Thursday, May 29, 2014
A Wednesday night in late October 2004, in a dorm's common room in Ithaca, NY, about 18 college students all focused on a low-def TV attached to a wall. On the screen, a ground ball bounced lazily up the middle to Red Sox closer Keith Foulke. After collecting the ball, he trotted a few steps toward first. As the ball left Foulke's hand and spun toward the waiting glove of Doug Mientkiewicz, time froze in my mind. It was happening. It was actually happening.
Until that moment, I feared the Red Sox would blow it somehow. That they'd find a way to lose Game 4, then the series, completing the worst collapse in the history of sports, because that's what I was convinced they had to do. In the years leading up to this moment, I had read and heard about Buckner in '86, and Dent in '78, and Enos Slaughter in '46. Aaron Boone's homerun the year prior was my generation's firsthand experience of The Curse. They must lose. That was the way of things.
Mientkiewicz would drop the ball, the Cardinals would rally in the 9th and win the game. The Sox would lose 4 straight, mirroring the 3-0 collapse of the Yankees in the ALCS, making the choke even more spectacularly painful. All that late-inning magic, all those stressful games, all of it a buildup to the biggest disappointment in sports history.
None of that happened.
Mientkiewicz caught the ball. Once I unfroze time, only a second had passed but it felt like more than a minute. Jumping around in jubilation in the common room wasn't enough. We ran outside to the quad, yelling, screaming, hugging. Our yells drew Sox fans from the surrounding buildings, who poured out into the night to join us. As the crowd grew, someone suggested we run to the fountains on the other side of campus. There, other groups of Sox fans from other parts of campus seemed to somehow know to meet us. It must have been some psychic connection, or some notion of a central location to gather. It wasn't coordinated on social media. Twitter didn't yet exist. We wouldn't know what Facebook was for another 2 weeks, when it swept across Ithaca College's campus in early November 2004.
Hours later, after we'd all returned to our dorms and our rooms, at about 1:30 a.m., a friend from North Reading came to my room and said he couldn't sleep. Neither could I. We decided to drive to Boston, along with our RA from Newton. We drove 6 hours. My friends slept, I stayed awake and watched the sun rise over Massachusetts, shining down on the home of the World Series Champs for the first time in 86 years. That's 1,032 months, 4,472 weeks, 31,411 days, 754,000 hours, 45.2 million minutes, 2.7 billion seconds.
2.7 billion seconds, and I still clearly remember that last second, the one I froze, as the ball and landed in Mientkiewicz's oversized first-baseman's glove. That moment felt like it lasted a minute. The feeling lasted longer. I can still go back to that moment and relive it, and feel that feeling again. It's great. Pure joy.
So yeah, it was pretty cool seeing the 2004 Red Sox back at Fenway Wednesday night.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Thursday, May 22, 2014
It's official. The Red Sox suck. They might not suck a month from now, they certainly didn't suck last year, but on the 22nd of May in 2014, they certifiably suck.
Why? How could a World Championship team that never lost more than 3 in a row, devolve so quickly into a team with the 6th worst record in baseball, that's 4th in their division, and has just lost 6 consecutive games? Here are the reasons:
#1 Lost Offense
The 2014 Red Sox are scoring 4.07 runs per game, and are 17th in MLB in runs. The 2013 Sox scored 5.27 and scored the most runs in baseball. The Sox are scoring 1.2 runs per game less this year, and are on pace to score 194 less in the season. Where did those runs go?
Jacoby Ellsbury took many of them when he left and was not replaced. In 2013 Ellsbury got on base 219 times. He got 48 extra-base hits. He stole 52 bases. He got on base, he got into scoring position, and his presence at leadoff allowed Dustin Pedroia to hit later in the lineup.
Ellsbury was replaced with Grady Sizemore (.218 average, .293 OBP) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.206 average, .302 OBP). As a team, the entire Red Sox roster is on pace to steal 50 bases this season. They stole 123 last year.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia's production also was not adequately replaced. He wasn't a Silver Slugger candidate or anything, but he did produce, giving the Sox an .804 OPS and 14 homeruns. He's been replaced by AJ Pierzynski, who doesn't quite fit with the Red Sox philosophy of patience. Pierswingski's OPS is .656, his OBP is .045 lower than Salty's in 2013, his SLG is .103 lower. Salty struck out 3.2 times per walk, but Pierswingski strikes out 6 times per walk. Salty saw 4.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2013, Pierswingski sees 3.47 in 2014.
Losing this production, the Red Sox depended more on a guy like Daniel Nava to put back-to-back solid seasons together for the first time in his career. Nava was a pleasant surprise in 2013, with a .385 OBP, hitting a few homeruns, knocking in 66, scoring 77.
In 2014, he hit .149 in 67 at-bats in Boston. In AAA Pawtucket, he's hitting .267 in 75 at-bats. He's being struck out more than he's walking, by AAA pitchers. He is getting on base (.371 OBP), so maybe he deserves a call up soon. What could it hurt to try?
