Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It Was An Ugly One Monday Night

The Heinz Field was worn from half an NFL season and high school and college games. Sunday night new sod was put down over the turf for Monday Night Football's national audience. But then the rain came. The field was drenched, and over-top the previous turf it had little drainage.They walked around with pitchforks piercing the field hoping to improve drainage. Field crew members covered it with tarps, but the seams leaked puddles onto the field.

The big game between the 0-10 Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers was delayed 25 minutes. But eventually they kicked off. The field was like a sponge. Players cleats sunk inches into the ground. Everyone moved in slow motion, kicking up splashes of water. In no time the playing surfaces was littered with more divots than Charles Barkley's home golf course. Numbering and lines became unreadable and then disappeared altogether. All you could see were the out of bounds lines, the goal line, and what faintly resembled a Steelers logo in the center of the field.

Ricky Williams was making his second return to the NFL following his reinstatement by commissioner Roger Goodell, but he only made it through 6 carries. 15 yards, one fumbled, and he left with a pectoral injury. Later in the second half the Dolphins would lose back-up running back Jesse Chapman, and be left dependent on 3rd-string back Patrick Cobbs, who only has 11 career carries in 2 seasons.

At half time the score was still 0-0. Neither team had made an appearance in the red zone. Only 5 plays went over 10 yards. The Dolphins had 71 total yards, the Steelers 112. Together they were 2-11 on 3rd Downs.

Frantically the field crew worked to improve the field during half time. The local marching band was held off the field as the crew laid down new lines. But it was in vain.

The second half was much of the same. Stuck in the 0-0 deadlock it became apparent that his was the type of game that would be one by as little as one score. Jeff Reeds 44 yard field goal attempt near the end of the 3rd quarter didn't even come close, tumbling wildly off course and short. Punts were knocked down from the swirling winds and rain, hitting the ground and dying immediately were they land. Twice the Dolphins went for it on 4th down rather than taking their chances with a medium range field goal.

It stayed scoreless far longer than any game since the merger of the leagues. The Dolphins were winless in the previous 11 weeks and it they remained one big play away from upsetting the 7-3 Steelers. The Steelers found themselves tied with the worst team in the lead, and this only a week after falling to the equally disappointingly 1-8 New York Jets.

Heading into overtime locked at 0-0 appeared completely possible.

With 4:13 left in the 4th quarter the Steelers took over on their own 42. With the help of 3 completions to Hines Ward for 38 yards, the Steelers slowly they worked down the field into the Dolphins territory. The first snap in the red zone did not come into the game until the Steelers were on the 19 yard line with 3:08 left in the game.

On 4th and Goal from the 6 yard line Jeff Reed and the Steelers lined up for what was anything but a give-me 24 yard attempt. With 20 seconds remaining Reed lifted the ball off the sloppy mud-ridden field and through the uprights to win the game for the Steelers 3-0.

To say it was an ugly game would be a vast understatement. It probably shouldn't have been played. Had it not been a Monday Night game on national television, it probably would not of. For the Dolphins it was another lose in a close game, and they fell to 0-11. For the Steelers they picked up a narrow victory, but were embarrassed by field issues that rendered the playing surface into almost unplayable terrain.

Surely this game will find its way into highlight reels of the future, but for none of the right reasons.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Game 22: 11/22/07: Penguins 6 - Senators 5 SO

After a day of giving feasting and giving thanks with close friends and family in America, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators put on a show in Ontario. Collectively they put up 10 goals, swapping the lead back and forth, and ending on the backhand of a very unlikely stick, that of Penguins agitator Jarko Ruutu.

Marc-Andre Fleury was in the net again for the Penguins after a dissappointing 2-1 loss to New Jersey the previous night. But the Senators scorers got to Fleury and the Penguins early, scoring twice on their first 9 shots, resulting in Michel Therrien pulling Fleury in favor of back-up tender Dany Sabourin.

Later in the first the Penguins recovered, getting goals from Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone, only 18 seconds apart, taking the game into the intermission tied up at 2.

In the 2nd the Penguins took the lead when Tyler Kennedy's turn around wrister surprised Senators goalie Martin Gerber.

But back came the Senators scorers, putting up another pair of goals in the 2nd period, from Heatley and Spezza, regaining the lead, 4-3. Early off in the 3rd the Senators added to their lead with a Christoph Schubert tally.

Once again down by 2, the Penguins offense fired back. Malone's second of the game put the Penguins within one. And after being knocked to his knees, Colby Armstrong found Sergei Gonchar stepping up from the blue line, who tied the game up at 5.

After a scoreless overtime the teams went to the shootout. Jason Spezza lead off the shootout for the Senators, and beat Sabourin to put the Sens up 1-0.

