Sunday, December 19, 2010

Capital Punishment

The Capitals are Looking for Answers.  Boudreau Knows where to look.

The Capitals have lost 8 in a row.  That’s messed up.  They are way too good to have lost 8 in a row.  Look at their roster, and at the teams that have beat them.  What could possibly cause them to lose 8 in a row?  I MUST KNOW. 
With that in mind, I sat down last night to break down the battle of nation’s capitals, as the Senators played host to the Caps, and looked to send their slide to 9 games.  Here’s what went down:

10:44 (1) – The Capitals are down 1-0 on a Ryan Shannon goal.  I guess that I should mention that I am starting this about half way through the first period, since I, well, I just got the idea, I guess.  It could easily be confirmation bias on my part, as it certainly isn’t the sort of thing I would notice if I wasn’t looking for it, but the Caps bench just looks down.  No one is talking, and there is zero energy.  Everyone is just kind of staring out at the ice or at the scoreboard.  I guess you can’t blame them, being down 1-0 just 9 minutes in and having lost 8 in a row, but the entire demeanor screams here we go again.

9:15 (1) – As we head into the first commercial break, one thing is clear:  most of this analysis is going to be along the lines of ‘this is a team that just looks like they are struggling.’  In the first minute of watching, I have noticed guys reaching a lot, not moving their feet, like they are desperate to make a play but not thinking about how to do it.  Bernie Madoff had more of an idea as to how he was going to get out of his slump than the Capitals do right now. 

8:23 (1) – The passing isn’t there right now, either.  A D to D pass from Scott Hannan to Erskine (I believe) went off of the boards even though there was little to no pressure.  This led to Erskine swinging at a now contested puck, and turning it over, rather than making an easy breakout.  Even as I type this, another pass misses for an icing.

7:15 (1) – Another missed D to D with no pressure.  Another turnover results.

6:05 (1) – 2-0 Ottawa.  Carlson made a great pass to send Johansson in on a breakaway, but he got caught, leading the play back the other way.  Once it got into the other zone, Green couldn’t tie up Kelly, and a nice pass finds him in front.  There were three Caps in the slot, and Kelly got behind all of them (the pass came from the corner).  It is the kind of little breakdown that seems to hurt you when things aren’t going well.  Down 2-0, with things going poorly, it will be interesting to see how this team responds.  I don’t have high hopes. 
On the plus side, Mike Green appears intent to answer the question, ‘what would Manny Ramirez play like if he were an NHL defenseman.’  Godspeed, Mike, godspeed.

4:44 (1) – I just tried to watch Ovechkin for a shift, but it consisted of watching him stand next to his D man in the D zone, while Hannan and Green got cycled on, then jump offside on a 3-2 while Green tried to walk through 3 guys.  Not pretty.

4:21 (1) – Mike Knuble just made a small but telling play on a nice little scoring chance for the Caps.  He caught a pass in the slot, with a bit of time and a sprawling Brian Elliot in front of him.  Rather than shooting, though, he tried to stickhandle around Elliot, who was already in desperation mode, and actually gave him time to cover the post with his glove, making the stop.  Over-stickhandling is a classic sign of a struggling team, and that was a clear cut example. 

4:09 (1) – The Caps have surged since they went down 2-0. They created a couple of chances and are now on a powerplay on a Milan Michalek slash, although in the 20 seconds it took to type that, they have yet to touch the puck in the offensive zone.

3:01 (1) – Even with the man advantage, the Caps passing is HORRIBLE.  Over-stickhandling, a lost draw and bad passing have led to the Senators clearing the puck 5 times in the first 90 seconds of the PP before the Caps have a shot. 

1:52 (1) – PP killed.  No chances.  They looked lost.

0:00 (1) – Fehr scores, but it is a good second or two after the buzzer.  The Caps were cycling a bit right at the end of the period but even then they didn’t seem to have any effective puck movement.  Everything used the boards.  Every pass created a race.  You can’t live and die by small battles created when you had possession.  Nothing ends up getting to the net. 
At the end of the first period, one thing is abundantly clear.  I am going to have to find a lot of different ways to say ‘the Caps are pressing, playing like a team that is desperate and has been taken away from their game.’  At least they will provide plenty of different examples with which to point this out. 

20:00 (2) – Boudreau is in the ear of the officials before the start of the second.  It is the most fight anyone on the Caps has show in a week.  Then again, he could be fighting for his job.  The rumors have officially started flying.  It seems ridiculous and is easy to write off as ridiculous, but on the other hand, this is clearly too talented a team to be playing this badly, and coaches have been dismissed to wake teams up under less dire circumstances.  Ultimately I think Bruce will be fine (Boudreau is well liked and owner Ted Leonsis is pretty level headed), but it makes sense that he would be showing a bit of desperation. 

19:23 (2) – Caps strike early when a turnover and then an ill-advised dive by Gonchar gave the Caps a 3-1.  Even the goal was ugly for a skilled team like the Capitals.  Laich tried to pass to the trailer, Knulbe, who was in traffic.  Knuble fumbled with it, eventually kicking it at the net, but it went right to Perroult, though, and he tapped it in.

18:40 (2) – Eric Fehr taps one through Elliot after a terrible turnover to Ovechkin off of Phillips, for the second Caps goal in 50 seconds.  It was a pretty solid break for the Caps, but the energy level in period 2 is much better than it was in the first for Washington.  Make your own breaks indeed.  Timeout by the Sens.
Real quick, as much as it seemed natural to see how the Capitals would respond to adversity, I think it is actually going to be more interesting to see how they respond to a bit of good fortune and momentum.  They haven’t had much lately.  Will they loosen up and play to their skill level, or will they be more energetic versions of the pressing, struggling team that we saw in the first?  The energy picked up after the first goal, the challenge will be to maintain it.

