Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3)

The Ducks worked through a first round match-up with the Minnesota Wild, disposing of them in 5 games. Backup goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov stepped up to task winning 3 of 4 after being thrust into the starting role. Jean-Sebastian Giguere returned to win game 5 and clinch the series. Chris Pronger is a blue line threat, with 2 goals and 4 assists, and the Ducks powerplay is hot, coverting of 5 of 19 attempts against the Wild.

The Canucks edged out the Dallas Stars in a 7 game goaltenders duel, and are entering the second round on only a days rest. Roberto Luongo has played solid in the net, but Vancouver's forwards are going to have to step up and create more scoring oppurtunities.

Luongo is the most dominate goaltender in the Western Conference, but the Stars don't have the offensive force to give him enough room to win the series for them. The Canucks may steal a couple on Luongo's play alone, but this series is the Ducks in 6.

Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Rangers (6)

The Sabres floated through the opening series with the Islanders, not playing as well as they might have hoped, but still winning in 5 games. Overall Buffalo's offensive will need to step up and put some more pucks in the net if they expect to get far in the East. Young goaltender Ryan Miller will keep them in games, but he's not going to steal many.

In the only sweep in the first round of the playoffs the Ranger's upset the Southeast Division champion Atlanta Thrashers. The Ranger's may not have the depth of the Sabres, but they certainly get enough well balanced scoring to be more than competitive. Henrik Lundqvist is also a young goaltender, but he's got experience in playing under pressure. Lundqvist lead team Sweden to the gold medal in Turin last year.

It's hard to judge these teams, as both of them played mediocre teams in the first round. Neither team had to play at full force to advance. This series will be the Sabres if they step up and play at the level that they can. Buffalo in 6.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

First Round Wrap Up

The First Round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs wrapped up last night with a game seven in the West, so that means it's time to look back and see just how I fared when it came to first round predictions. The scoring is 1 pt. for a correct prediction, and an additional pt. for the correct amount of games predicted.


Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Islanders (8) - Down the stretch the the Islanders defied the odds and managed to pull in an unlikely 8th seed in the East. The first round forecast didn't look great, and even with the return of goaltender Rick DiPietro, the Isles weren't able to hold off the powerhouse that is the Buffalo Sabres. For their part, if the Sabres expect to make it past round two, they'll need to pick up their play.

I had the Sabres, but I predicted the sweep, so only 1 pt.

New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7) - The Devils won the Atlantic Division on the back of Martin Brodeur and his 2.18 Goals Against Average. However it was Zach Praise and Brian Gionta offensive abilities that took center stage against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Praise netted 6 goals, Gionta 5, and the Devils rebounded from a 2-1 series deficit to disposed of the Lightning in 6. The pivotal moment in the series came in game 5, when the teams battled to an extra frame, with the Devils ultimately winning and taking the series momentum.
Add another tally, I called the Devils, but I predicted 5 games.

Atlanta Thrashers (3) vs. New York Rangers (6) - The Blue and Red made quick work of the Southeast Division leading Thrashers, who were making their franchise postseason debut. Atlanta fans just have to wait for another opportunity to pick up that first postseason victory, as the Devils stole both games in Atlanta, and finished off the series sweep in New York. Nylander stepped up to task, with 4 goals and 4 assists. Along with the sweep, it's possible the Thrashers may have also manufactured a goaltending controversy by yanking promising 22 year old starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen after a poor performance.
Put a couple on the board for this one, called Rangers; called the sweep.

Ottawa Senators (4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5) - Despite skepticism amongst Canadian press, the Senators finally kicked their playoffs woes, sending the young Penguins packing in 5 games. Ottawa kept Ray Emery's workload limited, and controlled the flow of play in the neutral zone. Despite a broken foot, league leading scorer Sidney Crosby played well for the Penguins with 3 goals and 2 assists.

You can't blame me for not picking against my team, I had the Penguins in 6.


Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Calgary Flames (8) - Talk of another postseason disappointment in Detroit began after the Wings squander a 2-0 series lead, dropping games 3 and 4 in Calgary. The Red Wings battled back, taking game 5 by a 5-1 margin. Facing elimination Flames goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff carried Calgary through 2 overtimes, making 53 saves, but it's was not enough against the Detroit attack. Johan Frazen's long shot from the slot beat Kiprusoff and sent the Wings to the second round.

