Tag Archives: alex ovechkin

Another Classic

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You all know that out of all five of the NHL Winter Classic’s this one sparked my attention most of all.

I was so excited to watch my New York Rangers under the lights at Citizens Bank Park against the hated Philadelphia Flyers that I said to hell with any football being played on Monday.

I didn’t get out of bed until an hour before face-off. At this point Ohio State was down at the half to Florida, Penn State was getting creamed by Houston and the Big Ten was having another horrible New Years bowl day… So?

New Years Day used to be about sitting in front of your TV and veging out to a smorgasbord of football games. It was awesome getting to watch about ten bowls in one day culminating with the Rose Bowl at five and the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls all at eight on three networks.

Well once the BCS came to fruition and spread out every bowl up until ten days after the New Year it rendered January 1st useless. Also with the SEC on top of all things football I’m not interested in watching the Big Ten get creamed in three games at one time.

Bowl season and January 1st used to mean something, instead the day turned into meaningless now that you can watch any one of 69 bowl games in a span of three weeks.

Then five years ago out of nowhere the NHL began a new tradition almost out of the blue. The inaugural Winter Classic was done without fanfare or much knowledge due to the NHL’s dwindling popularity after the NHL lockout.

I remember turning on my TV in the middle of the afternoon before work to see Pittsburgh take on Buffalo in a snow storm in front of a packed Ralph Wilson Stadium. I was shocked at first because I didn’t know that this game was supposed to be scheduled. If I would’ve known that Sidney Crosby was going to play in front of 73,000 people on New Years Day you best believe I would’ve cleared my schedule.

My eyes were fixated on the entire scene, the crowd was raucous throughout the entire game, the snow added an awesome prop to the game even though the snow caused a ton of ice problems, the classic jerseys were so cool I actually thought about buying a light blue Crosby jersey (then I came back to earth and realized I’m a Rangers fan). The game was a spectacle, and after Crosby scored the winning shootout goal I walked to work and couldn’t stop talking about the game.

The inaugural Winter Classic was something I had never seen before and as a huge hockey fan it had me wanting more. The NHL had discovered something, it had an event now that it could call it’s own and something that it could be known for. The question then became “what next?” Where could Gary Bettman take this game and make it bigger and bigger each time it was played? I think he figured it out and very well.

The next four classics have all been better than the previous one because Bettman has focused on keeping the games in hockey crazed cities and has featured his marquee players and teams.

The second classic featured the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings from Wrigley Field in a shootout that got to show the Blackhawks continue their resurgence to relevance oh and Patrick Kane’s silky game.

The third featured The Boston Bruins against the Flyers in a ultra physical matchup that ended with Milan Lucic scoring the overtime winner under the lights and led the NHL into an awesome Olympic tournament.

Last years Classic was a matchup of modern rivals and the leagues biggest star players Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals and Crosby’s Penguins from Heinz Field. It was another physical matchup that featured the Classic’s first fight and unfortunately the beginning of Crosby’s concussion problems. It was also the highest rated Classic because honestly were people going to watch Ovie versus Crosby or Oklahoma against UCONN in the Fiesta Bowl?

Then came this year’s Winter Classic. Once it was announced that my Rangers were battling the Flyers I immediately looked for every leak I could find from jerseys to legends game possibilities. When you have a team involved in such an event it pushes your interest into psycho mode.

My original plan was to go to the actual game with my buddy Scully who’s a huge Flyers fan. That changed once I saw how much tickets were in stubhub. $500 bucks a pop sounds about right for this type of game but not out if my pockets.

Instead waking up at 2 p.m. and throwing on my Rangers jersey and Starter jacket (yeah I have one if those still) would have to do.

The scene was more electric than all other Winter Classics except Buffalo. Say what you want about Philadelphia fans but they bring energy to their team’s games. It also helped that the Rangers and Flyers hate each others guts so there was a little bit more behind those Let’s Go Flyers chants than at a normal game.

The jerseys were the most simplistic of all of the Winter Classic events with the Flyers going with a darker orange color with really cool captains tags. The Rangers took it back to the early 20th century with a skinnier version of their shield logo and cream colored sweaters. Once I find a wholesale site that sells those I’m all over a Callahan #24.

The game itself was the most competitive of the five Classic’s. Both team’s were playing at the highest level possible and no one was slowing up at all. Brandon Dubinsky hit everything that moved in the first period with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux countering for the Flyers.

The Flyers kept the puck in the Rangers zone for most of the first two periods but couldn’t break through on Henrik Lundqvist until rookie Braydon Schenn scored the first goal of the game off of the game. Minutes later Giroux found the back of the net on an odd-man rush to put the Flyers up by 2.

One minute later Mike Rupp cut the lead in half using a Flyers defenseman to shield Sergei Bobrovsky from seeing the puck as he ripped a wrist shot past him. He was booed lustily by Flyers fans not just for the goal but for imitating Jaromir Jagr’s goal salute after.

( Side note: I thought we were headed for a brawl at this point. There was so much aggression from both sides and the crowd was so into it that I thought someone was going to throw a punch a spark an on ice riot. The Rupp celebration almost did it. Rupp and Hartnell started barking at each other at the beginning of the third over the salute and it seemed like they were going to go. Unfortunately nothing came to fruition but that anticipation hungover for the remainder of the game.)