Erik Christensen was apparently stopped by Ray Emery, but a video review revealed that the puck had trickled across the line, tying the shootout at one a piece.

Fleury stopped Heatley, Vermette, and Fisher. Crosby and Petr Sykora were stopped by Gerber, and the game came down to the Penguins fourth shooter. To the face-off circle skated Penguins basher Jarko Ruutu.

Skating down the ice, Ruutu's deke opened Gerber's 5-hole, and Ruutu backhanded the puck into the net, completing the Penguins comeback against the NHL best Ottawa Senators.

Although the night ended on a high note for Ruutu, it is apparent that he has become a target of the NHL's officials, as he was called for 2 diving calls in the game.

Colby Armstrong, who has often found himself a healthy scratch this season, gave head coach Michel Therrien a couple big reasons to keep him in the lineup, mainly, 2 huge assists. The Penguins are always a better team with #20 on the ice, and he's a hard-woring forward who is badly needed with the absence of Maxime Talbot.

The Penguins (9-11-2) take on the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday, and then will have a 5 day break before getting back into action at home against the Dallas Stars.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Game 21: 11/21/07: Penguins 1 - Devils 2

The Penguins 2-1 loss late night against the New Jersey Devils wrapped up 8 straight Atlantic Division match-ups, in which the Penguins went a miserable 2-5-1 and fell to the bottom of the division.

The Devils Zach Parise had both New Jersey goals. One came on the power play in the 1st, the other in the 2nd, again on the power play.

The Penguins were shut out by the Devils until the Evgeni Malkin scored on a breakaway, extending his points streak to 14 games.

The poor ice surface of the Mellon Arena was once again an issue. The puck was unmanageable for Sidney Crosby on a potentially game changing breakaway, bouncing and going on end to the point that not much could be done. It's the oldest arena in the NHL, and while it's never been the greatest ice in the league, lately players have been calling it the worst surface they have ever played on.

Crosby's 19 game points streak came to an end with Martin Brodeur and the Devils keeping 87 off the scoring sheet.

The Penguins (8-12-1)will go right back to action Thanksgiving night in Ottawa against the Senators. It will be the first meeting between the two clubs since the Senators eliminated the Penguins in the first round of the postseason.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Morning Headlines: 11/21/07

- The Green Bay Packers DBs are under investigation as to whether they have broken the NFL Bounty Rule. Somewhere in this is a great Boboa Fett joke.

- Ryan Getzlaf signed a 5-extension worth $26.625 million with the Anaheim Ducks, ensuring what the people really want, many more visits to the KTLA Morning Show.

- Jimmy Rollins takes home the NL MVP award in a close race with the Rockies Matt Holliday.

- The New York Mets orchestrated a trade with the Brewers to pick up veteran catcher Johnny Estrada. Don't waste your time, I googled it, they aren't related.

- It's expected that Priest Holmes will announce his retirement today following an attempted comeback from his 2005 neck injury. He reinjured his neck last Sunday agaist the Colts in the 2nd start of his comeback. Priest Holmes is a 3-time Pro Bowler and was a member of the Super Bowl XXXV Champion Ravens.

Yes, the Ravens did actually win a Super Bowl. I've been trying to block it out too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Seattle Punter Josh Brown Levels Devon Hester

There's two things that I love, when a fan makes a specular catch on a foul ball and when a punter or kicker lays down a big hit in a football game. And with that we have Seattle Seahawks Punter Josh Brown leveling Chicago Bears Pro Bowl kicker returner and Madden 08 extraordinar Devon Hester.

Extra Points for the celebration.

Packers Defensive Backs May Have Violated NFL Bounty Rule

The NFL has been void of scandal for a while now. It's been months since a player has been caught fighting dogs or a coach has been caught filming opposing teams playcalling. But we are trying our best to make do. Terrell Owens waving around a touchdown towel, I guess we can try and make that work. Referees reviewed a field goal, which is technically not reviewable. It was a bizarre play, but not exactly an earth shaking scandal.

But the Green Bay Packers defensive backs have stepped up to the plate. It appears that by offering their own teammates, more specifically the defensive linemen, $500 a head to hold Adrian Peterson under 100 yards, they have violated the "bounty law". Possibly. Maybe.

The NFL is investigating the charges, but it's not even certain if the players violated the rule. In fact I'm not even sure if an actual complete NFL Rulebook exists. Unlike the MLB, NHL, or NBA the NFL does not offer anything more than the "for dummies" look at the rules online. Plus there's the whole Tuck Rule thing.

The intention of the bounty rule is thought to be to prevent the organizations or staff from offering bounties on injury opposing players. And it appears that the practice of motivating teammates performance with a reward, such as a couple hundred dollars, while illegal, is and has been a common place practice in NFL locker rooms.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kita, who will face the Packers this Sunday, doesn't seem to find anything wrong with it, granted there is no intent to injure.

