Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Staal turns it up a notch

CasonBlog in PHX!
Finally getting to see the boys up close Saturday night in Glendale. Section 112, Row U. No netting and no nose bleed. Booo Yah!

Nice bounce back by the boys last night. Eric Staal's post-breakaway goal glare down of Kovalchuk was especially sweet. More than the other guys, Staal seems to take losing and the grandstanding of prima donna Euros personal - and that's good. Staal turned the frustration of the previous game into a fundamental change in the way he approached each shift last night. He's making the transition from flashy playmaker to physical presence. He's already passed Alexi Yashin on his way to Joe Thornton. It's the normal NHL hockey player maturation process accelerated to light speed with Eric.

I keep hearing the key to the 'Canes quick start is that they are just out skating opponents. Last night we still saw speed, but with a touch of mean. Unlike the last few games, they played like they expected to get to the puck first, get the good bounce, and create the next opportunity.

Lots of glow in the message boards today for AWard. I left a post about the pick he set to take two Thrash defenders out of the picture on the Kaberle goal. He also took a wicked slapper to the chest from Kovalchuk, and stayed out for the subsequent face-off. He's just been a rock on D. Aaron's playing smart, clean and with a great sense of timing on his hits (I hope Mikey C is taking notes). He's also blocking shots like he's got Ian Laperriere's face.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Getting What You Pay For

My wife likes to say, "You get what you pay for." That often means we end up spending a lot more money than intially intended, but the phrase often rings true in life and hockey. We bought a Kirby vacuum in 1990 for around $1K. At the time, that money would have been better spent elsewhere, but that machine still sucks-in a good way, as far as vacuums go.

Last night, the 'Canes got thrashed...again. Atlanta dropped over $15 mil on Kovalchuk, Hossa, and Holik, and at least last night, the investment showed signs of paying off. Two breakaway goals from two proven finishers. Gerber faced ten less shots than 5th stringer Garnett, but gave up two on break-aways.

I think the tide might be turning in the Southeast. If Lehtonen comes back strong from his groin injury, the Thrash will be solid in goal, and we might soon be looking up at both ATL and the Lightning.

The 'Canes big off-season acquisitions of Tverdovsky, Stillman and Whitney cost $5.75 mil. Last night, Tverdovsky was out with an undisclosed ailment (apprently centered somewhere between his ears), a now sluggish and mistake-prone Stillman has generated only one point in the last five games, and power-play specialist Whitney is still out with a seemingly chronic groin ailment. I don't know why lack of mobility should keep Whitney out of the lineup. Jeff O'Neill serves as living proof that you don't have to be mobile to score goals on the PP-just park in the high slot on the backside and wait for Sundin to feed you the one-timer.

I think we're getting what we paid for.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kaitonisms, Forslund's Doo, and Trip in Control

I'm seeing horns...
photo: Apex KOC
Listening to 'Canes radio voice, Chuck Kaiton, on the Sirius radio during the drive home last night I was reminded of his unique pronunciation of Czech and Slovak names. I first noticed his seemingly odd pronunciation pattern years ago. He always called Marek Malik, "Malek Mahleek." Last night I heard Chuck call Radim Vrbata, "Razim Vuh-bata." He also called Thomas Kaberle, "Toe-moss Kahber-lah." Is he a deft integrator of eastern european dialect or a hopelessly clueless linguist? He doesn't seem to fiddle with the pronunciation of most other other Czech or Slovak names.

Got home to watch the 'Canes broadcast on Center Ice and was struck by the continuing deterioration of John Forslund's control over his hair. He seems to have added an additional 2-3 quarts of Mobil One to the mullet hoping I guess to give it more body. Unfortunately, he's forming hair horns with this now radical fore-and-aft comb over. I'm sure John's a great guy-he's just starting to look a bit demonic.

I've really enjoyed Trip thus far this year. Less non-sensical dialog about dinner the night before. Less name dropping and more thoughtful analysis. His hair also looks marvelous....

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Big Ups to the Windy City

crappy photo: me
The View from Section 321
I was in Chicago for the first part of this week and took in the Blackhawks-Oilers game Sunday night. The rumors of the demise of the "Bulin Wall" have been greatly exaggerated. He was great. The rebounds he did give up were ones he aggressively pushed out of harm's way. On Sunday night, he was the old cat-like Khabibulin. Mark Bell missed a hat-trick when he doink'd an open net 20 foot shot off the right post.

I was impressed with Mathew Barnaby's hustle-it was good hustle, not agitating. He was working hard to make plays.

Chris Pronger is so poised with the puck-never rattled, always physically owns the ice within his immense stride. Ryan Smyth is also a joy to watch. You can tell he just loves to play the game with reckless abandon. During the pre-game skate, he didn't just do a few laps then go stretch and shoot the bull for 15 minutes at center ice. He started flying the minute he hit the ice, and was the last one off the ice when the skate was over. He's Erik Cole with hands.

A huge highlight of the night was the opening national anthems. I've never heard a US crowd cheer Oh Canada with as much vigor. The real suprise was when the singer burst into the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd clapped and roared throughout the whole song! They cheered every high-note and the end every line in the song. Immediately after, I turned to the guy next to me, and asked if this was a Chicago thing. He said since 9-11, that kind of reaction was common at every Chicago sporting event. The guy had tears in his eyes. Now I'm a veteran and R,W & B to the core, but I have never seen an outpouring of emotion like that at an event not specifically scripted to be a patriotic event.

