Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wait, I Picked 7 of the Elite 8 in my Bracket?

Back in college my nickname was Robbie Mush, because every bet I made turned to mush. It was a reference to a minor character in A Bronx Tale, Eddie Mush, who at the track was given his bet-tickets already ripped up.

That's why last night I was absolutely stunned to see that I had picked 7 of the 8 teams that made the Elite Eight. The only exception being Wichita State. My brackets started off as red as anyone's but somehow I guessed the teams that would advance to this stage. Here's my bracket:

I used almost no logic to pick these teams. I don't follow NCAA hoops until the start of March, and I know little about the game, its teams, or its players. I used a few basic guidelines to fill this bracket out in less than a minute:

1. Despite early upsets, the Final Four and Elite Eight are dominated by teams seeded 1-4.

2. The 1 seeds are 1 by default, not because they are clearly superior to other teams.

3. I hate Syracuse. Which means they'll probably advance far.

4. Duke doesn't mess around when they have something to play for.

Somehow a combination of these guidelines along with the dumbest of luck has produced a bracket in the 99th percentile on Yahoo.

My Final Four are Duke, Ohio State, Michigan, and Syracuse. I have Duke defeating Michigan 65-55 in the Championship.

And I don't even care. I am much more interested in the NCAA Hockey tournament.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March Is a Month for Sports

It’s March. And just about everyone on the planet is involved in an NCAA Tournament basketball pool. The field is down to the Sweet Sixteen and the Tournament has already provided more than a few surprises. Will Florida Gulf Coast continue their Cinderella story? Will Kansas and Indiana go as deep as people expect? Who will win the battle of underdogs between Wichita State and La Salle?

Elsewhere in sports, NHL hockey and NBA basketball are heating up and approaching the playoffs. Are the Anaheim Ducks the team to beat in the NHL’s Western Conference? The Pittsburgh Penguins are red hot, on a 12 game win-streak, and they’ve pulled away from the Eastern Conference field. And in the NBA it doesn’t seem like the Miami Heat will lose another game for the rest of the season.

And baseball season is just a few days away. Over in Europe the UEFA Champions League is down to the final eight teams. It’s perhaps the best time of year for a sports fan. And it’s also a great time of year for a sports bettor.

But it’s hard to keep up with so many sports. There are so many players, so many transactions, so many injuries affecting lineups, so much news to digest. It can be difficult for a casual bettor, someone who bets on sports for fun, to keep up with all that is going on.

There are other ways to enjoy placing a bet on something. For instance, offers a wide variety of casino games to bet on, ranging from roulette to slots to video poker to blackjack. They also have fun themed slot games, including sports-themed slot games. So a sports fan can play the theme game of the sport they love. Or they can play more skill-based games like poker and blackjack. Just like sports in March, there are plenty of options available.

Jarome Iginla Goes to Pittsburgh, Not Boston

I had already written a post with my thoughts about the reported deal that sent Jarome Iginla to Boston. I was on the fence, because the 35 year old winger had only scored 9 goals. And also because the Bruins still needed at least one more defenseman. And also because selling key parts of the future for current gain is what Toronto got wrong with the Kessel deal. I was on the fence about Iginla coming to Boston. Now he's going to Boston. And I am sad, but will get over it.

Iginla would have helped the Bruins, but he wouldn't have solved key problems like lack of depth on defense. Iginla had scored 30+ goals every season for 11 years. But this season, in an 82 game schedule, he'd be on pace for 23.

And it would be very likely that he would be a short-term rental, not a part of the Bruins' core for a few seasons.

So I'm not too sad about this. It was something of a tease, with reports that he was coming here. But apart from that, it isn't the end of the world that the Bruins didn't land him.

Bruins Have a Goldilocks Game (Only One Period Was Just Right)

This was a Goldilocks game for the Bruins. The 1st period was too cold. The 3rd period was too hot. The 2nd period was just right. The Bruins only played one period at their absolute best. They were lackadaisical in the 1st. In the 3rd they were inconsistent and erratic. Only in the 2nd did everything come together.