This team relied too much on hoping its young players would work out. Xander Bogaerts has done his part on offense (although his defense has been abysmal). But Will Middlebrooks is hitting .197, and I already mentioned Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox are getting on base. They're 4th in baseball with a .331 team OBP. However, they have no power. The team's .379 SLG is 19th in the Majors (and about .050 lower than the team's SLG in 2013). The Sox are 21st in homeruns with 36.
#2 Clay Buchholz
The 2013 Sox were 11-1 in Buchholz starts before he got hurt in June. They were 3-1 in his starts when he returned in September, then 3-1 in his postseason starts. In 2014, the Sox are 3-6 when Buchholz takes the mound.
By this time last year he had 9 quality starts. He has 4 in 2014. He says he's healthy. I wish he were injured.
#3 Team Defense
The Red Sox have the 12th most errors (30) in baseball, last year they had the 8th fewest (80). They're on pace to commit 28 more errors in 2014 than they committed in 2013.
The Red Sox allowed 43 unearned runs in 2013, but in 2014 are on pace to allow 83. So instead of allowing an unearned run once every 4 games, the Sox are allowing an unearned run every other game.
#4 Felix Doubront
Doubront was decent at the back of the rotation last year. He won 11 games, threw 16 quality starts, and finished the year with a 4.32 ERA. Not bad for a back end starter. The Sox were 18-11 in his starts. They're 4-5 in his starts this year. And he's banged his elbow against a car door, and hit the DL with a classic OIBI (Only In Baseball Injury, pronounced wee-bee).
#5 No Clutchness
Did you know the Red Sox blew 42% of their save opportunities in 2013? The Sox were the 3rd worst team in baseball in converting saves. Why is that stat so shocking? Because they won so many close games.
Even when a reliever blew a lead, the Sox would find a way to come back and win. That same reliever might dig deep and keep the game tied, or keep the Sox within 1 run. Then the offense would find a way to win in the 9th or in extras.
The Sox hit .278 with runners in scoring position (RISP) last year. They're hitting .240 with RISP this year. More impressively, the Sox had a .794 OPS with RISP in '14. It's down to .695 this year. The Sox slugged .078 higher with runners in scoring position last year.
Xander Bogaerts, who is having a fine offensive year with a .381 OBP, is hitting .158 with runners in scoring position.
Jonny Gomes was Mr. Clutch last year, hitting .346 with RISP. He's down to .286 this year. Ortiz went down from .315 to .222. Pedroia from .312 to .270. Ortiz and Pedroia are the team's best hitters. If they're not doing the job with RISP, the offense can't function. On the bright side, we know they can, and they probably will improve those numbers.
The Sox offense should get better, but there's a ceiling to it. Pedroia, Ortiz, and probably Bogaerts will improve with runners in scoring position. However, the rest of the offense is what it is.
Once Clay Buchholz does start to pitch better, he'll probably get hurt.
The team's defense improves with the return of Stephen Drew. And perhaps the offense as well, if Bogaerts plays 3rd and Middlebrooks brings his sub-Mendoza average to the bench.
I don't think Felix Doubront will be much better than what he's been.
Clutchness is unpredictable. Last year the Sox had clutchness in their blood. This year it's like they've been infected with a virulent strain of anti-clutchness.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I like basketball. It's not my favorite sport to watch, but I do like it. However, I cannot stand the NBA.
What determines victory and defeat in the NBA? Bad refs, worse rules, a handful of stars who want to play in warm weather cities with their pals, and of course, ping-pong balls.
I'm looking at a table of Draft Lottery probabilities, and I'm already pissed off. Why must there be such a complex process, necessitating such a table? Why is it that the Boston Celtics finished with the 5th worst record in the NBA, and yet they were most likely to be given 6th selection (which is what happened)?
The Bucks had the worst record, and were more likely than any other team to pick 1st. Although the pick they'd most likely get was the 4th. Why?
I get the idea behind the ping-pong balls and probabilities. You don't want to have teams tanking just to get the best pick. Quite clearly, no teams tanked in 2013-14, so the system worked. No teams tanked at all. Good system, NBA.
Should there be a new rule about teams that have recently picked high in the lottery, winning high picks in consecutive years? The Cleveland Cavaliers won the 1st overall pick last year. Maybe the NBA shouldn't allow the same team to pick 1st in back-to-back seasons, especially if they had the 9th worse record, and more than double Milwaukee's win total.
The salary cap once made it difficult to hoard multiple mega-stars. Now it's climate and exposure that guide basketball stars, who roam from warm city to warm city in a quest to play alongside their friends in a town with an enjoyable nightlife. NBA players want to be in the big market, preferably with warm weather, even if the team's owner has a checkered race-relations history. Playing home games in LA is much better than Milwaukee or Minnesota.
Climate, refs, and ping-pong balls determine the fate of NBA teams. I can't take a league seriously if such trivial matters have such powerful influence over who wins and loses.
According to the probabilities, 33% of the time the Celtics were going to get a top 3 pick, 34% of the time they were going to get the 6th pick, 24% of the time they were going to get the 5th, 9% of the time they were going to get a later pick.
