Monday, January 30, 2012

Can the Patriots Get Revenge?

In a word: no.

I've heard this game called "Revenge Bowl." And even before last weekend's Conference Championship games, I knew several Pats fans who were craving a Patriots/Giants matchup because they wanted "payback," or "revenge."

But win or lose, the Patriots can't get revenge. The team can't, the coaches can't, and the fans can't.

Even if the Patriots win, we'll never forget what could have been but wasn't in 2007. I'm sure the team and players have moved on from what happened, that's their job. They've been able to focus on playing the next game, not reliving Super Bowl XLII. But we as fans are still living February 3, 2008 over and over again.

There have been comparisons to the Red Sox in 2003 and 2004. Since the Sox won the World Series in 2004, and went through the same Yankees that defeated them in '03, we no longer feel excruciating pain when Grady Little is mentioned. We don't cringe when we think about Giambi's solo homeruns, Mussina's relief effort, or Posada's double. We don't really think of those plays at all. The memory has been mostly erased, and replaced with the euphoria of winning in 2004 and fond recollections of moments like Roberts' stolen base and Damon's grand-slam.

Would a Super Bowl win cause the same acceptance, the same selective amnesia? Would we forget Asante Samuel's near interception? Or David Tyree's miraculous catch? How about Ellis Hobbs getting burnt like toast by Plaxico Burress? If the Patriots win on Sunday, would we forget these plays?


The difference between the 2003/2004 Red Sox, and the 2007/2011 Patriots is simple. The Red Sox hadn't gone 162-0 in the regular season. Their goal was a World Series title. Which they accomplished the next year, thus achieving redemption.

The Patriots were going after a perfect 19-0 season in '07, which would have been the biggest and most impressive achievement for a sports team in American history. This year, the stakes are not as high. A Super Bowl title is still an amazing accomplishment, and not to be diminished in any way. But Don Shula won't lose any sleep over it.

There is no opportunity for revenge here, not for the players (only 7 Patriots return from that '07 team anyway), or the coaches, or the fans. The Patriots cannot achieve what they came so painfully close to achieving in the 2007 season.

By the same token, what the Giants did cannot be taken away from them, for their players, their coaches, their fans. They won Super Bowl XLII, and nothing that happens in Indianapolis can change that. It's in the past and there is no chance of redemption, revenge, or forgetting it happened altogether.

The haunting memories of Super Bowl XLII will remain in Patriot fans' memories forever. No matter the outcome of this Super Bowl, they cannot be erased. But, they can be joined by new memories, positive memories. There'll be no revenge. If the Patriots win, though, the memories of pain from 2007 will be joined with fresh, happy memories. And these new memories will temper the old ones. Like dipping spicy wings in bleu cheese.

So if you're a Patriots fan, don't watch the game on Sunday thinking about "revenge" for 2007. Because even if the Pats win, you'll be disappointed. Just hope they win so you can think about a great 2011 season.

Team Chara 12, Team Alfredsson 9

When Zdeno Chara retires as a player, maybe he should consider being a GM. His top 6 forwards in this game were Corey Perry, Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, and Pavel Datsyuk. That's pretty impressive, even for an All-Star team.

There was also a line that featured Tyler Seguin alongside Phil Kessel. They both had an assist on Team Chara's 12th goal, scored by Maple Leaf Joffrey Lupul.

The star of the show was Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, who scored twice in a losing effort.

The show was slightly stolen by the Trencin Express. That's what I'm calling the combination of Hossa, Gaborik, and Chara. All three of whom are from Trencin, Slovakia. Gaborik won the MVP with 3 goals and an assist. And Chara was +7. Chara also won the hardest shot contest, once again breaking his own record with a 108.8 mph blast.

The All-Star Game is usually a torturous snuff film for goalies, but Tim Thomas held his own. He's now 4-0 in All-Star Games, getting the 'W' in all 4 he's played in. He allowed 3 goals on 21 shots, which doesn't sound great, but his 18 saves were the most among all six goalies. His .857 save percentage was also the highest. Only he and Carey Price broke the .800 barrier. And some of his saves were simply brilliant. You could tell he wanted to show off his talent as much as the forwards.

As unpolished and even awkward as he seems when answering questions from the press, he is comfortable to the utmost when between the pipes.

Bruins host the Senators Tuesday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, January 27, 2012

Terrell Suggs: One of my New Favorite Players

There was some discussion this week about a scoreboard error at Gillette Stadium which made Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff think it was the wrong down. This not only shook up his pre-kick routine on the sideline, it also seemed to force him to rush his lining up for a 32 yard field goal. A field goal he famously missed.

There was an attempt by some to turn this into SpyGate 2.0. It's being called ScoreboardGate. And one Ravens coach (Randy Brown, the Ravens' kicking consultant) when asked about the possibility of the Patriots intentionally sowing confusion said "I don't think you can rule anything out in New England, can you?"

The story never took off, despite considerable effort from the bombastic and outlandish wing of the sports media. Outside of Boston, some people tried to make a name for themselves by spewing innuendo, and implying some scoreboard trickery. And inside of Boston, fans and media stalwartly defended their team against an attack that never really came.'s headline, for instance, read "Ravens blame scoreboard for missed kick." Which wasn't true at all. The Ravens didn't make any assertion. The aforementioned Brown was led to say what he said. Which was kind of stupid, but the kicking consultant is hardly the voice for the entire Ravens organization. And head coach John Harbaugh called the whole notion of foul play "nonsense." None of the Ravens made accusations. All accusations were made by sports media people, who then tried to generate a story about the accusations that they themselves made. Sort of like accusing someone of being an alien, then referring to them as an "alleged alien."

The media tried to make a story out of nothing, but their wheels never got any traction. Mainly because despite the confusion, Cundiff should have still made the kick. And also because any sensible person could realize that the scoreboard's error was due to miscommunication over a ruling on Anquan Boldin's fumble out of bounds, which brought the ball back to where he last controlled it, not where it left the field of play. Moreover, the circumstances were so weird that the notion of premeditation was absurd.

Imagine Belichick telling a scoreboard operator, that just in case the Ravens fumbled a ball out of bounds past a first down marker, to screw up on the down and distance, thus confusing the placekicker. That's a little far-fetched, even for the Arlen Specters of the world. And he's the guy who came up with the Magic Bullet Theory.

Terrell Suggs had the best dismissal of this non-story, when Skip Bayless tried to jumpstart the conspiracy theories.

I'm glad Suggs called out him out. But asking Skip Bayless not to be a douchebag is like asking water not to be wet.

Even after Bayless tries and fails to get Suggs to accuse the Patriots of cheating (using a gentle sounding euphemism like "home-cooking"), he then tries to get Suggs to badmouth his own coach. He tries to start one fire, then moves on to start another.

Bayless is a tool. And that's why he has a job. Which makes him an even bigger tool. And makes people who watch him, even if they hate him, tools. Because people do like to watch him be a douchebag, and that's why he gets paid. And that pisses me off.

I want a "Be an Analyst, Don't be a Douchebag" t-shirt. Of course Bayless is such a tool that he'd probably be the one selling them.

NHL All-Star Teams Selected

There's really only two interesting parts of the NHL's All-Star weekend: the draft, and seeing whether or not Chara can break his own fastest shot record. Last night was the draft, with Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson and former Senator Zdeno Chara picking teams.

Not surprisingly, all the Slovaks and Bruins wound up on Chara's team. All the Swedes and Senators found their way to Alfredsson's team. Carey Price will also be on Team Chara. So will Dennis Wideman. No Canucks wound up with Chara.

But Phil Kessel did. I'm so glad Kessel is not on the Bruins. He puts up impressive numbers (except against the B's), but he's such an awkward creep. Chara's assistant captain for the draft was Toronto's Joffrey Lupul, so the Maple Leaf connection saved PK81 from more shame.

So Tim Thomas, Tyler Seguin, and Zdeno Chara will be on the same team. I'm going to predict that Thomas will allow 4 or 5 goals (no defense in the All-Star Game), Chara will win Fastest Shot, and Seguin will get a hat-trick.

Why the Sox MUST HAVE Jackson or Oswalt

Rumors are flying around Boston that the Red Sox are pursuing Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt. They've even been offered contracts, according to these rumors. These rumors aren't flimsy whispers, either. These are the loud, shouting, firm rumors. The kind that originate from the Red Sox' Front Office through their network of leaks and anonymous sources.

