Monday, April 30, 2012

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 14*

The second round is underway. The NHL is probably pleased with the mix of big market teams (New York, New Jersey, Philly, Los Angeles) and southern teams (Nashville, Washington, St. Louis, Phoenix).

RANGERS 3, CAPITALS 1 - (Rangers lead series 1-0)
BC alum Chris Kreider, who hasn't even played in a regular season game, scored a goal and added an assist. Braden Holtby only made 11 saves. And Lundqvist only saw 18 shots. Yup, those numbers are correct. Brad Richards also scored his 3rd of the playoffs. Unlike the Bruins, the Rangers' best forwards are producing goals.

Game 2 tonight at MSG.

KINGS 3, BLUES 1 - (Kings lead series 1-0)
Vezina nominee Jonathan Quick stopped 28 of 29 shots. LA's Matt Greene scored a shorthanded goal that turned out to be the game-winner. The Blues were also 0 for 3 on the Power Play, which was a major weapon for them against San Jose. Now that Power Play is at -1. Jonathan Quick might be able to carry this LA team very far.

Game 2 tonight in St. Louis.

FLYERS 4, DEVILS 3 (OT) - (Flyers lead series 1-0)
Danny Briere might be one of the best postseason performers in Stanley Cup history. He scored twice (has 7 already this postseason) in this game. In his 105 playoff games, he has 49 goals and 57 assists (106 points). He has an absurd 20.2% shooting percentage in the playoffs. Giroux also scored his 7th of the playoffs, on the Power Play. The Devils' relied heavily on their PK in the regular season. They've already allowed 10 PP goals in the postseason.

Game 2 Tuesday night in Philly.

COYOTES 5, PREDATORS 3 - (Coyotes lead series 2-0)
With Mike Smith facing Pekka Rinne, everyone thought this would be a low scoring series. That was 15 goals ago. Mike Smith was solid in this game, but Shane Doan was outstanding. This is his first taste of the 2nd round and he's making the most of it. He had a goal and an assist in this game. The Coyotes are simply making the plays, big and small, and Nashville needs to turn things around at home.

Game 3 Wednesday night in Tennessee.

Tonight's games:
7:30pm - Capitals @ Rangers - NBC Sports - NYR lead series 1-0
9:00pm - Kings @ Blues - CNBC - LAK lead series 1-0

Patriots Draft an Offensive Player With Their Last Pick

The Patriots took a receiver with their last pick. Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern. He caught 75 passes his senior season, for 1,065 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's nothing to dismiss lightly. He might have trouble finding a roster spot considering how many people are vying for a spot on the WR list.

He's 5' 11" and 200 pounds, but this guy might just find his way on the roster in September.

I definitely give this pick two thumbs up (get it? because his name is Ebert). As I give to the whole draft. Exciting playmakers in the first round, a guy who seems like a reliable defensive back in the 2nd, an All-SEC pass rusher in the 3rd, then it got weird. A rugby player in the 6th, an alleged criminal in the 7th, then a guy with great numbers to end the 7th.

It's always tough to gauge the success of a draft before any of these players even get numbers assigned to them, let alone take the field, let alone play a game. But I think the Patriots have drastically improved the potential quality of their defense. And if just one or two of these guys work out, the Patriots' defensive unit will be much better in 2012.

Patriots Draft a Shutdown Corner/Accused Criminal

The Patriots drafted a project/accused criminal in the 7th round. Alfonzo Dennard has ridiculous talent, and was a shutdown corner in the Big Ten for Nebraska. But he ended his senior season with an ejection in the CapitalOne Bowl.

Then he had a disappointing combine.

Oh, and he was in jail as recently as last Monday for resisting being placed in custody and assaulting a police officer. The story is that he was being belligerent outside a bar, was asked twice by police to leave the area, and was later seen pushing and punching another person in the same area. Police tried to put him in custody, he resisted, more pushing and punching with the cops, and hence the arrest.

This is a first round talent taken in the 7th round. This guy might sound like a bit of a loser, but the Patriots can't lose on this pick.

I have no idea how well Belichick and the locker room leaders will do to help Dennard to get his act together. But if he doesn't, he won't get 3 chances like he did with the cops in Lincoln. He'll get 1.

In the entire NFL Draft, Dennard might have the biggest gap between his potential upside and his potential downside. He's talented enough to be in the Pro Bowl. He's also capable of winding up in prison. Belichick is probably thrilled with this pick. And so is whoever coaches football at the Correctional Institution in Walpole.

Pats Draft Rugby Player

The Patriots didn't have any 4th or 5th round picks. In the 6th, they took Nate Ebner, who didn't even play football in high school. He played rugby. And he walked on to the Ohio State football team and became a special teams specialist. He was drafted as a safety but only played three snaps at that position his senior year.

Ebner's true position is a special teams psycho. He claims to enjoy the "mayhem" of kickoff coverage most of all.

Rugby players are crazy.

In the 6th round, the odds are slim of drafting a guy who will make an impact in one of the 22 regular positions. So why not draft an insane rugby player and put him on special teams? You're much more likely to get a positive contribution from him than from a 6th round RB or offensive tackle.

And maybe if the Dolphins try to get clever with some sort of Wildcat 2.0 formation, or if the Jets use Tebow in the option, Ebner can use his rugby experience to counter that. Especially the option, which is very similar to rugby plays.

Patriots Add All-SEC Defensive End to Pass Rush

In the 3rd round, the Patriots took Jake Bequette, a defensive end from Arkansas. The all SEC pass rusher recorded 10 sacks his senior season. He's 6' 5" 271 pounds and can play as an OLB or a DE.

He missed 3 games because of a hamstring issue. And the word is he's not that great as an edge rusher. But I'll take an All-SEC defensive end with the 90th overall pick. That's fine. He seems like he has tremendous upside. And even if he doesn't fully reach that level, his versatility will help him find a role on the team.

Bequette finished his college career with 23 sacks, among the all-time leaders at Arkansas. He won the Defensive MVP award at the Cotton Bowl. And he knows what it's like to win. The Razorbacks have won 29 games the last 3 seasons.

I think this is a really good pick at 90th overall.

Who is Tavon Wilson?

The Patriots selected 7 players in the 2012 NFL Draft. And 6 of them play on the defensive side of the ball. Two linemen, a linebacker, and three defensive backs. Although one of those DBs is essentially a pure special teamer.

We know about Jones and Hightower. The fanbase seems pleased with that. But I'm sure they'll find something to bitch and moan about once Training Camp starts.

In the 2nd round, the Patriots drafted Tavon Wilson. Which shocked the experts who projected Wilson to go in the 6th or 7th round, if at all. Certainly not with the 48th overall pick in the draft. He wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Wilson is strong and versatile. He's 6' 0" and 205 pounds. He started three years at Illinois and switched between safety and cornerback. He also plays special teams. The more you learn about him, the more he seems like the type of guy the Patriots want and need.

Last season, the Patriots' defensive backfield was a hodgepodge, to put it politely. The 8-15 yard curl in the flat was open on every down. The Pats' secondary focused on not allowing 40 yard TD passes, and didn't even bother to cover huge swaths of territory underneath that.

They need versatility. They need reliability. Wilson is not a shutdown corner. That type of guy would be great, but I don't know if that would be enough to solve the Patriots' problems. Huge holes in the zone would still be there.

Wilson seems like a smart player. One that's easy to coach. The Pats' DBs last season were not very savvy. The defense had to be simplified to suit their talents and their awareness.

This guy will find his way onto the field. He'll play special teams, obviously, and the Pats' DB depth chart presents an opportunity for any young player to work his way to a starting role.

Sox Annoyed by Floyd

The Red Sox went 6-1 in the Midwest, with Gavin Floyd spoiling a perfect 7-0 trip yesterday afternoon in Chicago. He took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. And even after that was broken up and the Red Sox chased him from the game, Chicago's bullpen was able to get the last 7 outs for him.

Beckett settled down after a 3 run 1st inning. In his remaining 5.2 innings, he only allowed 3 hits and struck out 7. The outing was certainly good enough to win on a normal day. But not when facing Gavin Floyd.