Once the third period began the Rangers began to make their move. They seemed to have fresher legs and got to every loose puck as the Flyers looked a little flat. The hard work paid off as Rupp scored again and tied the game at 2.

Flyers fans started getting nervous as the once raucous crowd grew silent and Rangers fans let their voices be heard amid the silence.

The Flyers play became erratic and they began to panic. Defenders overplayed the puck and it’s carrier and minutes after Rupp tied the game Brad Richards stood alone in the corner and was the only person near a rebound off of Callahan’s missed shot. Richards fired it into the net to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead and send the Rangers bench and yours truly into a frenzy.

As the Flyers tried to mount a comeback they were once again stalled by Lundqvist who was his normal brilliant self in this day. Lundqvist looked every bit like the gold medal winning goalie that he was at the 2006 Olympics as turned away the Flyers time and time again.

In the final minute with the Flyers clinging to their last life two calls drove me absolutely bonkers and looked like Gary Bettman made a personal call to the refs to make sure there was overtime.

The dive call on Callahan was dreadful as the replay showed he was clearly hooked from behind by Kimmo Timonen. It gave the Flyers another opportunity to have an extra attacker with it being 4 on 4 and Bobrovsky on the bench.

With the extra attacker the Flyers threw everything that they could at Lundqvist and with 20 seconds a shot almost squeaked through until Ryan McDonagh stopped the puck from crossing the line by sitting on it. By rule you can’t do that as a defender and the refs awarded Philadelphia a penalty shot. Imagine my face when this happened. I almost through my beer glass at the TV but harpoon is pretty pricey so I calmed down.

Of all of the Flyers to take the shot it had to be Daniel Briere. Briere has a knack for coming through when the Flyers need it most (case in point last years first round versus Buffalo) and with the game on the line who else could’ve taken it for them.

Briere skated in as the entire stadium, 47,000 people to be exact, rose to their feet. Briere tried to go five-hole but Lundqvist did what he did for most of the night, he turned the shot away and ended the Flyers last chance to extend the best game of 2012 in it’s early stages.

The Rangers 3-2 victory was easily the best of all 5 of the Winter Classic matchups. The game play was faster, more physical and had you on the edge of your seat up until the end.

So once again the question is, now what?

Who’s next to play in the NHL’s new spectacle? If it were up to me these five matches would make the most entertaining Winter Classic’s:

1. Detroit VS. Toronto from the Big House in Ann Arbor.

A great original six matchup in hockey hungry Michigan

2. Minnesota VS. Vancouver from Target Field.

Minnesota is a very competitive team and Minnesota has a great hockey history.

3. St. Louis VS. Chicago from Busch Stadium.

The city matchup says it all.

4. Washington VS. Tampa Bay from Nationals Stadium.

D.C. has grown into a good hockey town, plus Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos would light up the scoreboard.

5. Anaheim VS. San Jose from AT&T park.

A California Winter Classic? Hear me out on this. Start it at 8 pm when the temps hit 45 degrees. Northern Cali loves it Sharks and a matchup with Anaheim in a budding west coast rivalry would be a hit for the west coast market.

Whoever gets the opportunity next they have a lot to live up to. This year’s edition of the Classic pushed the game to a new height and left another great memory for those that got a chance to see it.

The Winter Classic has become the new way for sports fans to ring in the New Year and it looks like it’ll stay that way for awhile.

You can watch bowl games whenever you want. The Winter Classic is a treat that you look forward to once a year and continues to deliver.

Let’s hope Bettman doesn’t mess this up the way that college football did and add more outdoor games. Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.


Thank God Hockey’s Back (NHL Preview)

It's been an offseason to forget in the NHL

If you thought the NBA offseason has been hell then you don’t have the slightest idea about rough. The NHL’s offseason has been a public relations nightmare. The summer was supposed to be about the celebration of the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup after 40 years of futility. Instead every other day there was a tragedy on the ice.

Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and the KHL Lokomotiv franchise’s plane crash that killed all passengers aboard including former NHL-ers Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon to name a few cast a shadow of the sport and brought sadness to everyone over the sport.

Add that to the fact that Rangers bruiser Derek Boogaard died towards the end of last season and you understand the somber mood that the NHL might seem to be in.

When looking at ESPN fashion guru Paul Lukas’s annual uniform design review there were less designs for jerseys and more decals and patches for fallen players. It’s like the NHL has become a graveyard instead the coolest game on earth.

If any sport needs to start their season and get back to the brilliant play on the playing surface it’s this league. Ever since the lockout 0f 2004-05 the NHL has been on a roll. The talent on the ice is the highest that it’s been since the mid to late 90’s with the emergence of the Paul Kariya’s, Keith Tkachuk’s and Mike Modano’s of the world.

The NHL has so many great players playing at a high level that it’s becoming hard to keep up with all of them. At first it was the hype of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf. Then came Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler. Now we have kids like Ryan Nugent- Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Tyler Myers and others who are crowding the ice and making noise.

The Bruins are ready to repeat.

It’s not like the NBA in terms of star power but it’s a beautiful thing to watch when the games are flowing. There are great players on every team in the league and most are under the age of 27.  Every night in every city there is a reason to watch a game just to catch one of these young studs whether it’s Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Jeff Skinner in Carolina. Even with the sports brightest star status still in doubt (Sidney Crosby is still having post-concussion issues) the league is as strong as it’s ever been and is staring one of its most competitive season in decades in the face.