Either pitcher would help solidify the Sox rotation. The Sox cannibalized their bullpen in order to fill the gaps in that rotation, and there's no guarantee that a guy like Bard will be able to cut it as a starter. The Sox could use something a bit more concrete.

Jackson won 12 games with a respectable 3.79 ERA last season, split between the White Sox and Cardinals. He's far from an Ace, but he's a guy who can throw a decent 200 innings at the bottom of your rotation.

Oswalt isn't as appealing, but he might be cheaper to get. I doubt he'll recapture much of his 2010 form, when he was 6th in NL Cy Young voting. But the 33 year old still has something to offer.

So either guy improves the rotation, provides some depth, some insurance, some solidity.

But the Sox need to sign one of them for different reasons, for off-field reasons. I got an e-mail from last night, telling me that a majority of tickets go on sale tomorrow.

The Sox need something to keep the fans happy, to give them hope in 2012.

This off-season started with rage and frustration and an overwhelming desire for change. And apart from getting a new manager, losing a GM, and losing a closer, the Sox haven't changed much. No big ticket free agents. No blockbuster trades. No stud prospects coming from AAA. What is there for Sox fans to be excited about? What is there to drive them to spend money on tickets?

The Sox also have to compete with the Patriots, who are going to their 5th Super Bowl in 11 years. The Bruins just won the Cup and will likely see their season extend deep into the warm months. People in Boston only have so much money to spend on sports. And those dollars are shifting away from the Red Sox.

The Sox haven't made the playoffs since 2009. Haven't won a playoff series (or even a playoff game) since '08. Their TV ratings are going down. They still have that sellout streak, officially, but we've all seen more than a handful of empty seats at a few games.

The Sox need to make some sort of noise. They need to make it at least appear as though they want to win a World Series. This weekend is perfect to do so. The Pats have a week off. The Bruins are in an All-Star break. Time to fill the sports sections of the Globe and Herald with rumors and contract offers.

That's why the Jackson and Oswalt rumors have been so widespread, so firm, and so specific. Even if Jackson and Oswalt don't sign, the Sox have made it very public that they're trying.

Sox fans need something to look forward to in 2012. They want hope, and the Red Sox need to start selling them that hope.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bruins Can't Capitalize on Caps

There are times when the Bruins seem to lose patience with the Julien system. That's when they try making passes through opponents, instead of making more conservative decisions. I think last night we saw some impatience by a few Bruins, who tried making something out of nothing, and wound up giving golden opportunities to the Caps, who took full advantage of them.

Washington's third goal came when Boychuk attempted a D-to-D pass, even though he had no space, neither did Chara, and Mathieu Perrault was hot on his heels. Perrault easily intercepted the pass and scored.

Washington's fourth goal, the game-winner, came after McQuaid telegraphed a D-to-D pass in the offensive zone. The ensuing Capitals' possession eventually resulted in a goal. Had McQuaid made a better decision, then the scoring opportunities would have never happened.

The Bruins' formula for success is a combination of intense effort and intelligent decisions. Last night, the effort was there, but the intelligence wasn't.

And no, I don't think Thomas not going to the White House had anything to do with this loss. Although, since he's going up to Canada's capital for the All-Star Game, I wonder if he'd refuse to meet Canada's Prime Minister, if invited.

Bruins don't play a meaningful game until next Tuesday, when they host the Senators.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ference Suspended 3 Games

With the Patriots winning and Paterno dying, and of course the even bigger story about Tim Thomas not going to the White House, we didn't notice a BS suspension. Andrew Ference got suspended 3 games for his hit on Ryan McDonagh. Here's Brendan Shanahan's explanation:

Well, in my opinion, McDonagh did contribute to this hit by getting in Andrew Ference's way. Shanahan describes this as a textbook example of boarding, but to me, the textbook boarding has been when someone lines a vulnerable opponent up, then strikes when the opponent CANNOT defend himself. Not when an opponent obstructs your path to the puck, then places his legs in such an awkward wide stance that he has decided not to defend himself.

Ference, a relatively clean player, now has a black mark on his record. He got suspended the same number of games as Ovechkin did for this hit:

So Ovechkin launches himself, hits an opponent in the head, and has a history of suspensions and fines. Ference boards McDonagh, doesn't hit him in the head, and has no history of dirty play. And they're suspended the same number of games?

Shanahan admits that Ference shows no malicious intent in the hit. It was perhaps reckless. In which case, a fine or one game suspension is sufficient, I think. Then if Ference develops a habit of reckless hits, the suspensions can increase.

Ference is a 12 year veteran with a clean record and he gets suspended 3 games because McDonagh braced himself awkwardly and tried to block Ference from the puck. Seems a bit harsh.

Tim Thomas Practices Free Speech, Gets Attacked For It

Most of the Bruins went to the White House yesterday, to be honored by President Barack Obama for winning the Stanley Cup. And by most, I mean all of them except Tim Thomas. Even Kaberle was there.

Peter Chiarelli says that Thomas informed him he wouldn't attend the event months ago, citing political differences with Obama. Thomas is a conservative, and seems like a Tea Party conservative.

I'm sorry folks, but that's his right to not go. I personally would have gone, even though I'm a conservative too. I don't like Obama, but I don't hate him. And going to the White House and meeting the President would be a cool thing to do.

Then again, if I hated Obama and the Federal government, why would I want to go through the trouble of going through White House security, just to stand behind him as he made a speech and had a photo op? That doesn't sound like a fun afternoon if you really hate the guy.

I'm getting pissed off at people criticizing him over this.

"He put himself above the team."

"He disrespected the office of the Presidency."

I don't think he put himself or his politics above the team. It's not like Thomas refused to play a game because Obama was in attendance. He didn't go to a photo op in the White House. How does that hurt the team? I don't think his teammates are going to be pissed at him. I can't imagine Shawn Thornton staring angrily at him across the locker room, saying "We needed you yesterday, Timmy. Why weren't you there for us?"

Did he disrespect the Presidency? I guess he did. He certainly didn't show an overwhelming respect for the office. Then again, it doesn't seem like he has much love for any Federal office. And can you blame him? Are we happy with our government's performance this past decade?

Here's the statement he made about not attending the event:

"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

"This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"

You might disagree with his ideological beliefs. You might think that despite his feelings, he should have gone and been in the background of pictures of the President. But to lose respect for him because he exercised his right to free speech? That seems hyper-judgmental, and un-American.

Some people criticize athletes for not expressing their beliefs. Some criticize them for expressing them too much. Tim Tebow, for instance, was praised by millions for vocalizing his faith. He was also criticized by millions for doing so. But ultimately it's his right to say what he wants, how he wants to. It's a fundamentally important part of this country that we're free to express our beliefs.

Of course, that also means that people are free to express their dislike for what Thomas did. And I'm free to call them childish for doing so.

And if this becomes a distraction for the team, then they must not have been very focused to begin with. Knowing this team, they'll probably rally around Thomas and his right to express his political beliefs. The media has already tried turning this into a big deal, and that tends to galvanize teams, uniting them against a common outsider (the media), not dividing them.

I for one did not lose respect for Thomas yesterday. Because I don't care about his political beliefs, or how he expresses them. I don't know Tim Thomas personally, and don't care to. I like him because he's a good goalie. I respect him because as a good goalie. As for his politics, so long as he stops the puck, I don't give a fuck.

And to those who are criticizing his credentials as a teammate, all I can say is that videos speak louder than words. Here's him sticking up for Aaron Ward in 2009.

I'm pretty sure Thomas would have stuck up for Ward even if Ward had voted for Obama (of course Ward is Canadian so he probably didn't).

Tim Thomas didn't want to meet the President. Just because Obama is the President doesn't mean that people should accept every invitation he extends. Thomas doesn't like the Federal government in general, so why should he spend a day with the head of the government if he doesn't want to? This has become a much bigger deal than it really is. I think Obama has moved on and has other things to worry about. I think the Bruins are focused on their game in Washington tonight. The only people harping on this are the media looking to rake some muck, and judgmentalists who like saying what other people should and shouldn't do.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Paterno Dead, Survived by Asinine Fans

Joe Paterno lost his battle with lung cancer yesterday. I don't mind the outpouring of grief on the Penn State campus. I fully understand the praise he's getting for all the good he's done throughout his lifetime. After all, when someone passes, it's human nature to remember them fondly, and focus on their positive aspects.