The Canadiens were simply better last night. Not at playing hockey. They were better actors, better at deceiving the officials, better at falling down. I don't blame the refs. I blame the Habs for playing like twats, and I blame the NHL/LNH for not making embellishment an officiating priority. The NBA is trying to get diving out of their game. Why is their no emphasis from the NHL? The NHL is apparently more worried about interference. That's what has been the penalty of emphasis this season.

That being said, the Bruins dug their own hole in the 1st period. They were playing a team tired from a tough game the previous night, and they spotted them a 1-0 lead, then a 2-0 lead.

There was also another Andrew "Facepalm" Ference goal scored after Ference made a mistake trying to play the puck in the neutral zone. Ference has become my Detested One on this team. All true Bruins fans absolutely hate at least one player on their favorite team. Right now it's Andrew Ference. David Krejci is a close second.

The Bruins were undefeated last year when taking a 2 goal lead into the 3rd period. So maximum points from those games. This year they are 9-4-2. Out of 30 available points when up by 2 goals with 20 minutes to play, the Bruins have earned 20. That's unacceptable. Defense is a problem. Scoring has been a problem. Only playing 30 good minutes of hockey a game is a MASSIVE problem.

Bruins are in Philly Saturday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bruins Leave It Late Against Leafs

The Bruins needed this win. More accurately, they needed to not lose. What's the difference? Well, the positive impact of winning this game isn't nearly as significant as avoiding what the negative impact of losing would have been.

It was good to see Milan Lucic score a goal. Hopefully it doesn't take him 15 more games to score his next goal (that would be the second-to-last game of the season, which emphasizes how close to the end of the season we are coming). This team cannot succeed with just the Bergeron line scoring.

By the way, can we stop calling the line of Bergeron, Marchand, and Seguin the "second line?" This line is obviously the primary line. They're the scoring line. Look at the three shooters the Bruins sent out for the shootout: Seguin, Bergeron, Marchand. This is the #1 line.

It was this line that scored the tying goal. Marchand sent a puck deep into the zone, Dougie Hamilton won a battle on the boards and protected the puck, then Bergeron finished with a backhand goal.

Let's not get overjoyed about scoring 2 goals and winning in a shootout, especially against Toronto. This team is still relying on one line, and a few defensemen, to generate their offense. And once again there was a facepalm inducing goal scored when Andrew Ference was on the ice.

This team doesn't need a trade to right itself. Although a trade might help, just adding a few pieces or adjusting lines won't solve the fundamental inconsistencies from players like Lucic and Krejci. As well as the complete lack of offense from the 3rd line.

Lucic needs to continue to play like a first line forward. EVERY NIGHT. Or at least TRY to play like a first line forward. Too often he just cruises around the ice, completely unnoticed, and you look at the box score after the game and see he played 17 minutes. And you ask yourself "When? I never saw him."

Bruins host the Canadiens Wednesday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bruins Leave it Late in Ottawa

The Bruins took an important 2 points out of their game with the Senators last night. However, some things about this team still concern me.

The Power Play remains absolutely useless. They don't even get shots on goal. And that's inexcusable. How do you not get shots to the net when you have more players than your opponent?

This team isn't scoring. The Seguin-Bergeron-Marchand line is producing, but every other set of forwards is struggling. Dennis Seidenberg scored the game-winner in the 3rd. And although Daniel Paille, normally of the 4th line, scored in the 2nd, it was because of Tyler Seguin's net-drive, which drew the attention of the Ottawa defense.

The Bergeron line has become the first line. The Krejci and Peverly lines have become ineffective.

This team WILL NOT advance far in the Stanley Cup playoffs with only one line and a useless Power Play.

The Bruins are in Toronto Saturday night. Then the Leafs are in Boston on Monday. Then the Habs come to town on Wednesday. This is a key stretch of divisional play. The B's are 2 points behind Montreal, with a game in hand.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Can you lose a game because of your Power Play?