Although Adrian Peterson was in fact injured in the game against the Packers, there is thus far nothing to indicate there was a bounty for anything more than holding Peterson to under 100 yards.

The most famous instance of the Bounty Rule was when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones claimed following a 1989 match-up with the rival Philadelphia Eagles, that Eagles coach Buddy Ryan offered his players a bounty for knocking out Cowboys QB Troy Aikman or kicker Luis Zendjas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is Mike Tyson Still Sports News?

How long before Mike Tyson's indiscretions stop being filed under sports new? It seems about once a month his name finds it's way into the sports media's front-lines, most recently for being sentenced to 24 hours in jail stemming from a drug possession and DUI charge from September. But at this point Tyson is as much of a boxer as Paris Hilton is an actress.

Sure Tyson was an boxer first, the best in the world at one point, but how far is that going to get you? Do we still think of OJ Simpson as the Hall of Fame running back? Tyson really has not played the role of anything but media clown since his release from prison in 1995. When he's trying to keep his feet, it's financially, not in the ring. And by following his numerous and continuous outrageous actions are we playing the role of anything but the sideline enabler?

Tyson still gets fights, not because he's a great boxer. He's shown time and time again that he is no where near the same boxer he was before being sentenced to 3 years in 1992 on rape charges. Since his unsuccessful comeback he's lost to everyone from the best in the game to journeymen. Mike Tyson gets fights because he's a train-wreck, and it's bound to garner attention from sports media.

But Tyson will do his 24 hours in jail. Two bags of cocaine and driving under the influence, on top of his rap sheet that includes everything from rape to assault to drug charges, and he'll spend a day in jail. Oh, and some probation and community service. Yeah, that'll do it. In no time he'll continue his tour of exhibition bouts and in all likelihood he'll add much more to his criminal record than he will to his boxing record.

But when this happens again, rest assured, the sports media will be there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Game 20: 11/17/07: Penguins 3 - Rangers 4 OT

The Penguins squandered a 2-goal lead on home ice last night, eventually losing in overtime to the New York Rangers 3-4 in overtime.

Early in the first, with the Ranger's on the power play, Maxime Talbot blocked a shot from the blue line. The rebound bounced to Sidney Crosby, who lead the short-handed rush down the ice. Talbot recovered, joined the rush, and Crosby found him with a cross-crease pass that Tablot shuffled behind Ranger's goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Only recently has Crosby begun playing the penalty kill again, and the assist was Crosby's first shorthanded point since his rookie season.

Just minutes later, with a Ranger's penalty pending, the 6 Penguins skaters controlled the play, cycling the puck around the offensive zone. The puck bounced to Crosby who beat Lundqvist with a bad angle shot, bouncing the puck of the inside of Lundqvist's leg pad and into the net.

But after a decidedly Penguins 1st period, it was the New York Rangers who stormed out in the 2nd. Former Penguin Michal Rozsival scored 2 goals, one of which short-handed, in just over 3 minutes to knot the game all up at 2-2.

The Ranger's took the lead on Daniel Girardi's power play goal as the clock winded down in the 2nd. Ryan Whitney was unable to clear the rebound off a Fedor Tyutin shot, and Girardi picked it up and scored to give the Ranger's the lead.

In the 3rd, with the one goal lead, the Ranger's sat back defensively with aims on shutting down the Penguins attack. And they were successful until, with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game, Erik Christensen lead the rush, carrying the puck into the offensive zone. He beat the trap, throwing the puck behind the net just after crossing the blue line. After a fortunate bounce of the glass, Evgeni Malkin, with his stick tied up by the Ranger's defense, kicked the puck over to teammate Petr Sykora, who's back hand goal tied the game late in the 3rd.

In overtime the Ranger's Paul Mara found teammate Jason Strudwick for the game winner on a across the crease pass from an odd man rush.

Marc-Andre Fleury made some mistakes in this game, but none of them lead to goals. Rozsival's short handed tally and Strudwick's overtime winner both came off an odd man rush following a Penguins defenseman being caught too deep in the offensive zone. Whitney was guilty in the 2nd, Gonchar in OT.

The Penguins have yet to have the scoring breakout that they need to kick this November slump, though they did have a number of scoring opportunities which were thwarted by the stellar play of Lundqvist. Pittsburgh has scored more than 3 goals only once out of the 9 games this month. Of the 8 games in which they've scored 3 or less goals they have lost 7.

Again last night there were complaints about the poor ice surface at the Mellon Arena. It's to be expected from the oldest ice surface in the league, but it's just another reason why the Penguins will be looking ahead to that new arena that's on the way. For such a dynamic finesse squad, their game is hindered by the slow choppy home ice.