But there's a line between grief and blind fanaticism. There's a line between emphasizing his positives, and denying that he had any negatives. And some have crossed that line. Todd Blackledge essentially spray-painted it blue and white. Here's what he had to say:

"I know the cancer took its toll. The treatment took its toll and had a part to play in it. His age and his frailty had a part to play in it. But I think as much as anything else, Joe Paterno died of a broken heart today. And I think there were a lot of people that had a part to play in that. Whether it be the Board of Trustees and the way they handled his situation. Even the media, and the way they covered everything over the last several months. I just think that was as much a part of him dying today as anything else. And that hurts my heart."

At least he admits that the 85 year old guy died partially due to cancer.

This is one word short of accusing the Penn State trustees and ESPN of being accessories to murder. These blind supporters of his can't even admit that his death was a normal human death.

Jordan Norwood called him "one of the most influential men in our nations history [sic]."

Wasn't it Martin Luther King Day last week? And don't we celebrate Washington and Lincoln's birthdays soon? I know these guys didn't win any national titles in the 80's, but maybe Paterno's impact on national history is small, even trivial.

Mike Ditka called him a "true hero," which was echoed by a Penn State student on ESPN who said quite simply "He's a hero."

Don't we have men and women in our armed services fighting and dying for us? Don't we have firefighters and cops? Don't we have people who call the cops when they hear about old men taking showers with young boys?

Paterno was not a hero. Even without the recent scandal, he was never a hero. He might have been a great leader and teacher, but not a hero. Heroes risk something. Heroes sacrifice.

He could have been a hero to some kids, but he decided that informing his AD was sufficient heroism for one day.

"It's kind of tragic that they [Penn State] weren't able to do something nice for him before he passed. It's kind of a shame..." That's what a fan on SportsCenter said.

It's kind of tragic that Paterno wasn't able to do something nice for some kids before their lives were ruined. It's a shame that even in death, he is still worshiped as a demigod, and not a man. His contributions deserve praise, and the people he's affected should mourn him. One mistake cannot define a man. It's okay to grieve him and emphasize the positive. But to address and summarily dismiss the negative is asinine, ignorant, and annoying.

I wouldn't mind if guys like Blackledge ignored the scandal in their time of grief. But to attribute his death to the Board of Trustees and the media is simply moronic.

The Other Exciting Games This Weekend

I'm very happy that the NHLPA rejected the proposed realignment that would have reduced the number of times the Bruins play teams like the Devils, Rangers, and Flyers. Not only are these good Eastern seaboard rivalries for fans, but the hockey is simply fantastic to watch.

Starting with the Rangers game, it was a good, close-checking, hard fighting playoff style game. For the Rangers, who are looking to prove something to themselves as well as the League, it was a playoff game.

The Bruins needed to get more from their Power Play unit. Not necessarily scoring. They only got 2 shots on goal in 4 PP chances. That's not good enough. At the very least, you have to generate some opportunities, make the goalie work to kill the penalty.

Another thing the B's did was take too many shots that were clearly going to get blocked. It's one thing to shoot through traffic and have a defenseman block the shot down low. But when forwards are pressuring the point as much as the Rangers' were, it's inevitable that the shot won't get to the goalie. So don't take the shot.

One positive from the Rangers' game was how productive the defensemen were. Andrew Ference has become a sniper (and a thug, according to the NHL. More on that later).

The Flyers game saw more special teams struggles. The Bruins allowed 3 PP goals. There were some weird bounces that favored the Flyers. But the B's also allowed Hartnell to repeatedly set himself up in the middle slot. A hat-trick resulted.

The officiating was interesting. It seemed like the Flyers would hit a Bruin up high, there'd be some drama, an odd number of penalties issued, and the Bruins would wind up being shorthanded. Apparently, checks aimed at the head aren't as severe as standing up for a teammate.

That's the game, though. It can't be easy for a ref to keep a lid on these kinds of games.

I know the NHL wants to make sure that teams like the Bruins, Rangers, and Flyers visit every struggling market in the NHL, from Columbus to Phoenix to Nashville to Miami. The NHL wants these markets to have some games they can promote and sell out. But it's hockey welfare, redistributing wealth to markets that don't care much about the game.

It's not worth losing multiple games between the Bruins and Flyers, between the Bruins and Rangers. If anything, the Bruins should be playing these teams more than 4 times a year. Because these were some very exciting games, with good atmospheres generated by passionate fanbases.

How often do you see a natural hat-trick and a Gordie Howe hat-trick in the same game AND have it occur in front of fans who know what those terms mean?

The Bruins are in Washington Tuesday. They'll also meet the President. I'd like to hear a conversation between Marchand and Obama. "You got big ears, eh?"

Going to Indianapolis

The defense won this game. The defense and Billy Cundiff. It certainly wasn't the offense that won this game for the Pats. While I don't think Brady "sucked pretty badly," he wasn't good. The Patriots lost the turnover battle, Flacco in many ways had a better game than Brady, the Ravens accumulated more yards, and held the ball longer. But the Pats defense made some big plays in big moments and that's why the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl.

The defense did allow a pair of token touchdown drives, struggling to contain Rice and giving up chunks of yardage in the air.

But when Woodhead fumbled a kickoff return on the 28, the defense held Baltimore to a field goal (which gave the Ravens a 4 point lead instead of an 8 point lead). Spikes' interception might have been a big play if Brady didn't throw a pick a few seconds later.

In the 4th, the Ravens had a 3rd and 3 on the Patriots' 30 (48 yard field goal range). Wilfork stuffed Ray Rice for a 3 yard loss, and Baltimore was forced to go for it on 4th and 6 instead of kicking a field goal. The Pats did not allow the Ravens to convert that 4th down thanks to good coverage and pressure from the aforementioned Wilfork.

The offense had a chance run out the clock late but went 3 and out. The defense did allow a big 29 yard Anquan Boldin reception, which put the Ravens in field goal range. Then Sterling Moore saved the game by breaking up a pass in the end zone, then deflected the next pass. So at the very least, the defense preserved a tie.

Billy Cundiff did the rest.

The Patriots' offense wasn't bad all game. They just couldn't come up with many big plays. They struggled in the Red Zone, the Ravens got timely pressure on Brady, then there were the turnovers. Brady threw 2 picks, he also had one called back because of an illegal contact penalty, and he threw another one after an encroachment flag. He was not that sharp. He also missed a wide open Gronkowski and what would have been a touchdown in the 1st quarter. He missed a number of passes, and frequently threw into double coverage.

The Pats' best player had his worst game of the season, but because of Wilfork, Spikes, Moore, and Ellis, the Pats still won. And Brady will get a chance to redeem himself against the Giants.

Longest two weeks of the year. Let's party.

Photo Credits:
AP Photo

Friday, January 20, 2012

Patriots/Ravens Preview

This is the 6th time the Pats have been in the AFC Championship in the Belichick-Brady era. Think about that. 6 times since 2000. Before the B-B epoch (1960-1999), the Pats had reached the AFC/AFL title game a total of 3 times.

Last week, the Patriots were fortunate enough to face the #12 seed in the playoff tournament. They also played the worst QB in the playoffs. And maybe that good fortune has extended into the AFC Championship game. Joe Flacco is the worst QB remaining in the playoffs. 20 touchdowns and 12 picks in the regular season. An 80.9 rating, which puts him 18th in the NFL, between Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer.

But you don't need a great QB to win a playoff game. Just ask Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Or ask the Ravens, for that matter. The Ravens have an excellent chance in this game, although it all depends on one thing. Can they get to Brady?

The Ravens were tied for 3rd in sacks with 48. Suggs had 14 on his own. They can get pressure on Brady. Which means the Patriots will have to rely on guys like Welker and Gronkowski to get open quickly. They'll also need that offensive line to play one of its best games of the season.

If the Ravens do get pressure on Brady and keep the Patriots' offense in check, they can run the ball, they can play possession football, and they can squeeze out a win.

It's tough to respect Flacco, though. It seems like if the Patriots go up by even 4, then Flacco will find some way to screw up.

This game will be tough for Brady and the offense to rack up an absurd number of points. But it'll also be tough for Flacco and the Ravens to do similar. I think the Patriots will win this in a tight contest.

27-20 Pats.

Bruins Find 4th Gear in 3rd Period

The Bruins have an uncanny ability to turn up their intensity, focus, and dominate the 3rd period of games. If games only had 2 periods, the B's would be in the middle of the pack in the Conference. But thanks to their 3rd period play, they're one of the best teams in the NHL.

It was more of that last night. The Bruins recorded the first 10 shots on goal. Thomas didn't have to make a save until about 10 minutes into the period. And by then, it was 3-1 Bruins.