17:51 (2) – My first reaction, as it pertains to the above question, is that they are (predictably) somewhere in the middle of the two options I gave.  A shift by the Backstrom-Ovechkin line looked energetic and way more aggressive than they had been, but they still look like they don’t have a plan out there.
(Also, the color guy for the Caps claimed that ‘if the Capitals get the next goal they will win,’ and didn’t bother to qualify it.  So apparently we are playing to three.  Good to know.)
(I like Joe Beninati and Jeff Rimer, the Caps TV team, but come on…it wouldn’t be a running diary if I didn’t make fun of the announcing, right?)

16:41 (2) – Powerplay Washington.  Offensive zone call against Ottawa.

15:38 (2) –The powerplay looks much better than the last.  A couple of tape to tape passes for the Caps, finally, although they are still having trouble sustaining pressure.  A couple of chances, none of them golden, and we are back to 5 on 5. 

14:27 (2) – Even in this second period, with things going their way, no one has looked good for Washington, but Carlson looks as good as anyone for Washington.  He is easily the most composed, and he is moving his feet much better than the typical guy for Washington.  He just drew another penalty by splitting a couple of guys and getting dragged down.

13:10 (2) – When it rains it pours.  A Green shot hits Laich and he goes down.  ‘Bad luck’ legitimately needs to be mentioned as a reason for the streak.

13:03 (2) – The powerplay, once again looking better than the last, finally breaks through.  After Ovechkin’s unit got a couple of chances, the second team got a bad rebound from Elliot, and Perrault tapped it in.  Elliot made a dumb play to try to paddle it away, putting it in the slot, and creating the chance, but the Caps were going to the net.  It is a universal hockey truth.  If things aren’t going your way, go to the net. 

11:14 (2) – The Senators come back with a little bit of momentum, but the caps don’t break.  They can’t stay back on their heels with things going their way for a change.  A struggling team will be tempted to sit on a lead, but for a team like the Caps to now attempt to win this game 3-2 with half an hour of game time left won’t work.

10:48 (2) – As I type that, Ovechkin crashes the net on a seemingly innocent rush and puts it in, but with one of the more obvious kick ins I have ever seen.  This one should come back. 
While the play is being reviewed, the ref turned to a linesman, and said something with his hand over his mouth.  I have no idea why he would want to hide the result of the play from anyone, so I can only assume that he was saying ‘Toronto says we need the Caps in contention.  Ovechkin is a poster boy, and has been slumping.  He needs this one.  We need to find a way to count this’ for the simple reason that conspiracies are fun. 
Turns out I am wrong, though, and they call it off.

9:45 (2) – Boudreau appears to agree that going to the net and getting it done ugly is the key to busting out, because ‘pucks and bodies to Elliot’ seems to be the directive right now.  It certainly is a change from the first, and seems to be effective.  The Caps still don’t look sharpe.  Tape to tape passes are rare.  They are stickhandling at times that you would expect NHLers to make a play with the puck.  But they are at least putting their desperation to work.  They are getting to the net.  They are creating traffic.  Finally, there is a plan, and it appears to be a good one. 

9:13 (2) – Green doesn’t like it, but he hooked Chris Neil pretty clearly around the waste and took a minor.  He looks TERRIBLE in his own zone.  That is his first penalty of the night, but he has been beat twice for goals, and is having exactly zero success breaking up the Senators cycle.  It is well known that Green does his best work on offense, but this is ridiculous. 

7:12 (2) – Capitals get the kill.  Ottawa got a couple of chances in the second half of the PP, but overall it was a good kill. 

4:49 (2) – Neuvirth has been fine today, making the saves he should, but something seems off.  He hasn’t been tested much, but he definitely doesn’t look good.  He is clearly fighting the puck.  He has used his glove to make saves on his blocker side a few times, and looks like he is holding on for dear life when he covers the puck.  Goaltending has definitely been an issue for the Capitals throughout this streak, and I can’t help but think that the main reason for that not cropping up tonight is a lack of opportunity.

0:39 (2) – Elliot just got RUN OVER, with no call.  It has nothing to do with the Capitals struggles, but maybe it is a sign of a karmic turn around or something, because I have seen 50,000 goalie interference penalties that had less contact than that.  Dwayne Roloson (the overdramatic, flopping piece of ---sorry) would be rolling around like he was shot if that happened to him.

End (2) – That was an undeniably good period for the Caps.  Obviously.  They scored three times, and controlled play (if that didn’t come through it was only because I am looking for reasons that they are struggling).  They still don’t look like the Capitals that we know, that are super skilled and can create exciting forms of offense, but they are playing better.  They simplified.  They went to the net.  They were aggressive.  It was a different team than the one that looked nervous and pressing in the first.  They need to stay aggressive, above all else, as they go into the third. 

18:18 (3) – A roller coaster first shift of the third for Ovechkin’s line.  They had a decent forecheck, but once it gets broken, and the Senators started to pressure, the Capitals absolutely TURTLED.  They went into D zone coverage like they were on a penalty kill, and the Senators worked the puck, getting a decent chance but missing the net.  That is ‘how not to win hockey games 101.’  For a minute the Capitals looked like the team that was scared and pressing (slumping) in the first period, again (although, this was ‘trying desperately to protect a one goal lead with 19 minutes left’ edition). 
Then, a bad pass led to a turnover, and Ovechkin beat Karlsson, forcing Karlsson to haul him down and giving the Caps a PP.  My hard hitting analysis?  Having the second best player in the world is nice sometimes. 