Another correct prediction. Wings. 6 games.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (7) - The Wild staved off the sweep with an impressive showing in game 4, but with Giguere starting in place Bryzgalov in game 5 the Anaheim Ducks finished off the series with a 4-1 win. Giguere sat out the first 3 games of the series while he dealt with serious family issues. Questions remain about who will be between the pipes for the second round.
I got this one right as well, Ducks in 5.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Dallas Stars (6) - In what was the most highly contested of the first round series, Roberto Luongo and Martin Turco went head-to-head in a seven game goaltenders duel. Both held Goals Against well under 2, and save percentage over .940. In the end, the Canucks edged by the Stars.

Man, I picked the Stars in 7. But had I known Vancouver was going to break out the vintage jerseys for the home game 7, I wouldn't have made that mistake. How could they possible lose?

Nashville Predators (4) vs. San Jose Sharks (5) - When the Predators made the midseason acquisition of Peter Forsberg, some were too ready to concede the Stanley Cup. But when they finished out of the division lead and pulled the 4th spot they ran head on into the perennial darkhorse, the San Jose Sharks. Game 1 went into 2 overtimes, and when the Sharks notched the game winner they took control of the series. Evgeni Nabokov and Sharks kept the dynamic Nashville offense off the board, winning the series in 5 games.

Perhaps I bought into the Nashville hype too much, I had them in 5.

5-3 with 8 pts.

Overall, a rather mediocre first round on my part. Even if you spot me the Pens series, I went 2 for 4 in the West. I did manage better than Maggie, but I'll have to pick up my game for round 2.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Candid Look in the Rear View Mirror

It's a blunt pain in the center of your chest. A feeling Penguins fans haven't felt in some time, almost 6 years. Getting dumped from the playoffs is painful, but I suppose it's better than not making it at all. At least they made it, right? Does not winning the Stanley Cup mean the season was not a success? That's the question I posed myself as I reflected over the last half year.

Coming into the season, my expectations were optimistically realistic. Last season the Penguins finished 29th in the league, but they looked like a team that could be on the bubble for the playoffs. After a midnight escape from Russia straight out of a cheap 80s adventure book, Malkin was finally at training camp and signed to an NHL contract. 2006 first round draft pick Jordan Staal surprised all by making it through training camp and onto the NHL roster. 21 year old Marc Andre Fleury was preparing for his first season as a number one goaltender. Sidney Crosby was coming off his rookie season, in which he became the youngest player to ever top 100 pts. Off season acquisitions brought in the talent of Nils Ekman, Mark Eaton, and Jarko Ruutu.

The regular season saw almost all expectations exceeded. The Penguins excelled after the all-star game, going 26-7-3 and finishing just out of the Atlantic Division lead with 105 pts, a 47 pt improvement from last season.

Evgeni Malkin lead all rookies with 33 goals and 52 assists. Jordan Staal scored 29 goals and became an instrumental part of the Penguins penalty kill. Sidney Crosby continued his rise to becoming one of the elite players of the game, winning the scoring title with 120 points, and should be a front runner in the Hart Memorial Trophy voting for league MVP.

Marc Andre Fleury was solid in net, starting 65 games, and winning 40. He posted a 2.83 GAA and a .905 save percentage. With inconsistency an issue with younger goaltenders, Fleury allowed more than 4 goals only 6 times, and had only one losing streak longer than two games.

The pickup of Mark Eaton proved to be a catalyst in the shaky Penguins defense. The team went 25-8-2 when Eaton played, and allowed 2.62 goals in games he played in, 3.14 in those he didn't. Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney were a constant scoring threat from the blue-line, and finished 2nd and 6th in defense scoring. The defensive pairing were second only to the all-star tandem of Neidermayer and Pronger in Anaheim, and became a large part of the Penguins Powerplay that finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins success should also be credited to role players, the 3rd and 4th liners, who elevated their play. Maxime Talbot and Colby Armstrong were unsung heroes due to their constant hard work and smart play.

Without a doubt, the postseason was a disappointing experience, but at least it was some experience. 16 players on the Penguins came into the series against the Ottawa Senators without any playoff experience. Malkin and Reechi's late season offensive struggles continued into the post season, and the 3rd defensive pairing of Scuderi and Melichar became a liability.

I think it was a mistake to not start defenseman Alan Nasreddine. During the regular season he was +12 in 44 games. And while not an offensive threat, he played smart in the defensive zone, something the Penguins struggled to do in the series.

Crosby played well, picking up 3 goals and 2 assists. Fleury struggled in the first game of the series, but he settled down and preformed well against the Senators onslaught. Ryan Malone couldn't find his place during the season, but played well alongside Gary Roberts in the postseason.

And while the Penguins could have preformed better, this was in no way a series that they turned over to the Senators. Ottawa came into the series with a solid defensive game plan, shutting down the Penguins cycle with smart defensive shifting, and strong offensive pressure. On the few occasions the Senators allowed a legitimate scoring threat, Ray Emery played strong, allowing only 10 goals. The Sabres and Devils may have been the talk of the east as the playoffs began, but with their less than impressive handling of lower seeds, the Senators have been the strongest team in the East.

