Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The NHL on Telemundo

For the NHL playoffs, my own personal rule of thumb is that if you play hard and can construct a repeatable formula to score three goals per game, you’re a tough out. And really, all other nonsense aside, that is the Flyers in a nutshell.

Simply, the Phladelphia Flyers just have a lot of good wingers and centers. If you can roll second and third lines out offering multiple 20 goal scorers, that don’t look helpless back-checking any opposition line presented, playing a determined sixteen minutes and ending most games a plus- you have a pretty good hockey team.

The Flyers are unusual in that if their top line plays the opponent’s top defensive pair to a draw, they’ll take it. Between killing your own penalties and dealing with Prospal and Briere, the Flyers absorb a team’s number one post-season asset: the precious minutes of the top blue line pair. To wit, a formula: the Flyers can consistently get to three goals in a playoff game via the power play and secondary lines facing the second and third defensive pairings.

Then, add in the fact that Biron has played well- and Montreal’s Carey Price notsomuch- and the Flyers have moved from “tough out” to “leading the series”.

I woke this morning meaning to rant on the officiating- but Sam Donnellon in the Daily News beat me to it. There is a lot of talk about the 34-14 shot differential last night- but if the NHL is intent on allowing the Canadians to play half the game on the power play, you’re gonna get totals like that.

Now, I don’t buy into any conspiracy. However, in most professional sports, the official is charged with the administration of the game and enforcement of the rules. But the NHL official is unique; he is also directed to carry the mandate forward- to create a particular vision of the NHL, reward the player and team that conforms.

Scenario: the Flyers compensate for their lack of quality mobile defensemen by adding a little, dare I even say entertaining, chippy-ness. Well, the NHL can’t have its Finns and Swedes ruffled. So you get situation like the Derian Hatcher’s boarding major and subsequent game misconduct.

Fine, it is a penalty. Fine, throw the book at him. Zero argument. But that is a game changing, potentially series changing call. All this from an act that the recipient immediately got up from- then promptly commits a retaliation action.

A normal official realizes he was presented with numerous ways to penalize Hatcher sans agenda. The game misconduct was ridiculous- there are fist-fights every night in the League that are more premediatated than that hit ever was. Give him a double roughing minor instead of major penalty. In the NBA, that is a level one flagrant foul- shoot the free throw, move briskly on. But in the NHL, it is a chance to move the agenda of the Swedish Elite League forward- and you darn well better know the official is mandated to move the plan forward.

Accordingly, in the NHL offices, there was nodding heads of approval. They want to marginalize players gritty like Hatcher, they love the fact that it took an increasingly out-of-reach 3-0 game and made it a contest, they love the power play and the goals. No referee in the modern NHL will lose play-off assignments making calls that make the game more “interesting” and potentially more appealing to the casual fan surfing cable television.

For further evidence, I would steer you to this post on Jerry’s Wheelhouse- move down to the part about Crosby. Crosby is the end-state NHL star: promoted, scoring and diving. The soccer analogy he present is frankly a solid one- the evolution of the NHL to the beautiful game. It could work- completely the move from network television to Versus to Telemundo.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Racing With Jesus

In the middle of all the Flyers and Matt Forte and Sixers- all of which I will get to this week- I just wanted to throw a shout out to Morgan Shepherd.

Morgan Shepherd is 66 years old- and this week, with a five person team, ran thirteenth in the Aaron’s 312. His sponsor is, well, “Jesus”. Anyway, the Nationwide Series is some serious motorsports- the companion series to NASCAR’s big show- and Morgan and “Racing With Jesus” put on a great show.

Talladega ain’t no joke either- biggest and fastest on the circuit. Nineteen cars didn’t finish; fourteen wrecked out.

If you don’t follow NASCAR, you don’t realize how impossible it was for this small team to run on the lead-lap all day- let alone with a guy 66 years old driving. The guy is the last driver left on the circuit to have literally run moonshine back in the “old days”- and I know I wasn’t the only one hoping for a giant Divine last lap wreck that would have given him one last big time win.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Biron! Biron!

