Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ducks go up 2-0

Ducks just won 1-0 to take a 2-0 series lead on the Sens, and on the heels of my last post I'm on the edge of my seat to see the excuses flow tomorrow on why the Sens lost. (Rather than why the Ducks won.)

My own opinion is that the mighty Sens offense has been dismantled thus far. They got off a very Jacket-esque 16 shots for the game, 5 in the oh-so-important 3rd period. Prior to the Ducks goal, the Sens had 3 shots in the down a goal and staring a 2 game deficit in the face they mustered 2 shots on net. I'd be intrigued to see scoring chances, because they had more than two chances with Emery pulled. But, either way, 16 shots in the Stanley Cup finals out of a team with a downright scary offense is impressive...for the Ducks, that is.

The Ducks once again outhit the Sens, 36-28 this time. The forecheck came to life, and the forced turnovers were once again a big factor. Gotta hand it to Heatley, Pahlsson was wide open for the pass he gave him. (And then Sammy finishing by sending between the wickets of a defenseman...impressive.) So, the Ducks checking line nets the game winner again. This checking line is making a name for itself, and as much for the scoring as for the shutting down of the Sens big line.

On to game 3 in the Great White North. Unfortunately, I'll be flying over the Great White North on my way to Alaska during game 3, so I'll miss it. Not sure Mom has a DVR, either. Doesn't matter...we don't land until 4am EDT, I probably won't be much in the mood to watch the game at that point.

Any more excuses for the Sens?

Game 2 is about to start, so I'm a little behind on my game 1 thoughts, but I needed a couple days to get all the excuses out of our friends to the north...

If you're a hockey fan, then you know 90% of your news comes from Canada. With a Canadian team in the finals, that media is going to slant to said Canadian team. (No real shock there...unless you're Damien Cox, I guess.)

So, in the last two days, here's what I learned about game 1:
  • The Ducks have re-introduced obstruction to the game, and the New NHL turned a blind eye to it. (0 interference calls were made on the Ducks, 1 on the Senators. Interesting...)
  • When the Ducks weren't keeping the Sens out of the offensive zone, they were running Ray Emery. Goalie contact this season isn't a new gripe, but if the puck is free, the guys pursuing it are going to pursue it pretty hard.
  • And the latest entry in the Sens downfall...Bad Ice. Excellent!
In the Game 1 I watched, I saw the Sens jump out to an early lead on a power play. I saw the Ducks not panic, and then watched them step up the pressure. The forecheck was a thing of beauty as the game wore on. The Sens capitalized on another power play opportunity (they're going to get a few), and the Ducks again didn't panic. The forecheck continued, and the checking line of Moen, Neidermeyer, Pahlsson did an outstanding job at both ends of the ice.

I didn't see the obstruction, I saw the Ducks beating the Sens to a lot of pucks. I did notice a lot of action around and on top of Emery, but the puck spent a lot of time in that end of the ice. I didn't notice bad ice, but as it turns out both teams played on the same sheet of ice.

Here's to a great Game 2, hopefully every bit as great as Game 1. And if the Ducks win, I can hardly wait for the excuse parade on why the Sens lost rather than why the Ducks won.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Finals are Finally underway

Our Super Bowl-esque wait between the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals is over. In that time we've learned that all of Canada is behind Ottawa...well, duh. Wonder how long it took some "pundits" to figure that one out?

So, now that they're here, a couple of notes offf the top...
  • Ottawa did manage to find their way to California. That was in question, I believe.
  • Steven Stills was an embarrassment to the anthem, and by extension all of America.
  • Whitney Houston's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner can't hold a candle to Rosanne Barr HUMMING Oh, Canada. Greatest anthem ever. (And I can't wait to hear it in Ottawa...half English, half French, sang by the entire crowd...great stuff.)
  • Ottawa's power play still works...1-0 Sens as I type.
Here's to a good final. Here's to more stories about how it's ignored in the US. While the "pundits" whine about the NHL's TV ratings, they'll likely forget to look up that the NHL ratings are steady while the NBA's ratings are in a double digit free-fall. That's OK. I'm watching, and that's all that matters in my house.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

And the list is four...

According to the Dispatch tonight, the Jackets have narrowed the GM field to four. Jim Clark, Don Boyd, Neil Smith, and Bob Murray.