And I hate that. I hate that ping-pong balls have more bearing on the future of an NBA team than anything a GM or an owner or a coach or its current players have. If the Celtics had gotten lucky, they could have moved into the top 3, even #1 overall. Had they been unlucky, they could have picked as low as 8th.
How can a GM's job performance be assessed when ping-pong balls determine so much of what happens to his team's fortunes?
I don't have any proposals to change how powerful these ping-pong balls are. Annually, you can count the meaningful draft prospects with one hand. That's why the bounce of the balls carries so much importance. Demand for star talent far outweighs supply. I don't know of any way to change that.
I would propose that if a team picks 1st one year, then finishes with the 9th worst record the next, they should be ineligible to win the 1st pick again. Don't just give them a small chance, give them no chance.
Aside from that, I'll simply continue to like basketball, hope the Celtics win, and criticize the NBA for being a horrible league.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
During the post-game handshake after the Bruins 3-1 loss to Montreal in Game 7, Milan Lucic acted like an utter child. He "exchanged words" with Dale Weise. During the series Weise emulated some of Lucic's celebrations and gestures, such as thumping his chest and flexing his arms. Lucic chose the traditionally classy handshake ceremony as the moment to cry and whine about this behavior.
Weise was probably also in the wrong to moan to the media about it. However, Lucic shouldn't have used the post-game handshake as a time to vent personal grievances. The series was over, Lucic and the Bruins lost, it's time to act like a man instead of like a child. Shake the guy's hand, get on with your life. Don't let him know how deeply under your skin he got.
It's hard for me as a Bruins fan to be especially proud of this team. Not only was their play disappointing, but some of their behavior was beyond the realm of acceptability. Shawn Thornton squirting water at PK Subban during play, for instance. Lucic smacking Justin Abdelkader's nuts with his stick. None of this was right, none of this was necessary.
Those are douchy things we hate Montreal and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for doing.
And if you're going to be a douchebag, be a winning douchebag.
Lucic's verbal exchange with Weise comes off as sour grapes. Lucic even called Weise a "baby" when discussing Weise talking to the media about the exchange of words. Really, Milan?
I don't know if you should be calling anyone a baby, Milan. It looked like you were throwing more of a tantrum than Weise. It looked like you were crying about a bad series, and obsessing over Weise's mocking of your gestures. Get over it. You lost, you had a bad series, lose like a man.
Before I allow my rage to overcome me, let's remember that it's been less than 7 months since the last Boston sports team won a championship. And in 2011 the Bruins gave the fans here a title for the first time in 39 years. Let's be very thankful we can enjoy this time and place of sports greatness.
And now, it's time to get angry.
Who on the Bruins had a good series? Carl Soderberg. Patrice Bergeron. Ummm... Matt Fraser?
Did Milan Lucic, David Krejci, or Brad Marchand have a good series? Dale Weise, a 4th liner with 10 career NHL goals, scored twice in this series. Krejci and Marchand didn't score at all. Lucic scored once. Dale Weise was paid $750,000 this season, by two different teams. Krejci, Marchand, and Lucic combined for $15.75 million against the cap this season. That's exactly 21 times the cost of Weise. For half the goals in this series.
Brad Marchand has failed to score in 20 consecutive playoff games, dating back to early June last year against Pittsburgh. He also failed to take care of the puck, took stupid penalties, and he didn't really get under anyone's skin. I don't think he belongs on this team. No playoff production, doesn't play "Bruins hockey," he sounds more and more like his ex-BFF Tyler Seguin. Except he's also a penalty magnet.
The Bruins put themselves in this position when they didn't make any significant moves at the trade deadline. With Dennis Seidenberg out and Adam McQuaid's recovery a massive McQuestion mark, the B's needed a true defenseman. He didn't need to score, or be a "puck mover," just somebody who would follow the principles of Claude Julien's defensive systems.
Instead, the Bruins got Andrej Meszaros, who didn't even dress for this Game 7.
I still remember the days after the deadline, when the Bruins front office and some pundits and fans didn't seem to mind that the Habs had acquired Thomas Vanek (4 goals in the series), and the Bruins didn't do much of anything. Don't worry. Be happy.
How many Montreal goals started with glaring defensive mistakes by Bruins blue-liners?
And how often did the Habs outmuscle the B's for position down low, on both ends of the ice? The Canadiens scored some key goals because they had inside position in the crease. The Bruins whiffed on major opportunities because they DIDN'T have inside position (or anyone at all) in the crease. This isn't an area you typically expect the Canadiens to be better at than the Bruins. And yet they were.
Carey Price was able to clearly see almost every puck the Bruins shot at him. When he couldn't see it, a Canadien blocked it. The Bruins rarely obstructed his view. They were too busy attempting fancy passes.
Speaking of goalies, Tuukka Rask deserves his small share of criticism. He was very good in the last three games of the series, stealing Game 5, keeping the Bruins close in Games 6 and 7. However, he was not good in Games 1 or 3. He was below his average at key moments in those games. Rask wasn't the only disappointing Bruin in this series. He was similar to Krug in Hamilton in that he had bad moments, but also good ones.
