Sunday, April 30, 2006

CJAD Radio and "Twigs"

CJAD Habs Radio
I was listening to Friday's game #4 on the Sirius radio driving home from work Friday evening. First time I've heard Murray Wilson and Rick Moffat call a game. Interestingly divergent styles. Wilson definitely blows no sunshine. He calls the Habs out when he sees a breakdown-almost to the point of sounding morose. Moffat has a great radio presence. He doesn't scream like that moron in Tampa (Hello, Mishkin), but he does a great job of building tension and paying it off when the Habs make plays.

Twigs
One of the recurring topics of the first period of Game #4 was the plethora of shattered sticks. I think I heard Murray Wilson remark that Mathieu Danenault broke three in the first period alone. Jeff over at SISU has a bit of commentary about sticks breaking, and it reminded me of something I've been wondering about all season.

Why don't announcers say something to the effect of, "Danenault just broke his third damn brittle-ass, Swooshtika Vapor stick!" They never tell the listener outright the brand of stick. Is there some kind of legal restriction that forces them to remain mum? Or is it just not "cricket" to dis a paying sponsor who provides shoddy equipment? Wilson even suggested that Bob Gainey should require his penalty killers to use wooden sticks only. With a name like "Murray," he has to be old school.

You want to get rich quick, invent a hockey stick made out of that mercury-like stuff that the bad terminator in Terminator 2 was made of. You'd have a stick that could heal itself...and then maybe change into a spear or a scythe for Denis Gauthier's use.

Game #5 Observations:
Mike Commodore is showing poise with the puck, making superb outlet passes, and showing timely bursts of speed with the puck. I've been real impressed with his play in this series.

Alex Kovalev still scares the piss out of me whenever he has the puck. The 'Canes have done a pretty good job of taking away his space. Tonight, they gave him a bit too much at the end of the second period.

Matt Cullen seems to have benefitted from being around Kevyn Adams this season. His motor goes at the same breakneck rpm, and he fears man nor wall. But unlike KAd who specializes in slick backhanders from impossible angles, Cullen has a wicked hard shot-evidence his PP goal tonight and his wrist-shot to the neck of Huet.

The PK let the Habs down again tonight. 'Canes took advantage of the opportunities they got, and Cam did the rest. He even got a piece of Kovalev's wicked wrister in the second. The boy is in a zone. Nuh, nuh, nuh....be the puck Cammy, be the puck.

Game #6 Tuesday. My advice for the Habs-stay in a Holiday Inn Express Monday night.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Hint of Bitterness?

From last night's TSN feature:


Rod Brind'Amour scored the game-winner and the unpopular Justin
Williams had two points as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Montreal
Canadiens 3-2 on Friday night. The Hurricanes' second straight win on Montreal ice evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 2-2 and allowed them to steal back home ice advantage as they return to Raleigh, N.C., for Game 5 on Sunday.

"Unpopular?" "Steal?" I sense some creeping negative Canandian media bias as the series tightens. How dare a team so far removed from the center of the francophone hockey universe "steal" what is rightly theirs? How dare such an "unpopular" player snag two points in the process?

Uh, squeeze me? What's popularity got to do with it?

If I'm a bitter Habitant today, I'm bitter at the refs again for letting the 'Canes (Williams, Stillman) swing their sticks like Mamelukes on crack.

Back to the RBC. I don't know if call it "home ice advantage" in this series...

For the rest of the story:
http://tsn.ca/nhl/news_story/?ID=164194&hubname=nhl

Saku Koivu and Bastige Refs

I second D-Lee's sentiments regarding the injury to Habs Captain Saku Koivu. Like the injury to Erik Cole, first you fret the potential loss of a young man's chances of living a normal life, second the loss of a hockey career, and third the loss of ice time.

Any ref who misses this kind of thing needs to be called to account-not be allowed to operate in business as usual mode. Things happen quick in a game as fast as hockey, but there are two refs out there for a reason. And they get paid nicely to catch infractions at whatever speed they happen. Is it too much to ask for some friggin' consistency?

I'm glad the venom isn't being directed at Justin Williams. He does play at flank speed and with a lot of emotion. He always seems to be in the middle of every scrum after a whistle, but he's no Denis Gauthier.

The show goes on tomorrow night. Captain Rod Brind 'Amour leading by example on every shift. Saku Koivu now leading in spirit only. High drama. What more could the faithful ask for?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Thrill is Back

photo:cp
The three memories that stuck with me from last night's game three were totally visual.

Eric Staal: The Ovechkin-like joy he showed after scoring the game-winner. Eric's not played with a lot of joy lately. Like a lot of the league's coaches, Gainey has singled him out for shut-down, and that's made Staal kind of surly. The result-bad penalties, chippy play, and an ever-present glower on the mug that is the face of the franchise (and no Jeff, Roddy is not the face of this franchise, just the heart).

Oh, and that stuff I said the other day about it being a "mistake" to put Staalsy on the point...I really wasn't wrong. It all depends on what your definition of "mistake" is.