This year there is no real clear cut favorite. Gone are the days of Detroit being the front runner in the league every year, nowadays they’re not even the favorites in their own division. There are 10 to 14 teams that have a realistic chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year whether it is because of their goaltending, offensive prowess or just the fact they have all of the right pieces in place to make a run at the cup.

The right pieces meaning the right balance of youth and experience. In the modern NHL the young teams win championships as seen with the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins in the last three years. Yes I know Tim Thomas is old as dirt and Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken, but the work put in by guys like Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand helped this team win the Stanley Cup last year. Unlike in other sports where the older teams win the titles the young ones take the crown in the NHL.

So who has the best shot at winning the crown this year? Well in order…

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Now I know what you’re thinking… who the hell will score goals for them? Their leader in goals had 23 and their points leader scored 50. The Predators are the NHL version of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000’s, they can’t score to save their lives, but no one can score on them. The backline led by Shea Weber along with Vezina finalist Pekka RInne were in the top 5 in goals allowed per game and the teams tough defensive play gave teams fits. If they get two goals a game they could win another 44 games and find themselves fighting for the crown.

BUFFALO SABRES

They can score in bunches thanks to Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Tyler Myers heads a steady backline and Ryan Miller is one the game’s best goalies. They failed to take care of the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year but if Miller stays on top of his game they can go very far.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Team Teemu and the Ducks have a shot at the crown.

 

Once upon a time the Habs had more titles than the New York Yankees after raising their 24th Cup in 1993. Ever since they’ve been one big roller coaster, which has included numerous changes in net and on the bench and they haven’t had a real identity for a long time. Now they seem settled on Carey Price who came through big for them last year shaking off an up and down 2009-20 season that had him on the bench in the playoffs. This team isn’t too loaded with playmakers but it gets the job done with guys like Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri as well as dark horse Norris candidate P.K. Subban patrolling the blue line. They can make a run as long as they can hold onto a lead unlike how they did last year against the Bruins.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

I don’t care what they do in the regular season anymore. I don’t care if they win the Pacific division, if Joe Thornton scores 200 points and Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture score 90 goals. This team should’ve won a Cup by now and their time is running out. If they don’t get it done this year then they never will.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Is Ilya Bryzgalov finally the answer in net for the Flyers? He better be. The Flyers let go of fan favorites and team leaders Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to clear space for Bryzgalov. Sure they acquired L.A. Kings power forward Wayne Simmonds (who Flyer fans will love) and Brandon Schenn  (who from preseason reports looks like a beast) but you don’t replace Richards toughness and Carter’s skill overnight. I’m still not a fan of either trade but if the Flyers get back to the finals then it proves that maybe I really don’t know anything about hockey.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

I probably jumped the gun last year in making them Stanley Cup favorites, but they are close. Acquiring Richards from the Flyers gives them a much needed veteran presence in the locker room and they have Doughty, Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar flying around and making things happen. The only question is will Jonathan Quick be their full time net minder or will it be Jonathan Bernier?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Without Crosby the Pens had 98 points last year and took the 4th spot in the East (without Malkin also) so once Crosby comes back how do you think this team will fare?

(This Crosby injury by the way is really bad in both a game play and P.R. sense for the NHL. The league needs Crosby on the ice because he is the NHL. Crosby is the league’s most recognizable face and its best player. The league needs him on the ice as much as it needs Ovechkin. When Crosby is on the ice the game changes. He is the best passer and best scorer in the league and can change a game at the drop of a hat. If the Pens had him healthy in the playoffs they may have hoisted their second cup in three years. Once healthy the Pens once again become the league’s scariest team and might be the best team in the league… once he comes back.

His injury is the reason why Brendan Shanahan has been so harsh when it comes to physical play. This isn’t like the NFL where Roger Goodell is turning the game into flag

40 and still going strong.

football, the suspensions that “Shanaban” is handing out are necessary in order to change the culture of the game and protect the players. After the injuries to Crosby as well as Nathan Horton and Marc Savard it has become clear that the league needs to crack down on these types of hits. Hopefully it discourages this type of play and quick. Because if Steven Stamkos gets a Crosby type of injury then the game will really be in trouble.)

DETROIT RED WINGS

I mean when are they not a player for the Cup?

Also let’s pay homage to Nicklas Lidstrom. This is probably his last season in the league and it looks like he can play another five. At age 40 Lidstrom is still better than most of the defensemen in the league and is probably the front runner for his 8th Norris trophy. What he did in replacing the irreplaceable Steve Yzerman as captain in Detroit and leading them to another title in addition to all that he’s done in his career has to put him in the top 10 players all-time right?

