.  This is the franchise that famously traded the farm to Boston for Phil Kessel, and is just lately starting to see any kind of consistency from Kessel.  This trade has been cited as a major failure for GM Brian Burke by the fans and media.  Typically I tend to lean the other way when a consensus opinion exists about a trade, but I’m not going to debate the merits of the Kessel trade here.  I just want to point out that the organization already has many detractors, not the least of which are its own fans.  So with that in mind, the thing to do is probably not give a foolish effort at this playoff opportunity that fell into their laps, but instead to go full speed ahead with some sort of combination of the best players they have and the players who could use some experience, not to entirely lean the way of the inexperienced youths.

Now I will say, the point of the NHL, ultimately, is to win Stanley Cups.  The Toronto Maple Leafs almost certainly cannot win a Stanley Cup in 2011, so if they are in fact increasing the likelihood that they bring a Cup home in later years, then I have to say I understand the logic.  I’m just not sure they are increasing those odds, and in the spirit of the game, it would have been nice to see this success-starved team in a premier NHL city have a go at these playoffs.