Ultimately, however, Rask had it within himself to steal this series for the Bruins. Just one big save and this series might have a different result. He didn't do that. He's won 5 playoff series, lost 3. He's 1-2 in Game 7s. He's 1-3 in games when his team faces elimination. He's a very talented goalie. He just isn't much of a thief.
I'm not asking Rask to carry the team while so many highly paid, highly touted players in front of him are failing to produce. I'm just pointing out that Tuukka Rask has yet to prove that he's a great playoff goalie.
Tell me that Tuukka Rask is clutch. Go ahead, try it.
What do the Bruins do now?
Get healthy. Dennis Seidenberg's absence was quite apparent in this series. Chara + Seidenberg are greater than the sum of their parts. Chara without Seidenberg is old and overworked.
The Bruins need real defensemen on their depth chart. Matt Bartkowski is wound too tight to play postseason hockey. I would like to see the Bruins acquire the most boring, dullest d-man available this off-season. Someone with no flair, no personality, just follows the system.
If Brad Marchand weren't already on the team, would you want the Bruins to go after him? I wouldn't. Does he belong on this team?
You don't need to blow it all up. But the B's are more than just a few slight tweaks away from being as good as they can be, and from reaching the peaks that are within their grasp.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
It's time for Brad Marchand to do something positive for the Bruins. If he doesn't, it's time for the Bruins to do something about Brad Marchand.
We all loved him a few years ago. He was a pest and a rat, but he was our pest and our rat. Our little ball of hate. Now he seems to annoy Bruins fans as much as he annoys the other team.
He's not just a talented antagonist, he's a talented player. He's got the skills and speed to be a top-6 forward, he plays both the power play and penalty kill. He's scored 20+ goals three times, and was on pace to score 33 in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He also has a knack for scoring shorthanded goals. He led the NHL with 5 this year.
His regular season numbers are great. In 300 career games he has 92 goals, 94 assists, and he's +112.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup run he was amazing. In 25 games he scored 11 goals with 8 assists. His 10 even-strengthed goals were the most in the playoffs. He also had a shorthanded goal and was +12.
Since then, he's been a ghost in the playoffs. In his last 40 playoff games he's only managed to score 5 goals with 15 assists.
His career shooting percentage is 15.6% in the regular season. In the last 40 playoff games he's scored 5 times on 100 shots. The math is as easy as it is disappointing. When the games mean the most, he plays worse.
In 2012 against the Capitals, Marchand had a goal and an assist in Game 5. That was it. He was -1 in the series. The Bruins lost.
In 2013 he didn't score in the Toronto series but had 3 assists. He was good against the Rangers, scoring twice with 4 assists in 5 games. In Game 2 against the Penguins he scored a pair of goals. That was the last time he scored in a playoff game. June 3, 2013. He's failed to score in 19 consecutive postseason games.
He had 2 more assists in the Pittsburgh series. He did NOTHING against the Blackhawks and the Bruins lost. No points in 6 games with a -3. No points in the Red Wings series this year. He had 5 assists in the first three games of the Canadiens series, has done nothing since then.
In the last 19 playoff games he's scored 0 goals with 7 assists. Imagine how much more productive Patrice Bergeron would be if Marchand were playing better in those 19 games.
It's not just lack of offense, it's also poor decisions with the puck. He's helped opponents create scoring chances just as often as he's helped teammates, if not more so.
His former BFF Tyler Seguin was shipped out of Boston because of poor playoff performance, and because he didn't quite fit in with the "Bruins way." What's different about Marchand? The Bruins don't like his diving. His antics were once charming, now they're something to be embarrassed of. And his playoff production sucks.
The bottom line is, he's not producing as well as he's capable of. A guy who scored 25 goals in 82 games shouldn't be held to 5 goals in 40 playoff games. And if he is, he shouldn't become a defensive liability as well.
So if Marchand has another disappointing playoff performance tonight, and the Bruins lose and the off-season begins tomorrow, one of the first things the Bruins should do is get some packing foam and a big cardboard box to ship Marchand out of Boston.
They're 19-19 after losing to the Twins Tuesday night. With 124 games remaining, the Sox would need to play .629 baseball the rest of the way in order to equal last year's total of 97 wins.
The 8-6 loss to Minnesota Tuesday night is a perfect example of the difference between this year and last. Last year the Sox found ways to win such games. This year they find ways to lose them.
Jake Peavy allowed 6 runs in his 4.1 innings of work. The Twins did most of their damage in the 2nd. They were a triple shy of the cycle in the frame and they scored 5 times.
David Ortiz chipped away at the lead, hitting solo homeruns in the 1st and 4th, an RBI single in the 6th, and was part of a 3-run Sox rally in the 7th with another RBI single. The Sox tied the game at 6-6 in the 7th, although they also left the bases loaded. AJ Pierzynski struck out looking (which is odd for him). Pierzynski was 0 for 2 with RISP, he struck out 3 times, and grounded into a double play. My dislike for him is growing into hatred.
The Sox bullpen kept them in the game until Andrew Miller pitched the bottom of the 9th. With 2 outs Chris Parmelee hit a walk-off homerun.