Beckett threw 126 pitches. And that's a day after Lester threw 122 pitches in his 1-0 win. That speaks to how unreliable the Sox' bullpen has been. But I don't think this will be a common trend throughout the season. Both Beckett and Lester will be making their next starts on 5 days rest. So why not take advantage of that?

The Red Sox should try to avoid Gavin Floyd in the future. He's now 7-0 in his career against Boston. I'm glad he pitches in the AL Central.

With all due respect to Floyd, the Red Sox' offense has been exceptionally inconsistent this season. The Red Sox have played in 21 games, and in 17 of those they've scored either 3 runs or less, or 9+ runs.

Youkilis missed the game with tightness in his back. He was just starting to get a few hits lately, but I'm concerned there might be a physical problem that's keeping him from hitting with consistency. Hopefully it's a problem that can be solved without an extensive absence from the lineup. However long it takes though, you don't want to have to deal with lingering back problems all season long. If something is wrong with Youkilis, he needs to get healthy now so he can contribute down the stretch.

Sox return home just 1 game under .500. They host the A's tonight. Buchholz opposes 3-1 Tommy Milone, who's coming off an 8 inning 3 hit win against the White Sox.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Celtics Bumped Off in Game 1

Up until the final 41 seconds of the game, I was actually feeling quite positive about the Celtics. They'd played below their capability, fell into a deep hole, yet nearly pulled themselves out of it. Rondo had been playing great (20 points, 11 assists), KG was hitting shots (after starting 1 for 9), and Pierce had just sunk a tough 17 footer that was vintage Paul Pierce.

Then Rajon Rondo acted stupid. He screamed into the ref's face, got a technical, then bumped the ref in the back and got ejected.

I don't know if he deserves to be suspended for the bump. He does deserve to be suspended for being a moron. Hopefully the NBA won't punish him for that. It puts the Ron Artest thing into perspective. If Rondo gets 1 game for a slight bump and Artest got 7 for a vicious elbow, what does that say about the NBA's disciplinary process?

Anyway, Rondo acted like an idiot. Whatever you may think about what punishment he may deserve, he put himself in the situation to be suspended.

It was an ugly game for most of the Celtics, well before the bumping incident. They didn't play defense in the 1st quarter. KG was useless until the 2nd half. They missed all 11 of their three-point attempts. Pierce was 5/19. Garnett was 10/18. The bench only scored 4 points.

Ray Allen was missed. Especially in that bench department, and the three-point department. When one of your best players is sidelined with injury, though, it's up to the other good players to step up. Garnett and Pierce didn't. Not until very late in the game.

Rondo was by far the Celtics' best shooter last night.

Atlanta didn't pull too far away. The C's were able to reel them in a few times. The Celtics outscored the Hawks 56-52 after the 1st quarter. So this was shaping to be a loss, but a promising loss. Until Rondo put himself at the mercy of David Stern.

Game 2 is Tuesday night. And without Rondo, the Celtics don't have much of a chance. He's that important to this team, which is why what he did was all the more moronic.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stanley Cup Preview: Flyers vs. Devils*

Everyone thought the Flyers had an unfairly tough draw in the opening round. 103 points and they had to face the Penguins. While the Devils (102 points) got to play against the lowly Florida Panthers. But the Flyers dispatched the Peng-weenies (horrible nickname I've just made up) in 6 games. The Devils needed 7 games and a double OT to beat the Panthers.

The Flyers are scoring, but also giving up too many goals. If Bryzgalov can settle in, and the patched up Philly defensemen can avoid mistakes, they'll have a pretty good chance to win this series. Claude Giroux had 6 goals and 8 assists against the Penguins. He doesn't need to replicate that absurd production (in an 82 game season that rate of production would result in 82 goals and 109 assists), nor does Danny Briere have to score 5 goals. But the Flyers have multiple scoring threats that will keep Brodeur busy.

Brodeur looked shaky at times against Florida. The Flyers will take advantage of that. He turns 40 next Sunday and his age is starting to show.

I think Bryzgalov will have a solid series. He won't steal any games, he won't dazzle, but he'll be good enough to allow his forwards to score 3 goals in order to win.

Flyers in 6.

Series schedule:
1: Sunday 4/29 - 3:00pm - NJ @ PHI - NBC
2: Tuesday 5/1 - 7:30pm - NJ @ PHI - NBC Sports
3: Thursday 5/3 - 7:30pm - PHI @ NJ - NBC Sports
4: Sunday 5/6 - 7:30pm - PHI @ NJ - NBC Sports
5: Tuesday 5/8 - tba - NJ @ PHI - NBC Sports
6: Thursday 5/10 - tba - PHI @ NJ - tba
7: Saturday 5/12 - tba - NJ @ PHI - tba

Lester Elite Against White Sox

It was a tight pitching duel. And the Red Sox emerged superior. Jake Peavy threw a 4 hit complete game. But it wasn't enough against Jon Lester and the suddenly reliable Red Sox bullpen.

It was Lester's first Quality Start since April 11th. And his first win of the season. He's suffered from slow starts to seasons in the past, so perhaps this outing marks the end of that slow start and the beginning of his more predictable and higher quality pitching.

Lester's the Ace of this staff. By default. Beckett is too unreliable. So it's good to see Lester having a game like this, and finally getting that first win.

Hey, and the Sox are also at .500 again. 10-10. Maybe they'll return to Fenway above .500.

The Sox look to make it a perfect road trip this afternoon. Beckett faces Gavin Floyd. Floyd is 1-3, but he's pitched well. Could be tough.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Stanley Cup Preview: Blues vs. Kings*

Both these teams took care of business in the first round in 5 games. The Blues disposed of the Sharks. The Kings eliminated the Canucks. So the Blues and Kings knocked out a pair of perennial playoff chokers. What's the big deal?

Well both teams have outstanding goaltending. Jonathan Quick had a .953 SV% against Vancouver. The Blues have Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Halak's ankle is still hurt, so Elliott will start in net for St. Louis. Both teams also have lines capable of shutting down an opponents' top line.

So yeah, there probably won't be much scoring in this series.

So where will the difference be? Maybe the Power Play. The Blues did well against San Jose in this department. While LA struggled against the Canucks. LA has the ability to prevent goals. But they aren't explosive enough to pull ahead in 2-1 or 3-2 games. The Blues are. And I think the Blues are just slightly tougher and will gut out a tough series.

Blues in 8 (because there will be 7 games plus a few OTs).

Series schedule:
1: Saturday 4/28 - 7:30pm - LAK @ STL - NBC Sports
2: Monday 4/30 - 9:00pm - LAK @ STL - CNBC
3: Thursday 5/3 - 10:00pm - STL @ LAK - NBC Sports
4: Sunday 5/6 - 3:00pm - STL @ LAK - NBC
5: Tuesday 5/8 - tba - LAK @ STL - CNBC
6: Thursday 5/10 - tba - STL @ LAK - tba
7: Saturday 5/12 - tba - LAK @ STL - tba

Stanley Cup Preview: Rangers vs. Capitals*

The Capitals beat last year's Champs, a defensive minded team that tried to grind opponents down. The Rangers are a defensive minded team that tries to grind opponents down. So why won't Washington win? Because Henrik Lundqvist is playing out of his mind (1.70 GAA in first round). Because the Rangers have guys like Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, and Marian Gaborik. And unlike the Bruins, their top players are playing like their top players.

I'm not sold on Braden Holtby. He's good. He's sound. But I think he struggles to smother loose pucks. The Rangers will take advantage of this. The Rangers also scored 5 times on the Power Play against Ottawa.

The Caps played to their maximum potential against the Bruins. But if the B's had done likewise, they would have beaten them in 5 or 6 games. The Rangers are hungry. They're more fundamentally sound than the Bruins, their goaltending is better, their scorers are scoring.

Rangers in 6.