The rest of my stay in Chicago was marked by cold 40 mph winds, cold sleety rain, and cold blowing snow. On Wednesday, a Channel 5 TV reporter stopped me on Michigan Avenue and asked me how I was enjoying the onset of Chicago's winter season. I told her I would only get to "enjoy" the wintery mix for the time it took me to get to O'Hare and get on a plane. Great city, but nice to be out of 20 degrees and gray and back in 70 degrees and blue.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Enough with the Skirts

photo: the oakland press
Robert McLang and His Kilt
I first noticed it with Robert Lang. It's now spread to others including young and impressionable players like Kyle Wellwood. Michael Jordan introduced the baggy pant-now baggy has joined with droopy to become the unfortunate fashion norm in sports.

Designed for convenience, the zippered inseam hockey pant was a great innovation. The design concept seemed sound-a hockey pant you could slide on over your skates. Guys like Lang and Wellwood are now abusing the convenience.

Washington Redskin, Clinton Portis, was fined this week for wearing striped socks and non-approved shoes. The least the NHL could do is fine Lang for wearing a non-approved skirt on the ice.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Leaf-Nation Spin Cycle

Once my Bengals locked up the "W" against the Ravens on Sunday, I started watching the Leafs/Craps game. In the third period, Leafs announcer Joe Bowen made the comment that Leafs always had to play at a disadvantage because every other team in the league (including obviously the lowly Craps) stepped up whenever they played the Leafs. He went on to say that in particular, the Ontario-born players were the ones who stepped up the most. The truth on Sunday was that they were out-hustled and out-disciplined by the Craps.

There are only four Ontario-born players on the Craps roster. Only two log any significant ice time (Willsie and Emminger). Washington's captain is American-born and their best player is a Russky. Jeff Halpern was born in 1976, nine years after the Leafs last won the Cup. Ovechkin was born eighteen years after that last Cup.

Delusions of grandeur remain strong in Leaf-Nation. The first step in fixing a problem is to accept that you have a problem. To Leaf apologists it's always somebody else's fault. Yes, within Leaf-Nation there is always plenty of name calling and back-biting. But to us outlanders, they want to be seen as the New York Yankees of hockey. The only problem is, unlike the Yanks, the haven't won squat in almost fourty years. Just once I want to hear somebody on Leafs TV tell the truth about this underachieving and heartless team without qualifying every utterance with the word, "but."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Coveting" Comrie?

photo: onlinesports.com
Comrie? We don't need no stinkin' Comrie...
I started the morning with a look at Spector today and he had an entry referencing comments made by the Arlington Heights Daily Herald's Tim Sassone. The close of passage includes a line about the 'Canes coveting Mike Comrie. I don't get this rumor for a variety of reasons.

  1. The lidless eye is flying right now and really don't need a guy straight out of Gretzky's doghouse.
  2. We are fat at center with Staal, Roddy, Cullen, and Kevyn doing just fine thanks (hell, lumbering ole' Vasicek can't lock down any time at center as it is).
  3. Comrie's track record of acrimonious relations with management make him a potential clubhouse nightmare.
  4. Comrie is making $1.7 mil-that would make him the 5th highest paid player on this squad above red-hot players like Staal, Cullen, Cole, and alternate captains Adams and Wesley.

All that being said, the chance to get Comrie for some deal involving dead wood Vrbata and a Phx commitment to eat some salary is enticing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Return of Doc Holliday

In Vino Veritas

One of my all time favorite movies is Tombstone. Kurt Russell stars, but Val Kilmer steals the movie. Kilmer's Doc Holliday is an absolute train wreck. Wracked with pain both emotional and physical, drunk his entire waking day to escape the demons of his past transgressions and the tuberculosis that will soon take his life, he's the uber-cool anti-hero.

Jeff O'Neill returns to the Triangle tonight as the 'Canes face the Leafs. Harken back if you will to the spring of 2002. The 'Canes cup run had just come to an end and the city of Raleigh threw a party for the Eastern Conference champs. Doc O'Neill showed up for the event unshaven, disheveled and a couple of sheets to the wind (No stranger to the bottle, Jeff picked up two DUI charges/one conviction during his tenure with the 'Canes). At one point, "O" seized the microphone and proceeded to ramble and grunt his way through a series of unconnected predictions of retribution and promises of future team greatness. Most shrugged off Jeff's antics, attributing them to his disappointment after failing to win the cup. Jeff was just such a competitor, he couldn't cope with losing. After three consecutive years of 60+ point production, O'Neill finished an injury riddled '03-'04 season with only 34 points-a season where Jeff was frequently clashed with head coach Paul Maurice over inconsequential things like work ethic, attitude and commitment.

In a cruel twist of irony, Jeff lost his brother in a car wreck this summer right before the O'Neill family got the chance to celebrate Jeff's signing with the beloved Leaf Nation.

By all current accounts, O is returning a changed man. I hope so because the old one was, to quote Val Kilmer's Holliday, "a huckleberry."