So a bad start from Peavy. The Sox scored 6 runs but blew an opportunity to score a very important 7th run. And a reliever gave up a 2-run homer in the 9th. Just a perfect recipe for losing baseball. Each group of players found a way to lose.
Last year, when a starting pitcher failed to go 5, the bullpen saved him. When the 2013 Sox had the bases loaded with 2 outs in a 6-6 game in the 7th, they seemed to always get a hit. This year they have AJ Pierzynski being useless. Last year there were runners on base when Ortiz hit homeruns. Last year the Sox didn't have .232 hitting Grady Sizemore batting 5th.
I'm going to introduce something new to my Sox posts. It's a Blame Pie. A percentage of responsibility for each Red Sox loss will be attributed to players (and perhaps coaches). So here's the Blame Pie for Tuesday's 8-6 loss:
Jake Peavy - 55%
Only went 4.1 innings, allowed 6 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks.
AJ Pierzynski - 20%
0 for 4, 3 strikeouts, GIDP, 0 for 2 with RISP
Andrew Miller - 20%
0.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 runs, 1 HR
Will Middlebrooks - 5%
0 for 4, 2 strikeouts, stranded Bogaerts on 3rd in the 2nd
The Sox and Twins will provide between period entertainment during Wednesday night's Bruins game. Felix Doubront (1-3) faces Kevin Correia (1-4).
Craig Lassig/Associated Press
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
As if this series could be anything less than 7 games.
The Canadiens played like a team in survival mode. The Bruins did not play like a team on the verge of killing off their opponent.
I was stuck in a car all day Monday, listening to sports radio, and the midday hosts on both major stations expressed tremendous confidence that the Bruins would finish this series in Montreal on Monday night. But that prediction went against historical trends. The Bruins under Claude Julien have never clinched a series on the road in a Game 6. Furthermore, the Bruins entered this game with a 3-11 all-time record in potential series winning games played in Montreal.
The Bruins got 26 shots on goal. Can you remember more than a handful of them? How many of Carey Price's 26 saves were difficult to make? Sure Loui Eriksson hit the crossbar, and a puck almost drifted across the goal-line before David Desharnais batted it out. It was more "bad luck" for the Bruins.
I'm sick of people blaming "luck" in this series. How come when a puck glances off a Bruins skate and into the net, it's a result of good hard play, but when a Bruin shooter can't hit the target, it's bad luck?
The B's did have one extended possession in the 2nd period, keeping the puck in the Canadiens zone for a long time, preventing the Habs defenders from changing. The broadcasters called it a "dominant" possession. But it wasn't dominant. The Bruins didn't take many shots during that stretch, they just passed it around the perimeter. There was no pressure. And when Milan Lucic finally did get an opportunity and lots of net to shoot at, he hamfisted his shot and completely missed.
That extended possession was like a football team driving the ball 80 yards, achieving 5 or 6 first downs, taking 9 or 10 minutes off the clock, then failing on 3rd and goal and missing the subsequent field goal.
This game was lost at the trade deadline. The Bruins didn't get a legitimate defenseman and the Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek. Vanek has 4 goals in this series. How many goals have been allowed while Kevan Miller has bumbled and stumbled around the crease?
Miller's unforced turnover gave Montreal their first goal, gift wrapped with a bow on it. Miller then fell down on Montreal's power play goal, allowing Vanek time and space to give the Habs a 3-0 lead. That goal was the back-breaker.
Even with the Bruins' defensive mistakes in this series, the onus of blame lies with their best players who aren't doing their best. Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, where is the offense from these guys? Carl Soderberg has been the most dangerous forward.
One of these top players needs to show up for Game 7, Wednesday night in Boston.
The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson/Associated Press
Friday, May 09, 2014
I don't know if fans will approve of the Patriots drafting Dominique Easley, or disapprove. On the one hand the Patriots didn't trade down, and people seem to hate when they do that. They also drafted defense, which many fans wanted them to do.
On the other hand, Dominique Easley has injury problems. He might even be "injury prone." And he also went to school at the same place that some other unsuccessful Patriots draftees played (Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, Chad Jackson, and I'm sure people will include no-lose acquisitions like Tim Tebow and Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps).
I'll address the Florida Gator concern first. Do you really want the Patriots to avoid drafting players from one of the top programs in the top college football conference in the country? Just because their previous choices from that school haven't worked out? Do you really want Belichick and the Patriots personnel people to say "We like this guy... but he's a Gator... next?"
If Dominique Easley doesn't work out, it won't be because of where he went to school.
But he might not work out because of injury and his potential proneness to said injury. He's torn each of his ACLs. You tear one ACL and that's just football (see: Tom Brady, Wes Welker). You tear two and everyone takes a step back. You get that "injury prone" label. You fall from the top 10 to 29th, and projected by some to go even later.
I'm not a doctor. Most Patriots fans aren't doctors. I will say that ACL tears don't worry me as much as back issues. ACLs tear all the time in football, and it happening twice might be injury proneness, it might be horrible luck. Logan Mankins tore his ACL in college and he's played 14.4 games per season in the NFL. He even tore an ACL in 2012 and kept playing because he didn't realize it. Which is astounding. Mankins has torn an ACL twice, yet he isn't considered "injury prone."