The ineffectiveness of the Bruins' Power Play is the primary reason they lost to the Winnipeg Jets last night. The Bruins were given multiple chances to add to their lead, and they never did. The best way to protect a 1-goal lead is to make it a 2-goal lead. The Bruins struggled to even get shots on goal with their PP unit, which is simply inexcusable.

How can you not get a single shot on goal in 2 minutes when you have 5 skaters and your opponent has 4? How is that possible? How is it possible to do it again?!?

Why is it that Ryan Spooner, in his 2nd career NHL game, gets 3:34 Power Play ice-time?


This lack of a minimally effective Power Play has cost the Bruins a handful of games this season. And I'm concerned that in the playoffs it might cost them 1 or 2 games in a series, and that will be the difference between advancement and elimination.

I'm becoming alarmed with two other issues the Bruins are having...

#1: Inability to hold leads in the 3rd period.

#2: Apparent fatigue.

The Bruins under Claude Julien have been renowned for their ability to hang on to a lead. They simply don't lose when they have a lead in the 3rd period. That was the past. Now, they seem to struggle in the 3rd period. That is mildly alarming.

The fatigue issue raises a red-flag that is larger and brighter. Because there is no reasonable explanation for it. The Bruins are reasonably young. Other teams are playing similarly condensed schedules. And Julien prides himself on rolling 4-lines, not giving all the ice-time to just the top 10 skaters. And it's not as if Anton Khudobin is playing poorly when Rask rests.

This team is getting outworked, out-skated, out-everything late in games. And there's just no excuse for it. It's a job. Time to work.

Bruins are in Ottawa Thursday night.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Trevor Hagan

Friday, March 15, 2013

NHL Realignment: Good Divisions, Confusing Playoffs

The NHL is realigning from 6 divisions to 4. The good news for the Bruins is that the 5 teams currently in their division will remain together, with the exciting addition of the Detroit Red Wings, and the less exciting additions of the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Here's how the NHL will look starting next season:

Division A:
Boston Bruins
Toronto Maple Leafs
Montreal Canadiens
Buffalo Sabres
Ottawa Senators
Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers
Tampa Bay Lightning

Division B:
Columbus Blue Jackets
Carolina Hurricanes
Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders

Division C:
Winnipeg Jets
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues

Division D:
Vancouver Canucks
Calgary Flames
Edmonton Oilers
LA Kings
Anaheim Ducks
San Jose Sharks
Phoenix Coyotes

The playoffs will also be modified. In a very complicated and puzzling way. It will still be divided by Conference. It will also be divided by division. Bear with me as I try to explain...

The top 3 teams from each division will qualify for the playoffs. Then the best 2 teams, from either division, will qualify as wild cards. The division winner with the best record will face the wild card team with the worst record, regardless of division. The other division winner will face the other wild card team. The 2nd and 3rd place teams in a division will face each other. Then the winners of these series will face each other in the Divisional Championship round.

So, here is how it could look...

Division A winner vs. Wild Card #2
Division A 2nd place vs. Division A 3rd place

The winners of each series would face each other, then the winner of that series would face the Division B winners in the Conference Championship. Then the winner of that goes to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I absolutely fucking HATE this new playoff format. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and the playoffs weren't broke. The playoffs were great. They were thrilling. They spawned non-divisional rivalries like Chicago/Vancouver, Chicago/LA, Boston/Vancouver, Boston/Philadelphia.

And they were simple. 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5.

Try explaining this new format to your girlfriend.

And as much as I love a regular season schedule weighted for divisional rivalries, it feels forced in the playoffs. And I kind of like the possibility of facing a rival like Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals. How cool would it be if there were a way to meet a divisional rival in the Stanley Cup Finals?

This realignment solves some problems and creates others. Detroit and Columbus, who play in the Eastern Time Zone, will benefit from playing more games in their own time zone, and less games on the West Coast. Winnipeg is finally in a geographically logical division. Most divisional rivalries (such as Montreal/Boston, Pittsburgh/Philly, Edmonton/Calgary) remain intact. And other previously non-divisional rivalries (such as Washington/Pittsburgh) now have an opportunity to flourish.