But they'll be back in the Mellon Arena on Wednesday night to finish off an incredibly difficult 8 straight Atlantic Division games, the Penguins (8-10-2) will face the New Jersey Devils.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Filling Out Your NHL All-Star Ballot - Eastern Conference: Because Knowledge is Power

It's that time of the year again. You can't make it through a commercial break without running into at least one political advertisement informing you of the atrocities the other candidate has committed. You'd think that voting to raise taxes was akin to infanticide. But while local elections are important and all, that also means that the NHL has released this seasons All-Star ballot.

Like me, your first ballot is probably gonna be stocked with home town players. Use that write-in vote sparingly, you've only got one per conference. But after we get that out of the way, let's sit back and see who, as we approach the quarter mark in the season, deserve to suit up in Altanta on January 27th at the NHL All-Star game.

Today we'll address the Eastern Conference.

Sidney Crosby - F - You can go ahead and set this spot in stone right now. He is the face of the league. He has scored in 18 straight games. He is a point behind the league leader. And all this while his team isn't exactly performing up to par. Without a doubt Sidney Crosby is the most dynamic player in the league, and has been since his introduction to the league only 2 seasons ago. Ted Williams once said they invented MLB All-Star game for Willie Mays. Well there are many talented players in the NHL right now, but the All-Star game was created for the select few like Crosby.

Ilya Kovalchuk - F - Thanks to the competition between the two for the rookie of the year trophy, everyone loves to hype up the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin. Which is why when it comes to putting together these dream lines everyone seems to gravitate towards pairing the two. But if I want a finisher out there accepting Crosby's passes, I look no further than Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk. Not only is he leading the league in scoring, with 15 goals through 18 games, but earlier this month he put up back to back hat tricks. And he's done so as his team is trying to overcome a rough start that saw head coach replaced by GM Don Waddell.

Vincent Lecavalier - F - And if the ballots being punched today (they punch ballots right?), then you absolutely can not overlook Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not because he's leading the league in scoring, although presently he is, but because in the past 6 games he has 16 points. Normally he is a talented player, but right now the guy is on a tear that puts Paul Stastny or the Minnesota Wild to shame.

Sergei Gonchar - D - I may look like something of a homer selecting Sergei Gonchar, even with him leading defensemen in scoring. But I'm using my write-in vote for him. And actually I feel a little weird about it myself, because watching him day in and day out, I realize I really overlook how talented he is. Yes, I wake the neighbors screaming my disbelief into the heavens when he doesn't keep the puck in at the blue line or throws a pass through the middle of the neutral zone. But he can also carry the puck into through the neutral zone like a forward, and his shot is nothing short of deadly. His one draw may be his -4 plus/minus, but considering the Penguins team plus/minus sits at -10, and 13 of his 18 points came on the power play, it can be overlooked.

Chris Phillips - D - Perhaps it's the guilt from putting such a non-defensive oriented player in the first slot, but I'm going with Chris Phillips to round off the skaters. If you aren't a scoring defenseman, it's easy to be overlooked when it comes time for the all-star game, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see Phillips on the ballot. The Senators lead the league when it comes to plus/minus, and Chris Phillips is a huge reason.

Henrik Lundqvist -G - Here's the spot that I'll admit it's basically a toss-up between Lundqvist and Philadelphia's Martin Biron. You could make an excellent agrument for Biron, but right now I'm leaning slightly towards Lundqvist. They both have amazing stats, but Henrik has been a constant wall in the Rangers crease. If you want to know who is responsible for the Rangers winning record, it's not Jagr, or Drury, or Gomez, it's Lundqvist. He has allowed more than 3 goals only once in 18 starts. That is how you get your team wins.

That's it for the Eastern Conference. Later the Western. But for now, head over and take a look at the advertisement, er... I mean the XM/NHL All-Star Game Ballot presented by 2K Sports (and I thought it was painful to say the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). Sure voting online isn't really that personal, you won't get a sticker, but you can vote like 50 times. Try pulling that in real life. Well, outside of Florida of course.

Game 19: 11/15/07: Penguins 3 - Islanders 2

It took a goal from an unlikely source, the stick of Georges Laraque, but the Penguins put an end to their losing slump, beating the Islanders 3-2 at home Thursday night. The evening began with ceremonies inducting Paul Coffey into the Penguins Hall of Fame, and it ended with Marc-Andre Fleury picking up his first win since October 23rd.

There was a little bit of a roster shakeup, with Mark Recchi and Daryl Sydor healthy scratches, and Tyler Kennedy and Kristopher Letang getting the call-up. Kennedy was sent down to Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins for a game, in which he had 2 assists, before getting the call. Letang was expected to make the NHL roster after training camp, but after a poor showing he was assigned to Wilkes Barre.

