Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...

Well, a day late, we're underway with the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Drew is currently in the midst of moving, but he texted me his picks for the first round.

In the east...
(8) NYR over (1) WSH in 7 (pulling for his guys)
(7) BUF over (2) PHI in 6- hard to believe PHI pulls it off with no solid goaltending two years in a row
(3) BOS over (6) MTL in 7- a bar fight disguised as a seven-game series
(5) TAM over (4) PIT in 6- figuring PIT really misses Crosby and Malkin

In the west...
(8) CHI over (1) VAN in 6- Bobby Lou seems to have trouble with Chicago.
(2) SJ over (7) LA in 5- no top two scorers for LA equals a quick exit in Hollywood
(6) PHX over (3) DET in 6- no faith in Jimmy Howard for Detroit
(5) NSH over (4) ANA in 7 (pulling for my guys)

Here are my picks:

In the east...
(8)NYR over (1) WSH in 7. Just a hunch. This series could turn into a laugher, depending on game 2, but the Rangers looked quite ready for game 1, and that was not an impressive performance by the Caps in game 1.
(7)BUF over (2) PHI in 6. This evening's 1-0 Buffalo win was pretty much the Ryan Miller show. If it's going to come down to goaltending, then it's Miller Time.
(6) MTL over (3) BOS in 7. I'm prepared to be wrong about this, but Boston's performance this evening was inexplicable. They're so much better than Montreal on paper, but it didn't seem to matter this evening.
(5) TAM over (4) PIT in 6. Tampa had a strangely inefficient game against the Pens, but one has to imagine that you can't keep a potent Tampa offense off the scoreboard much longer.

In the west...
(8) CHI over (1) VAN in 7. I do not believe in Bobby Lou. I didn't think he looked terribly good in game 1, despite the shutout, and the big differences this year for Vancouver are their improved size and their responsibility defensively in clearing out rebounds. That said, as long as Luongo continues to give up rebounds as readily as he does, I think he's vulnerable to the top two Blackhawk lines.
(2) SJ over (7) LA. As this is being written, SJ leads 2-1, and LA doesn't seem to be able to sustain much in the way of pressure. The Sharks are always so impressive on paper, and with a weakened LA squad, it looks like an early exit for the Kings.
(3) DET over (6) PHX in 6. Like Drew, I'm not sold on Jimmy Howard, but I don't think the Coyotes have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the strangely omnipresent Red Wings. Watching the Wings come to life last night told me what I needed to know.
(5) NSH over (4) ANA in 6. This is a goaltending question- Pekka Rinne was his usual understated but remarkable self last night, and the magic question in Anaheim is whether or not Ray Emery is healthy enough to get the job done. He looked somewhat gimpy skating around on the bad leg, but didn't let in a goal after being inserted early in the 3rd. Conversely, Nashville got scoring from some of its depth players (like Steve Sullivan), a power play goal, and two goals from the first line.

Beyond that, the big matchup comes down to the Bobby Ryan-Corey Perry- Ryan Getzlaf line versus the Nashville pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. We shall see, but last night was quite the statement win for the Predators.

In any event, it is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Let's play some hockey!

Monday, January 10, 2011

NY Rangers Trade Michal Rozsival To Phoenix Coyotes

Nice job by GM Glen Sather.

After learning last night that Alex Frolov would miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL, Glen Sather moved quickly to bolster the Rangers’ forward corps today, acquiring Wojtek Wolski from the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Michal Rozsival.

Wolski has six goals and 10 assists this season, but at the age of 24 and with playoff experience in both Colorado and Phoenix, he fits the bill for what the Rangers need in dealing with a rash of injuries that has seen Ryan Callahan, Erik Christensen and Frolov go down in the past month.

Because of the cap hit differential between Wolski and Rozsival (1.2 million), plus the money they will save from placing Alex Frolov on the Long Term Injury List (he's out for the season with a major knee injury), will free up some space should the team want/need to make a move before the trading deadline.

Also of note, Rozsival had another year remaining on his deal, while Wolski is a rental who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Again, that opens cap space should the Rangers want to take a run at Free Agent to be Brad Richards in the off season.

The danger of this trade is that the Rangers are now, very, very young on Defense. Ninth year journeyman Steve Eminger is in his 7th full NHL season. First pair Marc Staal and Dan Giradi are the vets now in their 4th and 5th years respectively. After that it's Kiddie Corps time...Mike Sauder and Ryan McDonagh are rookies. Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto (when he's recalled from Connecticut) are both second year players who have spent time in the AHL this season.

It's a gamble that may leave the Rangers badly exposed come the playoffs. So far, Defense has been one of the strengths of this year's team and Rozsival was a mostly solid, if occasionally frustrating, contributor all year.

But hey...if all else fails Wade Redden is still available for a call-up!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What Did We Learn, Season Finale

I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to keep posting the same gripes game after game, but now that the season is over, let's ponder a few things...

First of all, there's not much to say about the Seahawks game. The Saints had a chance to put that game away in the first half, and came apart at the seams instead. You can point to injuries, you can point to any of a number of things, but...