Ference had a snipe that Brodeur couldn't see thanks to his own teammate trying to clear Paille out of the slot. Horton had a tip in after some nice wing to wing to wing passing on the Power Play. And Campbell's goal came after a cross-corner dump in, a Jersey turnover, and a flurry of shots and rebounds off Brodeur.

This year the Bruins have pounced on teams when there's blood in the water. They've scored 2 goals in 1 minute 14 times this year. That's absurd. Last season, they'd score a goal and then play defensively, even relaxing a little bit. This year, they score one goal, and the next line wants to add to the total.

It must be demoralizing on an opponent.

Kelly added an ampty-netter. He has 14 goals this year. His career high is 15.

It wasn't a clean game, but it was a well-deserved win. The Bruins played it tight all game, then pulled away in the 3rd period. And Tim Thomas looks to be back to his A-Game.

Now they get to host the Rangers, whose owner is already talking about his team winning the Cup. Don't think that hasn't caught the attention of the Bruins.

B's vs. Rangers Saturday afternoon.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chara Named All-Star Captain

The only reason I consider this worthy of writing about is that Captains in the NHL All-Star Game pick their teams. Daniel Alfredsson, of the hosting Ottawa Senators, will be the opposing Captain.

There are a few people that might not make Zdeno's team:

Phil Kessel
Daniel Sedin
Henrik Sedin

Jason Pominville might also not be one of Chara's favorites.

The only Canadien on the team is goalie Carey Price, and I can see Chara selecting him if Tim Thomas is not available.

Unfortunately, the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs dominate the rosters. There are 7 representatives from the Ontario teams. All 5 of the players voted in by fans were on either team. I love Canadian fan's passion for the game, but their devotion to their team skirts the boundaries between passion and psychologically treatable levels of irrationality.

Lightning Strike Early and Often

In a span of 4 days, the Bruins have lost to the 4th and 5th place teams in the Southeast Division. These are the 14th and 15th teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, an elite team, lost because they were outworked. It's that simple.

What makes the Bruins elite is that they play within a system, and they work just as hard, if not harder than their opponent. Remove the work, and they're not elite.

I'm sure they'll turn things around within the next few games. They always have under Julien. They go through stretches of bad play like this. Stretches when Lucic's passing is as accurate as Tim Tebow's. Stretches when only two or three forwards look like they know how to do anything. Stretches when they commit silly penalties in the offensive zone.

I'd like to see more Tuukka Rask for the next few games. Thomas hasn't looked bad, but he hasn't looked great. Tuukka's been red hot, and the B's should take full advantage of it.

As I said, I'm sure this stretch is just a stretch. We've seen this team struggle then suddenly turn things around. I'm pretty sure that in a few months, I'm not going to be remembering the January 17th loss to the Lightning.

Bruins play the Devils in Jersey on Thursday. Then they host the Rangers and visit the Flyers on the weekend. That's the 6th, 1st, and 4th place teams in the Conference right there. That should be enough to wake the B's up from this winter slumber.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heisman Meets Shakespeare

Disclaimer: this post contains numerous references to the works of William Shakespeare. If unfamiliar with said works, you will not get the jokes. And I really don't care that you don't get them.

Yes, that's Eddie George playing Julius Caesar. The Heisman winner and former Tennessee Titan is appearing as the title character in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival's production of Julius Caesar. I have to say it's a pretty smart move for the production. Good or bad, having Eddie George on the stage will sell tickets and create a buzz. And Eddie George seems like the type that would enjoy the unique experience.

Eddie George's post-NFL career has been busy and positive, which is refreshing. He's opened restaurants in Nashville, and Columbus, OH. He's all over television with appearances on reality shows and his own show on the Big Ten Network. And he's earned his MBA at Northwestern.

But his latest endeavor sparked a thought in my mind. What other Heisman winners could play characters from Shakespeare?

Doug Flutie would be a good Puck, a diminutive elf always up to mischief. Eric Crouch's confused indecision could make him a decent Hamlet. "To play safety for the Rams or not to play safety for the Rams?" Shylock's greed would suit Reggie Bush. Ricky Williams' decadence makes him a perfect John Falstaff. The religious Tim Tebow could play Angelo from Measure for Measure. I can't decide if OJ Simpson would be better as Othello or Brutus. Either way, I'm sure he'd give a killer performance.

Bruins Start Their Southern Road Trip

The Bruins have dominated most of the Eastern Conference this season, going 11-2-0 within the Northeast Division, and 6-1-0 against the Atlantic. But the Southeast has given them problems. The B's were 4-4-0 against that division before starting this trip.

The Hurricanes have been the most troublesome, even though they're struggling to stay in the playoff picture. They beat the Bruins twice earlier in the year, and completed the hat-trick on Saturday night.

The Canes are fast. The Bruins struggle against such speed. It's not that they can't keep up, it's that they underestimate how quickly these fast opponents can close passing lanes, get to loose pucks, and make plays.

On Saturday, for instance, Gregory Campbell thought he had all the time and space in the world to skate with the puck in his own defensive zone. A fast Hurricane caught up to him, took the puck, and eventually the puck found its way into the net.

In that same game, the B's frequently panicked in their own zone and flicked the puck into space. That's rarely a good thing to do, and it's even worse when facing a speedy opponent who will inevitably get to that loose puck first and make a play.

Ultimately, the Hurricanes outworked the Bruins. The B's were a bit too comfortable, a bit too complacent, and Carolina didn't ease up and let them come back and win it in the 3rd.

The Bruins rarely lose a 3rd period, but they did Saturday night in Raleigh. So I expected to see them come out firing in the 1st last night. They didn't disappoint. Bergeron scored 80 seconds after the puck dropped.

Then more bad habits reappeared kept the game interesting. The Bruins struggled with their entry, frequently losing possession at their offensive blue-line. If not for Rask bailing them out, this game could have been ugly.

Krejci, Seguin, and Bergeron eventually gave the Bruins a lead on a 5-on-3. Krejci won a puck battle, then Seguin circumnavigated the entire zone. It was refreshing to see the Bruins moving bodies on the Power Play, not just playing connect the dots by standing still and passing the puck around. Seguin's shot/pass was adeptly tipped in by Bergeron, who was unnoticed lurking in the slot while the Panthers were mesmerized by Seguin's orbit.

But the lead was short-lived. Florida scored on a post-PP breakaway. And if it weren't for Rask, the Bruins might have lost this game in the 3rd.

Rask kept them in the game with 38 stops. Krejci eventually scored the shootout winner. So while officially his point-streak is over, he still won the game by shooting the puck into the net. Odd how that works out.

The Bruins play the Lightning tonight. Tampa Bay are dead last in the Southeast and have allowed more goals than any team in the NHL.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Pats Fans in Heaven

I tried finding an appropriate 3:63 Bible verse (Brady threw for 363 yards), and the best I could find was: Look at them! Sitting or standing, they mock me in their songs. (Lamentations 3:63). And maybe that can be about how much hype Tim Tebow got leading up to this game, and how much people forgot that Tom Brady is a pretty good QB.

All season, the Patriots have won and lost based on the performance of their offense. Their defense isn't good enough to win games when Brady struggles or turns the ball over. On the other hand, the offense is potent enough to win games on its own, even when the defense is terrible. Saturday night, the offense was at its best.

Brady was nearly perfect. His one interception was the only blemish on his performance. 5 touchdowns in the first half, 6 overall. He completed over 3/4 of his passes. He had fewer incompletions (8) than Tebow had completions (9).

One amazing stat struck me. The Patriots were 3 of 6 on 3rd down. What amazes me is that the Patriots got to 3rd down only 6 times. They got 31 first downs. That means that 25 times they didn't even get to 3rd down before getting a new 1st down (they got 3 1st downs from penalties). In other words, even if the Pats had been playing with CFL rules and only getting 3 downs per series, they'd have still moved the chains with regularity.

The line protected Brady all night. 0 sacks. That was a huge reason for Brady's monster stats. When Brady did have some pressure on him, he wasn't able to fully step into his throws, and that's the only time the Patriots' drives sputtered and stalled. For the most part, though, the line gave him time to find open receivers, and space to step into throws.

If not for Brady, Aaron Hernandez would have been the clear star of the game. He caught 4 passes for 55 yards and a TD. He ran for 61 yards. And he had a tackle. That's a diverse night. He left the game early but all reports say that he's alright.

