Tag Archives: brad richards

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 Debate: Is Steven Stamkos The Best Player In The NHL?

The best in the game? Maybe.

So correct me if I’m wrong or a little misguided here… but at some point when we going to realize that Steven Stamkos might be better than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?

As crazy as that sounds, as much hype that has been placed around Sid the kid and Alex the great (and rightfully so) maybe we’re wrong about whom the best player in the game is.

It’s kind of hard to prove this point especially when Crosby and Ovechkin play in highly popular sports towns that obsess over their stars and teams while Stamkos plays in the strip club capital of the world. However, if you’ve ever gotten the chance to watch Stamkos play then you understand possibly where I’m coming from.

He is the league’s leading scorer in goals and points while leading the Lightning to a surprising start at the top of the Southeast division ahead of everyone’s Stanley Cup favorite Washington Capitals who are led by Ovechkin. Stamkos’s offensive output is overshadowing one of the league’s most dismal goaltending situations as the Bolts are 20th in the NHL in goals allowed at 3 per game. He’s also carrying a team that is getting little to no production from Ryan Malone, Simon Gagne and high priced center Vinnie Lecavalier.

Stamkos’s production is similar to LeBron James with the Cavaliers, one supremely talented player who is carrying a bunch of scrubs (except Martin St. Louis who is quietly putting together another solid season) and making the entire team look better.

Conversely look at Pittsburgh and Washington.

Coincidence that Stevie Y's hiring has lead to the Lightning's first place start?

In Pittsburgh, Crosby leads his team in scoring but is getting lots of help from Evgeni Malkin and defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. Also Goaltender Brent Johnson is saving their goaltending situation with his 5-1 start and a 1.70 GAA while Marc-Andre Fleury is floundering (which reminds me, is it time for the Pens to give up on Fleury? He was terrible against the Habs last playoffs and has never truly been a consistent goalie. Sure he was great in their Cup run in 2009 but that was after a rocky regular season. I wonder if Mario Lemieux might be doing some shopping for a backstop before the trade deadline). Crosby has a great supporting cast around him which has helped the Pens to a second place standing in the Atlantic.

Let’s not even start with Ovechkin’s help. Alex Semin is getting better yearly (tied with Ovie in goals with 7) they’ve got one of the best passing centers in the game in Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich is having a breakout season with a +8. As great as Ovechkin is, and as exciting I’m starting to get the feeling that his teammates are catching up to him the production department (which actually may speak volumes about Ovie’s affect on the team. Before it was the Ovechkin show with Mike Green riding shotgun and Backstrom right behind. Now I think everyone’s following balls to the wall way of playing. There’s nothing finesse about these guys anymore, Semin goes hard, so do Laich, Tomas Fleischman and others. Maybe after last season’s playoff disappointment the entire team got the message of maybe it’s time to play hard all the time instead of in spots. Hmmmm, Ovechkin becoming a great leader, who’d a thunk it?).

Crosby and Ovechkin are at a greater advantage than Stamkos. Stamkos is on a young team that really has no great defenseman, underachieving forwards and questions in goal. Yet Steve is coming out every night and controlling the action on the ice and leading the charge as if he doesn’t care. Maybe he’s under the influence of new Lightning VP and one of the game’s great captain’s Steve Yzerman. Yzerman’s hard work ethic and leadership was the sole reason that the Red Wings became the league’s flagship team in the last 20 years and its continued even in his absence with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and others in Detroit.

Stamkos, though he wears no C or A might also be following Yzerman’s way of game play. He’s scoring goals at the same clip but now his passing his better and his defense is improving with a +9 rating which is a vast improvement over his combined -15 from his first two years in the league. He’s getting faster, stronger and just plain better with each game. I know the Lightning have been cooling on the idea of trading Lecavalier but why not? Getting Stamkos a center or wing that can get a few goals to help out would be huge for him and the Bolts. Stamkos is light years beyond Vinnie already and the Bolts don’t need a lame duck center as the team’s captain. You gotta wonder if a few years ago the Lightning wish that they would’ve traded him instead of Brad Richards who is also an early MVP candidate for the Dallas Stars.

Just take the time out this year to watch Steven Stamkos and you’ll understand what all of the fuss is about. I picked him to win MVP this year and he’s not disappointing early on. He’s got the Lightning playing with great confidence and at a high level while leading by example. He also has them ahead of Crosby and Ovechkin’s teams respectively while beating the both of them in the scoring race. I might be wrong in thinking he’s better than those two, the numbers ain’t lying. 91 is greater than 87 or 8.