1) It's shocking how much one guy can make or break a defense. Roman Harper was completely exposed today. The first three Seattle touchdowns came on isolation plays that were his responsibility. He's always been very solid against the run, but against the pass, he's slow and often out of position.

2) What on Earth to do about the backfield? Julius Jones actually had a decent day today, but that fumble... two weeks in a row, he's committed crucial turnovers. The play where they ran Jones for a TD after faking the screen to Bush was simply brilliant, by comparison. I didn't hear what Bush's injury was, but the last several minutes of the game saw only Heath Evans in at RB.

Bush's drop on 3rd-and-2 from inside the 5 (leading to Garrett Hartley's 1st FG) was inexcusable. If he catches that, he walks into the end zone. Do the math, and then eliminate the missed two-point conversion late.

Being a Saints RB this year was like being a drummer for Spinal Tap. Lynell Hamilton? ACL. PJ Hill? Shoulder. Pierre Thomas? Peroneal tendon (near the ankle, runs up through back of leg). Bush? Broken fibula. Chris Ivory? Hamstrings and then a Lisfranc injury (break of the foot between tarsals and metatarsals). Jim Henderson remarked that the Saints needed to increase the durability of the RB corps. That's a neat idea, but how does one go about that?

Can you justify Bush at the price he's getting? Can you justify letting Pierre Thomas go (especially given his clutch performances)? Chris Ivory really is impressive- when he's healthy. He's got some physical preparation to do (much like Robert Meachem) in order to be able to last a whole season (diet, stretching, muscle building, et cetera). Can you bring back a corps of Bush, Thomas, Hamilton, and Ivory, and then make it all work? Is that even the goal?

3) What the hell happened to the offensive line this year? The middle three- Evans, Goodwin, Nicks- were nothing like they were last year.Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb were profoundly unimpressive, and it reflected in the running game and also- to a point- in the bad decisions that we saw Brees make in the passing game.

4) What to do about the return game? I saw one good return this year- Lance Moore's return against Atlanta. Courtney Roby can get it done when the scheme is there on kickoffs. The scheme didn't appear to be there. I'm not inclined to hang everything on the backups (Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem), but that was a pretty dysfunctional unit.

5) Tackling is not an issue confined to the Saints, but can nobody form-tackle any more? I know it's not coached in the league these days, but the notion of going for the kill-shot just doesn't work. Seahawk receivers cheerfully stepped out of ankle-high tackling by the corners, and the put-away score by Lynch was a product of everyone trying to tackle the ball.

In hockey, the rule in forechecking is first guy take the body, second guy take the puck. Certainly, miraculous plays can be made (Malcolm Jenkins vs Dallas, anyone?), but the goal is still to get the runner on the ground. That gang-tackling mentality was on display against Atlanta, and disappeared against Baltimore and Seattle.

6) Did anyone notice that Brees protected the football today? He'd cough up interceptions when being poorly protected, but there were a few strangely inaccurate deep throws this year. It's probably worth examining whether there were any lingering effects from that early-season knee injury.

7) What to do about the receiving corps? Devery Henderson returned to his form in terms of dropsies... there was one late that led to the punt setting up Lynch's TD run. I think Adrian Arrington is going to merit a close look this season. Lance Moore continues to be steady, Marques Colston had a few consistency issues, and Robert Meachem is getting it together. Is it time for Shockey to pack it in?

8) Defensive line and linebackers... Alex Brown is a run-stopper. That'd be great if he were a defensive tackle, but he's a defensive end. The Saints need another strong defensive tackle.

Linebackers- Vilma continues to be a Pro Bowler, but he needs some help on both sides. Shanle doesn't have the speed to cover tight ends, and although Jo-Lonn Dunbar improved greatly over the year, it's going to take more. Stanley Arnoux was doing great before he tore up his wrist.

9) Defensive backfield- wow. Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer didn't give up many TD passes this year, but when they did, they were exposed. They're both not very tall, and against 6'5" receivers, they were in a world of trouble.

It's time for Sharper to hang it up. Love the guy to death, but he's lost another step, and he costs too much to keep around. It's also time to make Roman Harper a backup. The whole world saw him get exposed today, and it's not going to get any better next year. I also didn't think Randall Gay would be as staggering a loss as he was... the nickel and dime coverage was thin at best, and when Jenkins went out, that was the end of the game.

Now let's examine some positives:
1) Chris Ivory. When healthy, he was the answer at RB. He needs to work into the passing game some more in the offseason, but he and Thomas could be a very formidable combination. I'm not convinced that Bush doesn't have some real value, but only at a lower price. Getting Lynell Hamilton back healthy will help too.

I think Pierre Thomas should be a priority for this team. He's not worth the Steven Jackson money he was trying to get, but his worth was clearly demonstrated in the Atlanta game.

2) Tight end play. David Thomas has been excellent and reliable, and the combination of Thomas and Shockey has helped sculpt Jimmy Graham into a potential all-pro for down the road.

3) Malcolm Jenkins is one of the first homegrown ballhawking safeties the Saints have had since Sammy Knight. Exciting things are ahead for him.

4) Lance Moore remains clutch, and clutch is everything. Retaining him needs to be a priority.