16:30 (3) – The Capitals powerplay has been unimpressive (was, now) save for a chance created by Ovechkin, and a nice save for Elliot.  Most of what the Caps have gotten this period has been a result of guys rushing the puck and beating defensemen 1-1.  On the one hand, this is an ineffective way to win hockey games.  On the other hand, if it can work for anyone, it is the Capitals. 

14:19 (3) – A quarter of the way through the third, the Senators are controlling the 5-5, but then again, there hasn’t been much in the way of scoring chances for Ottawa.  I am tempted to chalk this up to Ottawa’s sloppiness more than good work with by the Caps. 

13:00 (3) – The Capitals have had a couple of odd man rushes (a 2-1 and a 3-1), and neither was turned into a quality chance.  The Caps resemble the team we saw in the first way more than the team that was out there in the second.  Waiting back is natural for a team that is 15 minutes from their first win in a few weeks, but it isn’t effective.

12:52 (3) – Huge PK.

10:30 (3) – Nothing for Ottawa on the powerplay, although this time I am sure that it was due to a bad job by the Sens.  That was ugly.

10:10 (3) – A moment that sums up the Capitals issues has forced me to rewind the DVR to watch it again, then pause (rather than wait for a stoppage) to break it down.  The Senators turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and Ovechkin enters the zone with space.  A Capital is going to the net with speed, making it a semi-2-1, and the Ottawa defenseman plays the pass.  Ovechkin, he of the league lead in shots every year that he has been in the league, has a clear path to the net, with only a bit of back pressure.  It looks like the start of an uncountable number of YouTube videos that I have seen of Ovechkin.  What does he do?  Snipe?  Create a highlight?  Thread it through the defenseman to the crashing forward for a goal, even?  No.  He passes back, through the back checker, into more back pressure, sending the play the other way. 
That is the very definition of pressing.  He is one of the best goal scorers in the world, and he gave up a semi-breakaway.  Ovechkin has 6 points in the last 10 games.  For him, that is slumping.  This is a quintessential example of the way he is pressing.  Passing back in that situation is never going to improve that scoring chance.  Especially for Ovie, who may well be the best finisher in the game. 
When a team is struggling, they cease to trust their own abilities, and that is exactly what Ovechkin just demonstrated.

8:02 (3) – Nothing comes of a PP that was created for a hook on the guy going to the net above.  Unless something grabs me, I am going to watch this one to the end, than go with my thoughts there. 

4:57 (3) – Since we are in commercials, and I am up to speed on DVR, I may as well chime in here.  The Caps have their lead, but barely.  If the Caps win this game, it will be by holding on.  There is really no takeaway from that, though.  That is usually the way streaks end.  I you have lost a bunch of games, you start trying not to lose.  When you get close to that, it is extraordinarily difficult not to sit back and be defensive.  That’s what is going on right now.  On the other hand, if they don’t hold on, this could be devastating.  Back to the game.

2:45 (3) – Chimera just took a blatant holding penalty 200 feet from his own net.  That is TERRIBLE.  File that under the ‘reasons you have lost 8 in a row’ category.
The Caps will have to kill a frantic PP if they are going to hold on here.

0:16 (3) – Got the kill, then a holding call in the offensive zone for Follingo.  It looks like it is finally over.  You will never see a team happier to beat a team that they have 8 points on in December.  But that is what happens when you break a streak.

So the steak ended.  If you want you could say I jinxed it.  Whatever.   Really, though, I am left with two conflicting reactions as they pertain to the Capitals.
The first is that, when you have lost 8 in a row, a win is a win.  There are no two ways about it.  It literally does not matter one iota how you got it.  You will take the W.  When next week’s 24/7 comes out, you can expect that to be the reaction from the Capitals locker room. 
Having said that, Washington’s problems are far from over.  Ottawa is not a particularly good team.  They did not have a particularly good night.  But the Capitals made beating them look FREAKING HARD.  They held on for dear life for the last 15 minutes of that game.  It was not a 60 minute effort.  They played well for about 20 minutes (and only really good for about 5), and looked pretty shellshocked for the other 40. 
The Capitals also failed my ‘best players have to be their best players’ test.  Tonight, their best guys were a couple of rookies.  I love John Carlson, but he shouldn’t be their best defenseman, and he was.  The most energetic guy up front was Matthieu Perreault, playing just his 9th game of the year.  Backstrom was quiet.  Mike Green was terrible (he had a number of bad turnovers in addition to his D zone problems), and Ovechkin had just one shot, failing to make his usual impact shift-in-shift-out.  It worked for them tonight, but it won’t long term.
Once again, it is going to be about how they react going forward.  How many of their problems were born of frustration or slump?  I’m going to say most of them.  This is a team that could be better, but they are a lot better than this.  Winning should lead to more winning, and the problems I talked about should only diminish now that they are off the schneid.  That isn’t to say they aren’t there.  They most certainly are.
At the end of the day, though, they got the win, and killed the most improbable streak of the 2010 NHL season.  Scott Hannan finally has a W as a Capital, but only time will tell if that will put their problems behind them. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nit Picks: Way Late

The Above Image is WAY better than actually caring about real life.

1. Usually, I try to get this up by Thursday night.  That is because both the college and NFL weekend schedules, for TV reasons, will start on Thursday night, and I want to have the opportunity to include those games in the picks, and in the preview stud, just so the whole week kind of gets grouped together.  This week, though, there is no college football game and I WILL BE GODDAMED IF I AM GOING TO BE BEHOLDEN TO NFL NETWORK.  They don’t run my life.  Really, I just didn’t have time to get it up in time, but still, it sounds way better to say that it is because I run my business and NO ONE ELSE.