Clark and Boyd are already on the staff, so I'm not so hip to them getting a promotion. Though, without Doug lording over them I'm sure they have ideas of their own that could be worthwhile. However, I'm not all that anxious to go down the rookie GM route again, and both these guys would be rookies in the truest sense of the word, with a good bit of their recent experience watching another rookie GM try (and fail) at building an NHL team from scratch. And, as mentioned in the paper, Boyd is our amateur draft expert...not liking that as the biggest feather in his cap. (I know hindsight is 20/20, but raise your hand if you'd like to have Thomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, or Ryan Suter in a Jackets uni. Those were the next three picks after Zherdev.)

Neil Smith intrigues me. This is the guy that build the '94 Cup team in New York, and was the guy that held the GM position for 3 hours on The Island this past summer before Garth Snow took over. Smith ran into some issues with the Rangers when he ran out of prospects and started buying up all the talent he could, which lead to his demise in 2000. In cap-ville, that landscape has changed. So, for all intents and purposes, Neil has yet to GM a team since the Jackets have been in the league.

Bob Murray seems to be the shooting star of the moment. He's currently hitched to the Ducks playoff run as VP of Hockey Operations where he oversees all aspects of player development...given the age of the Jackets roster, player development is in dire need here. He did have a short stint in Chicago as GM. And, let's be honest, what's a GM in Chicago really do except try to retain guys with the belly button lint and pesos he's given by Wirtz.

In all honesty, I think we're down to Murray and Smith, either of which would be a step in the right direction for this franchise. Personally, I'd like to see us get Murray. Then again, I wanted Andy Murray as coach back in November, so maybe I just want somebody named Murray involved. Is Anne Murray available to sing the anthem(s) next year?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

No more Nashville

Doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that Jim Balsillie is buying the Preds for one reason - move them to the Great White North. That's why he went after the Pens, and when that fell through, up step the Predators...owners of three straight playoff trips, and the 22nd best attendance in the league.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of Nashville and attending hockey games there. I've been to two playoff games, two regular season games, the '03 draft, and our annual pilgrimage for the Country Classic in August. There's a lot to do in Nashville beyond the game, so it makes for a great road trip, especially considering it's within six hours of Columbus.

But, it looks like my days to make trips down for NHL hockey are officially numbered, and that number might be less than 365. The good folks of Nashville, the die hards that do the fang fingers for every power play, have done their part. However, the corporate support isn't there. From some of Leipold's letter to the fans of Nashville posted in Spector's Blog, corporate support is around 35% for the Preds. The average in the other NHL markets puts corporate support at 60%. My guess is that the corporations of Nashville are all too willing to throw some money towards the Titans, but when it comes time to pony up for the Preds they tighten the purse strings.

The Preds have had 10 years to develop a fan base. Seems that the individual fans are doing OK. From speaking to some people while I was down there in April, the youth leagues and adult leagues are growing, like they should after people get introduced to the beauty of the sport. So, the grassroots part of building a market is underway, but the corporate dollar isn't. In the current NHL landscape, that's no way to keep your franchise.

So, the Preds will most likely move north of the border where the team will be embraced by legions of hockey fans and the victims of the move will be the fans in Nashville who have followed the team this far. They suffered through the early years of expansion and finally got to the playoffs a year ahead of the lockout. The lockout probably did a good job of killing the momentum in Nashville, not to mention putting an end to Wolfy's outstanding chili-cheeseburger.

For Leipold, who's done his best to garner support and money for his team and make it flourish in the South, it's time to cut bait or fish...and his line's been in the water for about 10 years now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Down go the Wings

I had started to mellow towards the Wings as the playoffs went along. I started to marvel at how these guys were just totally dominating teams that should have been beating them. I was enjoying watching them move the puck with precision accuracy and then somebody on the other team having to make an amazing play to keep the puck out of the net. Now, I hadn't stopped hoping they'd lose, I haven't gone THAT soft, but I was starting to warm to the fact that watching them in the finals and maybe even win the Cup wouldn't be so bad. And then it happened...

Wings Fan showed up.

If you live in an NHL city that's not Detroit, you've met Wings Fan. Good chance you loath Wings Fan. He/she is usually loud, usually very quick to gloat about the Wings history since 1997, and will give the confused-dog-head-tilt if you say, "Remember the 80's?" Locally, they are especially annoying because their quickest defense is, "Heh, Blue Jackets...what have they done? Made the playoffs yet?" The rigors of expansion is lost on the guy/girl because, well, they can't remember the 80s. (Then again, maybe being the 1/30th of the league that has never made the playoffs...oh, never mind.) Anyway, in most circles, this person would be known as a bandwagoner, but since the Wings bandwagon started filling up about 10 years ago, he's had a long enough ride to consider himself a die-hard.

Following my weekly Tuesday beer league game, we headed to BWs in Crosswoods for some wings and beer and to take in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. BWs has been kind enough to put the hockey game on at least two big screens, so it's kinda like we have a local NHL team or something.