Series schedule:
1: Saturday 4/28 - 3:00pm - WSH @ NYR - NBC
2: Monday 4/30 - 7:30pm - WSH @ NYR - NBC Sports
3: Wednesday 5/2 - 7:30pm - NYR @ WSH - NBC Sports
4: Saturday 5/5 - 12:00pm - NYR @ WSH - NBC
5: Monday 5/7 - 7:30pm - WSH @ NYR - NBC Sports
6: Wednesday 5/9 - tba - NYR @ WSH - tba
7: Saturday 5/12 - tba - WSH @ NYR - tba

Friday, April 27, 2012

Stanley Cup Preview: Predators vs. Coyotes*

Some NHL people are probably happy about this meeting. Two warm weather cities get to experience a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I'm not pleased. While fans in Nashville have taken to their Predators, the fans in Phoenix are only now showing up to fill their rink. There might be a future for hockey in Tennessee. But in Arizona? I hope not.

Anyway, both these teams advanced thanks to their goalies. Mike Smith was a wall for the Coyotes. Pekka Rinne was Pekka Rinne for the Preds. So who is going to be the difference maker on offense that will separate these two teams?

His name is Shea Weber, or Zdeno Jr. as I call him. Big strong defenseman, powerful shot, he scored 19 goals this year. He's excellent on the Power Play and that is where the difference will be made. Nashville's Power Play is a weapon. Phoenix's did well in the first round, but it's not very consistent.

With the goaltending as good as it will be in this series, every little edge counts. The Predators have their Power Play, and they have Shea Weber.

Nashville in 6.

Series schedule:
1: Friday 4/27 - 9:00pm - NSH @ PHX - NBC Sports
2: Sunday 4/29 - 9:00pm - NSH @ PHX - NBC Sports
3: Wednesday 5/2 - 9:00pm - PHX @ NSH - CNBC
4: Friday 5/4 - 7:30pm - PHX @ NSH - NBC Sports
5: Monday 5/7 - 10:00pm - NSH @ PHX - NBC Sports
6: Wednesday 5/9 - tba - PHX @ NSH - tba
7: Friday 5/11 - tba - NSH @ PHX - tba

Another Story About the BCS Moving Toward a Playoff

Here comes the latest story of BCS bigwigs getting together and deciding that college football's postseason needs to be fixed. All the conference commissioners have agreed that there should be a four team, three game playoff at the end of the season. Now comes the tricky part: hammering out the details.

The first hurdle is taking the plan to the individual conferences. And each school at each conference will have their say.

Significant questions will be asked. Actually, the questions are basic but significant sums of money depend on the answers. When would the games be played? Where would the games be played?

Who would control the money from TV contracts, tickets, and sponsors? How would it be distributed? Would the 6 conference BCS still exist as an entity, or would conferences get cash rewards for sending teams to this 4 team playoff.

Would it be the top 4 ranked teams, regardless of conference? Would it be the top 4 conference champs?

What about the bowls? The conferences love them because they guarantee a consistent stream of money each year. But their luster is fading. Conference championship games are drawing funds from fans that would otherwise be spent on bowl games. And when smaller programs reach the top tier bowls, they struggle to fill their hotel allotment. UConn lost money when they went to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Rose Bowl is still stuck in the 1930's and wants their BigTen/Pac-12 matchup protected. So a compromise will have to be made there.

If the conferences are truly motivated to get this done, it'll get done. These are hurdles, not roadblocks.

I think we all want to see a playoff system. I think 8 teams would be perfect. I'd settle for 6. But for right now, I'll take a 4 team playoff.

I just hope that the scumbags that run the bowls and the old bastards that run some of the conferences don't ruin it.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 11*

The first round is over. The Champions are out. The President's Trophy winners are out. The top seed in the East was nearly knocked out. We have teams from Phoenix and Nashville, but also two teams in the New York metro area, along with Philadelphia.

RANGERS 2, SENATORS 1 - (Rangers win series 4-3)
Going to a hockey game with Spike Lee would be something to write an entire book about.

Alfredsson scored, and maybe had he participated in the entire series things would be different. But another Swede came through big for New York. Henrik Lundqvist allowed a mere 13 goals in the series. We all saw last year what a defensive minded team can do with a red hot goalie. Maybe the Rangers will be this year's Bruins.

They'll face the Capitals in the Conference semifinals.

DEVILS 3, PANTHERS 2 (2OT) - (Devils win series 4-3)
22 year old Adam Henrique hadn't scored in this series. He scored twice in Game 7, including the game-winner. Florida wasn't expected to make this an interesting series, but they did. And it was actually because of their Power Play which scored 9 of their 17 total goals in the series. New Jersey had the best PK in the NHL in the regular season.

The Devils will face Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia in the Conference semifinals.

Tonight's game:
9:00pm - Predators @ Coyotes

Red Sox Stay Perfect on the Road

The 9 runs that Philip Humber gave up last night were the most ever allowed by a pitcher in the start after pitching a perfect game. Credit the Elias Sports Bureau for unearthing that factoid.

How sweet would life be if the Sox could play in the AL Central? And why not also send the Tigers to the East in that trade. That'd be perfect.

Another double digit output of runs last night. Youkilis hit a Grand Slam and went 3 for 4. His numbers are steadily increasing as this road trip progresses. Aviles is hitting. Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Ross are knocking guys in. Everything is clicking on offense right now. Even when the manager fills out a lineup card incorrectly.

Which means all you need from Felix Doubront is 6 innings and 3 earned runs. And an old-fashioned 3 inning save from Tazawa.

This team is going to win and lose with its bats. And for the last 4 nights, they've been winning.

Daniel Bard is back to his starting role tonight. He faces John Danks. Danks is 2-2 with a 5.11 ERA. And someone tell Bobby V that Danks is a lefty.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Patriots Shock Everyone By Doing Exactly What Fans Wanted

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy preemptive explanation of how the Patriots draft. I was expecting the fans of New England to be pissed today, as they usually are the day after the Patriots' activities in the first round.

Instead, the fans are happy. I'm happy. And I think that the Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy is happy too.

When Roger Goodell announced that the Patriots had made a move up in the draft, he might as well have been opening the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse.

The Pats sent their 27th overall pick, along with their 3rd round pick (93rd overall) to the Bengals for the 21st pick. And they selected DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse.

Jones is a big man (6' 5" and 265 pounds) that has a big frame he can grow into. He only played 7 games of his junior year due to a knee injury in the middle of the season. But he totaled 4.5 sacks, 38 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. Which he returned for 32 yards.

He's an edge rusher. And if he lives up to his potential, the combination of him and Vince Wilfork could present opposing offensive lines with serious problems.

Minutes later, as the First Round zoomed by, the Patriots did it again. They made a deal with Denver, sending their 31st overall pick, along with their 4th rounder (126th overall) in exchange for the 25th pick.

With that, they drafted Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower is another large man. 6' 2" and 265. He can do just about everything that a linebacker could do. He can play in all defensive situations. That's something that Bill Belichick covets. And so does Nick Saban. Belichick loves drafting Saban coached players.

With Hightower's flexibility, he'll find a place in the Pats' LB corps. Which was already kind of good, if a little bit dull. Mayo is solid. Spikes showed some sparks last season.

The Pats like to mix up defensive formations, especially up front. Hightower's versatility enhances the Pats' ability to do that.

I'm not a huge fan of trading up. But the Patriots didn't give up much to move ahead. As Belichick noted in his post-draft press conference, they didn't give up any of their 2nd round picks to do so.

And I think these two particular players struck them as good fits. They didn't just get a pass rusher and a linebacker, they got two guys that they feel will excel in Foxborough.

So enjoy it, Pats fans. The Patriots did what you wanted.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Patriots Trade Up, Select Dont'a Hightower

The Patriots send their 31st pick to Denver, along with the 126th overall pick and traded up to 25th. They selected linebacker Dont'a Hightower out of Alabama. Hightower is 6' 2" and 265 pounds. He's a flexible player who can contribute in multiple defensive roles.

Belichick typically loves guys who have been coached by Nick Saban.

Patriot fans should be excited. They get to go to bed earlier and the Patriots got exactly the kinds of players everyone's been clamoring for.

More on Hightower and Jones tomorrow.

Patriots Trade Up, Select Chandler Jones

The Pats sent their 27th pick to the Bengals, along with the 93rd overall pick for the 21st pick. And with it they selected defensive end Chandler Jones out of Syracuse. Jones is a monster at 6' 5" 265 pounds. Jones only played 7 games in 2011 but still managed 4.5 sacks, 39 tackles, and an interception. He's big, has a long sweeping stride, and isn't bad in coverage either. He's versatile.