So now I return to the question, is the season unsuccessful just because the Stanley Cup was not won. And the only answer I can come up with is "Yes". While it's true that the Penguins had many victories on and off the ice (plans are already inaction to build the new arena that has kept the Penguins in Pittsburgh), the season is an improvement, but the main objective, the Stanley Cup, was not accomplished. The best news at this point is the 2007-2008 NHL season kicks off in 5 months, and I think we have a hell of a shot at the Cup.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Game 11: Pirates at Cardinals

The Pirates were back in action Monday night, following a weekend of postponed ball due to the storm that drenched the Northeast. The Pirates and Cardinals meet in St. Louis, already with a history, the Cardinals swept the 3-game series in Pittsburgh last week. Ian Snell was on the mound for the Pirates, Anthony Reyes for the Cardinals.

Pittsburgh kicked off the scoring in the 1st. Jack Wilson walked, and then a Freddy Sanchez moved him to second. Adam LaRoche singled to right, to load the bases for Jason Bay. Reyes walked Bay, bringing in Wilson to score. The next batter, Xavier Nady singled sharply up the middle scoring Sanchez and LaRoche, putting the Pirates up 3-0.

Reyes settled down, and got out of the first without further damage. He went 4 more innings, through the 5th, without allowing another run.

Ian Snell had another strong outing, allowing only 1 hit in 6 shutout innings, before struggling in the 7th.

Scott Rolen singled to lead off the 7th. Following a Jim Edmonds strikeout, Scott Spiezio walked to move Rolen to second. Adam Kennedy sent a line drive to right, scoring Rolen. Snell walked Yadier Molina to load the bases, and move the tying run into scoring position. With all eyes on the Pirates dugout, Mangaer Jim Tracy made no moves. Snell rewarded his confidence, getting Skip Schumaker to pop out, and then David Eckstein to ground out, ending the threat.

The Cardinals chipped away more at the lead in 8th against Pittsburgh relief pitchers. Chris Duncan singled off Matt Capps, and was moved to second on a Albert Pujols ground out. The Pirates brought in Damaso Martes to face Jim Edmonds, who singled to left scoring Duncan. Cardinals 2, Pirates 3.

In the bottom of the 9th, St. Louis looked to complete the comeback. Salomon Torres took the mound, having struggled recently, with a loss and blown save in his last two appearances. Adam Kennedy grounded to first, but LaRoche bobbled the ball allowing the tying on-base. Molina's sacrifice bunt moved Kennedy into scoring position. With one out in the 9th, Aaron Mile's ground ball down the third base took a fortuitous bounce off the bag and over Bautista, moving Kennedy to third. Torres first pitch to Eckstein caught his elbow, loading the bases.

Cardinals left fielder Chris Duncan came to the plate, knowing an outfield single would score two and win the game. He sent the second pitch he saw into left field, but Jason Bay tracked it down, making the out and keeping the runners in place. Pujols fouled off a ball to third baseman Jose Bautista, preserving the Pirates victory.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

NFL Team Schedule Difficulty

The NFL released the schedule for the upcoming 2007 football season, and I've gotten around to working out the difficulty of each teams schedule. They are sorted by Opponents Win Total (OWT), but I also included Opponents Over Five-Hundred (OOF). The AFC and NFC are separated, and only a quick glance at the numbers will show what everyone who paid attention last season knows, the NFC is weak. Looks like the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders really got the short end of this deal.

(Sorry about the dashes, blogger formatting can be a pain.)

AFC-----------------------OWT -- OOF
Denver Broncos---------129-----10
Houston Texans---------129-----11
San Diego Chargers-----129-----11
Baltimore Ravens-------130------9
Cleveland Browns-------130-----10
Jacksonville Jaguars----130-----10
Miami Dolphins-----------131-----10
Cincinnati Bengals-------131-----10
Pittsburgh Steelers-------131-----10
Indianapolis Colts--------132-----11
Kansas City Chiefs ------132-----11
New York Jets-------------132-----10
Tennesee Titans----------133-----11
New England Patriots---137-----10
Buffalo Bills----------------138-----12
Oakland Raiders----------138-----11

NFC-----------------------OWT -- OOF
Arizona Cardinals--------118-------9
Chicago Bears--------------119-----10
San Francisco 49ers------120-----10
Atlanta Falcons------------121-----10
St. Louis Rams--------------121------9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers--121------9
Carolina Panthers---------122------9
New Orleans Saints-------124------9
Seattle Seahawks----------125------9
Green Bay Packers--------126-----10
Dallas Cowboys-------------127-----10
New York Giants-----------127------8
Minnesota Vikings---------128-----10
Philadelphia Eagles--------128-----10
Washington Redskins -----128-----10
Detroit Lions-----------------129-----10

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Islanders (8)

Whenever a team, like the Sabres, have had a playoff spot locked up early, and another team, like the Islanders, has had to battle to the last game to earn a playoff spot, someone always brings up the argument that the lower seeded team has been playing "playoff hockey" for weeks. The idea is that the higher seeded team has grown complacent, and the lower seed team is prepped to take advantage. It's always brought up, but I never find it to be the case.