Lavvy: As he left the ice last night, I didn't see Staal-like exuberance. I saw the face of a boxer who knew he'd won the round and was already looking forward to the next. The knitted brow, the smile of the cat that just ate the canary. Where Bob Gainey appears stoic and turtle-eyed, Lavvy reminds me of the old cartoon of the two buzzards where one says, "Patience my ass! I'm gonna kill something!"

Cam Ward: At the end of the game, Wardo didn't sit back in his crease, rattle the pipes and wait for the obligatory receiving line of soft head butts. He jetted out to near center ice and was surrounded by the crew who went to him right after mobbing Staal. He looks more like the kind of kid who rides his bicycle around town trying to turn folks on to the Lord, than he does a hockey goalie. Goalies are supposed to be a little out there, aren't they? They are the iconoclasts, the rugged individualists. He doesn't have Ryan Miller's grunge rocker scraggly hair or Henrik Lundqvist's Hollywood good looks, but I think we might have a star emerging in goal. Staal did GQ. Ward will probably do, "Got Milk?"

I think the 'Canes believe their star is rising. Napoleon was said to have remarked that he prefered lucky generals to brave or brilliant ones. Sometimes, through force of will, you can manufacture your luck. The 'Canes did that last night. The abysmal 4 minute PP, was followed in OT by a crisp and aggressive one. The 'Canes could have folded. They didn't. They came out in OT and played like they expected to win. That's been the key ingredient in good Hurricanes mojo this season.

Let the Habs now feel the pressure of letting down their homeboys (cue the Jaws theme music).

Monday, April 24, 2006

Down but not out...yet

Somebody fit the fat lady for cement shoes
I missed the first period tonight-thank God. In the second period, I saw desparation, energy, creativity and good old Hurricanes '06 hockey. In the third, I saw the trend continue until the D let them down yet again.

The 'Canes are a team with character and a ton of heart. I don't doubt that even now. It almost seemed as if the Habs were in the rope-a-dope mode waiting for the 'Canes to make a mistake. They got their mistake and took advantage.

I can live with the Habs winning the series, so long as the boys go down flying, hitting and leaving it all on the ice. If the season ends with the 'Canes playing only four more games than the non-playoff teams, I can live with it. It will suck. Nothing replaces a Stanley Cup. The only real negative memory that would endure is one of them quitting. I don't think they'll quit.

Now they have nothing to lose. Let er rip 'Canes. Play like there is no tomorrow and it'll be a memorable series no matter what.

Doug Weight is bringing it-ditto Mark Recchi. Kevyn Adams brings it every night. Roddy can't do more than he's doing. Eric Staal on the point was a mistake.

Looking long term a little early
Cam Ward is gonna get his baptism of fire this series. We'll know in a week more about our goalie of the future. Andrew Ladd brought it tonight. He looked like a rookie-gripping the stick a little tight-but I would leave him in the lineup for the duration. Oleg Tverdovsky is dead to me, and probably his team mates.

Solidarnosc Baby!

Caniac Nation Goes Global
Saw a new blog pop up on letsgocanes.com. This one originates in Poland. I've added it to the link list in a leap of faith. Not sure what the hell he's saying on his blog, but it looks legit. Here's the link to Carolina Hurricanes Hokejowy.

Those who do not learn the lessons of history...

...are doomed to repeat them.

I get to play golf with my dad around once a year. We usually spend about five hours wearing out the little pencil as we try and tally our triple digit scoring. It never fails that on the drive home, Dad remembers the one mechanical error in his swing that surely cost him his 85. Oh, I was too quick on the backswing, or Oh, I was hitting off my front foot. Yeah Dad, that's the ticket. I just attribute my poor golf to Dad's genetics and the fact that I only play around once a year.

Unlike the myriad issues with my Dad's golf game, what went wrong for the 'Canes on Saturday night was pretty simple. The Habs were initiating and the 'Canes were reacting. To win tonight and even the series, Lavvy's boys need to:

  1. Take away time and space. Alexi Kovalev is deadly when he can skate freely and pick his shots. Close on them, hit them, make them do a Tverdovsky and turn over the puck. Own the slot on both ends of the rink.
  2. Create time and space. Get the *&?!*%$?!! puck moving before the Habs can clog the passing and shot lanes. Get it out of the zone and start the breakout before they can transition from O to D. Saturday night reminded me of an Euro-league soccer game. The 'Canes kept fiddling and turning circles in their own end in a vain search for the perfect pass opportunity that never materialized.
  3. Don't assume Mary Gerber has the psyche to bounce back instantly from adversity. Don't sit and watch him melt down in the hope that he will work it out. Cam Ward is the goalie of the future. Let's find out what the future holds. What, are you going to wait until you are down 3-nil and in last gasp mode? If Marty is not on, get Cam in there. Then you can go back to Marty when it's dawn at the Alamo. His psyche might work better when he knows he's the only hope. Remind him of great moments in Swiss history where somebody overcame great odds to win a great victory...Uh, all I can think of is William Tell. Not sure how to make that analogy fit.
Looking at the letsgocanes.com forum today, it appears that the boys are still loose going into tonight's tilt vs. the Habs. Great practice pics there as well compliments of Ice Saber. Practice observer, SoCalcaniac, reported that the forward lines at practice broke down as follows:
  • Stillman/Staal/Cullen
  • Williams/Brind Amour/Ladd (LaRose mixed in)
  • Whitney/Weight/Recchi
  • Cads/Kads/Vasicek
I'd like to see Joe Vasicek sit and stew a little in the rafters. Since his stellar return on that Monday night, he hasn't been a factor. When a big, fast and mean guy with great hands can remain invisible for an entire game, something's not right. Chad LaRose is a hustling little bugger. He's got hands of stone, but he brings energy to each shift that never hurts.