Some drawbacks are obvious already. There are 14 teams in the West, 16 in the East. Eight teams from each Conference will make the playoffs. So it will be easier for Western teams to make the postseason.

There's also the fact that the two Florida teams were attached to perhaps the most powerful division (in terms of fan support and history). Once again, instead of eliminating or adjusting its weakest links, the NHL will support them, at the expense of their strongest franchises. The Lightning and Panthers will benefit at their box office when the Red Wings, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens come to town.

The NHL will never contract, unfortunately. The owners don't want to lose the markets, the players don't want fellow players to lose their jobs, and there are five people in Phoenix who really like the Coyotes. These people are stopping contraction.

We'll see how the new divisions work. There is never going to be a perfect solution. This isn't bad.

We'll also see how the new playoffs go. Based on current NHL standings, here's what the first round matchups would be:

Detroit vs. Montreal
Ottawa vs. Boston

Toronto vs. Pittsburgh
New Jersey vs. Carolina

Phoenix vs. Chicago
Minnesota vs. St. Louis

Winnipeg vs. Anaheim
Los Angeles vs. Vancouver

That's not bad, not bad at all. I think every year facing the same team in the playoffs could be a double-edged sword. It would be great for a good rivalry. It would be tedious if the teams weren't evenly matched, or if one were from Florida.

As a Bruins fan, we keep the rivalries from our own division, and we add Detroit. Four of the Oriignal Six teams are in our division. Add the rabid fanbases in Ottawa and Buffalo, and you've got some great crowds, great buildings, great games. And then there's the two Spring Break teams.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I'm Not Getting Emotional Over Wes Welker

Hey, fellow Patriots fans. Before you continue acting like losing Wes Welker is the end of the world, I have two facts for you to consider.

#1. Wes Welker was on this team for 6 seasons, and the Patriots won 0 Super Bowls.

#2. During that same time, 6 teams which did not have Wes Welker won 6 Super Bowls.

In other words, having Wes Welker doesn't guarantee winning. And not having him does not guarantee losing. There is a future for this franchise without Wes Welker.

I'm not happy to see him go. He was great here. NOBODY in the NFL could do what he did at the level he did it. The notion that his production and importance to the offense can be replaced by Danny Amendola or anyone else is utterly absurd. Without Welker, no matter who the Patriots acquire, the offense will be forced to change dramatically.

That being said, I'm going to reserve any strong emotional reactions until the off-season is complete.

The Patriots didn't think Welker was worth $6 million. Their offer was suspiciously close, but still too low for Welker to take. Did the Patriots offer him the $5M, then he got the $6M offer from Denver? Or was the order reversed? If the Patriots made their offer AFTER Denver, then they evidently didn't want him on the team anymore.

Why? Who knows? Maybe he has concussion issues, maybe they were worried about his future durability, maybe they want receivers that are more physical. Whatever. I am a "In Bill We Trust" guy, so I will trust the Patriots to figure out how to develop an offense without Welker. I sincerely hope that it's not the same kind of offense, relying on Julian Edelman in the slot. We got a sneak preview of that early in the 2012 season and it was a nightmare.

I heard some people, most vocally Michael Felger of 98.5, point out this "shopping at Wal-Mart" style of the Patriots is why they haven't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. Felger points to 2006, when the Patriots let Deion Branch go to Seattle.

Some people who are upset to see Welker leave seem to have selective memories about why the Patriots haven't won as many Super Bowls as they could these last 6 seasons...

I'm not saying you discard Welker because of this drop or his drop in the AFC Championship game. But don't revise history to suit your emotional argument. Don't forget that this drop was huge. And that despite the "Patriot Way" of bargain hunting, which is being so heavily critiqued for not delivering a title, it would have resulted in a title if Welker had done his job and caught this pass.

So calm down, people. This move, by itself, hurts. But let's at least wait and see what the Patriots do this off-season before throwing temper tantrums.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bruins Show Up Late, Still Beat Ottawa

Recapping this game is very simple. The Bruins played a crappy 1st period, then a good 2nd period, then Tuukka Rask won the shootout for them.