The Sabres have a powerhouse team. They amounted the most goals in the league and had 7 players finish the season with over 50 points. The Islanders, while having played well enough of late to slide into the last spot in the playoffs, lack a real leader scorer to lead this team in a playoff run.

The New York Islander's starting goaltender Rick DiPietro is still suffering from the effects of a concussion, and will miss at least the beginning of the series. Back up goalie Wade Dubielewicz has only 17 regular season games to his name, and has never played in the playoffs. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller is young, but picked up alot of experience with last year's playoff run.

I honestly can't see a way the Sabres lose this series. I'll be surprised if they don't sweep. Sabres in 4.

New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7)

Once again the New Jersey Devils have picked up their play after the all star break, and find themselves heading into the playoffs as a top contender in the East. The Tampa Bay Lightning tumbled in the second half of the season, dropping the Southeast Division and falling to the 7th in the Conference.

The name of New Jersey's game is defense. They are 27th in goals, but have given up the 4th fewest goals. A large reason why they've allowed so few goals is the amazing play of Martin Brodeur. Brodeur had the highest save percentage of starting goaltenders, at .922, and had a league leading 12 shutouts. The Lightning are fueled by the play of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, but have trouble coming up with scoring outside their top line.

The Devils aren't huge goalscorers, but with Tampa Bay's goaltending woes, I think they'll get enough for Brodeur to win them the series. Devils in 5.

Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Calgary Flames (8)

The Detroit Red Wings are very talented, but they are also a very overrated team. They finished first in the west, but they also played 24 games against the Blues, Blackhawks, and Blue Jackets. While the Calgary Flames are also very talented, they are at the other end of the playoff spectrum, the 8th seed. It's almost hard to believe a team backstopped by Mikka Kiprusoff, with the offensive tandem of Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, finished this low. The Red Wings are full of talented veterans with playoff experience, as they always seem to be. They are lead offensively by Pavel Datsyuk, but they have offensive talent deep through the lineup.

Kiprusoff has the ability to singlehandedly keep his team in this series. Detroit goaltender Dominik Hasek has been on the downward slope of his career for the past few years, but he makes up for it with his experience and consistent play.

I almost want to pick against the Red Wings, but I just don't think a team with this much experience and talent can be upset in the first round. Especially after what happened last postseason. Red Wings in 6.

Atlanta Thrashers (3) vs. New York Rangers (6)

The Atlanta Thrasher's finished atop the Southeast division, but it was the least competitive division in the league. The New York Rangers turned it up a notch late in the season to separate themselves from the pack, finishing 6th in the East. The Rangers have been battling all season in the tough Atlantic division, which sent 4 teams into the playoffs.

Both teams have the potential to run up the score. The Ranger's are lead by Jagr, Nylander and Shanahan. Nylander is not postseason experienced, but Jagr and Shanahan are, with 2 and 3 Cups, respectively. The only question for New York is Jagr's heart, for the past few years it's been up in the air on whether he was going to show up or not. He didn't score in last years early exit from the playoffs. But, when he does show up to play, he can be one of the most dangerous players in the league. The Thrasher's themselves have the incredible one-two punch of Hossa and Kovalchuk. But in the playoffs, depth becomes more important than ever, and they just don't have it.

Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen will be making his first playoff start, but he comes in playing strong. He's given up more than 3 goals only once in his last 17 starts. Henrik Lundqvist started 3 games in the playoffs last year, but he dropped all 3, giving up a total of 13 goals. How these young goaltenders play could shape the series.