We'll have more on this pick as well as the Patriots' night as a hole.

But this is simply shocking news. The Patriots surprised everyone by doing what fans expect/demand. They moved up and got a pass-rusher.

Patriots Draft Preview

In this century, the Patriots are the most successful Boston sports team. Yet their moves are also the most heavily critiqued. Perhaps because those moves are the least understood by their fans.

That's not a knock on Pats fans. The football salary cap is the most complex in of all sports. Football rosters are also more than twice the size of the other sports. The pursuit of the best talent at the best price in the NFL is more complicated than buying and selling options on the Taiwanese bond market.

I have no idea who the Patriots will draft tonight. I have no idea what position he'll play. I don't know if the Patriots will make any trades with their picks. But I do know that the Patriots' Draft Day isn't random. There is a system in place, a strategy. There is a certain approach to the Draft that is distinctively Patriot-like.

There's an assessment of value, risk, and payoff. The Pats' War Room is more like the Chicago Board of Trade or New York Stock Exchange than a gathering of football minds.

As an outsider, I've tried to understand how and why the Patriots draft the way they do. And these are the rules/guidelines/strategies that I see:

Fans lament that the Patriots don't trade up and draft superior talent. There's a good reason they don't, and it isn't just to hoard picks for the future. There's a risk involved with every pick. In the NFL Draft, you're only selecting talent. With each player, there's a significant chance that they won't work out in the NFL. There's no way to predict how a player will react to the independence, to the money, to the competition, to being a big fish in a big pond.

If you trade up in the Draft, you are going to acquire superior talent. Which means the potential payoff is higher. But you're also risking more. Since you used other picks to move up, you're paying a higher price. Unnecessarily so. It's like betting more on a roulette wheel. You'll win more if you win, but lose more if you lose.

If the pick doesn't work, you'll also have inferior remaining picks to make up for the shortcoming. So not only do you risk more when you trade-up, you have weaker insurance to recover if the pick doesn't work out.

And typically to move up in the draft, you have to overpay. Look at what the Redskins paid to draft RG3. Even if RG3 turns out to be a superstar, the price was still ridiculous. And too much of a risk. RG3 might work out in Washington, but it's still a bad move. Bad moves sometimes work out. Good moves sometimes don't.

Speaking of the RG3 trade...

You see these kinds of deals all the time. Team A sends future picks to get Team B's superior picks in the current draft. And what you also see is the Patriots emerging from each draft with a load of future picks in their pocket.

Some teams seem to think that a 2013 pick is less valuable than a 2012 pick. And it isn't. They're worth the same. You can draft the same caliber of player and retain their talent for the same amount of time.

We're all fans and we all want our team to improve as much as possible right now on Draft Day. And every team has some area that it really needs to improve. But the need to improve will be just as pressing next April. The value of a pick now is the same as a pick next year. The Patriots take advantage of teams that are desperate to improve right now and are willing to sell future picks for a low cost.

Let's say I offered you a Hawaii vacation for $1,000. Does it matter if you take the vacation now or a year from now? Not really, not in the long run. And now let's say I offered you the same vacation package for $1,000 if you go now, or $800 if you go next year. Which would you take?

Two good picks are better than one great pick because of risk. As I mentioned earlier, each player drafted might not work out in the NFL. There's unpredictability. A way to manage that risk is to make more picks.

The Patriots love to increase their number of picks. And it's not because they want more players. It's because they want to have a better chance of getting players that will produce in the NFL.

Let's say I have $1,000 to gamble on NFL games. I could put it all on one game. But something crazy could happen, like an injury or a missed field goal. I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket. It's safer to bet $200 on 5 games. A crazy thing might still happen, but one or even two crazy things won't mess up my entire day of betting.

That's kind of what the Patriots do with their vast pool of draft picks. They know that each player has a chance of failure. So they'd rather spread that chance of failure around instead of hoping one guy works out. It's a safer, smarter way to invest.

And that's what these picks are: investments.

This is a classic gripe of Patriots fans. The Pats don't draft based on their needs or wants at certain positions.

The Patriots draft the best talent available when they pick.

If you have the 30th pick, and you need a linebacker, and there's one available. Why not pick him? If he's worth a 30th overall pick then fine. But if he's worth the 40th pick then it's a bad move to take him.

Why reach? Why use the 30th pick to take someone who is worth a 40th pick? Picks are like money. And players are like groceries. It's like spending $10 on a head of lettuce just because you need a salad to complete a meal. Just go without the salad and buy more pork because it's on sale. You won't go hungry. You'll just have a different looking meal that's stronger in another area.

Besides, drafting based on what you need tends to be a bad idea anyway, even if the price is right. There is a significant chance that the player drafted won't work out. So you spend that pick to get someone, he doesn't work out, and you're in exactly the same situation only you've lost that pick.

If you really need help at a position, it's better to sign and trade for players who have NFL experience. It's much easier to predict how well they will fill that need.

You'll end every draft with needs. You'll start every season with needs. You should try to fill them. But if you overspend picks and cap space to fill that need, you'll just create needs at other positions. And you'll have fewer resources to try to address those needs.

The Patriots need a CB, for instance. If they acquired Asante Samuel and his hefty contract, they'd address their need at CB but create a need somewhere else because of all the cap money Samuel would consume.

You don't help yourself, you hurt yourself.

We're all fans, and we're all excited to see the Patriots improve themselves. We get giddy at the idea of some star linebacker wearing a Patriots jersey. But the guys running the Pats' Draft aren't fans. This is their business. And they treat it like a business.

Fans like to point out anecdotal evidence of picks not working out. I know 98.5's Felger and Mazz were heavily criticizing the Patriots' Draft strategy yesterday. I think it makes sense. I think it works out. It builds consistency. The Patriots don't draft amazingly well, but they always find themselves rich with picks. Which allows them to stay competitive year after year.

And for this year's Draft, the only thing I can predict is that Pats fans will be upset after tonight.

Bruins Lose With a Capital L

On the bright side, I get to trim my beard. That's good because it was getting a bit unruly. Some tomato sauce got caught in it and since my beard has a reddish hue, I was never certain that I got all the sauce out.

Anyway, to the game and the series.

The Capitals played to 100% of their potential. The Bruins fluctuated between 80% and 100%, mostly hovering around 90%. Rarely reaching 100%.

We're going to here the theories. It's amazing how small minded people come up with the biggest and most complex explanation of things. They'll blame the so-called "Cup hangover." They'll say the Bruins celebrated too much in the off-season. They might even point to Tim Thomas not visiting the White House.

I'm more simplistic. I see David Krejci not scoring goals and just think that he's not a very consistent player. I see Milan Lucic skating up the ice before he has full possession of the puck, turning it over on his own blue line. That's something the Bruins have done many times, both before and after winning the Cup. I see brad Marchand trying too hard to make plays on his own.

These aren't complicated things. The Bruins didn't execute. It happens. It happened in the 2011 Cup run too. Just not 4 times in a 7 game stretch.

Krejci and Lucic made the right plays at the wrong time. They'd fling the puck in front of the net, but not when the Bruins had any bodies in front. They didn't do much in the offensive zone that had any purpose. Only Seguin did a good job supporting the play. Only Seguin looked dangerous in the offensive zone.

I missed Mark Recchi in this series. His timing to get to the front of the net was something the Bruins were sorely missing all series long. Holtby was giving up rebounds, struggling to smother loose pucks, and frequently made mistakes with his glove. But there were no Bruins hovering around the net, pouncing just as the shot got in, and getting body position to capitalize on rebounds.

Holtby was the story of this series, but not the star. He did a great job, but the Bruins did a poor job of making him work to make saves. No traffic, no second-chance opportunities. Lots of perimeter shots that he was able to see clearly.

Anyone who wants to blame Thomas for this series loss is a fool. He wasn't godlike, as he was in 2011. But how perfect would he have needed to be last night?