I'm more interested in the blueline going into tonight. I don't expect to see somebody sit in favor of Anton Babchuk or Spicoli Hutchinson, although Hutchinson might add a needed spark to the PP. Babchuk is still a work-in-progress, so I don't see a net gain in swapping him in for anybody but, Hello, Tverdovsky (to be spoken like Seinfeld used to say, Hello, Newman...").

Today is number two son's birthday. Won't see much of the game tonight. Tonight will be all about ice cream cake, Power Rangers, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

6-1, and Mr. Bigglesworth is Upset

The following is tonight's official Carolina Hurricanes top five suck list...with a twist of Dr. Evil:

  1. Oleg Tverdovsky: Tentative, whimpy, coughing pucks like they were made of hot magma. Not worth the meeeelyunnn plus dollars he's bringing down.
  2. Marty Gerber: He starts giving up cheap goals Tuesday night, I say feed him to the mutated sea bass-especially if they are ill-tempered.
  3. O-for-April 22 on the 'Canes PP: I'm not even asking for sharks with laser beams attached to their heads-just a goal on the PP. Ah, would you remind me what they pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here!
  4. Shots on flesh and glass: More than double the number of shots. Seemed like every pass hit a body part or a stick. The 'Canes pounded the crap out of the ankles and skates of the Habs tonight. I think the Habs had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 blocked shots. Lavvy should have called a TO early in the game and told them, "I have gathered here before me the world's deadliest assassins, and yet, each of you has failed to score more than one lucky goal on a breakaway rebound. That makes me angry, and when I get angry, somebody becomes a healthy scratch..."
  5. The between periods, Marty Gerber psyche analysis with goaltending coach Greg Stefan: "Marty loves adversity, you have to face adversity as part of hockShhhh! Let me tell you a little story about a man named Sh! Sh! even before you start. That was a pre-emptive "sh!" Now Greg, I have a whole bag of "sh!" with your name on it..."

Oh well. It's only game one. And with the lack of TV coverage, nobody in the English speaking world outside the 919 area code was watching anyway. Andrew Ladd, please lace 'em up and be ready to bring some nasty. Andrew Hutchinson, please wipe that dopey Jeff Spicoli grin off your face and get ready to play like you're not on ludes.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Memo: Peter Karmanos to Jason Karmanos

Subj: Panic Springs Eternal

Jason my boy, fire up the invisible jet and get to Ann Arbor. Bring me Jack Johnson. Bribe the "family advisor"-Tell Jack that Mike Ribero called him a pansy. Tell him that the Montreal fans can't wait to boo him in the Bell Centre. Whatever it takes. We'll have a spot for Jack because I'm going to place Oleg Tverdovsky in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Teacher's Union has Spoken

Bump, bump, bump, another one bites the dust...
Out here in the west, the seeds of certain species of plants will only germinate if they are consumed in fire. You got to burn it down to grow anew. So goes the saga of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pat Quinn suffered an undisclosed, permanent administrative change in postion description. When questioned about the true meaning of this very Quinn-like phraseology, Quinn commented in very plain and uncustomary language, "It means I got fired, damn you!!!"

So begins the Coach Mo era of "Moslon trap and counterattack Leafs hockey." I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that first meeting Mo has with Jeff O'Neill (if ever). I think Mo will ask Jeff to accept an immediate, geography-directed administrative change in payroll source.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rising from the Ashes

An the winner of the award for worst use of a crummy pseudo French accent in a profanity laced verbal tirade goes to...

Rating the Also-Rans
Some of the non-playoff teams can definitely look forward to better fortunes next season-some are doomed to wallow in mediocrity for awhile longer, and some simply must spend the next few months in a Lazarus Pit. Here's my end-of-season eval on some of the non-playoff teams:

On the Rise
Panthers
Strong finish. Made a statement to the team, fans and Roberto Luongo by finding a way, at a bad time of year, to sign stud Ollie Jokinen. I busted Mike Keenan's chops at the start of this season for signing grandpas like Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts. But I think their presence helped bring the young guys like Nathan Horton along this season.