Anyway, the Wings score to make it 3-1, a few cheers go up at various tables. No biggie. Then the Ducks score to make it 4-1, and a rather large cheer went up at our table. That's when Wings Fan started in...

One member of our team was born and raised in Boston. Still has the Boston accent, typically yells "RED SOX NATION" at the top of his lungs upon seeing them on TV, and is still a die-hard Broons fan. He'll attend Jacket games for fun, but he's a Broons fan to the core. We'll call this guy "Chowd." THIS is the guy that Wings Fan decided to pick on.

I didn't catch the whole exchange, I heard Wings Fan say something to Chowd after the goal, and Chowd just kind of chuckled and said, "Well, I want to see the Wings lose."

Wings Fan (with big grin): "Why? Are you a Blue Jackets fan?"

Chowd: "Um, no, I'm from Boston." (No grin involved in the retort.)

Wings Fan: [silence]

Dude had nothing in return. His prepared Captain Obvious jab at the Jackets was shot down before he had the chance to bring it out. He had nothing for a Bruins fan. The team had as much history as his. Since he can't remember the 80s, the whole Original Six thing is lost on him past, "Hey, the Wings are an Original Six team!"

Since all Chowd got was silence, that's when the grin started to grow on his face.

So, to close out the evening, the Wings made a game of it, Wings Fan cheered some more, but he left Broons fan alone. But in the end, the Wings fell short, and were bounced from the playoffs. And for his efforts at BWs that night, Chowd gave him a parting gift, "Hey, ya go."

[hands Wings Fan an official Buffalo Wild Wings napkin]

"That should help dry ya teahs." [Boston cackle]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

NBC Goes to the Preakness

The inevitable happened on NBC today, they had something more important to shift their attention away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's not all that big of a shock, afterall this is America where our networks are scared to death of putting a hockey game on after 7PM on a weekend for fear somebody will tune in. And, the Triple Crown is a big deal, I'll give them that. However, over an hour of pre-race coverage is NOT that big of a deal.

The odds on favorite for the Preakness every year is the Derby winner. There has been two weeks of feel good stories about Street Sense and his jockey. Odds updates? Who cares if you're not at the track? So, that's what NBC thought would be better than completing OT? In the world of ratings, which drives everything TV, I'm sure the Preakness would get better ratings than OT of the Sens-Sabres...meaning the actual Preakness itself. Spare me the pre-race stuff, at least finish the OT then shift it off to Versus. There's no time commitment to getting to the Preakness coverage at 5PM for a race who's post time is about 6:10PM.

Or, here's an alternate thought, and one that would have all of Canada cheering...put the game on at night, AFTER the Preakness. There's really very little threat of the Preakness needing overtime...or extra furlongs, whatever they'd need. A horse race is a pretty finite time frame for TV purposes.

Playoff hockey, however, has a pretty good chance of seeing overtime. It's got a pretty good chance of seeing more than one overtime. Even a regulation game could eat up the 3 hours that NBC allotted before they switched over to the oh-so-important race build up in Maryland. So, why not start the game at 7? Or better, 8, let HNIC get it's broadcast and let the American hockey fans (we are out there, believe it or not) get a prime time playoff game before game 3 of the Cup finals.

So, I think NBC had options other than the one they exercised. I doubt this becomes "Heidi '07," but it was leaving a game in-progress to go to over an hour of pre-race stuff for the Preakness. As it turned out, the game ended about an hour before post time at Pimlico, so NBC could have done both finish the game and get plenty of pre-race banter in before we lost another shot at the Triple Crown. I'd say NBC fumbled, but this is a hockey blog...they turned the puck over in the slot...

Catching up on the Conference Finals

It's been a bit since something worthwhile was dropped on this blog...forever, arguably. But, I've missed a few happenings in the playoffs since my little no Versus issue from the last post.

First of all, what the hell happened to the Sabres? OK, in listening to Barry Melrose's podcast, the Sabres just haven't been working as hard as their opponents. I'll buy that for a $1(US). Game 2 against the Sens is a perfect example of that as the Sabres worked just hard enough to get it to OT, but then couldn't put the Sens away to even up the series. That sent the Sens to Ottawa with all the momentum, which they used to take a 3-0 lead. Buffalo staved off elimination in game 4, though, but have they learned their lesson? Allowing the Sens to cut the 3-0 lead to 3-2 in a span of minutes says no.

I won't be surprised to see the Sabres pull off game 5 today and send it back to Ottawa. Then again, I won't be surprised to see them not show up - except for Miller who has been the only one to show up every game - and call it a season.