The Penguins gave up the first goal again, on a deflection by Mike Comrie. But Gonchar tied it up before the end of the 1st with a slapshot from the blueline that beat Isles tender Rick DiPietro who was screened by Jordan Staal.

Less than a minute into the 2nd period the Penguins took advantage of a two-man advantage. Evgeni Malkin put the puck on net, but it was Petr Sykora who shoved it passed DiPietro. Later in the 2nd the Islanders evened it up when Josef Vasicek settled down a shot from the point and maneuvered it around a sprawling Fleury.

The eventually game winner came when Sidney Crosby feed Georges Laraque in front of the net. Laraque lifted it high glove side for his first goal in a Penguins uniform. With the assist Crosby extended his scoring streak to 18 games, and Malkins 2 assist extended his streak to 11 games.

It was only a matter of time before Laraque came through big on the scoreboard. He might not be a considerable scoring threat, but his image as just a goon and a fighter is somewhat misguided. He can throw a big hit, but he also knows how to move the puck, and thus far this season he's been a vital part of a hardworking 4th line.

Marc-Andre Fleury ended his personal losing streak with his first win in 5 starts, turning aside 26 of 28 shots. Hopefully the win will instill some confidence in Fleury, who hasn't been able to hold it together for much longer an a few selected games.

The Penguins (8-10-1) will be in New York Saturday night to take on the Rangers (11-7-1). They've already met twice, splitting the series 1-1,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Barry Bonds Indicted on Perjury and Obstruction of Justice

After a 4 year investigation Barry Bonds has been indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, only a little over 3 months since Bonds broke Hank Aaron's All-time Home Run record.

It's been coming for a while, though now that it's finally happened, it only opens the door to a thousand other questions. The investigation was 4 years long, so either they were extremely thorough, or they were digging pretty deep for hard evidence against Bond.

Let's face it, everyone is pretty sure Bonds did something wrong. Exactly what and to what extent is unknown, but it doesn't take much to see that something was going on. However, if there is not evidence proving Bond's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it'll appear as if 4 years of tax payers money was squandered in the hunt for Bonds.

In the meantime Major League Baseball is caught in between, at a major changing point in the league. An elite athlete in the league over the past fifteen years, who holds a number of records, including that of the Home Run King, could see his entire career erased. Baseball has seen scandal before, from the 1918 Black Sox to Pete Rose, but perhaps never at the level that is about to unfold in a court room in San Francisco.

A-Rod and Yankees agree on 10 year $275 deal

Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees have agreed on the outline of a 10 year $275 million contract.

After three weeks of intrigue and mystery, well, it kind of looks like we are right back at where we started. A-Rod sat with 3 years left on his contract at $27 million a year. Of course Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras announced during the deciding game of the World Series that he would opt out of the deal. It was widely viewed as an attempt to one-up the Series, something both Rodriguez and Boras denied. And I sort of believe them, timing has always been a problem for A-Rod, you only need to see him in a playoff game to see that.

The Yankees promised that if he opted out of the deal, a contract that was still being paid for in part by the Texas Rangers, that they wouldn't negotiate. Boras speculated that Rodriguez would be worth as much as a billion dollars to whichever franchise put up the money for a 10-year $350 million deal. But in the end, there wasn't really anywhere else for A-Rod to go. The Yankees and Alex Rodriguez were made for each other. Without the deep pockets of the Yankees in the bidding it didn't look possible for A-Rod and Boras to get what they wanted from another franchise. And when it comes down to it, love them or hate them, the New York Yankees will do whatever it takes to put the most talented players on the field.

In the end, it's a little unclear who came out on top of the new deal. The Yankees cracked after vowing to not negoiate with A-Rod if he opted out, and in turn Rodriguez's deal looks to be about $80 million less than what he and Boras were looking for. More than anything, it just looks like both sides realized they were stuck with each other, and attempted to save face. So A-Rod will continue to cash colossal checks and the Yankees will have perhaps the greatest player in the game on the field.
- The NFL has reinstated Ricky Williams after a year and a half suspension, but the Dolphins are still undecided on whether or not to activate him. And really, why should they even risk throwing off the team chemistry?

- When you opt out of the largest contract in the history of American professional sports in hopes for an even larger one, and in the process take perhaps the largest bidder in sports out of the running, well, let's just say there's some risk involved. Looks like A-Rod has returned hat-in-hand to the Yankees looking for a deal.

- The Celtics stay undefeated with a 91-69 win over the Nets last night, which is great, because that's really what the sports world needs right now, another winning Boston team.