I don't think this series will be as close as it may seem, the Thrashers are severely overrated, and I believe the playoffs will showcase their flaws. I'm picking the Rangers for the 4 game sweep.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Dallas Stars (6)

The Canucks vs. Stars match up will see two of the best goalies in the league, Marty Turco and Roberto Luongo going face to face. Both teams rely heavily on their goalies. The Stars top goal scorer, Jere Lehtiten netted only 26. Both teams finished the regular season with 217 goals, tying them for 21st in the league. This is a defensive match up, through and through. This is Turco's 3rd trip to the playoffs, but he hasn't made it past the first round in the last two. Roberto Luongo is making his post season debut. This one is a tough pick, I've got the Dallas Stars in 7.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (7)

The Anaheim Ducks became instant contenders last off-season when they picked up Chris Pronger, teaming him with Scott Neidermayer to create the most talented defense in the league. The Minnesota Wild have been a dark horse in the West for the past few years, and are constantly one of the best coached teams in the league. This year's playoffs are packed with great first round match ups.

The Wild finished 7th in the West, largely due to their top star Marion Gaborik missing extensive time during the regular season. With Gaborik healthy and playing well, a few goals could keep the Wild in this series.

Goaltending is a question in Minnesota. Backstrom has been thrust into the starting role, and played like he doesn't want to lose it. The Ducks Giguere became a household name with his dominant playoff play, Backstrom would like to do the same.

Jacques Lemaire gets everything out of the Wild, but the Anaheim Ducks are just too talented through their lineup to make this early of an exit. I'm picking the Ducks in 5.

Give Me a Break

Your just gonna have to cut me some slack on not getting the NHL series previews up for the two late games last night. After the debacle that was last night's Penguin's game, I just went straight to bed. I honestly don't even know how they went. But I tivo'd last night's Hockey Central, and I'll check that out after I've made my preview and prediction.

I've awoken, drank a cup of coffee, ate a couple pancakes, and I think I'm able to deal with sports again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Nashville Predators (4) vs. San Jose Sharks (5)

Sometimes you just get an unlucky draw. That's the case of the San Jose Sharks, who finished 5th in the West and will face the Nashville Predators in the first round. The Predators bolstered their already talented line up with Peter Forsberg at the trade deadline, and immediately became the consensus pick in the West. The Sharks, lead by Cheechoo, Thornton, and Marleau, aren't exactly light-weights themselves. It's a shame one of these teams have to be eliminated this early. Both teams can put the puck in the net, and both teams are back by talented goalies. It should be a great series, but I think Nashville has the upper hand, I've got the Predators in five.

Ottawa Senators (4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)

In what maybe the biggest match up of the first round of the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, lead by league leading scorer, 19-year old Sidney Crosby, will face of with the impressive Ottawa Senators.

Both teams have the big guns. Ottawa is second in the league in goals, the Penguins are fourth. Danny Heatley finished second in the league in goals, and is a constant goal-threat every shift he's on the ice. The Penguin's don't have a pure goal scorer to match Heatley, but with the puck on Crosby's stick, his teammates become so much more potent.

In only his second year as a starting goaltender, Ray Emery has posted a .918 save percentage with a 2.44 goals against average. At the other end of the ice Marc Andre Fleury has been somewhat inconsistent this season. The Penguins don't have a very dominant defense, they'll need Fleury to step up in this series.

The Penguin's lack playoff experience, but they also don't have the pressure on them the Senators do. Canadian hockey teams are always going to be held to a higher standard by their media. On the other hand, the Penguins came into this year after finishing 29th in the league. At best, they were considered a bubble team.

There is a very good chance that, if this series get's ugly, Chris Neil and either Jarko Ruutu or Georges Laraque will drop the gloves.

I can't pick against the Penguins, my strict upbringing won't allow it. I've got the Pens in 6.

Game 8: Pirates vs. Cardnials

It was a real heart breaker in Pittsburgh Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, losing an extra-innings game they had every opportunity to win.

The Pirates looked prepped to strike early with bases loaded in the bottom of the 1st, but with one out Xavier Nady popped out to first base and Adam LaRoche, now hitting 6th in the lineup, flied out to center to end the inning.

In the 4th Pirates catcher Jose Bautista hit a solo shot off Cardinals starter Randy Keilser. Freddy Sanchez doubled in the 6th, and was brought home on a Jason Bay single to left field, increasing the Pirates lead to 2.

Pittsburgh starter Gorzellany threw a scoreless 7 innings, allowing only 4 hits.

In the 9th, Pirates closer Salomon Torres gave up an outfield single to lead off man David Eckstein, and
walked Chris Duncan. The next batter, Albert Pujols, flied out to Jason Bay in left. Eckstein tagged up and advanced to third, and taking advantage of Jason Bay throwing to third, Duncan advanced to second. With the tying run now in scroing position, cleanup hitter Scott Spiezzio singled to right field, scoring both runners and trying the game.

The Pirates again had a chance to win the game, in the bottom of the 10th with runners on first and second with no outs. But the Cardinals infield retired the lead runner on Jack Wilson's bunt, and relief pitcher Brad Thompson struck out Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay to end the threat.