Defensively, the Bruins did a good job shutting down the Caps. But most of the top 6 Bruin forwards did nothing on offense. Kelly's line produced at the start of the series. Then the defensemen took over. Seguin and Peverley combined for 5 goals, which is 1/3 of the Bruins' total offensive production. Bruins forwards only scored 11 goals. The top 6 scored 7 goals, and 5 of those were Seguin's and Peverley's

Krejci had 1 goal. Marchand had 1 goal. Lucic had 0 goals. Bergeron had 0 goals.

One of these guys needed to produce. Just one.

The Bruins needed their scorers to score. They were never going to outmuscle the Caps. These aren't the Canadiens, the Lightning, or the Canucks. Alex Ovechkin is 230 pounds. He doesn't shy away from physical contact, he initiates it.

So now comes a long off-season. Will Thomas be back? Will the Bruins get a "scorer?" Will they try to construct a true top line. We have plenty of time to find out.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bruins - Capitals Game 7 Preview

The Bruins won a record setting three Game 7s on their way to the Stanley Cup last year. So this is familiar territory for them.

The Bruins' best regular season players are finally showing up in the post-season. Seguin was a constant threat in Game 6, Krejci scored, Lucic had 2 assists. The Bruins need these guys to contribute, especially with Patrice Bergeron well below 100% and playing a very limited role.

The Power Play has been painful to watch, but I don't think it will be much of a factor in Game 7. I think the refs will only call the most blatant penalties and I'd be shocked if the B's get more than 2 Power Play chances.

Tim Thomas has been outstanding in this series. Some have pointed to a goal or two that he would have stopped last year. And many are declaring that Braden Holtby has "outplayed" Thomas. That's not true. Holtby has played well, but he's had much easier saves to make. The Capitals have constantly obstructed Thomas with bodies in the slot. Something the B's have only occasionally done to Holtby. Thomas has traffic, Holtby has space.

If not for Thomas, the Caps would have already won this series. And the bigger the stage, and the more pressure there is, the better Tim Thomas performs. The Bruins will not lose Game 7 because of their goaltender.

For the Capitals to win Game 7, there's a set order of things that they need to do. Holtby has to make some big glove saves, Ovechkin's line needs to score or at least neutralize a Bruins line, and goals need to be scored by one of 5 guys (Ovechkin, Semin, Laich, Brouwer, Backstrom). If any one of these things don't happen, the Capitals don't win.

The Bruins, on the other hand, can win in a variety of different ways. The Bruins are more diverse, their players are more flexible and can play multiple roles. The Bruins get more production from more sources than Washington does. The Caps have 9 players with multiple points in this series. The Bruins have 14. The Caps have 6 players with 3+ points. The Bruins have 8. Four Bruins' defensemen have scored a goal. Only one Capitals' defenseman has scored.

All the Bruins can play defense as well. Peverly is the Bruins' top scorer in this series, and you'll see him on the ice in defensive situations. Unlike an Alexander Ovechkin. Then there's a guy like Chara who is the best defensive player on the team and also a guy who can score.

So Washington can win, but it'd have to follow a script. If the Bruins can disrupt that script, or just improvise their own using their broad range of skills, then they'll win.

I think the B's will find some holes in Holtby. I think Ovechkin will score and make things interesting. But the Bruins will pull away down the stretch and win 3-2.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 10*

There will be three Game 7s in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to what the Devils did last night.

DEVILS 3, PANTHERS 2 (OT) - (Series tied 3-3)
This game probably shouldn't have even gone into overtime. The Panthers fell behind 2-0 in the 2nd. And despite only 3 shots on goal in that period, they were able to tie it. They took advantage of Martin Brodeur's age (not the first time Florida has taken advantage of old people) and scored some less than impressive goals. They only managed 16 shots in net for the whole game. Scott Clemmensen held his own but could only stop 39 of 42 shots.

Game 7 will be Thursday night in southern Florida.

Tonight's game:
7:30pm - Washington @ Boston - NESN/NBC Sports - Series tied 3-3

Sox Get a Nice Relaxing Win

The day after Alfredo Aceves gave us all heart attacks and the day before the Bruins play in a Game 7, it was nice of the Sox to provide some low stress entertainment. The Sox scored early and often, Beckett pitched well enough, and the bullpen didn't blow an 8 run lead.

It was another demolition of an opposing pitcher. The Sox have scored 9+ runs five times already this season. They are very good at capitalizing on a struggling opponent. Three fourths of the total runs they've scored have come in those 5 games.

Thrashing the Twins isn't an amazing accomplishment, but you have to start somewhere. And the Sox need wins. Badly.

Ortiz hit his 3rd homer of the season, and knocked in 3 to retake the Red Sox RBI lead with 15. Cody Ross knocked in a run himself and now has 14. Aviles was 4 for 5, Youkilis had a nice 2 for 4, and even Marlon Byrd got in on the fun with a pair of singles.

Beckett was good enough. He gave up a lot of baserunners, but didn't let the Twins put up a crooked number. He got big outs when he needed them.

The Sox go for the sweep tonight as Clay Buchholz faces Australian Liam Hendriks, who is 0-0 but hasn't been bad in his two starts. Buchholz on the other hand... Well, he usually has a slow start to the season.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Good Reason to Root for the Florida Panthers Tonight

The Panthers have a chance to eliminate the Devils tonight. And not only would that mean that a team from New Jersey would be knocked out, it would also mean that one of the best goal-callers in the NHL would be happy.

Fenway's 100th Birthday Party

Fenway Park turned 100 on Friday. You might have heard about it. It's crazy to think about a facility being used and abused each year by fans and players, and it's still standing. Fires have burnt down grandstands, floods have seeped in from the marshy Fens, and I once threw up in Section 14.

When Fenway Park opened, World War I was 4 years from starting. There was no TV, no radio broadcast of the game. People got their news from telegraph. The Civil War had only been over for 47 years.

Fenway was 28 years old when the US joined World War II. It was 57 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. It was 72 when I was born. And it will probably outlive me,

The ceremony on Friday was tasteful, emotional, well planned, and even moving at times. It brought back memories of childhood, and made me remember why I blindly loved Pedro Martinez and Mo Vaughn. It made me remember that the team we have here in Boston is an integral, inseparable part of life in this town. It made me remember how unreasonably sad I was in 2003 and how unreasonably happy I was in 2004.

It was nice. The players came out, from different generations, from different classes of stardom in this town. Some players I'd never heard of. Some players I saw when I was a kid. Some players I've read about. Wilton Veras, Bill Monbouquette, Nomar, Millar, Lowell, Yaz, Doerr, Pesky, Petrocelli, even Jose Canseco. The obscure, the famous, the infamous.

Even the flyover gave me goosebumps. An F-16 flying wing-to-wing with a P-51. That's just cool. Although the P-51 flew in Europe and the Pacific when Fenway was already 30 years old. A formation of planes ranging from a WW I biplane might have been more appropriate. Or maybe a Marine Corps F4U Corsair and an F9F Panther (the planes Ted Williams flew in World War II and Korea, respectively). But only a history nerd like myself would make such specific suggestions.

I felt like a kid as I watched the proceedings. Then I realized that this was precisely how Larry Lucchino and John Henry wanted me to feel. This was how they got Sox fans to shell out hundreds of dollars to watch mediocre players blow 8 run leads and then be happy about it. They make us feel like we're in Disney World, then they pick our pockets. And we smile as they do it.

Lucchino and Henry didn't care about the Sox until they realized it was an asset they could build up, squeeze, then sell. They see Fenway Park as a tourist attraction, not a ballpark. I used to go to games to see the Sox play. People today go just to go, because it's cool. It's the trendiest bar in town with an obscene cover charge, overpriced beer, and lousy entertainment.

So while it was cool to see Pedro, Nomar, Millar, Lowell, Wakefield, and everyone else. Knowing that it was all part of the Lucchino-Henry money making master plan gave me a bad after taste. Fenway's 100th Anniversary wasn't a celebration of Boston, or the Sox, or Fenway. It was a marketing tool. It was exploitation of the team's most valuable resource. It was about image and money, and "growing the brand," as a business person would say.

And I wouldn't care if "growing the brand" included signing a frontline starting pitcher. But it doesn't.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 9*

The Western Conference quarterfinals are complete and the semifinals are set. But the East is still very much up in the air. The 1 and 8 seeds will be going to Game 7. As will the 2 and 7. And maybe even the 3 and 6.