Easley tore an ACL in November 2011. By September 2012 he was playing for Florida again. I'd be more concerned if he were one of those guys who came back from injury slowly (like Gronkowski). He evidently recovers at the expected rate. He played 13 games in 2012 and into 2013, then his other ACL tore. I'd be more concerned if the same ACL tore, because that would be another sign of possible recovery issues.
Despite the two tears, he managed to play 29 games for Florida.
He's still an unknown variable, just like any draft pick. Taking into consideration the "if healthy" tag does make him more of an unknown. What I like about this pick is that if he's good (and healthy), the Patriots can definitely use him. If he's not good, they don't depend on him. They can take a chance with a defensive lineman because they have some decent ones already. Signing Will Smith complements this pick very well.
The Patriots don't need Dominique Easley to be healthy to have a good defensive line. But if he is healthy, he can make that line significantly better, and younger. Wilfork, Kelly, Smith, Chandler Jones, Ninkovich, and then add Easley. Not too shabby. Then at linebacker you have Jerod Mayo back, Jamie Collins showed exciting sparks last year. Then the improved secondary with Revis and Browner...
It's not a bad defense. Easley can make it better. If he's injured or fails, the defense will still be good.
Fraser scored the goal to end the game, but it was Tuukka Rask's play that won the game. In the 2nd he stopped Brian Gionta on a breakaway after David Krejci was stripped of possession. In the 3rd Rask stopped Gionta again on a point blank shot. He made all the big saves, he kept his team in the game when they were struggling to score at the other end. He stopped all 33 shots the Canadiens took at him. You can't ask anything more from a goalie.
If not for Rask's play, Matt Fraser would never have gotten the chance to be the playoff hero.
The Bruins played this game much more solidly than Game 3. There were fewer glaring mistakes. At the same time, there wasn't much pressure put on the Canadiens or on Price. The Krejci line is still a nonfactor. Krejci himself did win more faceoffs than he lost (10 for 18), and Iginla leveled a nice hit on Max Pacioretty, but Krejci only had 1 shot on goal, Iginla had none. Lucic managed 4, but most were token shots at the logo on Price's sweater.
Carl Soderberg's line produced the best chances. Soderberg hit a crossbar late in the 1st, and Fraser was skating with the Soderberg line in overtime when he knocked in a rebound to win the game.
Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk were the Bruins best defensemen and their best skaters. Chara broke up a 2-on-1 in the 1st (PK Subban soon thereafter broke up a Bruins' 2-on-1 at the other end of the ice). Boychuk made a big block late in the 3rd period, one of his 4 blocks in the game.
This was a classic, defensive Bruins victory. The Bruins were patient and poised, and they leave Canada on a victorious note.
It's such a massive difference to come back to Boston tied 2-2 as opposed to being down 3-1.
Game 5 Saturday night in Boston.
Thursday, May 08, 2014
I love the NFL Draft, I hate Draft Day. I can't stand grown men acting like children the day before Christmas, hoping Santa Belichick comes down the chimney with a stud receiver, then getting all frustrated and whiny when they get socks (offensive linemen).
I can't stand people obsessively analyzing something that hasn't happened yet. It pisses me off when someone is pissed off that the Patriots might trade down, and the Draft is hours, even days away.
Sports are supposed to be enjoyable, not painful. But Patriots fans act like they've been constipated for 9 years, waiting to shit out another Lombardi Trophy, but mean old Ebeneezer Belichick keeps feeding them Imodium to keep Pats fans blocked up and prevent them from the relief that Super Bowl #4 would provide.
"I don't want the Patriots to trade down..."
"The Pats should trade down..."
"They should trade up..."
"They should draft a linebacker..."
"They need a receiver..."
"This kid Random Name from Some School State would be perfect..."
The demands of these whiny fans are relentless. And if they don't get what they want, you hear about it on Friday. You hear about it all year.
Amateur GMs who watch a few college games in the fall, then read a draft preview magazine while they're on the john, consider themselves to be Draft Day experts. There are people out there whose full-time job it is to evaluate the talent of these college players, and not only do they get it wrong sometimes, they frequently disagree with each other.
It's not a crapshoot, but there is an unpredictable element to it. Imagine if your workplace selected you based on how you performed at college. I know successful people that could barely pass a test, and I know unsuccessful people that were honor students.
And yet some of you people out there, who spend a handful of hours a year watching Alabama play Auburn and Michigan play Penn State think you can predict which players will succeed in the NFL and which won't.
It's one thing to have fun with it, have friendly arguments with your friends about it, speculate, guess, predict. That's all part of the fun of being a sports fan, second-guessing included. But the people who get emotional about it, that's just pathetic. The people who can't focus on their lives because the Patriots picked a tight-end and not a pass rusher, who grumble and groan about Belichick and the "Patriot Way." These people are emotionally scarred by the departures of Adam Vinatieri and Richard Seymour. I'd pity them if they didn't annoy me so much.
You don't know as much as you think you know. None of us do. And the people doing the selecting spend their entire year doing this, and even they screw up.