Cliquez sur l'adresse ci-dessus ou copiez-la dansvotre navigateur:

Biron en vole une au CH



Saturday, April 26, 2008

Do We Have Your Attention Now Detoit?

Now this is more like it. The Detroit Free Press rages here:
This was one of the worst playoff games in this Pistons era. I'm not sure I can convey the full misery of it -- the ugly-osity, the horrible-liciousness -- but I will try.

In the first half, the Pistons committed 12 turnovers and scored 40 points.

Then things got bad.
No long commentary today- miles to go before I sleep sort of day planned here in Manhattan.

But I will say that while the Sixers aren’t “great”, if they are allowed to play full court offense, they are obviously darn good. They can defend, have some depth. They lack the singular star who commands the double team in the set offense, but can score anyway and provide opportunities for others. Allow Philadelphia to gloss over that problem, and they’re trouble.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux

It is back to work tonight for the Flyers- as they visit the most provincial “international” city in the world: Montreal. Did you know Montreal is the tenth "cleanest city" in the world? Lord... I like Toronto myself. Those litterbugs eschew effeminate mannerisms and speak English. Plus, how can that much of Montreal be underground?

O Canada!
Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux.

Ha! Not likely. What are we- between separatist votes this week? Of course, I believe the Cup will not return to Canada until the Meech Lake Accord passes. And certainly, these events have unfolded as I prophesized.

Now, I liked the Flyers in the first series- largely due to their fortuitous draw of the Washington Capitols. Unfortunately, Les Habitants seem to go right at the Flyers’ chief weaknesses- lack of both depth and team speed on defense. It isn’t a question here of rolling out Timonen and Coburn versus Ovechkin- neutralizing that- and surviving elsewhere. Montreal got a whole lotta guys who can skate- particularly on the power play.

This match-up forces the Flyers to play a very different series. With Washington, the Flyers were willing to skate and trade chances against every line but Ovechkin’s. After Game 1, they tried lots of stretch passes and were consistently aggressive in the neutral zone. If they took a few undisciplined penalties being aggressive, trying to intimidate the young Capitals, so be it.

Conversely, here the Flyers must be disciplined: stay out of the box, clog the neutral zone, chip the puck out and dump it in. Yes, it might behoove them to run at the young goalie a few times- and this Flyers team seems not to go wrong engaging in shenanigans after any whistle. But while playing actual hockey- keep it simple and in front of you.

They really need a big series from Hatcher and the captain, Jason Smith. It is vogue in the Philadelphia papers to praise the Flyers “increasingly solid” top four rotation on defense. Ugh. I just don’t see it. Both these guys look slow, maybe hurt, to me. The Flyers were able to protect these guys against the Caps- here they are going to have to play, and play a lot, because the Flyers have no answers for this problem in the fifth and sixth roster spots. Is it me- or does it say a lot that our best defensemen is a Finn? The path to an upset begins with credible play from these two veterans.

The Parti Québécois will probably be happy with the end results; they can have a protest or something with posters of René Lévesque. The Flyers can match the firepower here- but Montreal is pretty organized on the back end too. Still, if you bring effort and goals to the NHL play-offs, you’re a tough out (see, say, the Bruins last week)- and the Flyers figure to bring both. They’re a good road team who, barring an injury on defense, won’t get worn down by Montreal’s deep outfit. I suppose Montreal in seven sounds about right- but it doesn’t feel hopeless either.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bring On Les Habitants

In today’s Washington Post, Mike Wise writes:

"It's not over. It's just beginning."

Wrong. I’m telling you; you never get over it. Sometimes, I’ll be driving, or napping, really anything- and it just pops in there. Game Seven: Dale Hunter beating Pete Peters. In overtime. Twenty years ago- and a brutal wave of nauseous ennui still will pass through my gut. I was at the Jax Brewery in New Orleans- and I can never go back there. It is like thoughts of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, one can’t control it.

So about 10PM last night, I wasn’t doing too good: flinching, not talking, nursing a Woodford Reserve.