RANGERS 3, SENATORS 2 - (Series tied 3-3)
Daniel Alfredsson returned but the Senators couldn't stop New York's Power Play. The refs called a very soft game, though. Ottawa scored after a weak roughing call. New York scored after a weak goalie interference call. I hate seeing games won and lost on Power Plays. Chris Kreider did score an even strength goal for the Rangers in his 4th game as a pro. He was playing for Boston College in the NCAA Championship just 16 days ago. Now he already has an NHL playoff goal.

Game 7 Thursday night in New York.

COYOTES 4, BLACKHAWKS 0 - (Coyotes win series 4-2)
Chicago started this game on fire, backed by a very vocal home crowd. They ran into a wall, though. And that wall was named Mike Smith. The Phoenix goalie stopped 16 shots in the 1st period, and 39 overall. Eventually, the Coyotes scored some Power Play goals and won their first playoff series since moving to Phoenix.

They'll face Nashville in the semis. And LA will face St. Louis. So that's Mike Smith vs. Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick vs. Eliot/Halak. Don't expect many high scoring games in the next round.

Tonight's game:
7:30pm - Panthers @ Devils - NBC Sports - Panthers lead 3-2

Bard Relieves Sox Fans

Daniel Bard wants to be a starter. And I can't blame him. But by doing such a good job as a reliever last night, he might have eliminated himself from the rotation.

He inherited a tough situation: a runner on third with 1 out in a 5-5 game. And he worked out of it. Cody Ross homered in the next half inning, and Bard got the win.

I was a little puzzled with Valentine's decision to take Bard out and put Aceves in to pitch the 9th. I know Aceves is the temporary closer, but Bard only threw 11 pitches in the 8th (4 were part of an intentional walk), and he's clearly the best option to pitch the 9th. Taking Bard out and putting Aceves in was tempting fate.

With the Sox struggling, Cody Ross has been somewhat overlooked. He hit homeruns number 4 and 5 of the year. And knocked in 3 runs, giving him a total of 13 RBI. He leads the Sox in both categories. He's also hitting .283. I don't know if this production will last, but the Sox desperately need it at the moment.

Jon Lester looked off, especially going through the Twins' lineup a second time. He allowed 5 runs in 7 innings. And if not for the 3 double plays the Twins grounded into, things might have gotten really messy. I'm not worried, though. He had bad Aprils in 2009 and 2010. And a bad May last year. Give him a few starts to warm up and he'll revert to his usual self.

The Sox needed the win. But there's still lots to work on. Morales looks awful. Aceves is unnerving. The Sox still make inexcusable little mistakes like screwing up a relay from right-field.

Those problems seem more manageable after a win, though.

Beckett faces Nick Blackburn tonight, who struggled in his first start, did well in his second, but hasn't pitched since the 14th.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Monday, April 23, 2012

Byrd Lands in Boston

The Sox made the very minor acquisition of outfielder Marlon Byrd. Byrd has started 2012 in a 3/43 slump. Although he's a career .278 hitter. He hit .276 last year and in 2009 he had 20 homeruns. He was acquired in exchange for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later.

The Sox desperately needed an outfielder. Ellsbury and Crawford are on the DL, and Repko hurt himself on Friday. Byrd is a short-term solution to this significant problem.

And of course the Sox have plenty of other problems to worry about. Maybe Marlon Byrd can pitch.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 12*

Some series came to an end, others were extended. The violence has subsided a bit, so now we can enjoy actual hockey.

PANTHERS 3, DEVILS 0 - (Panthers lead series 3-2)
Jose Theodore is back in net for Florida, and it worked out pretty well for the Panthers. He stopped all 30 shots he faced. The Panthers are on the verge of making everyone who was clamoring for changes in the playoff system look like fools.

Game 6 Tuesday night in Jersey.

SENATORS 2, RANGERS 0 - (Senators lead series 3-2)
Jason Spezza is the latest Senator to pick up the slack left by the absence of Daniel Alfredsson. He scored his first and second goals of the series in this game. Oh, and Craig Anderson stopped 41 shots. The Rangers were a favorite to win The Cup, and now they're facing elimination.

Game 6 tonight in Ottawa.

BLUES 3, SHARKS 1 - (Blues win series 4-1)
The Sharks were a sexy upset pick by the experts. The experts forgot that they have Joe Thornton along with goaltending issues. The Blues scored three goals in the 3rd and fully demonstrated how and why they finished the regular season with 109 points.

BLACKHAWKS 2, COYOTES 1 (OT) - (Coyotes lead series 3-2)
All five games in this series have gone into Overtime. That's ridiculous.

Game 6 tonight in Chicago.

FLYERS 5, PENGUINS 1 - (Flyers win series 4-2)
Thank God Pittsburgh is eliminated. The craniums of the remaining playoff teams are much safer thanks to their elimination. And thank God I can stop rooting for the Flyers. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux ran this series. Briere scored 5 times, Giroux scored 6 times. Sidney "Canada's Golden Boy" Crosby had 8 points in this series. And was -3 in this game. Fuck off, Penguins.

KINGS 2, CANUCKS 1 (OT) - (Kings win series 4-2)

Give Vancouver another excuse to tear apart their own city. The Canucks once again choked in the playoffs. This is a common theme with them. They can't just blame their goalie anymore, as Schneider did pretty well for himself. Maybe having a first line consisting of soft Swedes that fold faster than Ikea furniture is the problem. Maybe having guys like Burrows and Lapierre is the problem. Maybe defensemen should play defense. I don't know. I don't care. Goodbye, Vancouver.

A #8 seed beats a #1 seed in 5 games.

Tonight's games:
7:00pm - Rangers @ Senators - NBC Sports - Senators lead 3-2
9:00pm - Coyotes @ Blackhawks - CNBC - Coyotes lead series 3-2

How Bad Are the Red Sox?

The Red Sox grounds' crew didn't even put a tarp down yesterday afternoon. There was a 90% chance of rain, but a 100% chance that the Sox were not going to play on Sunday. And who could blame them.

The 3 inning, 14 run collapse of the bullpen on Saturday was almost humorous. The ways this team finds to lose ballgames seems too surreal to be true. To be up 9-1 in the 7th inning and still lose. How is that possible?

With this team, though, it's expected.

This team finished 3rd place last year, and what did the Front Office do in an effort to improve? Lose a closer, lose a short-stop, fire a manager, lose a GM. Should we be surprised that this team is struggling?

It's not Bobby Valentine's fault. He inherited a circus. And even if you change ring leaders in a circus, clowns are still clowns. But I don't think that Character is the problem with the Sox. At least not the biggest problem.

There simply isn't enough talent. Vicente Padilla was on the scrap heap for a reason. The Red Sox haven't acquired a sought-after reliever since Keith Foulke. They sign a bunch of question marks to fill in their bullpen depth chart and hope one or two work out. Then they move their 2nd best reliever to the rotation.

This team is a mess. On the field, off the field, everywhere. They don't score runs consistently. They've already lost twice when scoring 9+ runs. Their bullpen is horrific. The rotation is still questionable.

This team sucks. Only the Royals have a worse record in the AL.

They're in Minnesota tonight. Bard has been skipped and Lester will be starting. He'll oppose Jason Marquis. I think the Sox are desperate for a win, and putting Lester on the mound gives them a good chance of getting one.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Seguin Keeps Bruins In

The Bruins weren't going to win this series unless some of their key forwards woke up and scored. Krejci scored yesterday. Lucic had two assists. And Seguin scored the game-winner.

Seguin was dangerous all game. It was only a matter of time before he scored. He threatened frequently in the 1st, and he helped set-up Peverley's goal in the 3rd. Finally, the opportunity came for him in OT. He was confident, he was patient, he was Tyler Seguin. He waited for Braden Holtby to commit, then he attacked. And as good as the media has made Holtby out to be, Seguin is ridiculously more talented than him. And don't forget that Seguin has to practice against Tim Thomas. That might be part of the reason why he's becoming such a good player.