Using him as a runningback was ingenious in its simplicity. When an opponent sees no RBs in the Patriots' huddle, they might go with a lighter personnel package with more DBs, and fewer big guys up front. Then Hernandez lines up in the backfield and the Pats run the ball against a defense designed to stop the pass. So simple, which is why it's so smart.

Hernandez did lose a handle on the ball twice, which makes me nervous. He juggled an exchange from Brady, and lost a ball after being downed by contact. His ball control isn't 100%. He's not Tiki Barber in the early 2000s, but it's something to note.

Gronkowski should endorse a line of vacuum cleaners. Everything that enters his airspace gets sucked in. Bibi Jones can be in the commercials with him for similar reasons.

The defense did well. The only touchdown they allowed came when the Broncos got the ball on the Pats' 24. But let's not compare this unit to 2003 and 2004. The Patriots' offense shot out to a big lead, and the Broncos have one of the worst passers in the NFL. When down by two touchdowns, simply not throwing interceptions isn't good enough.

How do you stop Tebow from his miraculous 4th quarter comebackes? You start the 4th quarter with a 42-10 lead.

The Patriots demonstrated why the option is not a viable NFL offense. Defenses are too fast for the backs to turn the corner. And they're too disciplined and coached too well to make mistakes. They know their assignments and containments.

The Pats' D-line got excellent penetration up the middle, as well as even pressure on each flank. That prevented Tebow from rolling out, which is when he's most dangerous. It also meant that when the Broncos ran the option, they couldn't cut back because Wilfork was already through the line and chasing the play from behind. Tebow was sacked 5 times, the Pats had 10 tackles for a loss, plus that 1st quarter strip-sack.

The effect of negative plays is always harsh on an offense. But on an offense that struggles to move the ball as much as Denver's, negative plays are murder.

The Pats played much better than they've played in their past two postseasons. There were no fake punts. In fact the Patriots' special teams executed very well. There were a few mistakes, but they were quickly atoned for.

Nobody's perfect. But Brady came pretty close.

The Pats face the Ravens next week. The other two offensive juggernauts - the Saints and Packers - are out. The Pats are unique among the NFL's final four. Which means either that they're the best of the offense-heavy teams, or were fortunate to play the Denver Broncos.

How weird is this? The Pats are in the AFC Championship and they still haven't beaten a team with a winning record.

Pats vs. Ravens, Sunday afternoon at 3. I'm excited. Let's party.

Photo Credits:
AP Photo

Friday, January 13, 2012

Patriots/Broncos Preview

I finally figured out why Tebow is such a big story. He was an underdog, who already had believers/fans before he started "beating the odds." So he has the appeal of an underdog, but already had legions of supporters. Which is abnormal. Most underdogs come from nowhere with no fans. Anyway, that's my short explanation of the Tebow phenomenon, at least the core of it.

To the actual game, which I know is a weird thing to talk about this week.

The Patriots saw what Tebow did the Steelers on Sunday. Rather, they saw what the Steelers' defense let Tebow do to them. They will not let that happen again. They're not going to give Tebow man coverage on deep routes. They're not going to bring safeties up to the line. They're going to give the Broncos 6-12 yard curls, as they've given to every team this year. And Tebow will hit some. He might even hit a few in a row. But it'll be tough for him to repeatedly move up and down the field with just these intermediate passes. He's not consistently accurate enough.

And while the Patriots' defense has allowed 4,703 passing yards (2nd worst), they've "only" allowed 26 passing touchdowns (10th worst). They don't allow many big passing plays. Their longest allowed was a 58 yarder. They keep the ball in front of them. The Pats' defense also improves in the Red Zone. The Broncos' offense actually got worse in the Red Zone last week.

Denver can run the ball well. And Tebow typically doesn't turn it over. So the Patriots have to pressure them to score, to keep up.

That's why the Patriots offense will determine this game. If they can protect Brady, if the receivers and tight-ends can get separation, and if Brady does his job, then the Patriots win. I'm not trying to sound arrogant, but this is a 13-3 team against an 8-8 team. A 13-3 team that beat the same 8-8 team on the road, and now they're at home. If the Pats execute, they win.

What will the Pats offense try to do? Hernandez had a great game back in Denver. Look for he, Branch, and occasionally Ochocinco to be cutting across the deeper parts of Denver's defense. And ideally, that will create space underneath for Welker, even some passes RBs. Denver's defense has a few talented pieces, and a few not so talented pieces. The Patriots will use their extensive arsenal of weapons to get the matchups they want.

Denver's only hope on defense is to pressure Brady.

So the Pats' keys to victory will be:

#1:Protect Brady

#2: Be yourselves on offense

#3: Prevent the big plays on defense

I think they'll do all these. It'll be a close game at first, with the Pats pulling away in the second half. Patriots 38, Broncos 24.

I'd Forgotten How Much I Hate the Canadiens

In the aftermath of the Canucks game, I'd forgotten how much I hate the Habs. I'd like to thank P.K. Subban for reminding me.

The Bruins didn't dominate this game. But still found a way to win. The heroes of the game included Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, and a panel of the end boards behind Carey Price.

Thomas was insanely brilliant. He made so many tough saves at moments when Montreal was vigorously attacking the Bruins' goal. He also bailed out a few B's after they'd made mistakes with the puck.

The best athlete in the world named Tim does not have the last name Tebow. It's the goalie for the Bruins.

One thing the Bruins struggle with when playing Montreal is their speed. The Bruins seem to underestimate Montreal's ability to quickly close passing lanes. And that leads to deflected passes and turnovers. Thomas neutralized Montreal's edge in this area.

Lucic played a physical game all night long. And he wound up scoring the Bruins' only non-lucky-bounce goal. It came when Krejci was able to cycle the puck to Horton along the boards. Lucic was in the slot, being tokenly covered by Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban was preoccupied with holding Krejci against the boards. Lucic scored a sweeping backhand goal and it was the difference in the game.

Subban was targeting Krejci all night. He finally crossed the line with an elbow to the head. I don't care if Subban gets suspended or not. I'm just glad Krejci is OK, and that Andrew Ference stood up for his teammate.

Subban's legs must be made of jelly, because as strong as he is, when someone nudges him his legs give out. He collapsed into a heap once Ference arrived, then looked like an O.W.S. protester being arrested, offering no resistance at all as Ference dragged his limp corpse around the ice. Then he cowered into the fetal position. He's pathetic. Montreal fans love him. Speaks volumes about their fanbase.

As a weird sidebar (sidebar from a Bruins' perspective, at least), the Canadiens traded Mike Cammalleri mid-game to Calgary. Cammalleri made some remarks 24 hours earlier about the team not having a winning attitude. I don't know if he was traded for those remarks or if he was traded because he hasn't been that good this season. Whatever. They do seem like an aimless team, and it's weird to hurriedly trade someone who publicly points that out.

The Bruins start a 4 game, week long roadtrip in Carolina Saturday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Change for the BCS?

There may be change coming to college football's postseason. At the very least, it will be discussed by the 11 Division I-A conference heads along with Notre Dame's AD. There will be mafia style meetings like when the heads of crime families from across the country meet. There will be discussions on what's best for college football's future. There will be stubbornness, there might be compromise, and the Big East might get whacked.

The SEC wants a playoff. Ironic considering how much they've thrived in current BCS format.

The ACC also wants a playoff.

The Big Ten doesn't. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney is adamant that there be no playoff. He also believes that the world is flat and that the earth is the center of the Universe.

The Pac-12 is a wild card, and could be the best chance for compromise. They could be open to a playoff. So long as the Pac-12/Big Ten/Rose Bowl threesome remains intact. At least they're willing to talk.

The Big XII might want a playoff after seeing Oklahoma State lose 1 game and go to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Big East just wants to survive.

As a demonstration of how messy this discussion is, nobody involved even uses the word "playoff" because it's too inflammatory. "Plus-one" is the term to describe a 4 team playoff. Which makes no sense because there'd be 2 rounds, 3 games, and 4 teams.

Call me cynical, but I don't think there will be any major change from these meetings. Maybe the BCS will only sanction the national title game, instead of the title game and 4 BCS bowls. Maybe the notion of automatic qualification will go out the window, which might stop the musical chairs we've seen in college football.

But there are too many uncompromising people, too many various deal-breaking demands for everyone to be satisfied. And without consensus, there will be no big changes.

Until Jim Delaney dies or gets fired, there won't be any significantly positive change to college football's postseason.