- After 3 weeks the Flyer's finally admit that Simon Gange is suffering from a concussion, but there was no deception or attempts to skirt the league's concussion mandate. After all, how could they even know, it's not like they have world class medical personal. Though actually after Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau I'd imagine a Flyer's fan could diagnose one from the cheap seats.

- Remember when everyone said the Predators and Nashville had reached a deal that would keep the team in town? Guess what, they didn't. The Predators ability to stay in Nashville and lose millions of dollars remains in jeopardy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Brett Hull Named Stars Co-GM

I scoffed when the New York Islanders named backup goalie Garth Snow GM. For me, the 'good old boys' mentality of hiring former players in front office positions has just never seemed to make much sense. It makes perfect sense for a former goalie to become a goalie coach, but a GM? That seems like a completely different skill set.

When the Islanders eccentric owner Charles Wang awarded Snow the GM position he made it a point to note how impressed he was with Snows technological approach. To me, that sounds like Snow either knows how to put together a Power Point presentation, or he won the company fantasy hockey pool.

But the scrambling Dallas Stars have one-upped the Isles. After sacking Doug Armstrong the Stars named former NHL great Brett Hull Co-GM. Now when it comes to Garth Snow, I just kind of assume that he's not the best guy for the job, but Brett Hull, I know he's not the best candidate for the job.

Prior to taking a position in the Stars franchise, Hull spent time as an TV analysis on NBC, where we were subjected to rants that left everyone wondering exactly how such a great individual hockey player could know so little about the sport as a whole. He called out Pittsburgh Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for not being on the ice enough, suggesting they should both be eating up 30 minutes a game.

Now as an NHL game is only 60 minutes long, and Crosby and Malkin were centering separate lines, not playing together outside of the power-play. This would leave somewhere near 6 minutes a game for the 3rd and 4th lines. In fact no forward averaged more than 25 minutes a game last season, and both Crosby and Malkin were in the top 25 centers in ice time.

And that's just one example, later during postseason coverage Brett Hull and guest commentator Don Cherry, of Hockey Night in Canada, shared moments in which each viewers hockey IQ was lowered at least 10 points. Hull and Cherry joined forces to inform the viewing public that all the problems in the NHL revolve around players who wear visors and the crack down on fights.

And now that very same man, with a whole month under his belt as a special adviser to hockey operations in Dallas, will be making critical decisions as the teams Co-GM.

If your a Stars fan, at least you can take some solace in the fact that Co-GMing with Hull will be Les Jackson, who has spent over 20 years working his way up the organization, including the last 7 as assistant GM. Sounds like the kind of guy that deserves the position, too bad for him he'll probably spent half his time explaining to Hull that Brenden Morrow can't skate 10 minute shifts, and no matter how good a defender Sergei Zubov might be, he can't start in net on Turco's night off.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Game 18: 11/12/07: Penguins 2 - Devils 3

The Penguins losing streak was extended to 5 games with a 3-2 loss against the New Jersey Devils Monday night. The continuing revolving door that has been the Penguins net saw Dany Sabourin get the start. Devils backup Kevin Weekes got the call, with Brodeur getting the night off.

The Devils picked up the early lead, with goals by Travis Zajac and Zach Praise. Which reminds me, New Jersey must have the most "Z"s of any NHL roster.

Sidney Crosby extended his points streak to 17 games with a goal 26 seconds into the 2nd period. And Crosby picked up an assisted in the 3rd period when Evgeni Malkin beat Weekes with a slap shot from the point, tying the game at 2.

But the Devils regained the lead when a blind pass from behind the net turned into a Patrick Elias game winning goal.

The Penguins elevated their play after a disappointing 1st period, holding the Devils to only 21 shots, but unless they can find scoring contributions from someone not named Malkin or Crosby, they'll continue to struggle. They have been held to 2 goals or less 11 times, with a 2-9 record in those games.

On the goaltending-watch, Sabourin allowed 3 goals on 21 shots, including a weak first period five hole goal. It remains up in the air who will get the start Thursday night when the Islanders come to town. The Penguins (7-10-1) will attempt to snap the losing streak that has seen them drop 6 of the last 7 games.

EFotG Wakes Up, Yawns, And Grabs A Cup Of Coffee

It's been a week of technical difficulty imposed silence at EFotG. The power chord to my laptop broke, pretty much rendering me useless. It's the 3rd one in as many years, I really don't know what I'm doing to break these things. Though I suppose I couldn't have picked a better time to go silent, with the Penguins dropping their last 5 games. And other than that, not too much went down last week. Or at least not that much that I heard of, but being without access to the internet meant that I wasn't exactly in the know.