2. I’m mixing in a baseball note here, because I don’t feel like churning out an entire baseball column in mid-December, and IT IS MY BLOG SO I WILL DO WHAT I DAMN WELL PLEASE (sorry).  You may be wondering what I am, as a Red Sox fan, thinking about the trade-and-sign of Adrian Gonzalez for a reported (although unannounced) 7 years and $ 154 million, and then the signing Carl Crawford for 7 years and $ 142 million.  I am against it.  Sure, they are good players, but to throw around that much money was irresponsible.  How are we going to re-sign guys like Josh Bard, John Lester and Clay Buchholz when the times come now?  Those contracts will completely mess up our salary cap situation.

Wait, what’s that?  There is no salary cap in baseball?  That’s right!  THERE IS NO CAP IN BASEBALL!

Allow me, then, to revise my thoughts on these signings, now that I have this bit of information:  

WOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO! NOT MY FUCKING MONEY!  FUCK IT, GIVE ‘EM $200 MILLION!  And to the rest of baseball, I say this: don’t hate the player, hate the game.  No cap means that if the Red Sox want to throw the GDP of a small African nation at a first baseman, they can do that, and I’ll be damned if I am going to have misgivings about it.  Enjoy you’re revenue sharing checks, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Oakland that will go directly into your owners' pockets (and by pockets I mean offshore bank accounts).  That should be a huge comfort while you’re watching bad baseball all summer.

God, the Red Sox are good now.  We have middle of the order quality guys at what, 7 positions?  Ortiz can take his typical 4 month spring training and it won’t even matter this year, since he should be hitting in like the 8 hole anyways.  Unbelievable.

And to those of you saying that the Red Sox are what we have always hated, I say this.  No we aren't.  We hated losing to that.  Now we are winning 125 games with it, which I, for one, am completely okay with.

3. Like videos that confirm every single stereotype that you have ever heard about a place?  Me too.  his one does just that for Alabama. 

(Deadspin dug this gem up on Saturday, and as a dude with a functioning account, it is my solemn obligation to pass it along)

(Our friend here lets you know in the beginning, but if you’nt lak cussin an vulgarity, click a HELL UP OFF THIS CHANNEL, BOYS.  Just so you know.)

YEW MUFUCKERS AIN’T SUPERIOR T’US YEW FUCKIN LOWER’DN US!  I’m just sayin sumin hap’nd whin yew fuckin Tigers come up inerr.  Iunow if one a yew bastards dunin gawt swane flew, wunna you fucknuts dun brawt wunnayur damn cra—Iunow what the FUCK happin.

Iunnow what the fuck happin, indeed.

And yes, this makes me like Alabama less by exactly ZERO.  In fact, that video makes me want to transfer RIGHT FUCKING NOW. 

Also, if you don’t want to watch that video, you may as well stop reading this now.  Mainly because if you don’t find that funny, than I will never seen eye to eye with you on anything, but also because you can expect a non-stop cavalcade of me throwing in random YEW MUFUCKERS KAYUN KISS A ROWL TAD FUCKIN ASS, and alike for the next few weeks.  It probably won’t help with my upcoming exams.  Oh well.

4. Do we really need a Heisman trophy, a Maxwell Award and a Walter Camp award?  I say no.  In fact, I say ‘of course not, and if you think differently, you are dead wrong because all three awards are the exact same thing.’  At least in Hockey, where there are two MVPs, at least one is voted on by the players.  All these are voted on by writers.  Is college football trying to solve debates about the English language (the difference between ‘most outstanding’-the Heisman, ‘player of the year’- WC, and ‘best’-Maxwell)?  I’m confused.  This is fucking stupid.

5.  This is the one week of the year that I would like to invite ESPN to talk about Brett Favre as much as they want.  Is the story any less abrasive and repetitive?  Of course not.  Did anything new happen?  Not as far as I know.  Am I finally warming up to Favre?  Fuck and no.  But like I said, they can talk about him as much as they want this week.  Why is that, you may ask?

Because I FUCKING LOVE watching him get lit up.  Hold on, I’m going to watch it right now.  BAM.  Blind side…didn’t see it coming.  You thought you stepped out of the rush, didn’t you, then POP.  Decleated.  That is beautiful. 
Sure, it probably makes me a bad person that I get so much pleasure out of his pain.  Sure, pretty much all of America probably felt pretty much the same way when Tony Romo was lying on the ground, looking like one of those silhouettes that gets outlined at a murder scene, but that was totally different, because (lip quivering, tears forming) that’s my fraternity brother.  That’s my quarterback.  Like I said, this was totally different.  I love it.  One more time.

(Steps back...CRACK.  He is off his feet.  God I am enjoying this.  Way too much.  One more time.  52 just SLAMs him to the ground.  And it was a pick.  Best.  Play.  Ever.)

6. The SEC Championship game, which was last Saturday, should bring me great joy.  After all it is a one game playoff to determine the winner of the best conference in college football.  But all it did was make me sad. 

Sure, the Auburn-South Carolina matchup was well below the level of excitement brought by the back to back Alabama-Florida ‘TimTebowMightCryIfWe’reLucky-athons.’  Yeah, it sucked that the game was pretty much over after USC couldn’t JUST KNOCK THE GD BALL DOWN on the hail mary before half, and yeah, it was a bummer that Drew Magary summed it up perfectly tweeting that “Watching Auburn win that game was like watching a kickoff return TD with a FLAG graphic up for the last 80 yards.”  But none of that was what made me sad.