NEW YORK RANGERS

I probably just jinxed my team putting them in the top 7 and I’m probably overvaluing the acquisition of Brad Richards (which will help immensely) but after watching this team play together for two years I think that they will contend for a title this year. The Rangers youth movement has been a huge success with Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky leading the way. The Rangers are a tough team that is defense driven but can score goals when needed. They just needed more consistent scoring and a veteran to get them over the hump. Enter Richards. Richards was a member of John Tortorella’s 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning championship team and is one of the game’s best scorers. His presence will help Marian Gaborik get back to scoring a ton of goals, should push Cally and Dubz to the 30 goal mark and should keep the Rangers ship steady in those late months. I’m saying they’ll win it all, but they will be a serious contender.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Hey Bruce Boudreau, you don’t get it done this year then you may want to update your resume.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The thought of Daniel Sedin taking four shots to the face and Roberto Luongo falling flat on his face in key situations is still fresh. If they didn’t get tougher this offseason then they’ll be done in a hurry.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

The trades after the title killed their chemistry for the first half of last year. Once they got it going they looked like a machine. The key is Corey Crawford in net. We know Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will score, but the reason they were able to turn things around was because of Crawford’s play in net. He is primed for a breakout year and the Blackhawks are looking at a return to the Cup.

BOSTON BRUINS

With Richards the Rangers can contend.

 

Okay, your city won its 7th title in all four major sports in 10 years… now go away. That wasn’t really analysis more like I’m sick of Boston and its championship reign.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

No one, and I mean no one will stop them from scoring goals especially of Ryan Getzlaf stays healthy all season long. The Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan line is the scariest line that the NHL has seen in a while. They can all go for 50 goals and 100 points and they make it easy. It helps when your 40 year-old second line winger can still get you 30 goals and 80 points to help back you up. I don’t know what fountain of youth Teemu Selanne has been drinking from but he needs to share it with others. However it always comes back to goaltending and Jonas Hiller decides whether I’m right about this team making the Cup finals or not. With him in net last year they would’ve won the pacific division. In that period in between before Ray Emery almost saved them the Ducks could’ve scored 10 goals a game and it wouldn’t have mattered because they still would’ve lost. Hiller’s health means so much to this team because they have no real second option behind him. It also doesn’t help that he is one of the top 6 goalies in the league. This team’s title hopes hinge on him, if he’s healthy then put them down for a June reservation. If not, then it’s another first round exit.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Yep, I just picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. They have a 41 year-old goalie, I don’t know if their defense can stop the puck from going in the net and Vinny LeCavalier is still possible trade bait… and I don’t care. This team could’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for a road game 7. This year I think Stamkos and company won’t fade late in the season like they did last year, which ultimately cost them home ice. They are settled in net and Roloson is a big game goalie who knows how to win also they can score with the best of them. Steve Yzerman put this team together in his image and if that’s the case then I have no doubts that they will be tough enough to get to and win the Stanley Cup.

The first puck is set to drop in a few hours and I’m more than excited. After a long offseason with so much tragedy and heartbreak it will be a welcome relief to see some of the best players in the world on the ice and making magic happen.

The league deserves some good news and good times after a few months of so many bad ones.

ATLANTIC- RANGERS

Stamkos is ready for a run at Lord Stanley.

NORTHEAST- BRUINS

SOUTHEAST- LIGHTNING

EC PLAYOFFS- CAPS, HABS, SABRES, FLYERS, PENS

ECF-  LIGHTNING- BRUINS

CENTRAL- BLACKHAWKS

NORTHWEST- CANUCKS

PACIFIC- DUCKS

WC PLAYOFFS- SHARKS, KINGS, PREDATORS, RED WINGS, BLUES

WCF- DUCKS- BLACKHAWKS

SCF- DUCKS- LIGHTNING

HART TROPHY- STEVEN STAMKOS

VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQUIST

NORRIS- NICKLAS LIDSTROM

CALDER- RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS

SELKE- JONATHAN TOEWS

JACK ADAMS- JOHN TORTORELLA


The Rangers And Knicks Are Killing Themselves

Henrik Lundquist cant believe how these playoffs have played out so far for the Rangers

Jared Jeffries’s turnover, Marian Gaborik’s tip away, Ray Allen’s three, Alex Semin’s Goal, two blown halftime leads, two blown leads late in the third period… the last week in New York playoff sports have been a nightmare (and don’t get me started on the Yankees pitching woes either.).

This has been about as depressing as it gets. Watching the Rangers and Knicks blow leads to two teams that they’re not better than, but had outplayed in the majority of the games that they played.

The Rangers should be up 3-1, the Knicks should be up 2-0, and the reasons that they’re not are maddening.

First the Rangers ills have been not being able to close out an opponent (much like how they weren’t able to close out a playoff spot in the regular season). In game 1 against the Capitals they led 1-0 late in the third thanks to great goaltending by Henrik Lundquist and the defensive work of Marc Stall and company. Then in an instant Alex Ovechkin ties the game thanks to a fluke tip in where Derek Stepan, Staal, and Lundquist all couldn’t get a stick on the puck even though it was there in front of them.

The overtime goal was even worse as Staal seemed to nonchalantly make a clearing pass out of the zone that ended up on Jason Arnott’s stick, then Semin’s, then the back of the net. Defeat from the jaws of victory.

Then came last night. Not even 24 hours after the Los Angeles Kings blew a 4-0 lead in two periods, the Rangers upped them by doing it in ten minutes. After two periods of Rangers domination where the Rangers and the crowd was bullying the Capitals (last time Bruce Boudreau ever comments about crowd noise), the crowd stood in shock as Semin knocked in a loose puck that Lundquist lost track of, then after Marcus Johansson scored on a tip-in to make it 3-2 he scored on a lucky bounce off of a Karl Alzner slap shot to make it 3 all.