Craps
Nobody wanted to play Hanlon's boys by the end of the season. They punked the Thrash right out of the playoff picture when ATL had everything to lose and Washington was playing out the schedule. Ovechkin was a godsend to hockey in the DC metro area. Willsie, Clark, Pettinger all played with fire the second half of the season. A young blueline corps that will continue to grow. The Craps may not get a top draft pick, but their bench boss is gonna get the most out of these boys every night. They'll have to make an off season move to replace or put somebody in ready reserve behind Kolzig. The Craps take crap from nobody anymore. Alexander Semin will likely be in the fold. A pick up of a choice blueliner on the free agent market, and the Southeast will get even tougher next year.

Same as it ever was...
Islanders
Gonna be a change in senior leadership. Gonna be stuck with the same core of underachievers. Gimme Jason Blake and chuck the rest of the lot.

Minnesota
Marion Gaborik is a superstar. His creative ability and very hockey soul gets straight-jacketed under Jacques Lemaire's system. Brian Rolston is another star. He has adapted, but beyond these two the talent pool is pretty shallow. If Lemaire coached in Raleigh, there would have been nothing but tractor pulls, Clay Aiken concerts and Blue Collar Comedy Reviews this spring in the RBC center. The 'Canes would have pulled an Irsay and moved in the dead of night to Winnipeg.

LA
Same story-different year. Start strong-finish with a whimper. They'll get rid of the anti-character guys like Roenick and Avery, but they'll still need to find a clubhouse leader and a reliable goal tender.

Phx
Tough year for Coach Gretz. Gambled on a Lot of moves, even before the lockout, but not much to show for it. Shane Doan brings it every night. The young blueliners are rising stars. The vets they brought in just tanked. The recently departed Nedved, Morris, Ricci, Nash-all dead to me. But it's not all doom and gloom in the Valley of the Sun. They still have Pavel Brendl in the wings....

Chicago
Many say they have a nice core of young talent. Seabrook, Keith, Vorobiev, Sharp will all play well in this league. But the M*A*S*H patients they brought in to turn the franchise around this season turned it in the opposite direction. Khabibulin-bust. Aucoin-All IR first team. I'll believe they are turning the corner when they turn the damn corner.

Columbus
There would have been tractor pulls and 4H events in the Nationwide Arena all season if these fans weren't so dedicated and eternally optimistic. They've been let down so many years in a row. Bless their hearts, they'll continue to suck. Zverdev is soft and Federov is mailing it in. Adam Foote would probably trade a season's worth of paychecks to be back with the Avs right now.

Oh, the wheels on the bus fell off and off...
Boston
Crawlin' from the wreckage. New GM. Soon to be a new coach. Lots of die-hard fans who feel ripped off. Mismanaged the contract negotiations with franchise player, Joe Thornton-who might just be the next Hart Trophy winner. Somebody's got some splainin' to do. At least they have BC, BU, etc.

Vancouver
Bertuzzi gets a ton of wrath. The big salary, big name players disappeared when they were most needed. Issues in goal. Marc Crawford and his disturbing hedgehog hairdo likely looking for a job.

The Thrash
Big payroll. GM making playoff guarantees. GM hamstrung at the trade deadline because of the big contracts. Hartley went thug when things were going bad in the fall, and the team never figured out how to play consistently as a team. The Thrash D gave up tons of goals. They spent a ton of time on the PK. Savard is gonna be a free agent-if he goes, that leaves only Slava Kozlov who can make big plays and who is willing to share the puck. Darren Eliot said in a late season broadcast that Ilya Kovalchuk had finally learned that winning felt better than padding personal stats. Yeah, right. I thought Don Waddell was a genius at the start of the season. I thought he fleeced the Sens in the Heatley/Hossa/DeVries deal. Hossa was the real deal-Heatley even better and back to being a star-DeVries was just Ok. Yeah, I don't like the Thrash and it clouds my objectivity. So be it. Misters Sutton, Exelby, Boulton, you're next up on the first tee...

St. Louis
Total urban renewal project-hell its gonna be St. Louis' version of the Big Dig. First the new ownership, then the demolition squad, then they become the mirror image of the Blackhawks. They are going to need invest long-term in solid hockey people who will rebuild this team. Crikey mate.

Pittsburgh
Total meltdown from a team picked to contend. Crosby lived up to billing. Malkin is on the way. Top draft pick inbound. Must remove the Gonchar cancer. Fleury better step up as well. Step one: ditch the girly yellow pads. The Pens need to get a commitment for a new crib, or go Irsay, and go to KC, Vegas, Portland, anywhere but Hahtfud. Give this young squad a guy like Hanlon, and they'd compete next year. With that clown Michael Therrien behind the bench, they'll continue to lose their composure every time the going gets tough. Every organization takes on the personality of its leadership. This will work against a Pens rebound.

Leafs
Might be in the "same as it ever was" category as much as here. Lindros, Allison, O'Neill, Belfour, Berg. The Leafs are a "who's who list" of players well into the downside. Sold a chunk of young talent in their attempts to buy a Cup over the years. Who is really in charge? Teacher's unions don't want to see anybody get fired for incompetence.