But I did find out one unholy nugget of truth last week, the Philadelphia Marathon had reached it's maximum number of runners and I couldn't get in. So I suppose it turns out there's more than a few good reasons to start preparing for a marathon earlier than a month before it starts. I'm looking at a few other smaller marathons I could run sometime this winter, and if my time is under 5 hours I could get into the National Marathon in DC this spring. But at the same time I also remember that I'm kinda lazy, and I don't know if I'm up for running one marathon just so I can qualify for another. Maybe I'll just wait to next year's Philadelphia Marathon.

Also the St. Louis Rams run at the perfect season (0-16) came to an end Sunday with a win over the Saints. Thankfully the Miami Dolphins run is still alive, thanks to a late comeback by the Bills. With 7 games remaining the Dolphins will face 4 opponents with under .500 records, including the 1-8 New York Jets on December 2nd.

And with that I think I'll go sort through the hundreds of unread articles on my Google Reader and try to get caught up.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Perfection: 16-0 or 0-16

Let's face it, if you were watching football at 4 o'clock (EST) yesterday then you really didn't have an option to watch anything but the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts meet in what was the battle of the remaining undefeated teams. In fact, somehow the term Super Bowl 41.5 showed it's ugly face again. Even though it makes even less sense this time as it did the last, mostly because both the Patriots and Colts are AFC teams.

But we watched. Or at least I did, and you probably did too.

When the then undefeated Cowboys met up with the Colts in Week 6 the game averaged 29.1 million viewers. The highest regular season game in ten years, and CBS's highest rated game in almost twenty years. As of now the numbers are still being tabulated, but early expectations are the Colts vs. Patriots may top it.

And now here we sit today with only one undefeated team now. And, spoiler alert, it's the Patriots. Are they going to finish undefeated? I don't think so, but I'll leave that up to CBS, FOX, and ESPN, because really it's all they want to talk about. More and more they abandon the reporting aspect, leaving us ambushed with Sports Prognosticators. Whatever sells.

But something big is happening. Something that hasn't happened in over thirty years. And something that has never happened since the regular season expanded from fourteen games to sixteen.

In case you haven't been indoctrinated by years of NFL Film tapes, the 1972 Miami Dolphins were a perfect 14-0 and went on to win Super Bowl VII. Including the playoffs they went 17-0. The 2007 Patriots could perhaps go down as the greatest team ever, if they can match the feat in the modern era, going 19-0.

Impressive? Certainly. But right now I'm much more interested in what's going on in Miami and St. Louis these days. The Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams have their own untarnished seasons going. Both teams sit at 0-8, a mere 8 losses away from setting NFL history with it's first 16 loss season.

In their inaugural season the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14. On average they were defeated by 20 points a week. 5 times they were shut out. They did not just lose, they were decimated. They sit atop all other teams as the only team in modern NFL history to go perfectly defeated.

Others have toyed with it. The 1982 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike shortened season. 7 teams have gone 15-1. In 2001 the Detroit Lions started 0-13 before picking up their first victory, and eventually finishing the season 2-14. But with the Rams and Dolphins sitting at 0-8, it looks feasible. Could this be the year? Is it even possible in this, the age of parity.

I'm sitting on the edge of my seat fingers crossed. Though, unfortunately for the television ratings the Rams and Dolphins paths don't cross this season, as I'm sure the Neilsen Ratings would be off the scale. Going undefeated, that's one thing, but everyone slows down to see the car wrecks.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

11/3/07: Game 13: Penguins 2 - Islanders 3

For the second time in as many games the Pittsburgh Penguins squandered a 2-0 lead and lost 3-2. Thursday in was in Colorado, tonight it was in New York against the Islanders.

Once again the Penguins looked to be well in control of the game after the first, only to allow the Islanders back into the game.

Al Arbour was behind the Islanders bench for one more time, under a special invitation from Ted Nolan, to allow Al to pick up his 1,500 game.

The bounces certainly did not go the Penguins way, with one Islanders goal generated from an awkward bounce off the boards behind Fleury, and another coming from an Islander who lost his edge at the Penguins blue line, only to have the puck come back his way leading to a rush and eventually goal. But defensively, the Penguins are not operating efficiently. They are attempting drop passes in their own zone, and passing through the middle in the neutral zone. These are the things that are bound to stifle a rush.

The cycle has looked promising lately, but they need finish. The plays are there, the passes are there. They need to get their sticks on the ice, and hit the net hard, picking up rebounds. Sidney Crosby's moves are dazzling, and Sergei Gonchar's shot is lethal, but we need the Ryan Malone rebound goal, the hard working goal.

What is worth celebrating however, that Alan Nasreddine finally saw his first action on the blue line tonight. It wasn't his best showing, but we need a defenseman that is more comfortable in their own zone than on the opposing teams blue line. Mark Eaton seems to be our only one. Rob Scuderi was caught standing still on Miroslav Satan's game winning goal in the 3rd.