Or maybe, if the BCS does separate itself from the bowls, it might grow as an independent entity. It might eventually build its own playoff system. Just like the NIT. Only with no NCAA tournament to compete with. Think of how popular the NIT would be if it were the only postseason tournament and featured all the best teams. ESPN would pay billions to broadcast a football version of that. And where the TV money goes, the teams will play.

That might make the Orange Bowl less profitable, but I really don't care.

B's Back to Business

With Marchand out, other Bruins were going to have to step up. Pouliot was going to play with Bergeron and Seguin, and guys like Krejci, Horton, Lucic, and Seguin were going to have to step up. And they did.

Krejci is hotter than hot right now. He won 11 of 13 faceoffs, and his 2 assists were highlight reel passes. We really saw a good display of the top line's strengths last night. Krejci's vision and passing, Lucic's skating and drive, and Horton's point blank finishing touch. Krejci has 5 goals and 9 assists in his last 9 games. Horton's scored 5 goals in his last 4 games.

One thing that cost the Bruins on Saturday was lack of a power play goal. They got a timely one from Pouliot last night that sealed the victory. Shawn Thornton also scored on a penalty shot. Yes, that sentence was just written.

Rask was brilliant again. He allowed 3 goals, but all 3 were deflected. And he made some huge, very timely stops in the first 40 minutes of the game.

Speaking of which, the Bruins had their share of sloppiness in this one. Giveaways, not taking care of the puck, and it cost them a few goals. Corvo's intercepted pass was the most blatant. But Rask prevented Winnipeg from flying away (pun intended) with a big lead. And in the 3rd period, the Bruins played like a team determined to win.

Back to Corvo, I'm still waiting to find a reason to like this guy. I don't hate him. There just isn't much to like about him yet. He hasn't contributed much to the offense, which was something he was expected to do. And in my opinion, he's the 6th best defenseman. He's 4th in time on ice, but I'd much rather have Ference's stability or Mcquaid's physicality out on the ice.

Anyway, Corvo isn't costing the team much. And he's not struggling. He just hasn't impressed me yet. He's not Dennis Widemen. And he's certainly not Tomas Kaberle.

The Bruins are back on track, and they end their homestand Thursday when the Canadiens come to town. Montreal are struggling. There was a fight a few days ago in practice between PK Subban and Tomas Plekanec. The team has lost 8 of 11. And their fans' biggest concern is that their interim head coach can't speak French. Nice priorities, Montreal.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marchand Suspended for Five Games

After lengthy deliberation, the NHL suspended Marchand for 5 games. They deemed his clipping check of Sami Salo to be "predatory." No doubt Marchand's history and reputation played a part in the NHL's decision, rightfully so. Brendan Shanahan explains.

I wish the NFL would do stuff like this, clearly explaining and showing with video why they've decided to discipline a player.

Anyway, the simple fact is, Marchand ducked too low. If that was intentional or incidental, only Marchand knows. He should also know better. He can duck this check by dropping his shoulder into Salo's hip. He has a reputation and a history, particularly with this team. While we adore him for moments like this one:

That style of behavior tends to draw the attention of the League offices.

And before anyone accuses the NHL of an anti-Boston bias, or of trying too hard to eliminate physicality in the game, let's remember that Chara didn't get disciplined at all for his hit on Max Pacioretty. And more recently, Lucic's game misconduct from Saturday was rescinded.

I do think that calling this hit "predatory" is a bit much. It'll satisfy the whining from Vancouver's players, press, and coaches. In effect, this suspension is a warning to Marchand. One he must heed. I love his style of play, I love how he gets under the skin of opponents, but he has to learn where the boundaries are. He crossed a boundary on Saturday. And now he has some time to think about it.

Of course, to any high and mighty Canucks fans, I wouldn't get too morally superior.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Least Entertaining Postseason in Sports

I could go on and on about how sketchy and stupid college football's bowl system is. I could point out what's been pointed out a billion times and say "we need a playoff." And I think I might start writing a book on the tyranny of the bowls and how they unjustly control college football's postseason. In this little article though, I'm just going to point out a simple fact:

College football's postseason is the least entertaining of all postseasons in major sports.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are amazing. I'm not much of a basketball fan but the NBA playoffs usually draw me in for a weeks. March Madness might be my favorite sporting event of the year. MLB playoff games are tense and pressure filled. And the NFL playoffs are thrilling.

There's something about earning the right to extend a season. There's something special about hockey in June, baseball in October, and football in February. And there's something even more special about teams fighting tooth and nail for that right to play one more game.

Compare that to bowl games. Which can sometimes be entertaining to watch. But then the victors' season is over. Just as over as the team they beat. There's nothing more to win than a trophy and a t-shirt. There's no survival, no advancement to next week's round.

Imagine if last night's Broncos/Steelers game were a bowl game. It would have still been fun to watch. But without anything more than a trophy awarded to the winner, it's not nearly as exciting as a playoff win. We'd forget all about it in a few weeks as the #1 Packers played the #2 Patriots for the national title. While the Saints played in the Rose Bowl and the Broncos played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

We've seen some entertaining bowl games. And tonight's might also be fun to watch. But how much more fun would it be to see the winner of tonight's game play Oklahoma State? How about Stanford playing Boise State? How much more enjoyable would the previous bowls been if the winner won the right to survive for another week?

College football might have the most exciting regular season of all sports. But it's postseason is the least entertaining.

Tebow's Coming to Foxborough

The Broncos beat a depleted Steelers team last night in dramatic fashion. The first ever overtime of "each team gets a possession, unless..." ended with the unless part coming true. And now the 4th seeded 8-8 Broncos are coming to Foxborough to play Saturday night.

This is the best possible matchup for the Patriots. And while we shouldn't underestimate Denver, and the Pats obviously have to execute in order to win this game, the Broncos are who they are. They lost 8 games. They backed into the playoffs. They were thoroughly beaten when the Pats went to Denver.

I do have to say that the Broncos' offensive scheme has improved. They're getting better at putting Tebow in no-decision situations. Like throwing deep. He doesn't have to worry about finding the open man or going through progressions. The decision has already been made for him by the structure of the play.

Another interesting storyline of this game is that Josh McDaniels, the man who drafted Tebow as head coach of the Broncos, will be working for the Patriots as a newly hired offensive assistant.

It's almost worth the endless, insufferable Tebow ball-washing that will be all over ESPN this week.

Proud to be a Bruins Fan

Even if the Canucks had won Cup last year, I'd much rather be a Bruins fan than a Canucks fan. I feel kind of bad for the fans of Vancouver, having to root for the likes of Roberto Luongo, Maxim Lapierre, Dale Weise, Alex Burrows, et cetera. A goalie who doesn't want to play in goal. A coward. A guy who skates away from a fight. A fiend. It must kind of suck to have to support the likes of these characters.

There were two games on Saturday afternoon. There was the game when Vancouver was on the Power Play, which the Canucks won 4-0. And there was the game when they weren't. Which the Bruins won 3-0. There were 107 penalty minutes issued and 18 Power Plays for both teams. 13:34 of this game was played with the Canucks having at least one man advantage.

To be fair to the refs, this was a hard game to officiate. These teams do not like each other. And the refs called the game tight for both teams. And the refs did a good job not allowing Dale Weise to get away with goading Shawn Thornton into dropping the gloves then not fighting.

Unfortunately, the refs were a bit inconsistent. Some hits and stickwork was called for 2 minutes. Some wasn't. Some calls confused me. Seguin's tripping call, Krejci's goaltender interference, the 3rd period holding penalty on Alexander Edler. And why was it that Alex Burrows waves the blade of his stick at Thornton's eyes, the lines brawl, and somehow the Bruins emerge down 2 men?

The officials' inconsistency favored both teams at timse. And credit must be given to Vancouver for their special teams' play. Their Power Play won them the game. And the Bruins' lack of a Power Play cost the B's the game. The Bruins had 7 chances with a man advantage. And failed each time.

I actually think the PP slowed down the Bruins' momentum at times. They were attacking in the middle of the 2nd, for instance, then drew a penalty, then played a static, undramatic, uninspired two minutes of 5 on 4, then drifted through the rest of the 2nd.

This game was weird. It was emotional. It was rarely 5 on 5. Vancouver won, fair and square. But if this were Game 1 of a 7 game series, I'd like the Bruins chances to win.

There may be future ramifications for the Bruins. The NHL rescinded Lucic's game misconduct, which was a correct call. Lucic didn't climb over the boards, he was still on the ice in the middle of a line change, as were several Canucks.