Hurricanes rope-a-dope into the playoffs

The Weakest Link-the 'Canes D
photo:carolinahurricanes.com
Man this image from the 'Canes own Website scares me. Let's hope the D doesn't spend a huge chunk of this series on the PK. If so, we're doomed I say, dooooomed.

How many times did you hear this one last night from Joe Beninati, "Ya know, the 'Canes have only beaten one playoff-bound team since March ....( I forget the date he referenced)?" Well, Joe is right. But the Hurricanes have only played the Lightning x 3, Sabers and Devils in that time span. They beat the Sabers on Mar 22. Took the red-hot Devils to OT on April 11, were 2-1 vs. the Lightning, and got Soprano-whacked last night in the season finale against the Sabers. I hope last night was just a rope-a-dope and not a foreshadowing of a coming big thud. 'Canes have not been world-beaters in the past month. But they have shown the ability to rise to some occasions, like last weekend's Lightning back-to-back. Getting behind early in the series will signal the inevitible coming thud.

'Canes v. Habs Round Deux
The Drive to Extinguish the Legacy of the Molson Miracle

Forwards
I think Mike Ribero is a pansy and the refs are on to his act. Sakku Koivu always scares the piss out of me. He can be as dominating was Peter Forsberg at times, possesing the puck and making the tape to tape pass in the offensive zone. Alexi Kovalev can dominate too if that version of him shows up on a given night. God I wish Erik Cole wasn't still in that neck brace. The Roddy/Koivu matchup will be real interesting. In the world of 5-on-5 hockey, the 'Canes should own the momentum. If it comes to a lot of special teams play, the Habs are decidedly better on the PP (5th in the league-'Canes were 17th). Look for the contributions of the Veterans Admisinstration, Whitney, Weight, and Recchi, to steadily grow over the course of the playoff run-the deeper the 'Canes go, the more they shine.
If they call a legit game-Edge 'Canes
If they call, "looks like he intended to hook" penalties-Edge Habs

In nets
Christobal Huet is been mah-velous, but let's face it, he's French. TV analysts also say he goes to his knees too soon (another French-like tendency) opening up the top shelf. David Aebischer has playoff experience, but because he's Swiss and not a true son of Gaul, the lack of love he's getting from the Francophones may wear on him. Marty Gerber has a French-sounding name, but he's mui Swiss. Yeah, Marty gives up some cheap ones too. He seems to have big wickets under his armpits. But he's also shown the ability to rise to big occasions (ex. vs. Team Canada in the Olympics). Rising now would be appropriate Marty...
Edge 'Canes

Defense
I've harped about this aspect of the Hurricanes game all year. Ain't no Reddens or Phaneufs on that blueline. Last night's game showed how bad the 'Canes can play in their own zone. Who knows what we'll get night-to-night out of Oleg Tverdovsky. Who knows if Frankie Kaberle will hit more Habs than his face hits glass and metal. Mike Commodore needs to eat lots of fish throughout the playoffs. Lots of Protein-enriched brain food. Glen Wesley will rise to the occasion, but he won't get anywhere very quickly. Bret Hedican is a monster when healthy and moving at full speed. On the Canadians side, Mathieu Dandenault probably knows what it takes to excel in Stanley Cup playoff mode. Andrei Markov is also a fine and steady defenseman. Souray and Komisarek are the Habs versions of Commodore and AWard-Physical and fearless, but at times dopey.
Edge Habs

Prediction: Canes in 7


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Playoff predictions then and now

Big Bravo Zulu to the Craps!
photo:slam sports
The Thrash flat out quit with about 10 seconds remaining. I loved seeing the Craps defender leave the puck behind the net with time still on the clock to congratulate Kolzig. Bob Heartless's stare down of the officials was also classic-go home hoser. Huge payroll. Great individual players. No team defense. Tendency to take ill-timed and thuggish penalties. The Craps are a team on the rise.

Below is an extract from a CasonBlog post the first week in October. I nailed a few and missed a few by a mile. My take on the Islanders and Leafs was right on. When the grandpas were healthy, the Panthers were a force late into the season. I gave the Bruins way too much credit (as did many others). Bad management, the Joe Thornton trade and late emergence of solid goaltending spelled their doom. Might have seen that coming when Joe's contract squabble started being fought in the media right before the start of the season.

I also sold the Rangers and Sabers way too short. The Rangers were always a pretty heartless team. Surprise! Jagr chopped off the mullet and re-emerged as a playmaker and leader among Czechs. If they face the Devils in the first round however....