The thing that made me sad was that now the SEC is gone.  CBS is going to show basketball games and crap like that on Saturday Afternoons, but WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!?!?!  Watch a movie?  Study?  Actually pay attention to real life?  That sounds FUCKING TERRIBLE.  The SEC is so much better than real life.  And now it is gone.  What the fuck, it feels like it just got here.

7. Since I didn’t get this up in time for the Thursday night game, I figured that I may as well talk about the action from Thursday night.  The problem is, the game was pretty boring.  The Titans came back and made it a game, sure, but really, I was just disappointed that Manning was able to avoid continuing his people-pleasing streak of being terrible at football.  Damn him.  Also, ‘Cop Speed’ is the second best nickname in sports, just behind ‘Shatty Ice’ for Kevin Shattenkirk, which I made up.

8. Same idea as the SEC Championship game bit, but FUCK SATURDAYS WITH NO MAJOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL.  THIS IS HORSE SHIT.  I DEMAND A REFUND.  The Army-Navy game is fine, but it is mostly about the pageantry of the midshipmen and cadets in their coats and all of that stuff, with the snow and all.  Great theater, but let’s be honest, the football sucks.  And don’t try to tell me anything along the lines of ‘at least we have the Heisman presentation.’  The Heisman presentation is the tony awards with football players.  Gay.  The only thing worth watching for is when the kid (Newton this year) makes his speech, and all of the middle-aged-to-old black dudes like Earl Campbell and Marcus Allan and shit are standing behind him going ‘it’s okay.  Take your time baby.  Take your time.’  High comedy.  That’s totally what she said.

And it is a sign of the time of year.  This isn’t a one week hiatus.  It is really gone.  God, it is like a void has been opened.  Bowl week is fine, but I am actually having a personal crisis right now.  I can’t just waste time with shit like ‘friends,’ ‘family,’ ‘work,’ or ‘school,’ on Saturday.  And don’t even try to step in, NFL.  It’s just not the same.  I NEED MY COLLEGE FOOTBALL!  Now I am going to wake up every Saturday, and have nothing to do.  I mean that is the case anyways, but at least now I can not get anything done while I watch Troy play Southern Miss on Thursday night, or be worthless while I hang on every play of Rutgers and UVA on Saturdays.  That’s WAY better.

9. One more from the ‘Yeah I probably should have posted this before it even came up but I may as well talk about it since I didn’t file:

If you haven’t, you need to see the video of the Metrodome collapsing.  Holy dayaftertomorrow.  That looked like a bad special effect.  God that is going to be a nightmare to clean up.  And the logistics of moving home games are a nightmare.  Refunds, redoing seating charts…that takes months.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, your 2010-2011 University of Minnesota Vikings.  Enjoy playing games outside in a Minnesota January, Brett.  Serves you right, prick. 

(For what it’s worth, they are moving today’s game to Detroit and they say that they can have it fixed for the Vikings next home game.  The problem is, their next home game is next Monday night, not oh, say, four months from now, so yeah…I’m not buying it.)

10.  At the gym yesterday, I walked up to the bike that I usually ride to warm up, and saw that the TV in front of it was on TNT.  Usually, this would have meant that we were watching an NBA game that I wasn’t interested in, or some crappy Law and Order rerun (or whatever it is that TNT shows.  Suffice to say I wouldn’t be interested.  Then it came back from commercials, and I saw what was on.


Fuck.  And.  Yes.

Dude I am so down to watch some Spartans FUCK SHIT UP right now.  This is totally conducive to the attitude that I want this workout to take on.  I am going to bench press 350 pounds.  Fuck that.  350 pound dumbbells.  I love that movie.  Gets me totally amped.  When we played San Jose State, they played the dude yelling THIS IS SPAAAAARRRRTTTAAAAAA, right before the game.  It was badass.  First and only time I have ever been jealous of anything related to San Jose State.  Watch a trailer, and then try not to be overcome with adrenaline.  I don’t think you can do it. 

Tell me you don't want to go find some Persians and fuck shit up right now. 

Anyways, I was there for like 30 seconds before some ass comes over and changes it to a college basketball game that I could not possibly give a shit about, and that was on the other TV, maybe 20 feet away.  I wanted to lunge 30 feet through the air and drive a spear through his skull, and I’m pretty sure that it would have been considered ‘justifiable homicide.’

Anyways, 300 is badass.


Since I’m there are no more college games to pick, I’m not going to bother trying to get 10 anymore.  To make up for it, I’ll throw in some links at the end (in addition to the Drew Magary, Bill Simmons and whatever else that I have been doing.).

Real Quick, Gambling:
Cowboys (+3) over Eagles
Pats (-3) over Bears
Giants (-3) over Vikings
Ravens (-3) over Texans
Chargers (-7) over Cheifs

(UPDATE:  Adding the 'angry white guys' label.  How could I not give our friend megaskeet420 up there the Angry White Guys tag.  That one's on me.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

u20 Days and Ready to Go

The USA should be favored to repeat in the 2011 WJCs
The month of December is about waiting.  It is about counting down.  That's because, at the end of the month, we get the most festive day of the year, one where people celebrate and appreciate the greatest gift of all, while seeing new gifts that they will enjoy for years to come for the first time. 

And Christmas.  Christmas is at the end of December too.  I’m not talking about that, though.  I’m talking about the best sporting event of the year.  The World Junior Hockey Championships.