Marchand has a hearing with the NHL today. And I don't think he'll just be fined. His clipping penalty was a good call. He's claiming that he was trying to protect himself but it didn't seem that way. The hit was dirty. And unnecessary/stupid. The refs had been calling EVERY infraction up to that point so it was stupid for Marchand to risk giving Vancouver another power play.

Marchand has already been fined this year. He was suspended last season. He has a reputation that's growing more and more infamous. I think he should be suspended, and will be. For 2 games, I'd say.

Vancouver won a game. Good for them. And good luck in the playoffs when half the penalties called on Saturday won't be called. And good luck in the playoffs with a star goalie who doesn't demand to play in big games like this one.

The Bruins stand up for their teammates. They have goalies who crave big games. They have fighters, not talkers. They didn't get a win on Saturday, but they can and should be happy that they are much better than the Canucks, and not just at hockey.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Friday, January 06, 2012

Why It's Still Easy to Hate the Canucks

There's just nothing to respect about the Vancouver Canucks. The latest news is that their starlet goalie Roberto Luongo will not start in Boston tomorrow. Which is odd because he last played on Wednesday and would apparently have ample rest. Instead, backup goalie and BC alum and Marblehead, MA native Cory Schneider will start. Schneider is 8-5-1 with a very respectable 2.16 GAA.

But shouldn't Luongo want to start? He struggled in the 3 games in Boston during the Stanley Cup Finals, so shouldn't that be his motivation for wanting to play? Nope. He doesn't want a chance to acquire a morsel of peace of mind. He doesn't want a chance to exorcise some demons and, for his own sake, to get past the past.

And that's why he's such a loser. He's always been soft when it matters most. He doesn't do well in challenging situations. He often finds ways to avoid them. He plays the wrong position for that kind of mentality.

Then there's the remarks from Daniel Sedin. When asked about what would happen if Brad Marchand once again used his face as a speedbag, Sedin said:

"I think the referees, I hope, are going to call a penalty and we'll be on the power play,"

Really? That's the best you can do? Hope the refs call a penalty? Not stand up for yourself and try to stop it. Not hope your teammates, your linemates, your own brother doesn't come over and stand up for you?

There's just nothing to respect about the Canucks. There's other teams I hate in the NHL. Montreal, Philly, Pittsburgh, New York. But I have some respect for things they do. Montreal can skate. Pittsburgh's gritty. Et cetera. But the Canucks flop, whine, and turtle.

Vancouver Sun

Sweden Wins World Juniors

I don't speak Swedish, but I think these guys are happy that Sweden won. Mika Zibanejad scored the game-winner a little more than 10 minutes into OT, and Sweden won its first Juniors title in 31 years. It was Sweden's 58th shot on net. The previous 57 had been stopped by Russian goalie Andrei Markarov. Sweden outshot Russia 58-17.

It was a thrilling end to an exciting tournament. And anytime Canada doesn't win makes me happy.

Bowl Previews: This Weekend's Bowls*

Now we get some more crappy bowls before the big one on Monday.

Saturday - 1:00 PM - ESPN
BBVA Compass Bowl - Birmingham, AL
SMU Mustangs vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (-4)
I think the Big East sucks. Despite seeing WVU destroy Clemson. I'm being biased and picking SMU to win.

SMU +4

Sunday - 9:00 PM - ESPN Bowl - Mobile, AL
Arkansas State Red Wolves (-1.5) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
Arkansas State won the Sun Belt and won their last 9 games. NIU won the MAC and 8 straight. I know nothing about these teams, but I love the name Red Wolves, so...

Arkansas State -1.5

Bill O'Brien Bound for Happy Valley

It looks as though Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will step out of Bill Belichick's shadow and into Joe Paterno's. He's expected to be named the next head coach at Penn State. He was in State College, PA for an interview this week.

O'Brien went to Brown, just like Paterno. He's spent a number of years as an assistant in the college ranks at Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Duke.

There's no questioning his offensive credentials. He came to the Patriots in 2007 and the Patriots have been scoring in bunches since then.

The Patriots are going to have to replace him, of course. I don't think it will be too difficult. O'Brien was good at his job, but how hard is it to coach Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski? And to be honest, I don't think the Patriots' offense was as good as it could have been this year. I'm not sure if that's O'Brien's fault or not.

But I don't think it will be too hard to replace him and continue to score points.

Nine to Nil

Wow. 9 goals. 7 different scorers. 12 players with points.

One very typically Bruins aspect of this game was that the first three goals gave points to 8 different Bruins. This whole team contributes on offense and defense. And when it all clicks (and the other team surrenders as Calgary did early last night), the result is a relentless attack.

A big difference between this season's Bruins and last season's is their depth. They were already deep last year. This year, Seguin has become a full-time player. The Bruins are also getting significant contributions from Kelly (goal last night), Peverley (2 assists), and Pouliot (3 assists). They finally have a very good 3rd line, not just a collection of inconsistent and frequently slumping forwards (See: Ryder and Wheeler).

Last night Pouliot played on the Bergeron line, filling in for Marchand. And he had 3 assists.

There's another significant difference this year. Last year, when the B's took a 2 or 3 goal lead, they'd settle in, switch the cruise control on, and be satisfied. And they mostly won, but also lost a few times, or allowed games to get closer than they should.

This year, when the Bruins build a lead, they don't slow down. They speed up. They detect blood in the water and the frenzy begins. They see their teammates score, and they want in on the kill. They have a killer instinct this season. That's why they've scored so many quick back-to-back goals. That's why they've had so many 5+ goal games.

Paille's shorthanded goal is a great example. Down 8-0, the Flames casually passed across the ice, the pass missed its target, ricocheted off the boards, and a hustling Paille found it and scored.

Also, how about Tuukka Rask? His performance might be lost in the crooked number of goals. But he's only allowed 1 goal in the last 278 minutes he's been between the pipes. Wow.

Bruins host the Canucks Saturday afternoon. I don't think Luongo will be able to sleep if he saw what happened in this game.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2011 Boston Blood Sox Awards

It's time for the 6th annual BBS Awards. It was an interesting year in Boston sports. The Bruins won a Cup, the Sox collapsed, there were lockouts, and nobody seems to know if the Patriots are any good. It was a year of pleasant surprises, and bitter disappointments. It was a good year to be a Boston sports blogger.

Here are the Awards I'll be awarding. In parenthesis are last year's winners:

Frazee Award for Goat of the Year (Randy Moss)
Shaughnessy Award for Worst Sportswriter (Ron Borges)
A-Rod Award for Biggest Choke/Disappointment (the '09-'10 Bruins)
Varitek Award for Most Overrated Athlete (Tuukka Rask)
Flutie Award for College Athlete of the Year (Luke Kuechly)
Orr Award for Bruins Player of the Year (Tim Thomas)
Bill Russell Award for Celtics Player of the Year (Rajon Rondo)
Bledsoe Award for Patriots Player of the Year (Tom Brady)
Ted Williams Award for Sox Player of the Year (Clay Buchholz)
Tom Brady Award for Biggest Surprise Out of Nowhere (Danny Woodhead)
Bloody Sock Award for Toughness (Wes Welker)
Game of the Year (Pats beat Ravens 23-20 in OT)
Auerbach Award for Executive/Coach of the Year (Bill Belichick)
Lifetime Achievement Award (Mark Recchi)
Athlete of the Year (Tom Brady)
Team of the Year (BC Hockey)

The winners of awards are determined strictly by me.


BBS Award for Team of the Year

There really can't be any doubt as to who will win this Award. It's the team that ended a 39 year drought. It's the team that might be the most likable in town. It's the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.

It might not be a team of superstars. But it is a team of guys who are easy to like. Tim Thomas. Shawn Thornton. Brad Marchand. Milan Lucic. Patrice Bergeron. Tuukka Rask. Zdeno Chara. Adam McQuaid. Dennis Seidenberg. David Krejci. Mark Recchi. Gregory Campbell. Tyler Seguin. Nathan Horton. Andrew Ference. Chris Kelly. Daniel Paille. Johnny Boychuk. Rich Peverley.

This team has character. They fight for each other. They play with effort and determination. They win with effort and determination.

All I need to say about this team is that Bruins fans are in love. They love winning. They love winning the way they've won. If polygamy were legal, B's fans would marry this team.

BBS Award for Athlete of the Year

This might be the most coveted Award an individual athlete can attain. Here are the nominees...