This was a close game, to state the obvious. The Bruins were somewhat fortunate to only allow 2 goals in the 1st period. And Shawn Thornton's goal in that period was also helped by some fortunate ricocheting. The Bruins were, at times, careless with the puck. That allowed Ottawa to take a 2-0 lead. And against a healthier, deeper team, such mistakes could be fatal.

On a positive side, Jordan Caron is what Chris Bourque tries to be, only Caron is actually capable of winning battles. Caron knows his role, knows how to win a loose puck, and knows how to fit in his line. Caron makes his line-mates better, Bourque made his line-mates worse.

The Bruins face the Penguins tonight. This will be a true test.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Hate the Phrase "Punched Their Ticket"

This is the time of year when I become obsessed with basketball. The other 11 months I don't really care about the sport. At least not as much as football, hockey, baseball, soccer, curling, et cetera. But in March I can't get enough of the game. The mid-majors, the upsets, the buzzer beaters. The MVC, the OVC, the WCC, the ACC, the Atlantic 10, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Big East. It's a relentless barrage of tension and thrills.

However, there is one thing about this time of year that threatens to give me a rage-induced conniption...

The phrase "punched their ticket," and all associated forms.

It's such a tired, worn-out, overused, out-of-date, unoriginal, uninteresting sports cliche. You hear it and read it constantly, in highlight reels and game recaps. "Florida Gulf Coast was the first team to punch their ticket," "Belmont punched their ticket for the third straight year," "Harvard punched their ticket because there's no tournament in the Ivy League," "Liberty punched their ticket despite 20 losses." Every conference tournament is another ticket punched. So many tickets. So many punches. So many times this same phrase is used.

The problem is, there's no other quick and colorful way to say "earned a berth in the NCAA tournament."

We must come up with another phrase. This level of repetition is unacceptable for a writer. Not to mention how out-of-date the phrase is. How often do you have a ticket that's punched these days? Here are some suggested replacements:

"Won a berth" is the most basic substitute. Although there's no flare to that. And in Sportswriting 101, future sports media are instructed to use as many formulaic, hackneyed expressions as possible, in an effort to make their writing appear interesting (see: "three-point land")

"Penetrated the bubble." I'm not sure this makes much sense, as most teams that win conference tourneys aren't bubble teams. But it sounds good. And kind of dirty.

"Date with 68." I like this, even though teams would technically have a date with 67 teams. It rhymes, it's catchy, and you can still use it when the Tournament expands to 128 teams.

"Cashed in." There's lots of money to be made by an NCAA appearance. And for USC's basketball program, this phrase is especially appropriate.

"Stamped their name on the bracket." Kind of long, but it's clear, active, and more up-to-date.

"Earned a slash." This can be used for teams that will be forced to go through one of the play-in games. Liberty, with their 20 losses, definitely earned a slash.

These are the humble suggestions of one sports fan who likes to write, and who hates hearing the same stupid phrases over and over again. I'm sure the truly great sportswriters out there, if there are any, can come up with something better. If only they tried to do so.

Why Were the Red Sox So Careful With Mike Napoli, Yet So Carefree With David Ortiz?

David Ortiz has been "shut down" for 5 to 7 days, due to inflammation in both heels. I don't know how you shut down a player who was barely active. Anyway, this is a significant setback for David Ortiz and his Achilles injury, and will likely push his return past Opening Day.

You probably remember that this injury started out as a minor issue. The Sox didn't even want to put him on the DL. That was about 9 months ago. It just went on and on. What was supposed to be a 500 word essay on Russian history has turned into the 1,200 pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

I'd peg the over/under on games Ortiz plays this season at 80.5. And I think I'm being generous.

What perturbs me is that the Red Sox were so very cautious about signing Mike Napoli due to injury concerns, eventually haggling with him for a discounted contract. With Ortiz there was no worry at all. Here was a 37 year old DH, with an injury that wasn't healing, and the Sox quickly gave him a 2 year, $26 million deal.

Would any other team have come close to paying Ortiz that much? Yet the Red Sox seemed eager to keep their sidelined star on the roster. I wonder why...