God, just typing that gets me excited.  I really can’t wait.  That’s because, with due respect to the Olympics, Super Bowl, college football season, world cup, Tour de France and Stanley Cup Playoffs, which, among others, are events to circle on the sporting calendar, the WJCs are the event that is brining the most anticipation in 2010.  Well, for me, anyways. 

I tried to explain how much I loved World Juniors, as they’re known in the hockey world, last winter, and found it difficult.  There are tangible aspects of the tournament, which I described, and while it fails to capture the whole thing, the best I could come up with was this:

So this tournament was great, but I knew it was appointment viewing, one of my favorite events of the year, long before I knew that the United States would pull it out in dramatic fashion. What is it, then, about the World Juniors that is so appealing? There is a lot, but two things stick out.
First of all, this is the only tournament in any of the major American sports that features the best available players, representing their country, in the most important event of their season. The level of talent in the Olympic hockey tournament is staggering. The “Dream Team” in the basketball tournament is great. The problem is, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, despite what some have insinuated, would trade their gold medals in Beijing for NBA championships in an instant. Conversely, none of the players for Canada would have accepted silver had they been given CHL Memorial Cup championships instead, like the USA players wouldn’t trade their Gold’s for NCAA Frozen Four titles (or, if we’re honest, Memorial Cups).
There really is only one tournament that can say this, apart from World Juniors. The soccer World Cup is likely the defining moment of the player’s seasons, but it is neither annual, nor a major sport in America. While it is growing in popularity, soccer still just isn’t up there in terms of interest for Americans.
Add the passion of having a season defined by a tournament, like the playoffs for professionals, with the eyes of the entire NHL on these young players looking to break into the league, and the inherent rush anyone would get playing with for their country, and the result is a brand of hockey the intensity and passion of which is nearly unmatched, even in the NHL playoffs.
There is another thing that is great about the World Juniors, though. Like no other event in the world, the World Juniors give hockey fans a glimpse into the future of a league. Canada’s team was made up almost exclusively first and second rounders. Most guys on the Swedish Russian and continental teams will play in the NHL. Most of the USA team projects to be top 6 forwards. The talent level is insane. You could watch the CHL and college hockey for months, but you wouldn’t match the level of insight gained when you see when the best come together, not for nothing, to face the best.
There is a telling commercial that played during the games. It was of NHL stars, including Ovechkin, Nash, Crosby and Getzlaf, among others, raising their arms after goals. The punch line: “Raise your hand if you got your start in the World Juniors.” Truth in advertizing.

The greatness of the tournament goes beyond what I described, though.  Those are the things that I can enumerate, but in order to appreciate the tournament, you have to take my word for it, and tune in.  Last year, the crux of that column was that America had largely failed to take notice of the tournament, thus far (as evidenced by the fact that the games were on NHL Network in the US).  There is good news, though, America.  This is the year that you can check it out!

You know how everyone kind of concedes that the world cup is an awesome event, but no one really feels like getting too into it, since we know that a good tournament for the Americans would be to not get knocked out before the championship round even begins (also, as much as we build it up, the tournament is actually just a bunch of soccer games, which either end in zero-zero ties or own goals)?  The World Juniors were a little bit like that before.  USA Hockey was much more of a contender than US Soccer, but Canada had more or less owned the decade, winning five in a row.  The United States had just one win, in 2004.  This year, though, that has all changed.  Last year, the USA pulled off a huge upset, knocking off a historically good Canada team and taking gold.

Now, perhaps for the first time, the United States comes into the tournament as the favorite.  Winning last year certainly helped to that end, but that isn’t really why they get the nod over the Canadians. One of the things that is unique about the World Juniors is just how much rosters turn over from year to year.  The tournament is open to players under 20.  For teenagers, a lot of development takes place year to year, so guys in their last year of eligibility usually take up most of the roster spots.  On top of that, a lot of the guys who are good enough to play at a younger age are in the NHL by the time they are in their last year of eligibility, and don’t get released from their teams to play (Taylor Hall, the Oilers’ rookie being an example). 
This year, the USA returns 8 from their 22 man roster.  That is a ton.  The United States holds their camp during the summer, whereas Canada has a training/tryout camp right before the tournament, so it is unofficial, but the most Canada can return, by contrast, is 3 (Jared Cowan, Ryan Ellis and Calvin de Haan).  In addition to the experience that the Americans bring back, they have an incoming class of ‘92s (I feel old) that contains more high draft picks than any before.  It should lead to the most talented USA squad that we have seen (and for what it is worth, the most geographically diverse.  The team has kids from California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Texas, Nevada, Missouri and Colorado mixed in with the traditional New York, New England, Michigan and Minnesota boys). 

Of course, that cursory explanation won’t do, so let’s take a look at the team that will wear Red White and Blue, and defend the gold on home ice in Buffalo (that advantage should be huge.  I’m sure no Canadians will make the grueling 2 hour drive from Toronto).

Returning Players

Jack Campbell is the big one here.  Perhaps the top goaltending prospect not playing pro yet, the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) backstop is going to take the reins once again for the USA.  He will likely give the USA the strongest goaltending in the tournament. 

On defense, the United States has the most turnover.  Losing guys like John Carlson (thriving this year the Washington Capitals), John Carlson (who scored the game winner in last year’s championship), and John Carlson (perhaps the strongest player in the tournament last year), in addition to Cam Fowler, Cam Fowler and Cam Fowler (equally deserving of superlatives), leaves a big hole to fill on the blueline.  The lone returner is University of Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage, who played with Carlson on the number 1 pair for most of the tournament last year. 