The worst of all came in double OT as Jason Chimera had his shot blocked and it looked like Lundquist was going to cover it up for a faceoff in his zone. For some reason Gaborik decided to knock the puck away from Lundquist right as he reached for it and it landed right on Chimera’s stick and the comeback was complete.

Carmelo and the Knicks are on the brink thanks to lackluster play from his teammates.

Three fluke goals, three to one deficit, the Rangers have redefined the stomach punch loss.

(Side note: Marian Gaborik has been a disaster the second half of this year. That boneheaded play combined with his lackluster offensive production has me and other Rangers fans doubting where his head is right now. If he can’t score goals and is causing some to go in then why is he on the ice? Last night the Rangers went 0-7 on the power play and are 1-234 in the series. Actual stat. That is Gaborik’s bread and butter and he’s not delivering. If this keeps up then next year he’ll be with Wade Redden in Connecticut.)

If that wasn’t enough, it came after the New York Knicks snatched defeat from victory in two straight games.

The Knicks had outplayed the Celtics and were in prime position to win both games even with Carmelo Anthony playing poorly in game one and without Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups in game 2.

In game 1 the Knicks led by 12 at the half and Stoudemire was destroying Kevin Garnett and company on the inside. Then somehow in the last 5 minutes of the game he doesn’t get one touch. Yeah Melo went 1-11 in the second half but the fact that Amar’e doesn’t get the ball that late in the game when he had dominated throughout was horrible.

The shot selection by Melo, Toney Douglas and others was typical Mike D’Antoni offense. If Amar’e gets the ball the Knicks win by 10, since he didn’t, and D’Antoni didn’t stress that in the huddle, the Knicks lost.

Game 2 may have been the nail in the coffin though. After losing Amar’e to back spasms Anthony took all of New York on his back with his 42 point, 17 rebound, 6 assist performance where he was the only Knick to shoot anywhere near 50% as Bill Walker shot 0-11 and Douglas went 5-16 (two things on Douglas real quick. 1. There is no way that Douglas should ever be allowed to take 16 shots in a playoff game, EVER. 2. Douglas ‘s poor shot selection at times is the reason that the Knicks need to actively look for a point guard this offseason. He’s not capable of carrying a second unit and keeping the Knicks in front or in the game.).

Marian Gaborik hasnt been helping the Rangers much this postseason.

With 12 seconds left Melo got an inbounds past where he was immediately double-teamed and Melo through a strike to a cutting Jeffries who had a good look at the rim… if he would’ve turned in the right direction and not directly into Kevin Garnett. Melo got criticized for passing the ball in that situation but that was his best option. He couldn’t hoist a bad three over two defenders and his pass to Jeffries was on point. The real issue was that Jeffries made a bad play on the ball (really Jared Jeffries? No.) and couldn’t finish.

The Knicks main issue is there lack of reliable role players. Walker, Douglas and Jeffries aren’t able to play big in these situations and that, combined with the lack of big men, are the reason that they’re down 2-0.

With the Knicks heading home in a rut down in a series they enter the a depressed Madison Square Garden after the Rangers put themselves on the brink with a terrible game 4 loss.

After this weekend both teams will be done. Both the Rangers and Knicks are a year away from being serious contenders and it couldn’t be more apparent.

The Rangers need to learn how to close, the Knicks need the players to close. The Rangers need to get better offensively, the Knicks need to get better defensively. Both teams’ big time players need to play big, and both teams need to learn how to protect leads.

It’s been a frustrating week for New York fans in the Garden watching these two teams fall apart fortunately it’ll all be over sooner than later.


Make Or Break For The Washington Capitals

These playoffs have to be different for the Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin and company should watch old footage of the 90’s Philadelphia Flyers, the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings, the mid 2000’s Philadelphia Eagles and the early 2000 New York Mets. Why you ask? Because they all have one thing in common, they all couldn’t get over the hump.

The Kings never could beat the Lakers, the Eagles never pushed themselves to a championship level, the Flyers always fell short and the Mets teased, exceeded and then failed. Washington, you’re next.

Honestly I shouldn’t care. As a homer I hope desperately that my Rangers will oust the Washington Capitals and begin a Stanley Cup march. Yet the Capitals are so much more intriguing of a storyline.

The Caps roll into the playoffs as the league’s hottest and most dangerous team. In January they were 6th in the Eastern conference and trying to figure out how the new defensive style that Bruce Boudreau implemented this year.  Now they are the number one seed after snatching it up from slumping Philly in the last two months of the year. After a 6-0 beat down by the Rangers in late February, the Caps went 16-4 the rest of the way and find themselves as the current favorite to win the Cup.

Playoff exits have been too early for the Caps.

Boudreau’s system turned out to be more than successful as the Caps finished in the top 5 in GAA and number 2 overall in penalty killing even though they were a middle of the road offensive team. Alex Ovechkin sacrificed the most of any other player as he finished with career lows in goals and points, as did Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even though the Caps weren’t lighting the lamp as much, they were winning at a higher rate and stifling opponents at the same time.

Now comes the hard part.

Sure all of this worked in the regular season and they benefitted from Tampa Bay’s drop off thanks to their younger players hitting a wall. However, the postseason is a different animal, and it’s one that the Caps haven’t been able to tame.