So I don't know what the Patriots will do. Nor do I know what they should do. I'll sit back and enjoy the Bruins game, occasionally catch a glimpse of the Draft. I probably won't cheer whoever the Patriots pick, nor will I boo them, the way Texans fans booed J.J. Watt in 2011 or Jets fans cheered Vernon Gholston in 2008.
Tuukka Rask wasn't THE reason the Bruins lost Game 3 to the Canadiens. However, his job is to help the Bruins win, not just to avoid being a reason they lose. He didn't do much to help them win Game 3. Nor did he do much to help the B's win Game 1. Had the Bruins won Game 3, his play wouldn't have been a reason they won.
Here's what makes the goaltending position so important and so special: good goaltending covers for bad play. Good goaltending keeps a struggling offense close to their opponent, it prevents turnovers and defensive lapses from becoming goals. Pundits and fans have been pointing to defensive miscues and poor performing forwards as reasons the Bruins lost Game 3. And while that's accurate, it's also within the powers of the goalie to mask those weaknesses, and help his team win despite their failings. Tuukka Rask didn't do that.
It's okay to criticize Rask for not doing what he's capable of doing.
For instance, he is quite capable of making saves on breakaways. Like this one in March...
This year he had a .727 save percentage in shootouts. In his career it's .694. So about 70% of the time that he's facing an opponent's best shooters one-on-one to decide a regular season game, the puck doesn't go in.
And in the NHL as a whole, shooters converted 31.65% of shootout attempts. More than 2/3 of the time (68.35%), the puck fails to go in and the goalie is successful.
Breakaways aren't easy to stop, but they are stopped very often.
Rask is quite capable of stopping Dale Weise (who has 10 career goals) on a breakaway. Had he stopped Weise's breakaway, Rask would have helped his team win. It's okay to criticize him for failing there. And yes, it is a failure. A goalie of Rask's caliber, who stops 70% of shootout attempts, leaves his 5-hole wide open and allows a 4th liner beat him? That's a failure.
Even if you disagree with that assessment, you must concede that Rask didn't come up with a big stop there. And a big stop would have helped the Bruins win. On that play, Rask didn't help the Bruins win. Which means he didn't do his job.
In Boston we've seen how much of an impact big stops can have in the playoffs. The breakaway and odd-man rush saves can be seen at 0:00, 0:16, 0:30, 0:50, 1:41, 2:30, 3:03, 3:35, and 5:17.
I once thought it unfair to compare Rask or any other goalie to what Tim Thomas did in the 2011 playoffs. It was superhuman at times. Then I heard the Boston Globe's Christopher Gasper argue that Rask's stats in the 2013 playoffs were comparable to Thomas' in 2011, so the performance levels were also on a similar level. Really? Even though Rask lost 3 in a row against Chicago that year, allowing 11 goals in those 3 games?
Rask rarely gets criticized for not helping his team win playoff series. And he should. Such shortcomings are not new. In 2010 Rask was a significant contributor to the Bruins' 3-0 collapse to the Flyers. He allowed 16 goals in the final 4 games, and in Game 7 he failed to hold a 3-0 lead. Last year the Bruins had a 2-1 lead in Game 6 against the Blackhawks, who scored twice in the last 2 minutes to win the game and the series.
In 2010, 2013, and now in 2014, many are quick to point out the various other reasons that the Bruins have lost games and series. David Krejci was hurt at the end of that Flyers series, as was Patrice Bergeron in the Stanley Cup Finals. There were turnovers, Tyler Seguin wasn't scoring, Milan Lucic wasn't finishing opportunities. All valid points, all true, all contributing factors to defeat.
It isn't about blaming Rask, it's about pointing out when he hasn't helped the team win.
As I said earlier, good goaltending can make up for those deficiencies. Tim Thomas' goaltending carried the Bruins when their power play was the worst to ever win a Stanley Cup. Patrick Roy's goaltending did it for the Canadiens and Avalanche. Jonathan Quick's goaltending did it for the Kings. Carey Price's did it in Game 1. Tuukka Rask's did it against Detroit.
The Bruins have the good goaltender. Now they need him to play up to his ability. They need good goaltending from that good goalie.
Tuukka Rask, more than any other individual player on the Bruins, has the power to turn this series around. When a defenseman turns a puck over, Rask has the power to stop the ensuing breakaway. When the Krejci line doesn't produce, Rask has the power to keep Montreal scoring to a minimum.
His job is to help the team win. It's time for him to do his job.
Allen McInnis, Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
There were no officials to blame, as we all were paranoid about before Game 3. The refs only called 2 penalties. When was the last time the Habs had their first power play 48 minutes into a home game?
The Bruins are the type of team that's built from the defense out, starting with the goalie, then the defensemen, then the forwards. So I'll give my thoughts on the Bruins' 4-2 loss to the Canadiens in that order.
Tuukka Rask will probably win the Vezina as the NHL's best goalie. Yet he's allowed 3+ goals in all 3 games this series. He allowed a pair of bad goals in Game 1 and the OT game-winner was also shaky. In Game 3 he was beaten badly on two breakaways. Where did that Vezina winner go?