I grossly underestimated the impact of Ovechkin and Crosby. I nailed the predictions on the emergence of Cole and Williams-might have been right about Vasicek too if he hadn't suffered the catastrophic knee injury right off the bat. Here's what I said then about the Eastern Conference:


Hope springs eternal here at CasonBlog. Here are my Eastern Conference picks (x marking the playoff bound teams) for this season:

Northeast:

xOttawa-They're mad, and they're not going to take it anymore

xBoston-Great mix of youth and maturity

xMontreal-Youth and speed kills

Toronto-Fratricide and civil war breaks out in Leaf Nation

Buffalo-Wandering aimlessly

Southeast:

xTampa-Marty and Vinny rule under the new rules

xCarolina-Vasicek, Cole, Williams emerge as stars

Atlanta-If they sign Ilya, they might move up

Florida-Applesauce and medicine for the grandpas

Crapitals-Overchkin grumbles about going back to Rooosha

Atlantic:

xPhiladelphia-Despite planting redwoods on defense

xNew Jersey-Wiley and always in the mix in a division not that strong

xPittsburgh-I'm talking Recchi, Mario, Dick, and Sergei, not so much Sid

NYI-Captain Yashin?

NYR-Under construction

Ottawa moves on to the Cup finals

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rumblin', Bumblin', Stumblin' Towards the Playoffs

Remember this one Robby Boy?
A lot at stake for the Bolts tonight and tomorrow. The Thrash are red-hot and right on the heels of Tortorella's underachievers. Boltsmag has a link to an article in the St. Pete Times that deals with Coach "T's" Caligula-like optimism coming off their humiliating loss to the Trash on Tuesday night. Should make for some good theatre. Which Bolts team will show up?

I like what I've seen in the play of the 'Canes since the second period of the last Thrash game. The boys played the Devils extremely tight, and never seemed to let the piss-poor officiating penetrate their psyche. They were back to playing like they expected to win.

Speaking of expectations, I expect to see great things come playoff time from the Veterans Admisinstration Line of Weight, Recchi and Whitney. Let Ray ice his groins a couple of more days, and I think we'll be pleasantly surprised by what these cagy vets bring to the mix.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brodeur you magnificent bastard!

I only got to see the third period and OT last night, but what a ride. It was good to see the 'Canes return to aggression-the style of play that creates opportunities. They boys were back to playing like they expected good things to happen-even after the Devils scored.

The difference maker last night was Marty Brodeur. From stuffing Cory Stillman on the doorstep to drawing a BS penalty on Justin Williams, Brodeur just showed why he remains the best at crunch time. He is such a factor beyond the crease-from puck handling to making the breakout pass to knowing where the puck is going to be, and getting there first. He's always crafty and mojo enriched at just the right time.

One for the memory banks going into the playoffs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'Canes or Bolts Tonight?

Exit, Stage Left?
photo: ap
Heavens to Murgatroid! I think I'm looking forward to the Thrash/Bolts tilt tonight much more than the 'Canes/Devils. The 'Canes are still a M*A*S*H* unit, so I wouldn't expect to see anybody they need to get healthy in the lineup tonight. I think ironmen like Staal (all 78 games), Williams (all 78 games), Recchi (79 games), and Roddy (most TOI in the league of any forward), could use either one more night off or some reduced ice time. But nobody wants to sit this close to playing a complete season of games, so that probably won't happen. The boys are coming off two days of rest with two more to follow tonight's game, so they'll have to recharge on the fly.

Six points separate the Thrash from the 'Ning and that eighth spot. The Thrash still have a game in hand on the Lightning, and Tampa has what looks like a tougher schedule over their final three games-Hurricanes twice and closing with the Craps. The Thrash can probably make up some ground with the Craps x2, Bruins, and Panthers still on the schedule, but the Lightning, with their four more total wins, can effectively bury the Thrash tonight with a win.

If it comes down to the 'Canes facing the Lightning or Thrash in the first round, I'd rather face the Leafs or Canadians. I don't like the SE division matchup I see evolving.

A rested and recharged Kari Lehtonen scares me more than the Burke/Grahame combo. The Thrash's incendiary on-ice tactics also scare me more than the up-tempo, Hurricane-like play of the Lightning. The Thrash just seem able to get into the 'Canes heads. And once they get up a goal or four, they are hard to catch. The other night, Darren Eliot said that he thought Ilya Kovalchuk was finally learning that winning felt better than just padding his personal stats. Better late than never I guess, but probably too late for this season.

I say, Go Lightning! I think Kovalchuk, Holik, Sutton, Exelby, etc. still have a lot to learn about winning and playing with class.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

In Search of Killer Instinct

What's love got to do with it?
Been dying to use this photo all year. Last night was a perfect chance for the 'Canes to put a team that has repeatedly embarrassed them in their place. The perfect chance to dash any legitmate hope the Thrash had for the playoffs with their own hands. Payback for Kovalchuk's taunting and grandstanding. Payback for Holik's cheap shot last game. The chance to demonstrate some killer instinct going into this final run of the season. Time to break their hearts and their necks. Instead we got matadors on ice in the first period.

Yes, they were tired. Yes, the had been on the road all week. Yes, they were without Stillman and Kaberle. Yes, it's been a grind, but isn't that kind of like what the playoffs are going to be like? Justin Williams is quoted in today's N&O saying, "It took us too long to finally get upset with the fact we were getting embarrassed out there..." Ya think?