Last year the Capitals were number one in the entire league and were barely even challenged during the regular season.  Once the playoffs hit they began pummeling the Montreal Canadiens and led the series 3-1 thanks to a 17-goal outburst in three games. Yet they lost the series because Montreal shut them down on offensive and Mike Cammalleri was able to find the net frequently even though the Habs registered 70 less shots than the Caps in the last 3 games.

Couple that with their lackluster showing in game 7 against Pittsburgh the previous year and getting ousted by the Flyers in the year before that and the Caps are in must win mode.

This team cannot afford a third straight early round exit as the Eastern Conferences number one seed. If not for the Rangers inability to score in 09 then the Caps would have been eliminated in three straight first-round series. The Caps have to win and win impressively if they want to avoid the stigma that currently sits in front of them.

And you know who it starts with.

Alex Ovechkin has to shake off his down year and be the force that he once was in this series. He has to be physical; he has to charge Henrik Lindquist at will, he has to be 60-goal Ovie instead of this version.

For the Caps to win it all Ovechkin has to score more.

Yes the Rangers are more physical, more rugged and like to slow the game down even more than Washington, but Ovechkin has to break that cycle. If this becomes a defensive struggle then the edge will go to the Rangers simply because that’s how the Rangers have always played and it’s a style of play that benefits them. The Rangers have no Ovechkins, no Alex Semin’s, no big-time playmakers that can change a game. Hell they don’t even have Ryan Callahan who will miss the playoffs because of a broken leg suffered from blocking a shot (by the way, the Rangers lead the league in blocked shots as well as hits).

What they do have is one of the best defensive pairings in the league in Marc Stall and Dan GIrardi. They have a ton of young, big, physical forwards that love to grind it out and wear a team down like Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov. The Rangers almost beat the Caps two years ago in the same  1 vs. 8 scenario, but were undone by their lack of goal scoring. This year the Rangers outscored their opponents by a larger margin than the Caps… and they’re an 8th seed.

Hence the reason Ovechkin, Semin and company have to get going. If they don’t speed the game up and make the Rangers play at a faster pace then the Caps will have another summer of what if’s. questions and doubts.

Do I think the Caps will win the series? Unfortunately yes. Sure the Rangers owned them in the regular season but that doesn’t matter now. The Caps are red-hot and look better than any other team has at anytime during the year. They are on a mission to quiet the naysayers and doubters and finally get over the hump and they finally have the system and players to do it.

However, we said this about Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, about Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid about the Legion Of Doom and Carlos Beltran. Are the Capitals really ready to take that next step? Or are we watching the same old story with different characters? Beginning Wednesday we’ll find out.


Where Is Alex Ovechkin?

Have you seen Alex Ovechkin?

Have you noticed something different about the NHL this year?

 

Tampa Bay Lightning in first place in the Southeast? No. The Chicago Blackhawks struggles after winning the Stanley Cup? No.  The Dallas Stars regaining some of that late 90’s magic and riding it to the top of the Pacific division again? Nope.

 

Check your stat sheets. Look at the league leaders in goals and points… Crosby, check. Stamkos, check. Sedin… both of em… check and check. Alex Ovechkin, looking, looking… wait, where in the hell is Alex Ovechkin? I’ve been wondering the same thing.

 

To say Ovechkin is having an off-season is like saying the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James.  Before Saturday night’s tilt in Toronto Ovechkin was 11th in the league in points with 48 and had16 goals, which doesn’t even put him in the top 30 in the league. Guys like Mikhail Grabovski, James Neal, Milan Lucic and Logan Couture have more goals than Ovechkin. Hell the Rangers Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky have set career highs in scoring and we’re ahead of the two-time MVP, goal scoring and points champion.

 

So the question I ask is, what the hell Ovie?

 

As it stands right now Ovechkin is on pace for his worst offensive output in his career. He’s on pace for 80 points and 27 goals, that’s 12 less points than his career low of 92 in his second season in the league and 19 less goals than his tally in the same season, he also has only 2 power play goals and has only scored on 7.5% of his shots. For most people that’s a great season and great averages over a long period of time, but this is Alex Ovechkin. We’re used to seeing him score in buckets and without any problem.

 

So what do we suspect? Well Ovie is still among the league leaders in shots and hits so his aggressiveness is still alive and well. The Capitals have won all thirteen of his multi-point games this year and he leads the team in scoring as well.

 

Maybe the main change in Ovechkin’s productivity is the new team philosophy. You see coach Bruce Boudreau has changed the Caps from a offensive juggernaut and a team predicated on crashing the net to a defensive minded team that plays more physical hockey and takes less chances.

 

The Capitals have gone from a top five scoring team to 14th in the league. Last year at this same time the Capitals scored 183 goals, this year 145. Center Nicklas Backstrom has felt the effects of the new system by  laboring through a 12 game pointless streak, the longest of his career. Plus the teams placement in the standings has also suffered as at this time last year the Caps were 17 points clear of their nearest competitor in the Southeast division. This year, they’re trailing the division leading Lightning by three points and four points ahead of third place Atlanta.

 

You’re probably wondering why would Boudreau mess with a good thing? Well getting dumped in the early rounds of the playoffs three years in a row might have something to do with it.

 

The Capitals had plenty of regular season success leading the league in scoring and getting by with lackluster goaltending in the last three years.

Maybe Ovie's hat trick is a sign of things to come.