Game Seven was a true triumph on the “new” NHL. Oh, how the League office must have been congratulating itself! Ten power plays; two five-on-threes. Three power play goals, a fourth that might as well have been, plus the deciding goal in overtime! It is a shame Ovechkin didn’t get to participate in a shoot-out for the series; the NHL would have liked that a whole super lot!

Really, five-on-five, the whole basis for hockey, had no bearing on the outcome last night- which, if you are a fan, is sort of a shame. Of the ten penalties called, six probably didn’t need to be called in a big spot, where they could affect the series (although the decisive one in overtime was a proper call). If four goals in five were scored as a result of fouls, the game is unavoidably largely a special teams’ competition. Each team cashed in twice and, except for the consequences of the Flyers overtime goal, played that part of the game even.

It is satisfying to steal this series. Over the last four games, once they figured out the Flyers were pretty serious about this thing, the Capitals were better. The aforementioned Mike Wise quotes an “astute” observer:
When your team plays like a hockey team and not a bunch of figure skaters with padding, you win. Our fans and team didn't beat the Caps up. We made them men. You're welcome.
Perhaps true. I wish the Caps had repaid their debt by running an orderly handshake line: ragged, disjointed- not wholly respectable.

Anyway, over the last four tilts, Washington won twice outright- and got two other games to overtime. That is a 2-0-2 mark- and I think indicative of the difference between the two teams. Accordingly, I was pessimistic. Yesterday, Mr. B wrote to win this Game Seven, the Flyers needed a big game from Biron (which they clearly got for the second time in seven tries) and some reactive help from the hockey fates.

The fates pitched in. Kapanen got that needed lucky goal when Huet got rocked off his feet (ed. note: yeah, I thought it was a good goal- but I’m a minimalist). While that marker was not the difference in the “Battle of the Power Plays”, it set up the overtime. While Washington was better than Philly most of the time, overtime injects that “who is better for this shift?” rather than “who is the better team?” element. For sure, it got the Flyers through Game Four.

The Flyers played seven gritty games to get to that former question rather than the latter. Guys like Kimmo Timonen played 10:36 of the first period to get to that question. And at 6:06, of overtime, that question was one between Joffrey Lupul and Caps’ defensemen Milan Jurcina- and not, for all the hype and all the shifts, Ovechkin and Timonen. And for one brief moment Joffrey Lupul was- very satisfactorily- the greatest hockey player in world.

So bring on Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge, La Sainte-Flanelle, Le Tricolore, Les Glorieux, Les Habitants and Le Grand Club. Le Grand Club? Lord, but they do sound like a bunch of fairy princesses. Heck, who isn't up for that?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We Got Trouble

A re-occuring feature of this blog is an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: facing Game Seven, what is up with the Flyers?

Well, we got trouble. Hard to feel good about a team that allows an opponent to waltz in their building and score four straight unanswered goals? The Capitals have played with real “want to” the last three outings. The Flyers have three weaknesses- and Washington has increasingly exploited them. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, this rabbit thinks they’re better than Philadelphia.

I don’t want to kill Briere and Prospal. Well, okay, I want to. Look, I understand they’ve scored goals and are the only sense of consistent pulse on the power play. But jeez'em crow, I would chain them to the bench when protecting a multiple goal lead- or any lead in the third period. They aren’t just bad defensively, they’re horrid.

Which brings us to our discussion of the aforementioned Flyers’ three areas of concern. Flyers’ weakness number one this season has been the horrendous goal differential of the Flyers’ first line at five-on-five. The plus/minus of Briere of -22 is consistent bad news. He only has 17 goals at even strength. And he takes a minor penalty every other game. He can fly and he has skill- but inside their own blue line the first line is so physically weak on and off the puck. It is a nightmare. Both Briere and Prospal were minus three last night. Can’t have that-the first line has a lot of nights were they flat out give up more than they get.

I have down on the Flyers (ed note. wrongly- they made the play-offs)- and my angst started with weakness number two. Biron is not a plus goaltender in the NHL. He is barely average.