I still think the thing that could cause the 'Canes to exit early in the playoffs is whimpy play in their defensive zone. You have to win the puck before you can start the breakout. Bless his heart (southern for that son-of-a-bitch), Andy Sutton makes people pay when they try and set up along his endboards. He also does a lot of cheap stuff, but you can't deny his physicality. For the 'Canes, that has to be AWard, Babchuk and Commie. Didn't see it from them last night. The Thrash beat the boys to nearly every puck in the first period-beat them to it with speed and already knowing what they were gonnna do with it once they won it. Come playoff time, the 'Canes can't just count on their opportunistic forechecking and hope Gerber keeps them in the game.

Sometimes our boys don't show a lot of heart or brains in their own zone. Speaking of brains, Eric Staal was a boy of very little brain last night. At times, he reminds me of a younger Joe Thornton. Unbelievable physical skills, vision and presence on the ice, but prone to taking dumb penalties and losing his cool. In his defense, if anybody is feeling the grind right now. It's got to be Staal.He's played all 78 games this year. That has to be wearing on him physically and mentally.

Hurricanes have a few days off before potential first round opponent New Jersey comes to town. The Friday/Saturday back-to-backer vs. the 'Ning next weekend might be the last chance to show that killer instinct before the playoffs. Knocking them off would be sweet-knocking the Thrash out would have been devine.

Friday, April 07, 2006

NBC Tries to Ambush Southern NASCAR Fans

Em Er Muslims?
I heard about this little operation last night on ESPN radio. Now I'm not really a NASCAR fan. They only races I might watch even the last 10 laps of each season are Daytona and Bristol. Daytona cause it's the big race and Bristol because it's like a demolition derby in the round.

NBC's Dateline show set up a sting at the racetrack in Martinsville last weekend trying to capture video of NASCAR fans abusing "Muslim looking" people. NASCAR has gotten wind of it and raised hell with the network-the same network that carries many of their races, at least until their contract is up at the end of the season. Think NBC will get the NASCAR contract ever again? NASCAR is smart. They are NFL smart. They don't need NBC.

NBC has apparently pulled their plan to go to the Texas Motor Speedway and try to gather more video.

NBC's rationale for this bit of redneck profiling:

"We are following up on a recent poll and other articles indicating an
increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States."

So if there is possible anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, where do they chose to start their witch hunt? Why at the very heart of racism in America-NASCAR events, of course. Not Philly, where they boo Santa Claus, mock opposing players with severe spinal injuries, and eat their young. Not Phoenix where the Scotsdalians are more worried about being seen than really seeing anything. Not MSG, where folks who lost friends and family members in the two towers might run across these Muslim-looking people. No, it's NASCAR, the traveling weekly Cracker revival.

Apparently they didn't get the video they wanted at Martinsville. Not enough bedsheets, buring crosses, slobbering inbred drunks with hairy backs, and Confederate battle flags, I would reckon.

I bet their plan for Texas was to give those Muslim-looking volunteer activists Kurt Busch hats to replace their traditional Islamic head dress. Then all the venom they would invite from the legions of NASCAR fans who hate that little weasel could be fashioned to appear anti-Muslim.

This from the network that brought us a shocking investigation on automobiles with exploading fuel tanks. It was discovered later that they had rigged those cars with explosives-but only to heighten the effect on camera.

I hope Stone Phillips will remember, a southern man don't need him around anyhow.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mutual Assured Destruction in the Southeast

A Cloud is Forming Over Philips Arena...
The Hurricanes finish their Crap-a-thon on Friday. Got to hand it to Hanlon's boys. With little to play for as a team, they continue to battle every night. Hard to not like this crew. Other than Ovech-Hype, they are a bunch of nameless, faceless mystery men who skate and hit hard. With Jason Doig, and now Brendan Witt gone, they are a much more compelling bunch of overachievers. I'll be pulling for them...after Friday night.

JP over at Japers' Rink has some love for Mikey Commodore in the form of a nickname contest. How does, "Southeast Champion" sound?

"Mutual assured destruction" is a Cold War era phrase. The theory was that the Commies wouldn't nuke us as long as we had the ability nuke 'em right back. I think the Southeast Division schedule might just result in some mutual assured descruction for the 'Ning, Thrash, and Kitties in the closing days of the season. NHL schedulers wanted to create a schedule that would end-load division matchups in the season's final days. Montreal and New Jersey are hitting their stride and look like they'll hold their six and seven spots. I think the only hope the Panthers and Thrash have is with knocking off the up-and-down Lightning.

All of Tampa's remaining seven games are against SE teams. Their lead over the Thrash is only five points, and over the Leafs, it's only six points.