Unfortunately once they hit the playoffs they were 1-3 in playoff series, which could have easily been 0-3 if not for a Rangers collapse two years ago (yeah I really did bring that up. I’m still ticked off about It.). In each of those series they were out muscled by the opposition and struggled to score goals against better defenses than theirs while the opposition preyed on Mike Green and company.

 

So Boudreau decided to switch things up. While the offense has suffered the results have to be more than pleasing to him on defense. The Caps are 8th in goals allowed this season and have a great goaltending situation as Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have looked very impressive in net.

 

With all of that being said you still have to outscore the opposition to win games and you need your best players to provide a boost. That’s where Ovechkin needs to step up his productivity.

 

Ovechkin can play in Boudreau’s defensive system and still be the offensive juggernaut that he’s been in his career thus far. He has to find a way to put some more pucks in the back of the net and stay aggressive. With the second half of the season looming he’ll have his chances.

 

The Caps play a few teams that range from the middle of the pack to poor in the goals allowed department. Ovechkin should raise his goal total against teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, San Jose and Buffalo and should approach the mid 30’s  in goals and in the 90’s in points.

 

Maybe the Ovechkin scoring revival has already started. Tonight in Toronto “The Great 8” scored  a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of the Leafs in a game that reminded Caps fans of last year’s team. It was his first hat trick of the season, if this is the beginning of a good run for him offensively then it might not be his last. I’m sure Boudreau wouldn’t mind that.

 


Fun Things Going On In The NHL Thanks To Gary Bettman And Company

The Winter Classic has spawned many new ideas to give the NHL a P.R. boost.

I hate Gary Bettman, I really really really hate him.

He almost ruined my favorite sport next to football with a strike that damn near killed the game of hockey. He’s taken away teams from great hockey cities in Canada and placed them in the hockey hotbeds of Phoenix, Miami, Nashville and Atlanta. For a long time he refused to promote his best players on the ice leaving the average fan with no sense of whom the heck were the best players in the game.

(Seriously he damaged the sport for the longest time. There was a point in the late 90’s where Martin Brodeur, Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano and Paul Kariya were studs and you wouldn’t have known it because Bettman refused to put any backing behind promoting the players. No one knew about Joe Thornton, Vinny LeCavalier or Jarome Iginla and he didn’t care. I don’t care if your league is indoor lacrosse, you have to have your players featured and Bettman never did it. As you can tell I still haven’t gotten over that.)

There have been so many things that I can run Bettman into the ground for from the strike, the handling of the Coyotes, to everyone one of these gargantuan and ridiculous long-term deals that it makes my head spin.

This is why it’s so hard for me to give the man props for the pop culture revolution that is going on in the NHL and is making the game a better sell for people outside of the die-hard fan.

Since the NHL came from that crippling strike Bettman and his cronies at the NHL offices in New York and Toronto have gone out of their way to make the game more accessible and to bring the game back into mainstream America. At first the ideas were less than impressive (you remember that NBC experiment where they highlighted the best players on each team and let you know when they were on the ice right? FAIL!), however in the last three years the NHL has become imaginative in promoting the game and it has seen great returns from these experiments.

Of course it starts with the Winter Classic. An idea that was spawned thanks to an outdoor game between two Canadian teams (Montreal and

The new All-Star format makes game more intriguing for fans and players like Dustin Byfuglien

Edmonton), which was meant to return the game to its roots of being outdoor on a pond having fun with your buddies.

It’s done that and much more.

The original Classic featuring Pittsburgh and Buffalo was so successful that now the Classic is the main event of New Year’s Day. Thanks to the BCS and its long drawn out games, the NHL has swooped in and made the day all its own, similar to the NBA and Christmas. I mean let’s be real, what was more entertaining this year the Caps-Pens or any of the SEC-Big Ten beat-downs? Exactly.

The success of the game made the NBA try an outdoor pre-season game a while ago but with horrible results. Success breeds envy, never thought Bettman had that in him.

Fast-forward to this year and look at that the new format for the NHL All-Star game. Instead of the tired East vs. West all-stars the league decided to make a pool of the best players (as it should be) and have two captains pick their teams. Its playground hockey in a sense and brings more fun into the game. How cool would it be to see Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane on the same line or Anze Kopitar with Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sedin? The creativity of the best players in both conferences combined is cool to just think about.

The initial reaction from journalists was yeah it is cool, but it would’ve been cooler if the NBA thought of it first. It is a great point, I mean Kobe, LeBron and Blake Griffin on the same team, wow. However the fact that the NHL had the guts to try and experiment with such a cool concept is shocking. They were able to figure out that All-Star games were becoming a bore and pumped new life into it with a simple concept that makes it more interesting and maybe more fun.

(Side note: all all-star games are boring. The NHL had a great idea ten years ago with the North America vs. The World concept which should have been copied by everyone but wasn’t. I mean there are only so many times that I can watch Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash play together before I decide that I’d rather pick up a shift at work than watch the game. Just saying.)

Now the NHL is taking another marketing risk with its Guardian Project, which is the brainchild of Marvel Comic legend Stan Lee. It’s a concept that takes all 30 NHL teams and gives each of them a superhero based on the team name and the personality of the team and its city. It’s been met with some criticism by fans and critics alike but I can’t wait to see what The Ranger looks like.

The Flyers Guardian looks cool, I bet the Rangers Guardian would own him though.