Okay, I've said it. In these games with Washington, he is more likely to allow four goals than one. His save percentage stinks. The more he is asked to play, the worse Biron is (0-5 in back-to-back games- and every slump he has is fueled by his workload). Since Pelle Lindbergh died, the Flyers have had two seasons- the years Hextall took them to the Cup Finals versus Edmonton and Detroit- where their goal-tending was above average in the play-offs. It is an institutional cancer in Philadelphia. As long as Biron as the number one goalie in Philadelphia, a serious Cup run seems impossible.

Of course, this is compounded by the Flyers’ weak overall defensemen- problem area number three. No two-goal lead has been safe with these characters all year- and it ain’t changing now. As the series has evolved, the Caps have gambled a little more in the neutral zone on defense to generate turnovers and been more passive on offense: just get the puck into the Flyers’ zone. Anything to create any semblance of pressure on the Flyers defense to get the puck, handle the puck, do something positive with the puck. The Flyers aren’t dumb on defense- just not very good. Every guy has a flaw: don’t scare you carrying the puck, weak on the puck, slow. It is hard to tell a team nursing a two goal lead to not be reactive on defense- to keep pinching, etc.- but the Flyers just aren’t a team that can count on competence with this crew and their top line of defensive liabilities.

What does it mean? It means real trouble. The series has proved that when Washington is engaged, committed to paying the price of winning in the NHL play-offs, they are two goals better than Philadelphia.

The Flyers deserve credit to forcing a team that is better than them to a one-and-done situation. They have the proverbial punchers chance- get that early goal that gives them a chance to get lucky late. Maybe Washington will relax tonight- fat and happy after their two solid wins. Desperation is the biggest intangible in pro-sports- and the Flyers will have that mojo tonight.

But this morning, I’m pessimistic. They have a chance, but it is a dependent one. They need help from Washington, some luck too. And Biron has to have a great game in spite of all contrary evidence. This is a game where having a goalie who can reasonably expect to play a game and allow two goals would really help. Something you could count on. That just isn’t Biron- but maybe they’ll get lucky.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Not Too Good Detroit

In this morning’s New York Post, David Smith from Long Island City writes to the Editor:
I disagree with your claim that all of America welcomes the pope. There are people here who do not believe in him or what he claims to stand for.

Please don't lump everyone in by suggesting all are "looking forward to see him." I definitely was not.
Well, that is the sort of bitterness one can associate with Piston’s fans this morning. Well, probably not. But it was a good win for the Sixers- goes a good way to validating what they and the coach have done since Christmas.

I’m not crazy; I don’t think the Sixers are better than Detroit. But the last ninety-seconds, with the Sixers up 3-4 points, the Sixers forced the “rebounders” off the floor as the Pistons brought in the “shooters”. With Detroit’s big people off the floor (at least on offense), the Sixers were able to force a series of one-shot-and-done possessions in crunch time. Bascially, they were killed all night on the boards except when it mattered most- as the Pistons were forced to disarm.

The NBA is about match-ups and the last two minutes- determing scenarios that you can repeatedly exploit enough to win four times. And the Sixers seem to have, based on yesterday’s outcome, come up with a viable, repeatable scenario to close out games against these characters. Hopefully, with two of the next three at home, they’ll be able to play that scenario again, square this series through four games- and make this a best-of-three: a more miracle conducive experience!

I have less on the Flyers. It was disappointing to let Washington off the mat- except it really more that Washington got itself off the mat the past two tilts by matching the Flyers effort level. It was a road loss- and probably it was too much to expect to run Washington out in four straight games. But the bad loss in Game One makes this a series again. The two remaining games are toss ups- so I like the Flyers simply because they only gotta one flip rather than two. Of course, last week it was three games… trouble is increasing here.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Saving the NHL From Itself

If you close your eyes, you can almost put yourself at Washington Capitals practice this afternoon:
Sullen Capital’s coach Bruce Boudreau grimaced slightly as he called for his boys attention at the end of an ennui filled skate. “Okay,” he intoned firmly, “I want one long line- from the blue line to the goal- captain up front, Huet in back.” The players glided slowly into position.