5) Garrett Hartley still needs to clean up the occasional hook in his kicks, but he certainly settled down as the year progressed. Thomas Morstead is still a monster as a punter, and was excellent on kickoffs.

In the meantime, the early exit sucks, and now we get to find out whether there's going to be an NFL lockout next season. It's hard for me to see how they get that worked out in time, but we'll see. In all likelihood, we'll see an eighteen-game season (haven't seen that since the USFL), and a more realistic upper limit on what rookies can make.

Thanks, as ever, for reading... good fortune to all for 2011.

Slightly late, but...

...fresh off the embarrassing loss by my Saints to the Seahawks in the biggest playoff upset in NFL history, I'll take a moment to update the World Juniors.

In the first semifinal, Canada jumped all over a flat US team and got up 4-0 by the middle of the third. Jack Campbell gave it his best in a losing effort, but the US stayed bottled up in their own zone and couldn't generate any second chances. The final was 4-1, but save for the heroics of Campbell, this could have easily been an 8-0 game.

In the second semifinal, Russia jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Sweden before surrendering three goals, the last one coming with 3:20 or so to play in regulation. One could be easily forgiven for assuming that Russia was cooked, but they scored to tie it with about 1:20 to play. This led to a shootout,and Russia ultimately prevailed.

This led to matchups of USA-Sweden for the bronze, and Russia-Canada for the gold.

The US started off slow against the Swedes, relying on Jack Campbell to make a bunch of key saves in order to keep them in the game, down 1-0. In the second period, the US woke up and tied the game on a goal by Chris Kreider. A Justin Faulk deflection early in the third put the US out in front, 2-1.

Nick Bjugstad got another gorgeous deflection at 11:40 to put the US up 3-1, only to have Sweden's Jasper Fastin answer at 5:42.

A good breakout pass after a decent Swedish opportunity with less than three minutes to play led to a USA 2-on-1 back the other way, and a gorgeous pass from Kyle Palmieri to Chris Kreider (for his second of the game) finished the scoring, and showed some great character from the US.

Finally, the main event: Canada and Russia. Canadian players were crowing after dominating the US, exulting in "sticking it to the Americans". Meanwhile, Russia looked somewhat out of sorts, and when Canada jumped out to a 3-0 lead by 6:27 of the second, it looked as though the Canadians would backstroke their way to a sixth goal in seven years.

Unfortunately for them, someone forgot to tell the Russians that that was the plan. They replaced starting goaltender Dmitriy Shikin with Igor Bobkov, and the Russians began to wake up.

Two and a half minutes into the third, Artemy Panarin and Maxim Kitsyn scored goals eleven seconds apart, and the sensation of Canadian unraveling was palpable. At 7:29, Vladimir Tarasenko tied the game for Russia. To that point, the Canadian defense had really been sort of blithely skating around, and at this point, you could see them really gripping their sticks. Canada called a timeout at that point, but the damage was done.

Finally, at 15:21, the dam broke for Canada. A horrible turnover, a few scoring chances, and an inability to clear the puck out of the zone led to a second Panarin goal out of a scrum in front of the Canadian net. Then, finally, at 18:44, Nikita Dvurechensky fought off a couple of defensemen to score the fifth Russian goal.

A monumental collapse by Canada overshadowed another grim reality for them- it's the second year in a row that Team Canada has made it to the gold medal game only to lose late. It's a very curious trend for Canada, who did a whole lot of talking on their way to historically snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Monday, January 3, 2011

We interrupt our podcasting to bring you...

...the 2011 World Junior Classic, currently being held at the HSBC Center in Buffalo, and being aired in the US on the NHL Network.

Tonight's quarterfinal matchup pits Canada against the US. For those unfamiliar, prior to last year, Canada won five straight gold medals before being dethroned by the US. Canada actually took second in their round robin group, courtesy of a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden.

The US, on the other hand, is 4-0 going into tonight's tilt, having won a very tough OT game 3-2 against Finland, a pair of relatively easy wins against Slovakia and Germany, and a hard-fought 2-1 game against the rapidly-improving Swiss.

The US are- uncharacteristically- slight favorites in this tournament (fifteen of their players are first-round draft picks), and goaltender Jack Campbell (a Dallas prospect) has been the go-to guy since the gold medal game last year.

Highlights will be posted below from the previous games, and it's really good to hear the mighty Gary Thorne calling these games for the NHL Network. I like Mike Emrick, but Gary is a personal favorite of mine.

Check it out tonight- should be a hell of a game!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Podcast Part II-The Future Of The Winter Classic

Here's the second part of the conversation Tom and I had the other night.

It ends a bit abruptly but Tom agreeing with me seemed as good a spot to wrap it up as any. As I said in yesterday's post, it's a work in progress.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Behold! The First Ever Moron Hockey Podcast!

It's a work in progress. At some point, we'll add some production values and do some basic things like identify ourselves.

In this segment of our initial effort tmi3rd and I discuss "Things We Care About".  That means Tom talking about the Predators and me talking Rangers.

We went a little long, so I'm going to break it up into pieces. Coming later this week...a preview of the Winter Classic, the World Juniors and Chris Osgood...Hall of Fame worthy or not?