Pittsburgh relief pitcher John Wasdin gave up a single to Gary Bennet, then a double to Aaron Miles in the top of the 12th. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and on Skip Schumaker's fly to left field Bennet attempted to tag-up and score from third. The Jason Bay throw was on time, but Bucs catcher Ronny Paulino dropped the ball on the tag, and Bennet was ruled safe, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

Leading off the bottom of the 12th, Chris Duffy walked, putting the Pirates tying run on-base. However Jack Wilson hit an infield pop out, and Freddy Sanchez hit into a game ended double play.

The Pirates look to avoid the sweep, Wednesday at home, before Barry Bonds and San Fransisco Giants come into town for a weekend series.

The New NFL Personal Conduct Policy

Fresh off his first season as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has wielded the full force of his power for the first time, enacting an new stricter NFL Personal Conduct Policy. The aim of the new policy is to crack down on the increasing number of off-the-field problems encountered by NFL players. As many as 40 players were arrested during the 2006, facing charges from spousal abuse to possession of a concealed weapon to burglary.

Through the updated program NFL players will attend mandatory briefings given by law enforcement representatives, covering weapons, drugs, drinking and driving, and domestic disputes. The NFL has also expanded it's mandatory rookie orientation programs, aimed at helping first year players successful adjust to the league through educating players on personal finance, media, family issues, and life after football.

Each club will also make available more counseling and treatment programs for those that violate league policy.

However, the largest change comes in the carrying out of discipline for those that violate the policy. The league holds the ability to fine or suspend a player, even if his violation is not criminal in nature. They vow longer suspensions and bigger fines, and aggressively dealing with repeat offenders, reiterating transgressions need not result in a criminal conviction.

NFL clubs will also be subject to league disciple for the violations of it's club employee's. The Cincinnati Bengals have seen 9 of their players arrested since January 2006.

While the policy appears to be widely accepted, with both the support of the owners and NFL Players Association, there is still some underlying concern about the amount of power it affords the league. With no conviction needed for assessing fines or suspensions, it comes down to the league's determination on which conduct violates it's higher standard.

To see the dangers of such a position, we need to look no further than today's very own sports section.

Last year after allegations of rape surfaced against several players of Duke's Lacrosse team, the season was canceled and the players suspended. Today prosecutors dropped all remaining charges, after DNA samples exonerated the young men, and a significant change in the accuser's account.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Cooking the Record Books

Let me first say, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is one of, if not the greatest goaltender in the NHL today. He is without a doubt a first round Hall of Fame ballot selection. He deserves serious consideration for the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP of the season. Without Brodeur, it's very likely the Devils would be scheduling tee times right now instead of preparing for a first round playoff match up with the Tampa Bay Lightning*. He faced the most shots in the league, and has the highest save percentage of all starting goaltenders.

That being said, it is an absolute crime that the NHL Record Book will remember Brodeur as the goalie with the highest regular season victory total.

With a 3-2 victory over the league worst Flyers on Thursday night, Martin Brodeur picked up his 48 win, passing Flyer's great Bernie Parent for the highest regular season win total. However, Brodeur accomplished this with a considerable advantage Parent never had, the shoot-out victory.

During the 1973-74 season Parent lead the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a 47-13-12 record. 47 wins, only 13 losses, and 12 of those old fashioned things called ties. Ties that in today's NHL would be settled in a shootout.

Martin Brodeur went 48-23. 38 wins this year came in regulation or overtime. The other 10 came from shootouts.

While the numbers may remember Brodeur as passing Parent's regular season record this year, the truth is this isn't even Brodeur's greatest season. In 1999-2000 he won 43 games, lost only 17, and has 11 ties.

Right now it's a feel good story, one of today's best has surpassed one of yesterday's greats. There will be video montages, probably a ceremony or two, and it'll play great for the crowd. But without a doubt, someone will break it in the next few years. Perhaps they'll break 50. And Parent will drop a spot lower in the books, despite putting together what was the greatest season an NHL goalie has ever played.

Game 7: Pirates vs. Cardinals

It was a pitchers duel in the season opener in PNC between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 7 innings, Pittsburgh starter Ian Snell allowed only one run, on a 4th inning single by Scott Rolen, scoring Albert Pujols from 2nd.

St. Louis starter Braden Looper went 7 shut-out innings, allowing only 2 hits.

In the top of 8th, Preston Wilson, pinch-hitting for Jim Edmonds, doubled, scoring Eckstein and Pujols, increasing the Cardinals lead to 3-0.

St. Louis relief pitchers continued the domination of the Bucs line-up, completing the 3-hit shutout.