“All right,” Coach continued, “At the end of the game tomorrow afternoon, I want just like that. Just shuffle forward, extend you right hand and say things like ‘Good series’ and ‘Nice job’. Huet! You can hug Biron if you want.”
The Flyers and Capitals continued to try and single-handedly save the NHL from itself- playing a highly entertaining and spirited tilt in Philadelphia last night. The last three period managed to feature only one power play from an on-ice foul- the absolutely terrible late interference penalty on Kozlov. Imagine that. Nearly sixty minute of taught, physical hockey- and the only blight a stupid new NHL penalty? Is anyone in Toronto in an important office observing this?

Contrary to the Washington Post’s published inanities, emergency intervention seemingly was not required by the NHL to rein in the Flyers and their fans. Although the gasbag in question, Mike Wise, has yet another article this morning where he simply marvels at the energy the Flyers’ fans generate for their club. The Capitals got themselves going in this series. For the first time, Washington showed commitment, toughness, the will it requires to win in the post-season. The result was about as even a tilt as you could imagine: Biron gives the Caps a bad goal in the second period, the Caps return the favor via a stupid too many men on the ice foul in the third period. Other than that, it was physical and fun- all the thing the NHL loathes. Too few odd man rushes, I suppose. Power plays equal entertainment! And no post-game penalty shot competition were surely a downer in league offices.

I’ve beat on the Washington coaching effort all series along- and again, they were a factor last night. First, they tried to steal a “set the tone” shift from the get-go, putting the energy line out to start the game. Of course, energy line is code for “your three worst forwards”- and when you’re getting out-coached, that sort of thing always backfires. Score!

Then, it wasn’t so much Washington overplaying Ovechkin- but his line mate, the aging Federov, who consequently must play a lot too, looked exhausted throughout the overtime. As the clock ran and ran, the Flyers advantage in forward depth (seven twenty goal scorers), coupled with commitment to play them regularly, became a bigger and bigger factor. The Flyers were generating more and better chances over both overtimes. And finally, one of those twenty goals scorers, Mike Knuble, on a secondary line banged one home.

Biron was solid in OT- but the softie in the second was a bad one in a bad spot- so the Flyers survive the shaky night in nets you knew was coming. Last night, the Caps finally showed why they are one of the top dozen teams in hockey. The Flyers are about at the level too. It isn’t done- the Caps will be a tough out in their building. But their best effort isn’t enough to guarantee a win- and that is trouble when you need three in a row.


Thursday, April 17, 2008



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two Down; Fourteen To Go

I fired up the internet this morning ready to write about the Flyers thoroughly satisifying triumph last night. I ended up wasting much of the morning reading Mike Wise’s hilariously fulfilling commentary in the Washington Post. It makes one wonder if he’d ever seen an NHL play-off game. There are just so many good parts: agonizing over the loutish fans, calling the Flyers’ thugs, pleading with the NHL to intervene- to simply do something, anything!
For most of the evening, there was this unmistakable air of testosterone coming from the Flyers' direction that just reeked of physicality, a way of exerting their mauling style on the Capitals that just sent their denizens into some medieval state of euphoria.

"We want to make it physical between the whistles," Flyers Coach John Stevens said. "I think it's important for no other reason then it's the best tool we have to defend, to be honest with you. I think it's very important that we move our feet and finish our checks and get people pushed off the puck."

Translation: "We will keep punking the Caps until the NHL commissioner tells us not to."
I like this too!
Did we mention they show fights on the video scoreboard every period here, more than most arenas show dunks in the NBA?

Something about this R-rated environment is just not conducive to Ted Leonsis' Family Pack Night or Ovie on Ice. The contrasts are so stark and revealing.

The Caps' postseason slogan: "Rock The Red." The Flyers? "Vengeance Now," which comes across as less of a slogan and more of a sequel to Charles Bronson's "Death Wish."
What an ass.

Look, while they’ve surely been a bunch of turtles so far (I think that picture to the right is in fact the Caps' defense emerging from the locker room), the Capitals are far from done here. The Flyers picked up another key injury on defense. They’re still very shaky back there at the best of times. And the Caps are a mere one road win from pretty good about things. Frankly, it isn’t like they can play either more scared or much worse.