Up front, the United States brings two things in spades; speed, and experience.  Maple Leafs prospect (and current farmhand for the Marlies) Jerry D’Amigo is the biggest impact forward that the US brings back.  He trailed only New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan with 12 points last year.  Chris Kreider, of Boston College  and Kyle Palmieri, who saw time in Anaheim before being demoted to the Duck’s AHL squad this season, were both top 6 guys last year, and will be impact players for the States this year.  My dad got mad at Jason Zucker for playing like it was a tryout last year (over-stickhandeling), but really the kid just has silky mitts, and he has the potential to step up this year.  Ryan Bourque and Jeremy Morin round out the group of 6 forwards returning, all of whom had substantial impacts on last year’s gold medal win.


Andy Iles, a Salisbury product who is a frosh at Cornell got the invite as America’s second goaltender.  Coach Keith Allain elected not to take a third goaltender for this year’s team.  I don’t know much about Iles, other than that he was really, really good in prep school (started for Salisbury as a sophomore), and that I keep thinking he was a returner, because I know the name.

On defense, the US adds one AHLer and 6 college players to round out a core that won’t have a single junior hockey player on it.  Nick Leddy, left off of the team last year, highlights the incoming class, having already garnered some NHL experience this season in Chicago.  Derek Forbert also has a chance to be the number one defenseman for the USA.  A student at North Dakota, Forbert was the 15th pick in the 2010 draft, going to Los Angeles. 

Up front, the US brings in a ton of early round talent.  Emerson Etem, a Ducks draft pick and California native playing for Medicine Hat (WHL) may be the fastest player in the tournament.  Brock Nelson of the Islanders and UBD, Nick Bjugstad of Minnesota and the Panthers, and Charlie Coyle of BU and the Sharks are the first round picks from 2010 that are new to the roster. 

If none of that meant anything to you, I’m sorry.  Take my word for it, though, we are STACKED.  Last year, I wrote that “Canada was stacked. Not, ‘every player is pretty good’ stacked, more like ‘every player has a chance to be a star in the NHL’ stacked. In fact, 15 of the 22 players on the Canada roster have been taken in the first two rounds of the NHL draft, and two of the seven that haven’t will be first round picks in 2010, their first year of draft eligibility.”  They were.  This year, that is us.  If you know nothing else about the United States roster, know this: Beau Bennett (20th overall), Austin Watson (18th), Jarred Tinordi (22nd), and Kevin Hayes (24th) were all Americans that were drafted in the first round last year, who DIDN’T make the team.  AND THEY HAVEN’T EVEN MADE FINAL CUTS YET. 

GOD we are loaded.  I’m fired up, because USA HOCKEY IS DO OR DIE!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No One Worthy

So, Oregon and Auburn took care of business.  Actually, let’s be fair.  What they did was more like take care of BUSINESS.  The italics and caps are more than warranted, after both of the nation’s active undefeated teams beat down on their opponents.  So now, we have chaos.  As usual.  The BCS is charged with choosing which teams are somehow ‘more worthy’ than others to play in the big payout bowls.  There is a problem, though.  Not just that there are three teams who are undefeated, and to somehow squeeze in a playoff or even a plus one between now and the January 6th National Championship would be impossible.  Sure, it is a nice idea, but the logistics of playing two games in just 34 days would be a nightmare.  The main problem isn’t that there are too many teams that are qualified for the championship game.  It’s that there are in fact no teams that are worthy, either for the championship, or for the BCS at all.  Allow me to explain.

Of course, any team with 3 or more losses can be counted out.  That is obvious.  But it turns out none of the two, one are zero loss teams are up to the haughty standards of the BCS.  It’’s too bad, but it looks like they are just going to have to cancel them this year.  Here’s why:

Two Loss Teams:


Virginia Tech Hokies

They lost to a 1-AA team, for crying out loud.  They also lost to a WAC team, which, in terms of BCS implications, is actually worse.

(Big 12)

Missouri Tigers (9-2)

Be honest, for a second.  If you had to guess Missouri’s record, you would have gone in the 7-5 to 8-4 range.  Of course you would have been wrong.  Missouri, somehow, managed to pull out 9 Ws this year in the Big 12, despite the fact that you have no idea who is on their team unless you are Mel Kiper or Todd McShay, and maybe not even then.  I don't want to watch a bunch of nobodies in the BCS.  That would suck.

Oklahoma Sooners (9-2)

Sure, they just won the Big 12 title game, which sounds impressive and all, until you consider that the Big 12 North is the NCAA big conference equivalent of the UFL.  An SEC team would go like 16-0 in the Big-12 North (they would be so dominant, wins would start counting for 2).  Besides, Oklahoma lost to Missouri, and we just proved that they don’t deserve to make it, so how could we take Oklahoma?

Oklahoma State Cowboys (9-2)

Same logic applies, with the Cowboys having fallen to the Sooners.  More importantly, though it would make T. Boone Pickens really, really happy if the program he spent approximately $4.5 Trillion on at least parlayed that into a BCS team.  For comedy sake, though, it is way funnier if the team with the most modern stadium in the nation plays in the Alamo bowl every year.  Also, Mike Gundy is 42.  He forgot to update us this year.

(The Big East doesn’t have any teams with less than three losses.  No joke is needed here.)

(Mountain West)

Utah Utes (10-2)

The Utes are from a non-BCS conference, which should automatically disqualify them.  Since it doesn’t (YET!) an ass-kicking at the hands of Notre Dame (Notre freaking Dame) got the job done. 