Through the entire game the Pirates were unable to get move a base-runner past 2nd base.

Adam LaRoche continued to struggle at the plate, going 0 for 3 with a walk.

The two teams will meet again at PNC Park tomorrow night for the 2nd game of the 3-game series.

Game 6: Pirates at Reds

With the temperatures dropping on the bitter cold field the Pirates met the Cincinnati Reds, attempting to avoid the 3-game road series sweep. Zach Duke took the mound for the Pirates after having his April 5th start pushed back due to a split fingernail. Former Pirate, Victor Santos started for the Reds.

Last years NL Batting Champion Freddy Sanchez made his belated season debut for the Pirates, having missed the first 5 games of the season nursing a sore knee.

The Pirates scored first, in the 4th inning, thanks to a RBI double by Brad Eldred, scoring Xavier Nady from first. They continued in the 5th with a 2-run Jack Wilson Home Run. In the 6th, they linked together doubles from Jose Bautista and Freddy Sanchez, chasing Santos from the mound, and increasing the lead to 4-0.

The Reds battled back in the bottom of 7th, with a Ken Griffey Jr. single scoring runners from second and third. The 2 RBIs moved Griffey up to 21st all-time in Runs Batted In with 1,610. Juan Castro later doubled, scoring Griffey, and pulling within one, 4-3.

The 8th saw Eldred increase the Bucs lead to 5-3 with a solo homer. Then in the 9th, Jason Bay’s deep shot put the score to 6-3.

Salomon Torres sent the heart of the Reds line-up down in order, preserving the Pirates win, and picking up his 4th save of the season.

Sanchez went 2 for 4, with a walk and a run, in his season debut.

The Pirates (4-2) will meet the St. Louis Cardinals (2-4) on Monday for their home opener in the newly upgraded PNC Park.

2007 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

It’s taken 6 months, 1,230 games, countless broken sticks, power-plays, body checks, and blocked shots, but the weak teams have been weeded out, and the remaining 16 teams will embark on a 2 month voyage to get their names etched onto the Stanley Cup.

Some teams have been favored since the beginning of the season, others made it in by the skin of their teeth. Some teams, like the Detroit Red wings, are full of grizzled veterans with thousands of games of playoff experience. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, are full of fresh faced youngsters getting their first taste of the NHL post season.

They’ll meet in packed arenas from Vancouver to Tampa Bay, battling to best the opposition in a 7 game series, and move a step closer to the greatest prize in all of hockey. Keep those lucky socks from the wash, and leave that razor on the shelf, the 2007 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off Wednesday night.

Eastern Conference
Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Islanders (8)
New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Atlanta Thrashers (3) vs. New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators (4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)

Western Conference
Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Calgary Flames (8)
Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Minnesota Wild (7)
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Dallas Stars (6)
Nashville Predators (4) vs. San Jose Sharks (5)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Prepare to Be Confused

With only a couple games left on most teams schedules there is still a lot up for grabs in the Eastern Conference. Two of the Division leads are being contested, with 10 teams in the running for the 8 playoff positions.

The Buffalo Sabres have locked up the Northeast Division lead and the top seed in the East with Tuesday nights victory in Pittsburgh.

The New Jersey Devils need only a win or a Penguins loss to guarantee them the Atlantic Division and the second overall seed in the East.

Last years Stanley Cup Champions, the Carolina Hurricanes, have been eliminated from playoff contention, leaving the Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning vying for the Southeast Division and third seed in the East. The Thrasher's could lock up the division with a win and a Lightning regulation loss.

The Ottawa Senators are currently sitting in the fourth seed, and are preparing for a first round match up with the second place finisher in the Atlantic, either the Penguins or Devils. They could pick up home ice advantage with in win against the Penguins on Thursday night.

Seeds 6, 7, and 8 are still highly contested, with the Lightning in the most unique situation. With them not out of the running for the Southeast, they could finish with the third seed. However, it is also possible for them to miss out on the playoffs entirely. They could guarantee themselves a spot by picking up a point, with either a win or an overtime or shootout loss against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

The New York Ranger's are in a similar situation, a win on Thursday against the Canadiens, and they are in. A loss, and they would drop to the 8th spot in the East. The Montreal Canadiens are battling with their northern counterparts, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who find themselves a point out of the playoffs.

While the New York Islander's have not been mathematically eliminated, they find themselves on a narrow path. They could max out their points at 92 by winning their last 3 games, and still be eliminated with a Montreal win.

Penguins vs. Sabres

The Penguins never quite showed up to the game against the Sabres, who clinched the first spot in the Eastern Conference with the regulation win.

Mark Recchi opened up the scoring halfway through the first period, scoring on a rebound of a Jordan Staal shot. The play was reviewed, but it was determined he did not use a kicking motion and the goal was allowed.