Tom Brady, QB - New England Patriots
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF - Boston Red Sox
Zdeno Chara, D - Boston Bruins
Tim Thomas, G - Boston Bruins
Luke Kuechly, LB - BC Football

The winner is...

Tim Thomas

No disrespect to Tom Brady, but Tim Thomas is the best player at his position in all of sports. I wish the NHL produced a DVD of his 798 saves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (they could call it "798"). This video will have to suffice:

I love when he took down Burrows. That's another thing about Thomas, he'll stick up for himself and his teammates. He won't shy away from a scrap.

We are privileged to see him play here in Boston.

BBS Lifetime Achievement Award

This goes to someone who has amassed a lifetime of accomplishments. This year I'm giving the Award to someone who is only 46 years old but has already accomplished quite a bit.

Cameron Michael Neely.

Let's talk first about Cam Neely the player. His too short and injury plagued career was brilliant. 395 goals in 726 games. He was a tough, physical forward. Unfortunately for him, he played for a team noted for its careful spending habits (a polite way of saying cheapness). He came close to the Cup a few times, but never won one as a player.

Then he came back to the Bruins as President. It's tough to fully know how much influence he's had on personnel decisions, but it's safe to say that his presence in the front office has influenced the team. The Bruins are tougher than they were before he came. They're more complete and well-rounded. They're a lot more like him.

Auerbach Award for Coach/Executive of the Year

This goes to the off-field person who contributed the most to their team's on-field success. Here are the nominees...

Claude Julien, head coach - Boston Bruins
Peter Chiarelli, GM - Boston Bruins

The winner is...

Claude Julien

This time last year I wanted him fired. Now he's my second favorite Boston coach behind Belichick. He's quieted all his critics. his defensive scheme clearly works. He's developed Seguin into a prime time player. He's balanced Thomas' and Rask's playing time. All the players on the Bruins understand their roles, understand what's expected of them, and do it.

He puts his players in the best position to succeed. What else can you ask from a coach?

BBS Award for Game of the Year

This goes to the most exciting, entertaining, important game of the year in the Boston sports world. There were a number of good candidates for this award, thanks mostly to the Bruins' Stanley Cup run. There are three nominees for this Award:

Bruins vs. Canadiens, Game 7, Bruins win 4-3 in OT
Bruins vs. Lightning, Game 7, Bruins win 1-0
Bruins vs. Canucks, Game 7, Bruins win 4-0

And the winner is...

Game 7 against the Canucks

While the games against Montreal and Tampa Bay were more exciting, I decided that the Cup winning game was the best for two reasons. Firstly, the Bruins won the Cup. Secondly, it was a great example of Bruins hockey. The B's ground the game out, they didn't give the Canucks anything, and Tim Thomas was Tim Thomas. Game 7 was the quintessential Boston Bruins game.

Bloody Sock Award for Toughness

This Award typically goes to an athlete that fought through injuries, or severe adversity. Someone who displayed an almost inhuman ability to tolerate pain. However this year this Award is not going to an athlete. Nor is it going to someone who displayed physical toughness. This is going to someone who demonstrated an uncanny amount of mental toughness and character.

Former Red Sox Manager Terry Francona.

While in Boston, Terry Francona coached such lamentable people as Manny Ramirez and JD Drew. And in 2011, he managed a team that didn't seem to care about winning, a team with jackasses like John Lackey, and spoiled fake-tough-guys like Josh Beckett. And he has NEVER uttered a negative word about these guys to the media. That's saintlike patience and discretion.

Then he had an ownership group that saw fit to dismiss him. And he honorably took responsibility for losing the clubhouse and left Fenway with grace and class.

Then the same ownership group leaked stories about painkiller abuse. Only then did Francona speak up.

We as fans find it hard to tolerate Josh Beckett's tomfoolery. He as manager had to. And he did it as well as anyone can. Beckett had his contract, which was a luxury Francona didn't have in 2011. Beckett and his buddies acted like douchebags. Francona carried himself with class and he still hasn't said a thing about his former players, the guys who essentially cost him his job.

Tom Brady Award for Surprise Athlete of the Year

This goes to someone who wasn't expected to do much, only to do quite a bit. This year's winner is...

Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins

Tyler Seguin was the reason Bruins fans flocked to rookie exhibition games. But it was another rookie that went from relative obscurity in the preseason, developed into a role player in the regular season, then became a household name in the postseason.

Once the calender flipped to 2011, Marchand exploded. He'd scored 5 goals with 8 assists in October, November, and December of 2010. Then in January of '11 he scored 8 more goals. He added 6 in February. He finished his rookie season with 21 goals.

His biggest impact came in the playoffs. He was an antagonizer. He was a pest. He was tough. And he scored. 4 goals in the Philadelphia series. 5 in the Vancouver series. He scored 11 playoff goals, and the Bruins were 11-0 when he scored.

Drew Bledsoe Award for Patriots Player of the Year

This goes to the Patriots best player. The nominees...

Vince Wilfork, DT
Wes Welker, WR
Rob Gronkowski, TE
Tom Brady, QB

And the winner is...

Tom Brady.

While Wilfork, Welker, and Gronk had outstanding years, the key to the Patriots' success has been Tom Brady. As Brady goes, so go the Patriots. The key to beating the Pats' is to take Brady out of the game.

Bobby Orr Award For Bruins Player of the Year

The Bruins won the Cup as a team. They play as a team, fight as a team, score goals through teamwork, play defense in layers. So you'd think that picking out an individual to win this Award might be difficult. And among skaters, that's true. Guys like Chara, Bergeron, Lucic, Krejci, Marchand, Seidenberg, and more all deserve recognition. But it's pretty clear who the best player on this team was in 2011...

Tim Thomas

In 2010-11 he led the NHL in Save Percentage (.938) and GAA (2.00). That .938 SV% was the highest of all-time. He easily won the Vezina. Then he did even better in the playoffs. 16 wins, .940 SV% and a 1.98 GAA. He had 4 shutouts. He easily won the Conn Smythe.

And he's continuing his rampage. This season he's amassed 16 wins, 4 shutouts, a 1.84 GAA and a .943 save percentage. He's the best goalie in the NHL right now.

Watching him is a lesson in the unreal. He defies physics. He's so quick post to post. He's never off balance, even when his legs are fully extended. He reads the play perfectly. And the more pressure-packed the situation is, the better he plays.

Ted Williams Award for Red Sox Player of the Year

I feel like this Award should be sponsored by Popeye's or Miller Lite. Despite the collapse, despite the detestable nature of most of this team, there were some good players who did try. Here are the nominees...

Alex Gonzalez, 1B
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
David Ortiz, DH

The winner is...

Jacoby Ellsbury

With all the end of year turmoil, we've sort of forgotten that Jacoby Ellsbury finally had a breakout year. He was criticized in 2010 for not being tough enough and not playing through injury. He's been criticized in the past for not getting on base enough, and being more of an 8 or 9 hitter than a leadoff hitter.

In 2011 he had a career high OBP of .376, he led the league in total bases with 364. He hit .321, knocked in 105 RBI, hit 32 homeruns, and was the first ever Red Sox player to join the 30/30 club. He was 2nd in MVP voting, won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

If the Red Sox turn things around in 2012, it will be centered on production from guys like Ellsbury.

Bill Russell Award for Celtics Player of the Year

A simple Award. The Celtics' best player in the 2011 calendar year wins this one. With the lockout, this will be a little tricky. The nominees...

Paul Pierce, SF
Rajon Rondo, PG
Kevin Garnett, PF
Ray Allen, SG

And the winner is...

Paul Pierce

The thing that separates Pierce from the rest of the nominees is his reliability and consistency. He's the most dependable. Allen goes through his shooting slumps. Rondo's shortcomings have been well documented. And Garnett disappears for extended periods.

If I were starting an NBA team and could only take one Celtic, I'd take Pierce.

Flutie Award for College Athlete of the Year

This Award goes to the athlete that performed the best, but also did so on the biggest stages. In other words, the Williams soccer team will likely never have a winner of this award, while BC and BU athletes have claimed most of these.

For the second consecutive year, the winner is Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Boston College.

Kuechly won many awards this year, as the lone bright spot on a struggling BC team. He was a consensus All-American. ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He won the Butkus Award (best linebacker in college football), the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), and the Bronco Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player). If he decides to enter the NFL Draft, he'll likely be a top 15 pick and the first linebacker taken.

Clearly the best college athlete in New England.