But Washington has got problems. They were run out of the rink last night. The Flyers' coach is making his counterpart look bad. Huet stinks- and is getting worse.

As I wrote after Game 1, every Philadelphian looks at the Caps and totally gets their situation. It is the Allen Iverson Sixers all over again- a bunch of role players who need the stars’ jump to get them going. Part of why the Caps can’t get anything from their other lines is they don’t play them. Ovechkin is seemingly logging 26-27 minutes a night? He doesn’t kill penalties- so it honestly seems he plays all the time otherwise. Maybe they have no other option- but you can’t scream about contributions from secondary players if they get twelve, thirteen minutes of ice a night- mainly on special teams.

The Flyers have been chippy and aggressive- but blaming them for refusing to skate with Capitals seems kind of dumb. Plus, in case you missed it, Briere and Prospal are skating with them like crazy.

Watching the Flyers defense "cling" to their assignments like, well, they are bitter about something, I still think the series goes deep. Even with Hatcher dressing again, the injury to Kimmo Timonen is a hard nut. I’ve been all over Hatcher from the get-go in Philadelphia. But, his surly manner helps here and his plodding manner doesn’t hurt that much. Heck, nobody on the Flyers defensive corps can skate with these characters- so we might as well be strong on the puck, in the corners and in front in our own end.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Frank Kimmel Street Stock 150

As Philadelphia battens down for Game 3 tonight- where can we get a taste of the chaos and noise that awaits the Capitals in the City of Brotherly Love?

Why- Bristol Motor Speedway of course! As Miss Food City, Jennifer Whittington continues to have to be pleased by her reign.

Check out the start of the Frank Kimmel Street Stock 150 below. Way too many stock cars on way too small a track. They even manage to turn a few laps before the inevitable 15 car wreck. Watch the crash with the sound up!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Did Ovechkin Even Play Yesterday?

Some not so bad hockey played between Philadelphia and Washington this weekend. The United States' version of the Swedish Elite League certainly picks up the play come April. At the very least, the North American players look engaged again.

Vis-à-vis the Flyers, while it is a big disappointing to take a pair of two-goal leads into the third period- and come out with only one win, the Flyers got their needed road win in this match-up with the Capitals.

Jeez- but these are teams with flaws. Maybe not Toronto or Tampa Bay-sized flaws, but still... Watching the Flyers defense melt down in the third period of Game 1, it is hard to have sustained confidence in that unit. Heck, as inopportune as Washington’s offense was in Game 2, there were still very long periods where the Flyers ran around inside their blueline for sustained periods.

And Washington is so dependent on their ability to counter-punch. The Flyers seem to be able to control play along the dashers with their second, third and fourth line for long stretches- and they win all the face-offs. Makes it hard for Washington to generate offense- thus the repeated long stretches without shots and chances. The Caps are sort of like the Iverson-era Sixers. There are some good role players, but for juice they need the other team to help them or the stars (Ovechkin/Green) to do something. For a high-scoring team, they’re kinda passive.

Still, the weekend was a net plus for Philadelphia for two reasons. First, I know the chic thinking in the NHL is to dismiss “home ice” advantage. Well, some think that- but Vegas (and I) do not. I do know Washington was a Vegas favorite for both Game 1 and 2- and will not be for Game 3 and 4. Even if the Flyers split these home games, they’ve probably forced the series deep, compelled Washington to probably have to win a Game 6 or 7 (come on Hatcher!). And, that is what an underdog wants, right? Philadelphia wants to play a best-of-three, not best-of-seven. And as I wrote in the preview: the longer the series, the more the Flyers genuine up-front depth has to play a positive factor.

Second, the shut out has to help. The play-offs go right by you, real quick. A one-game scoring slump gets to be a two-game, three-game super-problematic slump right quick. I mean, the Flyers went two periods yesterday without a goal, and Biron/Prospal went all three- and there is already yammering in Philadelphia about scoring.