Dmitri Kalinin answered back minutes later, with a shot that found it's way past screened goaltender Marc Andre Fleury, off the far post and into the net.

The Sabres seperated themselves from the Penguins with a Derek Roy goal in the second, and goals from Vanek and Pominville in the third.

Second year starter Ryan Miller was forced to make only 22 saves in the Buffalo victory.

The Penguins, who rely heavily on their special teams, went 0 for 8 on the power-play.

Sergei Gonchar appeared to be struggling on the blue line without his defensive partner Ryan Whitney, who sat out the game after tweaking his groin Saturday night against the Maple Leafs.

A shoot-out loss moved the Devils another point ahead of the Penguins in the race for the Atlantic lead. They stand at 104 pts, 3 ahead of the Penguins, with both teams having 2 games remaining on their schedule.

Thursday night the Penguins travel to Ottawa to face off against the Senators, in what may be a preview of a first round playoff battle between the two. With the teams occupying the 4th and 5th spots in the East, this game could prove to have huge implications on home ice advantage.

Game 2: Pirates at Astros

Relying on late inning heroics, the Pirates won their second straight game in comeback fashion against the Houston Astros.

Pittsburgh jumped to an early lead with a monstrous home run from Xavier Nady in the second inning. But the Astros Jason Lane would tie it with a solo shot of his own in the 5th.

Pirates starter Ian Snell allowed another run in the 6th on Carlos Lee's outfield single scoring Orlando Palmeiro from second base. Snell went 6 innings, striking out 11, in his first start of the season.

In the 8th, Jack Wilson bunted his way to an infield single, and was pushed to second on a Jason Bay walk. Ronny Paulino drove Wilson home from second with a line drive to left field, and then Xavier Nady put the Bucs ahead with an outfield fly single scoring Jason Bay.

Closer Salomon Torres shut Houston down in the 9th, and the Pirates picked up their second win, 3-2. Torres got the save (2), Jonah Bayliss the win.

Pirates first-baseman Adam LaRoche has yet to pick up his first hit with the Pirates, going 0 for 3 with a strike out and a walk.

Pittsburgh will wrap up the series with the home opener in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Game 1: Opening Night - Pirates at Astros

Opening day has finally arrived. Finally games that matter, and in real stadiums. The Pirates open their 162 game schedule in Houston taking on the Roy Oswalt and the Astros.

Pirates starting pitcher Zach Duke went 7 innings, only giving up 2 runs on a Luke Scott Home Run in the bottom of 5th.

The Bucs battled back late with a pinch-hit solo homer in the 8th by McLouth. In the 9th, down 2-1, Xavier Nady sent the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers, evening it up at 2-2.

The 10th saw Jason Bay put the Bucs ahead with a 2-run Home Run, and Torres retired the Astros 1-2-3 for an extra-innings Pirates victory in the season opener.

Matt Capps picked up the win, Salomon Torres the save.

Chris Duffy looked impressive in center field, gunning Scott trying to stretch a outfield hit into a double in the 2nd, and then throwing out Burke trying to score from second in the 5th.

Hometown kid, Don Kelly, made his MLB debut with a pinch-hit in the 9th inning.

Last years NL Batting Champ Freddy Sanchez started off the season on the DL due to a sprained knee.

$3.2 off-season acquisition Adam LoRoche went 0 for 5 with 4 strike outs.
As expected, I broke like the Kosheish Dam (History Channel) and purchased the package. I only picked up the monthly deal, I figure I'll feel it out and see how I like it. It's the standard package (400k) not the premium package (700k), but it seems to be streaming fine and looking alright. I'm guessing with MLB's exclusive television deal with Direct TV subscription is probably going through the roof.

So you might ask me why I would do something like this. Why, when I'm already near broke, would I invest in this? It's certainly not because the current Bucs line up inspires a great deal of hope of making a playoff spot. They haven't had a winning season since I was 6. Their meager 40 million payroll is less than a fourth of the Yankee's. Vegas puts their odds of winning the World Series at 100 to 1. I say they are being generous.

So why? Because just like a million other schmucks out there, the Sports Industry has had me hook-line-and-sinker ever since I was 4 years old. Like the guy in New York who year after year dumps a couple grand on Jets season tickets, the kid who gets a couple packs of cards with his weekly allowance, or the person who answer's the phone "I'm taping the padres game, don't tell me the score". We're all suckers. Life long addicts. But then again, there's nothing I'd rather do than sit on my couch and take in 9 innings on a cool spring afternoon.

Even when my teams bullpen squanders a 2 run lead in the 7th.