LSU Tigers (10-2)

Everyone seems to agree that Les Miles is the worst football coach in the world, this despite the fact that he has won a national championship, and LSU is a contender almost every year.  Still, who wants to see shitty coaching in the BCS?  That would be ugly.  As for the team itself, they couldn’t crack the top 100 in passing yardage.  Running football?  BOORING.

Arkansas Razorbacks (9-2)

The Razorbacks, as it happens, are actually going to the Sugar Bowl to play Ohio State.  This is, of course a travesty.  Arkansas was beaten by Alabama, who is not good enough to be in a BCS bowl, and in college football every game has to matter, otherwise the INTEGRITY OF THE BESTEST REGULAR SEASON IN THE UNIVERSE gets totally bunged up.


(Big 10)

Wisconsin Badgers (11-1)

The Badgers beat an AQ conference team with a record around .500 by 63 points, despite giving up 20.  Now, that sounds impressive, but please remember: margin of victory DOES NOT MATTER.  That just wouldn’t make sense.  So that win counts exactly the same as Michigan’s beating Indiana by 7 does for the BCS, which it should.  Also, hanging 83 on  team is totally running up the score.  You know who runs up the score?  Assholes.  That’s who. (editors note:  a better answer would be ‘teams that  can run up the score')  Do we want to reward assholes?  I don’t.

Ohio State Buckeyes(11-1)

LeBron James is totally boys with Terell Pryor, at least according to James’s tweets.  Everyone in Ohio seems to think that James is an asshole, and if Pryor likes him, that probably makes Pryor a douche too (guilt by association is like the 50021st lowest item on the BCS’s veracity scale).  Speaking of douches, Gordon Gee. ‘Nuff Said. 

Michigan State Spartans(11-1)

Michigan State lost to Iowa, who lost to Minnesota, who lost to South Dakota State.  A 1-AA TEAM!  Therefore, by the standards of the BCS, as I understand them, Michigan State lost to a 1-AA team.  There is no way you could let a team that lost to a 1-AA team in the BCS. 


Stanford Cardinal (11-1)


(The BCS is a party.  Stanford is the nerds.  Anyone who has seen a college movie- and it is college football no less- knows that nerds don’t get invited to parties.  That’s just good science.  So Andrew Luck has to play beer pong in his dorm room with water because they don’t want to drink the dirt that gets on the ball and it is way easier to hide if the RA comes by when you just have side beers- I think this is what nerds do anyways, but I wouldn’t know since I am totally in a fraternity and go to parties and am awesome like that, just like everyone with a blog-, by which I mean go to the Emerald Nuts Why the Fuck are we Playing Football in AT&T Park Bowl)


Nevada Wolfpack(12-1)

I essentially said as much in the Utah blurb, but it is fucking ridiculous that I have to even acknowledge these Mickey Mouse conferences.  Mark May totally sees the light.  There is no way these second rate hacks could play with the likes of the big conferences.  Anyways, Nevada lost to Hawai’i , and they aren’t even a part of the contingent 48 United States.  Some of you may not think that is a legitimate reason to knock them as a football team, but to you I say this:  TOTALLY FUCKIN IS.

Boise State Broncos (12-1)

Boise State had their chance, but they blew it.  All they had to do was make a lousy field goal, and they didn’t do it.  Clearly they don’t want to be there very badly.  There are only 10 BCS spots.  May as well at least give them to someone who wants them.  It is just the system that Coach Pete won’t STOP SAYING HE HAS FAITH IN, somehow, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.


TCU Horned Frogs (12-0)

For a third time, I will remind you that the people who play football in small conferences should be considered sub-human.  Apart from that, TCU wears purple, and their quarterback is a ginger, or a ‘daywalker’ if you want to use the scientific term (I get most of my scientific terms from South Park). 

On the field, TCU’s resume appears strong, but the fact is they only played one big boy school, and that was Oregon State.  They always lose to those shitty small schools, and therefore don’t count.  That makes TCU’s best win, if I am not mistaken, an overtime decision over a Plano East High School team with 3 kids who have made D-1 (real D-1, not pussy Mountain West shit) commitments.

Auburn Tigers (13-0)

Why shouldn’t Auburn get to play in a BCS Bowl?  You mean other than the fact that their quarterback may or may not make NFL league minimum?  I mean that seems like a pretty good reason, but okay, we can do one more.
Auburn squeaked by pretty much every team that they played.  The ‘Bama game should have been a loss.  Clemson should have been a loss.  Kentucky should have been a loss.  Mississippi State should have been a loss.  South Carolina should have been a loss.  So that makes them, what, like 8-5?  You are really going to put a 9-5 team in the BCS?  That would be ridiculous.

Oregon Ducks (12-0)

This one is the hardest to disprove, but dig this:  Phil Knight, of Nike wealth, gave the Oregon program millions of dollars this year, and each of the last few years.  Most of it, presumably, went towards facilities, but what if it didn’t?  What if they used it to pay LaMarcus James a lucrative salary?  What then?  THAT WOULD TOTALLY MAKE THEM INELIGABLE!  Just sayin’.  No smoke without fire.

As for this Oregon team, they played New Mexico, a weak Tennessee team, and Portland State out of conference.  On top of that, the Pac-10 was pretty weak this year.  So Oregon’s schedule clearly didn’t have the integrity needed to go to a BCS bowl. 

So there you go.  No one deserves the honor of playing in the extremely lucrative, but ultimately meaningless BCS bowls.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but that is just the way it is.  Cancelling the bowls entirely is the only fair thing to do.  You need to be deserving to play in a BCS bowl, and this year, no one is. 

Except for UConn.  They totally earned it.