I think you can stick a fork in the Panthers. Even their radio broadcasters were saying as much last night. They put together a nice seven game winning streak in March, but they are 1-3 in their last four games. All three losses have been against SE teams. They have six games remaining, but three will be against Tampa, Washington and the season-ender vs. the Thrash. The other games are home vs. the Pens, at Toronto and at Ottawa. The Kitties can still play spoiler, and I would expect a bitter Ollie Jokinen and Gary Roberts to drive the boys towards some payback in the final days.

The Thrash have seven games remaining on their schedule-two games vs. Tampa, two versus Washington, one vs. the 'Canes and their season-ender vs. the Panthers. Only one out-of-conference game remains for Hartley's thugs-vs. a Bruins team that already has their Myrtle Beach reservations set for the end of the month. The Thrash have been very erratic this season. Like a pack of hyenas-great when they smell blood, but sulking, snippy and chippy when they find themselves getting upstaged by the lions of the league.

With seven games remaining, Toronto remains in the hunt as well. Their end-of-season schedule includes three games vs. teams they should beat if they want it bad enough-the Bruins, the Pens and the Islanders.

It's not inconceivable that mutual assured destruction could drive all remaining SE teams out of that final playoff spot. This would open the door for the Leafs to sneak in under the wire. How does an Ottawa v. Leafs matchup sound in round one? Sounds like assured Leaf destruction to me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Post-Clinch Lovefest

Where are your Bruins Now??
Lot's of love today for the 'Canes today on espn.com. All of a sudden Peter K., Lavvy and JR are geniuses. Cap gurus, peerless motivators, unmatched talent evaluators, now they are.

A much different tune than the ESPN crew (Hradek, Buccigross, Burnside, et al)were singing at the start of the season. Tried to get into the archives for specifics of their predictions from last fall, but the ESPN media machine has sealed their archives to all but the paying "Insider" customer.

Back in the Fall, Jes Golbez posted the table up and above showing the predictions of a bunch of hockey pundits and media outlets. If memory serves me, this is pretty representative of the FSN, ESPN, talking head prognostications of the time. Lots of love for the Pens and Boston at the time. Bully for James Mirtle, who was at least enough of a visionary to put the 'Canes into the eighth spot. I too had the 'Canes making the playoffs, but somewhere behind the 'Ning. Like many, I also overshot with my Bruins and Pens predictions. In the Pens case, I overshot very badly...

Back in the fall, there were lot's of questions about Marty Gerber. Lots of questions about the 'Canes blueline. I seem to remember John Buccigross's pre-season prediction included the suggestion that the Hurricanes were both too old (Brind 'Amour, Wesley) and too young (Staal, Williams) to compete for the playoffs. Many prediction columns ended with the suggestion that the franchise's lack of spending was indicative of a team that was at best just treading water, and at worst, on the verge a death spiral.

Honing an Edge for the Playoffs
Good to see the brawling over the weekend vs. the Thrash and last night vs. the Craps. Dougie Weight jumping into the fray tells me the playoff brotherhood is being forged. Not that I dig fighting as a stand alone feature of the game. Quite the contrary. I would love to see the remaining goons of the league like Donald Brashear, fade into the sunset or a county lockup. I like to see fighting in hockey when it can be tied directly to team mates standing up for each other and taking things personally. That element has been missing from the 'Canes on-ice presence until now. I looks like the boys are beginning to embrace righteous violence just in time for the playoffs.

Big Joe made his presence felt as well. One of nhl.com's three stars last night. Couldn't help but notice the timing was a little off on a couple of hits, but he's only going to get better.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Cure for the Hurricanes Recent 500 Level Play

Adam Duritz-The White Anson Carter?
photo: empiremovies.com
I've been kind of the angry guy lately. No fun to watch the 'Canes oscillate between squeeker wins and crushing losses. I'm cranky by the end of the first period, and snippy with the wife and kids the rest of the night.

I haven't wanted to much blog either. I don't like wallowing in negative. This is supposed to be fun. Like we used to say in the Navy, If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right. It must really suck to be a Bruins blogger.

Saturday, I discovered a possible solution. All it took was a little Steely Dan, some pre-power ballad Chicago, a splash of Counting Crows, and a sprinkle of Van Morrison in the CD changer. I grabbed an adult beverage (or three), sat in the big chair, let the dulcet tones sink in for around twenty minutes. And then, and only then, did I switch on the ATL debacle and watch it with the sound off. Wow! I could carry on a conversation during the game. I could interact with my kids. I was still dad-not the grumpy troll under the bridge.

How could I get mad at cute 'lil Cam Ward when Van was signing about Tupelo honey? A Slava Kozlov deflection in the third puts the final nail in the 'Canes coffin? No problem. By that time I was listening to Adam Duritz wail, "Its been a long December and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last..." Yes Adam, this year is already better than the last.

Big Joe is back tonight. I hope that provides a bit of spark and edge. Carolina desperately needs a big body banging in the corners and clogging the front of the net.

And if things aren't going well, that will be Ok too. I'll have Tears for Fears cued up and I'll already be listening to tasty tracks from their latest album with titles like, "Call Me Mellow," and "Closest Thing to Heaven."