I dunno; I got the feeling a times Washington was already starting to press, to look for the perfect play on offense: six shots in the third period? none in the final seven minutes? Plus, these endless one-minute plus shifts for Ovechkin. Just stupid, no one other than Jagr can play fifteen of those- no wonder Alex was a non-factor late. And going on the road, confidence in your ability to put the puck in the net won’t grow easily. For one, Ovechkin figures to see more Timonen, and that staggering courage for a Finn- not less.

I also think, counterintuitively, the Flyers indirectly helped themselves with those four first period minors. Again, if they’re not taking a few obstruction/dirty/running into Huet penalties, they’re not being aggressive enough. Early in games, “Hartnell for cross-checking”, is not a total loss. The Flyers need aggression. Washington has more skill; Philadelphia needs more calculated violence, ill-humor. No whistles without scrums.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Go Time In Philadelphia

I am a little out of practice writing about the NHL play-offs. Searching through the blog, the last reference I can find to the NHL post-season is here- not too encouraging, right? Still, that post is a ringing summary of why the NHL is stuck on Versus with no return to relevance forthcoming.

Anyway, I will begin by saying I missed on the Flyers this year*. I had them as the fourth best team in the Atlantic (correct!)- but I doubted that’d be good enough to make the post-season in the NHL. However, the meltdown of the Southeast Division made the points the Flyers ceded in their tough division ultimately unimportant to the post-season picture. A perfunctory analysis tells you the Capital would not have overcome their start had they played in the Atlantic- and the Flyers would have 100 points had they grown fat in the Southeast.

Consequently, I am a little shocked that the line offers you +145 if you take the Flyers: wager $100 to win $145. Just crazy. Look, the Flyers are an imperfect outfit. Key guys- Gagne, Hatcher, the captain Jason Smith- are out or clearly banged up. Outside of their top pair of defensemen, they are a horror in their own end. For the umpteenth time, they enter the play-offs with a sort shrug about the character in the nets: like with Esche, Hextall, Vanbiesbrouck, the upside with Biron is competence, not brilliance.

But they do have four lines up front- real depth. The Flyers can play good special teams- and they are outright good with power play. They play an aggressive, bellicose, occasionally dirty style. Again, they can aspire to competence in the nets. Philadelphia will not be an easy out.

A lot of the breezy analysis references this Flyers’ chippy nature- suggesting they need to rein it in, stay out of the box. I don’t know about that. I think they may be well-served by taking a few “aggressive” penalties. If Alex Ovechkin doesn’t draw an obstruction foul or two we’re probably not clutching and grabbing him enough- that sort of thing. I realize it is my North American hockey bias- but I really believe in “testing” these star Euros in the play-offs. Playing to a little lower common denominator, murky dasher play, not worrying incessantly about the penalty box- let’s get unruly after every whistle!- probably helps Philadelphia here.

So, after a season of being semi-down on the Flyers, they catch a bit of luck here. Frankly, other than the quitters in Ottawa, who else would Philadelphia rather draw? It is bad karma for sure, but this is the series I wanted. People, I can wait on Marty forever.

Feels like a toss-up- and while I think Washington is a slightly better hockey team, I’m not sure if they’re better at cantankerous game of attrition and relentless physical assault the Flyers will try very hard to foist on them. Plus, the Caps penalty kill isn’t very good- and the Flyers really should cause some problems here. If the Flyers can get it to two games up, I like their chances.

The PDN preview is here.

* in my defense, I did get the Sixers sort of right. I thought they’d eek in the play-offs as an Atlanta Hawks style outfit.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Is Ed Barkowitz Stoned?

The crack crew at the Philadelpia Daily News weighs in- looks like fat times for the Flyers!


Ed Barkowitz: Washington in 7
Sam Donnellon: Flyers in 7
Rich Hofmann: Flyers in 6
Ed Moran: Flyers in 7

Ed- get with the program! Time to get Flyer-ed Up! Follow Keith Primeau!


Monday, April 07, 2008

Back From Vacation. Mad.