To be fair, the Sox did put a condition in Ortiz's contract. Ortiz gets $3 million more in 2014 if in 2013 he spends fewer than 20 days on the DL due to his Achilles injury. In other words, the Red Sox didn't protect themselves, but they will give a bonus to Ortiz for simply having a healthy Achilles.

I can't help but hypothesize that PR had something to do with the way the Red Sox handled Ortiz. There was little medical scrutiny, no delay, just a quick contract for the player who has become the grinning face of the franchise. The Sox signed the name, and didn't much care about the player. Wouldn't be the first time.

I have similar concerns over Jacoby Ellsbury still being on the roster. From a strictly baseball standpoint, it would make sense to shop Ellsbury around, especially if he's going to leave at the end of the season and you're not too optimistic about World Series contention in 2013. And it would make sense to let Ortiz go, or at least sign him to a deal similar to Napoli's. But then whose t-shirts would The Souvenir Store sell? Who would the pink hats ogle as he bends over in center-field? Who would the poor diehards cheer for with none on and 2 outs in the bottom of the 1st

I think the Red Sox are trying to tread water for the next 2-3 seasons. They want to field a semi-competitive team with a few marquee names. A team that will flirt with .500 and with the Wild Card spots. They might not sell Fenway out every night, but they want to avoid a young rebuilding team of no-names that will only draw 18,000 on a brisk Tuesday night in April.

Are they once again trying to be too clever in their effort to buy 3rd place? Or will it work? Will they win 85 games for a few seasons, then build a 95 win World Series winner?

Just like with Ortiz's injury, time will tell. Lots and lots of time.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Maple Syrup vs. Salsa, Canada and Mexico Brawl at WBC

Brief sequence of events:

Canada was up 9-3 when a Canadian bunted for a single. Normally this would be against an unwritten rule, but run differential is a tie-breaker in this tournament, so it's not clearly black and white in this instance.

A Mexican pitcher repeatedly threw at the next Canadian batter, eventually hitting him in the back.

The Canadian batter walked toward the mound, the benches emptied, a melee ensued. A melee which involved Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves.

Some thoughts..

The bunt single, even with that run differential tie-breaker, is still a douchebag move. And maybe in the next WBC, they can modify that tie-breaker so the most positive run differential a team can have in a single game is 5. So if a team is up by 10 runs or 20 runs, they still get credit for +5 and no more. That way teams up by 7 or 8 runs won't continue to pile on in the 9th.

No need to throw at the next Canadian batter. It's an exhibition tournament, Mexico was essentially eliminated. It was just a childish reaction to a meaningless bunt.

Baseball hitters have become unbelievable babies. They get hit in the back or the butt, then act like the pitcher just threw a baseball at their mother's face. Over the last few decades batters have become insufferable whiners when pitchers throw inside. This Canadian got hit in the back, not the head, not the wrists, and wasn't at all injured. And he turns it into a brawl.

There's a prevailing attitude that if a batter is hit, he has the right to charge the mound. And that's bullshit.

And Canada, if run differential was so important to you, wouldn't you take the free base from the HBP? Wouldn't that please you? It would help precious your tie-breaker!

As the fracas simmered, a Canadian coach got a full water bottle thrown at him (that's why many sports venues don't give you bottles with caps on them), and then Canadian short-stop Cale Iorg threw it back into the crowd, which is an extremely stupid thing to do. How do you guarantee you hit the right person? Did Iorg even know who he was throwing at?

The PA system implored the crowd to calm down, making announcements in English and Spanish. I'm surprised no Quebecois have complained that announcements weren't also made in French.

This kind of douchebaggery reminds me of the Canadian National Hockey Team. I wouldn't call them dirty, but they push rules as far as they'll bend. They act like jerks, then whine and complain when other teams push them back a bit or when things don't go their way. Canadians are typically very nice, considerate people. Until they're playing a sport and then they turn into pricks.