I thoroughly enjoy Eddie Olczyk's mis-analysis of Tim Thomas during the playoffs. He spouted the same crap last year. The NBC guys frequently critique the two time Vezina winner for his aggressiveness. I think Mr. Olczyk believes that if he laced up his skates today, he'd be able to score on Thomas with ease. But he has just a good of a chance to score on Thomas as he does of pronouncing a player's name correctly.

Thomas was great. Washington's first goal was a deflection off Zanon's leg. Their second goal came when the referees didn't call interference or high-sticking and the Caps had a de facto Power Play. Ironically, after the play Marchand couldn't return to the ice due to the flowing blood from the non-penalty. He got a stick to the face and Washington scored. Then again, the refs were primarily focused on clamping down the toughest, fiercest player in the NHL: Benoit Pouliot.

How much attention are the referees giving Pouliot's play? Pouliot has 6 penalty minutes this series. Ovechkin has 4. Who do you think has played rougher, pushed the rules further?

Speaking of penalties, the Washington fans properly displayed their ignorance when booing the 4 minute high-sticking call on Ovechkin. Stick to face equals a penalty. And blood makes it a 4 minute penalty. There's little grey area. What the hell were the Caps fans booing?

Then again, the lack of penalties on Ovechkin isn't new. He was 21st in the NHL with 215 hits in the regular season. He only received 26 penalty minutes. That's not a typo. He was only penalized 26 minutes. 21st most hits, 393rd most penalty minutes. It's impossible to be involved in so much physical play and not be penalized more. Clearly the refs have a different rule book for him.

The Bruins' Power Play looked much better than it's been in the first 5 games. The B's scored a PP goal in the 1st. And they were much better at entering the zone and maintaining possession. The next step is to move some bodies away from the puck. That makes it harder on the penalty killers. It opens up passing and shooting lanes, creates 2-on-1 situations, and forces the goalie to move around. And we've seen Holtby struggle when he's forced to move from post-to-post.

The Bruins' penalty killing is back to form too.

So we have another Game 7. This is familiar territory for many of the Bruins. If they can continue to grow on the Power Play; if Krejci, Seguin, and Lucic can contribute; and if Benoit Pouliot's rampaging can be harnessed, the Bruins should win.

I can't wait until Wednesday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trying to feed my kids some extra nutiritious snacks for a change

Guest post written by Elise Sanders.

My kids are always hopped up on sugar and I want to make sure that it doesn't stay that way. I'm realizing that it is possible for kids to like some great tasting healthy snacks. Even though I assumed for years that I would never get my kids to eat healthy stuff. Some of my friends feed their kids healthy food and I would like to get my kids to eat that way too.

I've been looking around online to find some ideas about how to get my kids to make that transition without ending in lots of tantrums. One thing that I found online during my research was some info on how to consolidate your credit cards. I was really happy to find it because that's another family issue that I need to address.

I'm chocked full of all kinds of great nutritious snacks ideas and I really hope that my kids are going to like all of them. But I think that my husband and I are going to have to lead by example and at least act like we like these snacks for the kids to enjoy them.

Notes From Bruins/Caps Game 5

If the Bruins play as well as they did in Game 5, they'll probably win. The Caps' victory was by the narrowest of margins, and the Bruins were the superior team.

 -Holtby looks human. The Bruins are getting bodies in front of him, forcing him to move through traffic to make saves. They're also finding his holes. And how many times did he let a puck slip through his glove hand?

 -The Bruins hit two posts in the 1st period. Unlike some, I don't believe that hitting a post is bad luck. It's a miss. Just like a basketball hitting the rim is a miss. But it is a close miss. If those two shots are aimed just a few millimeters better, the Bruins take a 2-0 lead and force Washington to play from behind.

 -David Krejci has sucked in this series. All he does is miss shots, turn the puck over, and lose important faceoffs. Yesterday Lucic gave him a golden chance in the slot. Krejci was 8 feet from the net, and missed the net by about 8 feet. That's pretty sad.

 -I'm tired of seeing Joe Corvo on the ice. I'd rather have Mottau. Corvo isn't bad, but he's not good. He's like a friend who isn't a bad guy, but just isn't any fun to hang out with. At the very least, he shouldn't be on the ice when the B's have a Power Play. Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, Ference, and Rolston should be playing the blue-line in those situations. Remember how well the Bruins played when they scratched Corvo late in the regular season.

 -The slashing call on Pouliot was bullshit. The odds of what he did being called for a penalty in the 3rd period of a tied playoff game are astronomically slim. And if a premier player like Ovechkin or Bergeron had done it, there's no way in hell the refs would have called it. Thomas still should have stopped the winning goal, and the B's still allowed 3 other Washington scores, but this particular call was utter crap. 

-Some people are trying to blame Thomas for this loss. The winning goal was one he should have stopped, but he was brilliant in the 1st period and the first half of the 2nd. He's been excellent all series long. He's been the best penalty killer and he's the reason the Bruins have been able to stay in these close games despite their offensive struggles.

 -The Bruins are two or three plays away from beating this Capitals team into the ground. If they can score early and force Washington to play from behind, you'll see the Caps fall apart. The Bruins, for the most part, played great in Game 5. If they play that well in Games 6 and 7, they'll win.

 Photo Credit: 
AP Photo

Friday, April 20, 2012

Capital Punishment

The series is tied 2-2. And as much as Braden Holtby will get praised for this, it really is the Bruins' fault. They're not playing at the same level as Washington. Just look at the Bruins' top scorers (Seguin, Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Marchand). These 5 guys have combined for one assist. The top 5 Bruins scorers have one assist in this series.

Then there's the turnovers, which are frequently erased by Thomas, but not always. Then there's Ference falling down. That resulted in a Washington goal.

Defensively, though, the Bruins have been pretty tight in this series. Even when they've made mistakes, somebody has made a play to minimize those errors.

Offensively, this team is lost. Lucic looked like a fucking fool last night. How many times did he give the puck away, or struggle to gain possession?

Then Krejci. How perfect do passes have to be for Krejci to settle the puck?

The 4th line is doing what the 4th line is supposed to do, the 3rd line is scoring, and at least the Bergeron line is generating chances. The Krejci-Lucic line is playing horribly right now. And I think they're the biggest reason this series is tied.

Strategically, the Bruins need to stop throwing shots high on Holtby. He's good with the glove. He's very cocky with the glove, actually. Low shots, generate rebounds, get inside position and try to score. Make him question himself. He's too secure right now.

And the Power Play needs to be simplified in some areas and made more dynamic in others. Two defensemen on the blue-line. No need to have forwards on the point (unless it's Rolston). Move bodies without the puck.

And in all situations, build traffic in front of Holtby.

How much traffic did Thomas deal with last night? How much did Holtby deal with? Thomas had I-93 at 4:45pm on a Friday. Holtby had Route 24 at 2:00am on a Tuesday. Make Holtby struggle to make these saves.

Game 5 is Saturday afternoon in Boston. It's time for the Bruins to show up and play as well as they can play. We haven't seen that all series.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Francona Will Be at Fenway's 100th Birthday Party

Terry Francona changed his mind and has decided to participate in Friday's 100th anniversary festivities. He told ESPN that he owed it to the fans to show up. Maybe, after seeing Bobby Valentine repeatedly booed, Francona wants to bask in the applause of the fans and stick it to the owners and executives who let him go.

I do think it's kind of weird for Francona to make it seem like going was such a painful idea, then to change his mind at the last minute. Perhaps he was talked to by some current players like Pedroia and encouraged to come. Maybe he saw the supportive and understanding reaction from Red Sox Nation when he declared he wouldn't return and decided to come.

Francona is an important part of Red Sox history. And the Red Sox are an important part of Terry Francona's history. And despite the insidiousness and treachery of the Sox owners and executives, neither side can deny how important they are to each other.

I can't wait to see the ovation he receives. And maybe he can't wait either.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 8*

I'm not a gambling man, but if I were, I would bet on every team that's down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup playoffs to win Game 4. Sweeps are rare in the NHL. And that 4th win is truly the hardest to get.

PENGUINS 10, FLYERS 3 - (Flyers lead series 3-1)
That's the correct score. Jordan Staal had a hat-trick, Malkin had 2 goals and an assist, 13 Penguins registered a point. The 1st period of this game was a game on its own. It was 4-3 at the end of the 1st, and 8 penalties had been handed out. By the end of the 2nd, it was 9-3 Penguins, and 52 penalty minutes had been issued. 100 total minutes were given.