First, an old joke- which I first heard as a young cavalry officer in Germany in the early nineties:
A Polish farmer, a Russian army officer, an old lady and a gorgeous young woman were all sharing a train compartment. As the train rolled through a tunnel, the compartment became pitch dark- and the sound of a kiss, shortly followed by a loud slap, rang out.

As the train car emerged from the tunnel, the Russian officer thought that farmer is a sharp fellow: he steals a kiss, and I get slapped. The old woman thought approvingly- that young girl had standards! The pretty girl thought- how odd, one of the boys tried to steal a kiss from the old lady instead of me?

And the Polish farmer thought: perfect! I kiss the back of my hand, slap a Russian, and get away with it!
Now that the Marshall-Tulane series is over, who do you think was the Russian and who was the farmer this weekend?

Well, I know the Herd managed to reduce our fan base to posts and strings labeling Marshall classless, etc.- while in the next sentence calling them “in-bred” and “coal miners”. I don’t know much about college baseball- but those posts, coupled with a consensus bad team going on the road and getting a split… powerful evidence that yet another baseball team has stole a march on Jones and the boys.

No doubt Marshall came to New Orleans chippy and confrontational. They’re probably laughing now- guilty as charged! Heck, I’m increasingly getting tired of the Tulane community sense of entitlement vis-à-vis baseball- we have a new stadium! we have a zillion dollar coach! we’ve been to the CWS!- I can only imagine how the Herd must feel. Frankly, a lot of self-congratulation is going on around Tulane for a team that might struggle to finish fifth or so, again. I know if I were the Marshall coach, with my band of road underdogs, I would encourage them to see and treat Tulane with contempt as a bloated factory.

And, of course, it also helps Marshall that, well increasingly, I too get this feeling the baseball program is in fact a bloated, Dr. Feelgood situation. If the Russians came to Lake Placid to trade jeans, Tulane seems a little too worried about the air-conditioning level in the hit shack.

The program is run like a yogwf fantasy: new building, big dollar coach, endless soft ooc opponents. Where is the sense of urgency? When was the last time the Wave played surprisingly well, over expectations for- oh, I don’t know- two weeks in a row? Seriously, three years ago? Four?

I know- the season isn’t over. I am really trying not to rant- and I realize Shooter probably insulates the Wave against real disaster. But they have a real chance to have the conference season slip away- and probably the tournament too- this week. I don’t know much about the roster or who does what- but, like I said last time, some distance probably actually helps here. Tulane does not have a tree problem, but a forest problem.

Tulane has a SMU football stadium situation here. They’ve made real investments in this thing- and this malaise cannot continue. Katrina aside, what more do these guys want? LSU, conference play, UC-Irvine, in-state play.... every test has been wanting. Not good enough. Something needs to be shaken up. Now.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Philadelphia Victorious!

Philadelphia Victorious! Again and again and again!

Sixers make the play-offs.
These are the Sixers who left the same Philips Arena on Feb. 4 with a loss that left them 18-30 and in desperate straits. They have been a force in the NBA's Eastern Conference ever since.
Flyers make the play-offs.
When Carolina finally lost, 4-3, and opened the door, the Flyers stepped through and the celebration began. Even without top center Daniel Briere (left knee injury) and scrappy Sami Kapanen (flu), the Flyers romped on the home ice and made it all the way back from the dead, finishing a rebuilding year that was fraught with adversity.
Heck, even the Phillies bullpen is bulletproof lately!

Remember Frank Helps You Think It All Out will be your constant resource for Philadelphia winning play-off games and series!


Friday, April 04, 2008


Michael McDowell crashes hard today at Texas:


Thursday, April 03, 2008

The NHL Grows Even More Boring

As the NHL season draws to a close, Mick McGeough is scheduled to retire.

Not one of the League’s more popular officials- as this charming Wikipedia biography points out. Here is a petition calling for him to be fired. Perhaps this quote from the National Post puts it best:
"He's kind of like the villain in All-Star Wrestling. The kind of guy the fans love to hate," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, who was once fined $ 10,000 for describing McGeough's work as "spastic" and "retarded."
He was the last man in the NHL to not wear a helmet on the ice- and in a League increasingly devoid of characters, he was one.