Out west we have a series locked at 2-2 heading back to Detroit. Game 3 delivered us an ass-beating of biblical proportions which included the controversial head shot by Pronger to the back of Holmstrom's head. Pronger got a suspension out of it (more on that in a sec), and the Ducks went on to play a solid game sans-Prongs and even the series.

In watching game 4, my sudden love affair (purely heterosexual sports love) with Ryan Getzlaf continued. Is there anything this kid can't/won't do? Firing the game winner through traffic was an impressive shot, but he goes to the net, he goes to the corners, he takes big face-offs against the likes of Chris "I don't lose big face-offs" Draper, and he's more than responsible in his own end. Yet another draft pick from the ridiculously deep '03 draft. (The number of guys taken after Zherdev who are excelling while he flounders is mind boggling.)

On to Pronger's suspension: 1 game? Please. If you're going to take a stand on head shots, then take a flippin' stand. The game he got suspended could have put the Ducks in a hole, but 3-1 is hardly the end of a playoff series. A 2 game suspension in that instance would have hurt a bit more, IMO, as Prongs could have been on the sidelines watching his team drop 2 straight and the series without him. THAT would have left an impression. As it turns out, they won the game he was suspended, so the point is moot. However, the two game suspension could have still had his team down 3-2 coming back to Anaheim where he would have returned and had to step up to keep the Ducks from getting eliminated. I think one game was barely a slap on the wrists, it was more like wagging a finger in his face.

On the flip side of the hit was the relative noise coming out of Detroit. I'm a HUGE fan of Kukla's Korner, possibly the best hockey blog out there, but Paul is a Wings fan so there's a good amount of Wings content. I have no issue with that, and in fact expect it since they're one of the four teams remaining. However, in reading some of the articles posted there you'd think Pronger was in the book depository with a rifle as Holmstrom skated into the corner. I'm not condoning the hit at all, and think Pronger's suspension was in order, but the Helene St. James types of the world took hype to a whole new level. Had the tables been turned and Chelios's elbow met the back of Selanne's head, I doubt the media noise from the motor city would have been the same.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Out of town, no Versus

So, I'm shipped out of town for a couple of nights on business, and am in staying in a couple of hotels which means no Versus and no playoffs. Now, I did get to a sports bar last night to catch the Ducks and Nucks, but got booted before OT was over.

The thing that is somewhat ironic about being sans-Versus while out of town is that I'm in Michigan. Ann Arbor to be specific, so WELL within Red Wings territory, and still no Versus. I'm not shocked, but was hopeful. And while I think somebody in the NHL should get Versus into every hotel room withing 100 miles of any NHL arena, all is not lost...

I've got to listen to the Sabres feed on of game 5 tonight. And while I wish I could see the game, hearing this broadcast has been pretty good. Listening to Rick Jeanneret call a game has been outstanding. (And while typing this paragraph, Drury tied it at 1 with 7 seconds left...the sound of the crowd is coming through loud and clear.)

So, I'd like to thank the Hilton for not putting Vs. on the channel line up, I got to hear a classic call of what is turning into a classic game.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tip of the hat to Mike Grier

Through the playoffs this season, I've probably watched as much of the Sharks as any other team. It seems to me that they're in what I think will be the "best series" of the round each round. Though they did away with the Preds quickly, it was an entertaining series. Hopefully their series with the Wings picks up where it left off last night and gets better and better.

But, while watching these games, it seems that Mike Grier has steadily taken on a bigger and bigger role with the Sharks, and he's doing it well. In round one, he just seemed to be out for every big penalty kill the Sharks had. (Not many since the Preds were in the box the whole series.) Now against the Wings, he's out for big PKs, big even strength shifts, and even some power play.

Grier isn't your big scorer, he isn't the big set-up man, he's not even the shut-down winger...but he is steady and accountable on each and every shift. In the regular season, the Sharks had plenty of flash on offense, so Grier just did his job without big numbers or big acclaim. But now that they're grinding away in the playoffs, a guy like Grier comes to the forefront more often. Toss in Patrick Marleau getting the "Loch Ness Monster" award on TSN pretty regularly, having Grier step up is a good thing for the Sharks. (If you haven't caught the LNMA on the Vs. simulcast of some playoff games, you're missing some sheer genius of sports broadcasting.)

So, while the New NHL talks up all the offensive stars, and we're seeing 6-5 playoff games that involve Martin Brodeur, I think I guy like Grier deserves a little nod.

The fact that I went to school with a guy named Mike Greer has no bearing on this post what so ever... :)