I'm going to start calling Canadians who participate in this kind of misbehavior Eh-holes.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Matt York

Saturday, March 09, 2013

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Bruins Remember How to Win

The B's have beaten Toronto 8 straight times. After the Bruins recent struggles, it was perfect timing to host the Maple Leafs. Toronto's been surprisingly good this season, but the Bruins still have their number.

And that number is 19. Only in hockey can 19 be greater than 81. The trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto brought a talented young forward and a talented young defenseman to Boston. And in games between the two clubs, Seguin plays much, much better than Kessel.

Earlier in the day, Claude Julien mentioned to the press that players like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley are capable of playing better. Also, Chris Bourque was placed on waivers so he could be sent to the Providence Bruins. Without Bourque, the 3rd line looked better. They didn't make much of an impact on the game, but they did seem to be playing with more drive, more purpose.

The Power Play unit continues to struggle. And all the tricks and schemes the Bruins coaches try are not the solution to the problem. Putting 5 forwards and 1 defenseman is not the solution. Having Chara play the half-wall is not a solution. The problem with the PP unit isn't tactics, it's personnel.

There aren't enough shooters on the ice in Power Play situations. David Krejci and Rich Peverley are talented forwards, but they're not shooters. If you have 5 shooters on the ice, then the 4 penalty killers must respect the possibility of a shot. That opens passing lanes. The shooters don't have to be good shooters, just guys that are capable of firing one at the net at any time.

Taking a defenseman off the ice isn't the answer. The Bruins have sufficient blue-liners that can do their job on a Power Play. Chara and Hamilton are great PP defensemen. Seidenberg and Boychuk, who are not scorers, can at least shoot. The Bruins are already shallow on good PP forwards, why lose another one by putting him on the blue-line?

There needs to be more movement without the puck. Make it difficult for the penalty killers to cover their space and their lanes. I'm tired of seeing the Bruins execute static passing drills in the offensive zone when they have a man advantage.

Anyway, Anton Khudobin ain't too shabby, is he? He's got talent. Consistency is still an issue with him. He's a very good backup, though.

The Bruins host the Flyers Saturday afternoon. The Flyers have been Rasks's nemesis, so it will be interesting to see how he does.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Wes Welker to Retire

Disclaimer: This isn't in any way true, nor is it even rational speculation. But everyone else in New England is reporting all sorts of stuff about Welker, from he and the Patriots being close to signing a deal, to Welker having "mild disdain" for the team and how negotiations went last year. This story is based on nothing.

Wes Welker is done with football. The rampant speculation out there in the Boston Sports Media is a mere screen for the truth: that Welker will be moving on from the game. He will be testing free agency in the world outside of sports, and attempt to find employment utilizing his Management degree from Texas Tech.

While this decision seems shocking, it does make sense. Once or twice I've seen Mr. Welker at Toby Keith's Bar and Grille in Foxborough, not playing football. On those occasions, he was not playing football, and yet seemed happy. It follows that he can be happy without playing football at all.

Professional football is also a very limiting business. There are only 32 franchises to choose from, in 31 markets. Welker's Management degree can provide him with opportunities in any city in the country. In the world, actually. How many times can you visit Orchard Park, NY until you get sick of it and want to travel across Europe or Southeast Asia? Welker might particularly enjoy Asia, where his height of 5' 9" would be above average (in China men have an average height of 5' 5.5" and in Japan it's 5' 7" and Indonesia's men are an average height of 5' 2"). Welker can finally be the tall guy in the room.

Finally, no matter what football team Welker could play for, there's very little room for advancement. He's hit his ceiling in the football industry as Starting Player. It would take years for him to rise above that position and enter Coaching ranks, and next to impossible for him to reach the level of CEO or President or Owner. I think Welker would rather start his own business, where he can run things the way he wants to run them. He can decide which direction to go instead of running routes in a playbook written by someone else.

So good luck, Wes. Enjoy your retirement.

Capitals Outwork Bruins

Last night was a great chance for the Bruins to pick themselves up after a tough divisional loss. They came out strong, apparently unfazed by the loss to Montreal or the chatter that followed. They even scored a Power Play goal.