It’s inventive and exciting and draws more attention to the league. While I think it might be a little much for the NHL and it might not make much sense… I can’t wait to see what the Ranger looks like.

Has all of this helped the NHL out? Absolutely. The die-hard fans have returned and the casual fan has gained interest in the league. That combined with the fact that the Original Six have returned to form (yes, Toronto is coming back.) and that ridiculous gold medal game from the Olympics last year has given the NHL a huge lift in ratings and we actually know who the best players in the game are.

People know who Patrick Kane, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Ovechkin, Crosby and others are now. Led by Crosby and Ovechkin in America and the Sedin twins in Canada, the league’s best are on display on and off the ice and it’s helping the sport came back into national relevance.

However there is one place where the NHL has to get more exposure, GET THE GAME BACK ON ESPN!!!

While Versus has become a very good hockey network it still doesn’t have the national audience that ESPN has and that the league benefitted from in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I don’t mind it if the games stayed on Versus Mondays and Tuesdays, but in order for the league to get back to where it was in the mid-90’s during the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry days the game needs a larger audience and ESPN is perfect for that.

Until then what Bettman and the league has done to promote the game isn’t a bad starting or pushing point. The All-Star game is in late January, the playoffs are around the corner and excitement is building as the Western conference race is tighter than a can of sardines and the best in the East are on collision courses. It’s a fun time to be and NHL fan, now let’s see if Bettman and company can continue the good work and keep it going.

I’m not ready to forgive him for all of the bad things he did to the league but getting a glimpse of The Ranger will be a nice start.


Once Again Crosby Is King

Sid on his way to another big night.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anyone in sports deserves the moniker of king it should be Sidney Crosby.

Crosby ever since he entered the league has stared greatness, high expectations and unreal challenges in the face and still has not flinched.

Rebuild a former champion into a perennial contender? Yep, done that. Return Canadian hockey to Olympic glory? Piece of cake. Contend for the scoring title each year while being one of the best leaders in hockey? I mean duh.

Sure we’ve had moments where it has been easy to point out Crosby’s shortcomings. He flops, complains a little to much to the referees, continuously takes cheap penalties, and there was that point during the Penguins firs Stanley Cup run where he missed significant time due to injury and the team didn’t miss a beat thanks to the play of Evgeni Malkin. However, all Crosby does is raise his game play to new heights when his team needs it no matter the situation.

Take a look at his recent stretch of play that has him at the top of the points standings, the head of the MVP race and the Penguins looking like the best team in the NHL.

17 games ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were a mess. They were fourth in the division after a mediocre start, Marc-Andre Fleury was terrible in net, the defensive lines were in disarray, Jordan Staal went down with a broken hand that is healing slower than molasses and Geno Malkin has been slowed by a bum knee which has knocked his production way down past what we expect from him.

Although he's outshining them, Crosby is creating more opportunities for his teammates to shine.

So what does Sid the Kid do? Oh you know, have a 17 game point streak with 35 total points (20 goals, 15 assists). Lead the team to a 14-2-1 record over that time where they sit atop not only the Eastern Conference but also the entire NHL with the 5th best offense and the 3rd best goals against average. Steven Stamkos lead the league in goals and points at that time, he’s now second in both categories (behind by 5 goals and 10 points), The L.A. Kings were the league’s best team they’re now 5th in their own conference staring tenth in the face. Yep, what a difference a month and a player can make.

Crosby is playing out of his mind right now. He’s the only player on his team with ten goals, he’s got 26. His play has helped bring out the best in his supporting cast that’s trying to weather life without Staal and an ineffective Malkin. Kris Letang has emerged as a legitimate Norris trophy contender, Chris Kunitz looks great playing next to Crosby on his line and is recapturing some of the pop he had when he was in Anaheim. Crosby’s leadership and play have helped to hide Pittsburgh’s thin bench and lack of talent on the wings and has them in a position to be the front-runner in the Eastern Conference.

Crosby and company have knocked off playoff contenders Vancouver, Tampa, Atlanta and the Rangers and have done so convincingly. He’s playing like the man that won the league MVP in only his second year in the league and has shed the image that he’s not a big goal scorer like Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin, Crosby is in another world right now. His vision, skill and predatory instincts are greater than anyone’s in the game and the Pens are reaping the benefits of it all and look like a cup contender.

Question is can it continue? The Pens stretch does get tougher with the Rangers, Flyers, Caps and Habs all calling in the next month including the nationally televised Winter Classic from Heinz Field against the Caps.

The road gets tougher, but with a guy like Sid the Kid on your side you cant worry too much. He’s the headman for the league’s MVP award with only Stamkos in any view of him and it aint even close. Crosby is taking a team that is ordinary at best and is making them extraordinary by lifting them onto his back and taking chare in leading them towards a playoff march and a possible Stanley Cup.

If Crosby continues on this pace and Malkin can somehow get healthy (and if they can keep Fluery’s head on straight) the Pens are going to be a huge problem whether they lose again or not.

We tend to throw monikers around like hotcakes, Prince this, King that, he’s great, blah blah blah… one thing is for sure one man that deserves to have a moniker thrown his way is Crosby. He has been a savior, become a king and is leading his soldiers into battle and is taking on the grunt of the load himself. The man can do it all, so once again repeat after me once again… his name is King Crosby. Get used to it, put it in your brain, make a t-shirt out of it because it should, and hopefully will, stick.