In related news, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has decided to split itself into two states, named Sylvania and the Penn Republic (I stole those names from Futurama).

Game 5 Friday night in Pittsburgh, Sylvania.

SENATORS 3, RANGERS 2 (OT) - (Series tied 2-2)
With Daniel Alfredsson still out, the Senators needed offensive contributions from guys like Milan Michalek. And some production from their defensemen wouldn't hurt either. Michalek scored his first goal of the series. And Sergei Gonchar scored about 10 minutes later. Kyle Turris scored the game-winner. So this 1 vs. 8 series is now a best of three.

Game 5 Saturday night at MSG.

CANUCKS 3, KINGS 1 - (Kings lead series 3-1)
Cory Schneider is the best goalie on the Vancouver Canucks. End of story. He stopped 43 shots last night. He's only allowed 2 goals in his 2 starts this series. Luongo's career has been marked by results that never matched reputation. Schneider has no reputation, but he's producing results. Both Sedins are back in the lineup (Henrik scored last night) and this series is far from over.

Game 5 Sunday in Vancouver.

Tonight's games:
7:00pm - Panthers @ Devils - NHL Network - Panthers lead 2-1
7:30pm - Bruins @ Capitals - NESN/NBC Sports - Bruins lead 2-1
8:00pm - Coyotes @ Blackhawks - CNBC - Coyotes lead 2-1
10:30pm - Blues @ Sharks - NBC Sports - Blues lead 2-1

Celtics Win Battle of Atlantic

For the 5th straight year, and the 6th time in 8 years, the Celtics won the Atlantic Division. It's hard to believe that the Big Three have been in Boston for 5 seasons now.

They won their latest divisional title by beating the Orlando Magic 102-98 last night. Unlike the Knicks, the Magic did not hit many threes. They were 6 of 24 with their three point attempts.

Rondo didn't play, resting a sore back. Allen didn't play because of his ankle.

For the next few games, the Celtics can continue to rest key players one at a time. Only three games left and there really isn't anything to play for. The Celtics can't drop below the 4 seed because they've clinched the Division, and they can't catch the Pacers for the 3 seed.

The C's are in Atlanta Friday night, and I doubt they'll go all out to win. The Hawks are very likely going to be the Celtics' playoff opponent. No sense in showing them your cards at this point.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Sox Finding New Ways to Lose Every Night

One day it's a lousy starting pitching performance. The next it's an impotent offense. Then the next, the bullpen blows a save. The Sox have lost games in just about every possible way this season.

It really feels like September. Not just because of the brisk weather last night, but because the Sox are losing in new and interesting ways each night.You never know who you'll see fail when you come to the ballpark.

Beckett did well last night. Good. Maybe very good. Not great, but good enough. The offense was quiet, apart from a Youkilis homerun. But Franklin Morales sabotaged the Sox' chances of winning the game with his 3 run outing.

There's a new villain every night. A new player to display a shamed look on his face. But the image of Sox players limply hanging on the dugout rails is the same sorry sight from last September.

It's getting annoying.

Fenway Park turns 100 on Friday, and the Sox welcome the Yankees. New York is 6-6, so these are two struggling teams trying to remember how to win. Buchholz faces 2-0 Ivan Nova.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Day 7*

More overtimes, more injuries, more suspensions. I can't decide if these playoffs are the best I've ever seen or the worst.

PANTHERS 4, DEVILS 3 - (Panthers lead series 2-1)

What makes the NHL Playoffs so compelling to watch is their unpredictability. Everyone figured New Jersey had the easiest draw in the playoffs. They'd roll over the 94 point Panthers. People were even pointing to this matchup as a reason to change the playoff system. But the game isn't played in theory, or by "experts." It's played by players on ice.

The Panthers were down in 3-0 less than 7 minutes into this game. They came back thanks to 3 Power Play goals. The Panthers are 6 for 10 on the PP. 6 Power Play goals against the best PK in the regular season (89.6%). The Devils only allowed 27 PP goals all season long, or about 1 every 3 games. Now they've allowed 6 in 3 games.

Game 4 Thursday night in Jersey.

PREDATORS 3, RED WINGS 1 - (Predators lead series 3-1)

Another example of how regular season trends mean nothing in the playoffs. Detroit had the best home record in the NHL, with 31 wins. They've lost to Nashville twice on their home ice.

All the scoring occurred in the 3rd. The Predators have preyed on Detroit's defensive lapses. The Red Wings are all chasing the puck carrier, not protecting the area in front of the net or covering other players. The Wings outshot Nashville 41-17, but Pekka Rinne did his job, stopped 40 shots, and gave the Predators a chance to win.

Game 5 Friday night in Nashville.

COYOTES 3, BLACKHAWKS 2 (OT) - (Coyotes lead series 2-1)

All three games of this series have gone into overtime but the big story of this series have been the hits to the head and the suspensions. In this game, Chicago's Marian Hossa was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher after Raffi Torres checked him in the skull. Here's the hit:

He targeted the head, he launched himself, and it could be argued that it was a late hit and a charge. Torres has an extensive history of dirty play. Exactly one year ago to the day, he did this:

Torres was suspended once already this season. Last year he was suspended for 5 games at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Given the nature of this hit combined with his history, he should be banned for the remainder of the playoffs.

Honestly, I don't think players like Raffi Torres belong in the National Hockey League. I don't think the League should tolerate them, merely slapping them on the wrist as they repeatedly misbehave.

Game 4 Thursday night in Chicago.

Tonight's games:
7:30pm - Rangers @ Senators - CNBC - Rangers lead 2-1
7:30pm - Penguins @ Flyers - NBC Sports - Flyers lead series 3-0
10:00pm - Canucks @ Kings - NBC Sports - Kings lead series 3-0

Patriots' 2012 Schedule

The NFL released its 2012 schedule last night. And I have to say that I'm pleased with the Pats' 2012 slate of games. The Pats opponents aren't particularly tough. They'll play 4 games against 2011 playoff teams. That's the absolute minimum. And they're home against 3 of those 4 playoff teams.

Here's the schedule:

Week 1: Sun 9/9 - @ Tennessee Titans - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 2: Sun 9/16 - vs. Arizona Cardinals - 1:00pm (Fox)
Week 3: Sun 9/23 - @ Baltimore Ravens - 8:20pm (NBC)
Week 4: Sun 9/30 - @ Buffalo Bills - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 5: Sun 10/7 - vs. Denver Broncos - 4:15pm (CBS)
Week 6: Sun 10/14 - @ Seattle Seahawks - 4:15pm (CBS)
Week 7: Sun 10/21 - vs. New York Jets - 4:15pm (CBS)
Week 8: Sun 10/28 - @ St. Louis Rams (London) - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sun 11/11 - vs. Buffalo Bills - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 11: Sun 11/18 - vs. Indianapolis Colts - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 12: Thu 11/22 - @ New York Jets - 8:20pm (NBC)
Week 13: Sun 12/2 - @ Miami Dolphins - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 14: Mon 12/10 - vs. Houston Texans - 8:30pm (ESPN)
Week 15: Sun 12/16 - vs. San Francisco 49ers - 8:20pm (NBC)
Week 16: Sun 12/23 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars - 1:00pm (CBS)
Week 17: Sun 12/30 - vs. Miami Dolphins - 1:00pm (CBS)

The more I look at the schedule, the happier I get. The Patriots were going to travel to Florida twice this season. And both times will be in the mildness December, not in the sweltering heat and humidity of September.

The Pats also host two warm weather teams in December: The Dolphins and Texans.

Five of the last 8 games are at home. Most of the AFC East games are in the second half of the schedule.

The only rough part of the Pats' schedule is their preseason schedule. It's just weird. They open up on August 9th at home against New Orleans. Then don't play again for 10 days. Then it's the Eagles on Monday August 20th, at Tampa Bay on Friday the 24th, then at the Giants on Wednesday the 29th. Three games in 10 days. Just weird.

But I'll take the odd preseason schedule in return for the favorable regular season schedule.