This team is rarely up by 3 goals, and maybe that's a good thing. They seem to play worse when up by 3. They play their best when leading or trailing by a goal or two. When they get a 3 goal lead, they settle in. That pattern repeated itself last night.

Look at Washington's OT goal. Four Bruins on the ice, none skating with any drive or purpose, just floating around on the ice.

The Bruins didn't do much to add to their lead once they went up 3-0. Here's an alarming fact, not a single Bruins forward scored a goal in open play. Marchand scored a penalty shot, and the other two goals came from Chara and Hamilton. The lack of offense from forwards not named Marchand is a problem for this team. And they're getting almost no production from the 3rd line.

Then there's Rask. He wasn't bad. He wasn't great. He only saw 26 shots, and only saved 22. This team can't rely on Rask to play like a robot night in and night out. They have to make more plays in front of them. And they need to string together 3 consecutive periods of quality play.

Important divisional game Thursday as the Maple Leafs come to town.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Monday, March 04, 2013

Montreal Scum 4, Bruins 3

Whenever the Bruins play the Canadiens, the Bruins allow themselves to be surprised by Montreal's speed. They don't seem to give the Canadiens credit for being so fast. The simple fact is the Habs close down space much more quickly than anyone else. Five feet of passing lane is not a passing lane against them. It's a trap. When the Bruins lose to the Habs, they typically allow a goal or two from a turnover that was caused by not respecting Montreal's speed.

Speed is, however, almost all there is one can respect about Montreal (apart from goaltending). We witnessed more typical Montrealness last night: Alexei Emelin cross-checks Tyler Seguin in the ribs (and even breaks his stick doing so), and there's no call. Zdeno Chara sticks up for his injured teammate and gets 17 minutes in penalties. Emelin gets 5. And 0 for what he did to Seguin. We'll see if Brendan Shanahan's YouTube account has anything to say about Emelin's cross-check, but I doubt it. After all, how could cross-checking an opponent's best offensive player in the ribs be seen as "intent to injure?"

The Bruins lost Chara's services for 17 minutes and allowed 2 goals in that span. One of Montreal's goals was due to a screen that Chara could have cleared out. Another was a loose puck in the crease Chara could have knocked out.

I'm not blaming the refs. The Bruins made plenty of mistakes to deserve to lose this game. And refs are human. But you wonder why the NHL has injury problems, then you see Emelin do what he did and go unpunished, then Chara attempts to make Emelin pay, but it was Chara and the Bruins who paid the price.

That's why players like Matt Cooke collect regular paychecks and Marc Savard goes to therapy for depression. Because the NHL doesn't punish dirty play or dirty players, but it does punish retaliation for dirty play.

Oh and it wants to emphasize the enforcement of holding and interference. Apparently Seguin getting hit after giving up the puck wasn't interference either.

Anyway, tough stretch ahead for the Bruins. This condensed 48 game schedule is finally going to start to feel condensed. For the rest of the season, they only have one pair of back-to-back off days. Starting Tuesday in Washington they play 5 games in 8 days.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bruins Get Some Sequestration Through the Senators

If you took the speeds of the two Bruins goals, and combined them, then drove a car on I-93 at that speed, you'd get pulled over for driving too slow and being a hazard to traffic.

This team is winning games, even when they aren't the clearly superior team. And that is good news and bad news. The good news is they know how to win close games. They don't give up many cheap goals, they don't make defensive mistakes, and turnovers are rare.

The bad news is that the Power Play stinks, and that some of the goals this team scores almost seem accidental.

There is no denying that the Bruins are playing like a great regular season team. And before we go nuts, let's remember how relevant being a great regular season team is. Let's ask the Canucks how important that is.

There is a lot for this team to work on before the Playoffs. But before those Playoffs come, I will spend a few moments emphasizing the positive. Tuukka Rask has developed into a premium NHL goalie. He's gotten faster. At least he seems to have gotten faster. What's actually happened is he's reading the play better. He's anticipating. He now has a quick mind and quick reflexes.

The Bruins host the Lightning Saturday afternoon.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Charles Krupa