Colby Armstrong, who hasn't picked up a point in 10 games, found himself a healthy scratch tonight. It would be a huge boost to get the Army of old out on the ice, let's hope he get's it together.

Monday night the Penguins face the second in what will be 9 straight Atlantic Division opponents, in New Jersey against the Devils.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Game 12: 11/01/07: Penguins 2 - Avalanche 3

Continuing their 4 game road trip, the Penguins found themselves out west in Colorado Thursday night, taking on Jose Theodore and the 6-4 Avalanche.

With the 9 pm start time out East, I had the evening to prepare for this game. First I played a couple games of NHL 08 online, and then I took in an hour long recap of the Penguins v. Bruins in the 1991 Wales Conference Final on the NHL Network. By the time the puck dropped, I was already in full stride. And in the first period, it appeared the Penguins were as well.

Crosby scored twice in the 1st, with the first goal coming off a fortuitous bounce. Pittsburgh was up 2-0, and Sabourin looked solid in the net.

What a difference a period can make.

The Avalanche scored off a too many men on the ice bench minor in the second. Something I'm sure the Penguins must be leading the league in, and with a fair amount of the blame probably falling on Michel Therrien and his inconsistent lines.

They tied it 41 seconds later with a penalty pending on Sidney Crosby. Following the play Crosby was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Which only fuels my doubts in whether or not Crosby should have been awarded the captainship. Is he a talented player? Incredibly. But if he can't fulfill his responsibility as a captain in conversing with officials without picking up a minor penalty, then what good is it. Bear in mind, I can't say whether blame should fall on Crosby or the officials, who may feel someone as young as Crosby had not earned the right to second guess their calls.

Following the tread, the Avalanche took the lead later in the 2nd on a weak wrap around attempt that slipped through Dany Sabourin. And it stood at 3-2, as the Penguins decided to go ahead and just mail in the 3rd period.

Ryan Whitney left during the 2nd period with a groin injury and did not return. No word on his condition, but it's possible the Alan Nasserdine may see his first action of the season if Whitney is not available Saturday night when the Penguins will meet their Atlantic Division opponents, the New York Islanders.

Barry Bonds opting out of Hall of Fame

Congratulations my friends, we kind of fell into it backwards, but our wish has been granted.

Hold on, let's back up a step.

If somehow a genie popped out of that bobblehead that resides on the desk/dresser/dashboard of every baseball loving fan in America, and granted two wishes (1), immediately after being granted the 2008 World Series to his or her favorite team, I'd bet a good number would probably wish for the whole Barry Bonds ordeal to have just never happened. Well congratulations, your wish has been granted. Kind of. So now feel free to waste that second wish on landing A-Rod or maybe season tickets. Because Bonds may have done himself in, that is, at least as far as the Hall of Fame goes.

You probably remember the story. In fact, I guarantee you do. It was reported on every sports show, blog, morning program, and news outlet in the nation. In an incredible act of democracy, and a good deal of self advertisement, a certain designer purchased the Barry Bonds 756 ball, and left it up to you, yes the people, as to what fate it would have. And what did you decide? Well of course, brand that bad boy with an asterisk and FedEx it first-class to the hall of fame.

Well guess what? Turns out Bonds wasn't exactly thrilled with the whole process, and he says he's going to boycott the hall of fame if his record breaking ball is astriskized (2). Now I think you see where I'm going with this, and it only took a couple hundred words and a bad example involving a slightly less talented baseball genie.

The Hall of Fame, which actually has no association with professional baseball, and is thus not under the hand of badly dressed and incompetent Bud Selig, accepts the home run ball. Hey, its free, and everyone loves free stuff. And following procedure, Bonds throws a public hissy fit. I mean he's certainly done it before.

But then will he stick to his guns? Is he really going to turn down an invite to Cooperstown?

I don't see why not. Let's not forget that in the past Mr. Jon Dowd also opted out of the Major League Baseball Players Association's licensing agreement. In fact, he's all about doing stupid stubborn things and sticking to them. Like how he had his self promoting ESPN series canceled due to "creative control" issues. Or even how he has continuously denied any ties to performance enhancing drugs, despite leaked grand jury testimony in which he's stated the opposite.

So if all this works out according to my plans, you can take that second wish and go ahead and use it how ever your heart may desire. Though I'd probably avoid A-Rod, that guys a locker room cancer. Even Peter Gammons doesn't like him.

1 see, in this theoretical example bobble-head genies are slightly less powerful than lamp genies. yeah, blows, doesn't it

2 i just made it up, but, hey, it could be a word.