He flopped down too early on PK Subban's breakaway goal, committing far too early, making it easy for Subban to score. He stayed too high on Dale Weise's breakaway, his 5-hole wide enough to drive a truck through. He didn't make it hard for Subban or Weise to beat him.
Rask's job is to tend goal. He's not tending it. He's allowed 10 goals in 3 games. The Bruins build their team defensively, he's the last and most important line of defense. They've made a serious investment and commitment to Rask. He was great in the regular season. He's a great goaltender that isn't playing like a great goaltender.
Let's move on to the defensemen.
For many of the young blue-liners, this was their first taste of playoff hockey at the Bell Centre. And they looked Bell-shocked. Torey Krug and Kevan Miller confused their assignments when Tomas Plekanec put Montreal up 1-0. Dougie Hamilton was guilty of defensive negligence and allowed PK Subban to start his breakaway.
These young defensemen are a double-edged sword, as they're some of the small handful of Bruins producing on offense. The Bergeron line along with Hamilton and Krug are responsible for the bulk of the Bruins' scoring in this series. They've scored 6 of the Bruins' 10 goals.
The remaining forwards have been quiet in this series. The first line has scored twice, one of them against an empty net. Jarome Iginla has barely been seen. Milan Lucic has been more of a rumor than a force. In Game 3 David Krejci was 4 for 14 at the faceoff dot.
There have been plenty of chances, plenty of posts, plenty of misses. The Bruins have bombarded the CH on Carey Price's sweater. They've also tokenly shot from the point so often that the Habs are blocking dozens of shots a night.
The young defensemen deserve some blame for this defeat, but in the end they looked and played like young defensemen. It's unfair to fault them for being what they are.
However, your Vezina finalist goalie, and your top line of all-stars and a future Hall of Famer, they don't look the way they're supposed to look. They're not being who they can be, who they should be.
Game 4 Thursday night.
The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson/Associated Press
Monday, May 05, 2014
This series is just a few inches (or centimeters for our metric loving Canadian friends) from being led 2-0, by either team. It's that close. From what we've seen in 2 games, it's difficult to imagine the series being decided in fewer than 7.
After Thomas Vanek gave the Canadiens a 3-1 lead in the 3rd, I didn't think the Bruins had much of a chance. They did what they had to do, though. They took the game one shift at a time. They tried to win each possession, each shift. And it worked.
The Bergeron line mounted the comeback. Dougie Hamilton's goal was a result of Brad Marchand entering the zone on the left wing, then turning around in a curl along the boards. This move drew the attention of the Habs' defenders, allowing Dougie Hamilton to drift into the extreme high slot and bury a shot past Price. Hamilton now has 2 goals and 6 points in these playoffs. 3-2 Canadiens.
Bergeron made it a 3-3 game when he, Reilly Smith, and Brad Marchand fought for possession behind the Montreal net and in the corner. The key was support. Smith lost his battle but Marchand was there in support to reclaim the puck. Once Marchand won his battle he dished it to Bergeron who scored from the halfwall. 3-3.
The play leading to the game-winning goal looked like a basketball play that a coach would draw up during a timeout with 5.5 seconds left. Bodies rotated, the puck rotated. Four Montreal defenders went to one side of the ice, and the goal was scored by Reilly Smith on the weak side. Bergeron started the play on the right point, passed to Smith along the halfwall, Smith passed to Chara who had displaced Bergeron on the right point. Chara carried it up the blue line to the left point, while Krug pinched from the left point to the halfwall. Chara passed to Krug. With four Canadiens on the left, Krug made the cross-ice pass to the right faceoff dot where Smith had shifted. 4-3 Bruins.
One line, 3 goals in under 6 minutes.
It wasn't a perfect game for everyone on that line. Brad Marchand's horrendous giveaway in the neutral zone led to Montreal's first goal. He hasn't been sharp in transition this series.
Special teams continue to be a problem for the Bruins. Thomas Vanek scored twice on the power play, both were redirections. These are not "puck luck" goals or fortunate bounces, these were results of intentional efforts by the Habs. Vanek was able to win position down low, against Zdeno Chara of all people, and deflected a pair of PK Subban shot-passes that Rask had no chance to stop.
The Bruins' penalty kill is 5 for 9 (55.6%) in this series. The power play has yet to score, even with an extended 5-on-3 in Saturday's game.
The Bell Centre is the last place in the world you want to go when special teams are a problem. But that's where the Bruins are headed. Game 3 Tuesday night at 7.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Friday, May 02, 2014
Last night after the Bruins lost 4-3 to the Canadiens, a number of people went to Twitter to call PK Subban the N-word.
If I had to bet, I'd say many of these folks are attention seeking trolls. You know the kind. They'll post jokes about the Boston Marathon bombing, or 9/11, whatever it takes to get attention. They don't care if it's negative or positive. They feed off the retweets, the responses (both good and bad). They love getting negative responses. They feel powerful because they've made someone else feel something. And when they collectively make their garbage trend, and piss off the entire internet, they feel even more powerful.
Also many of the people who Tweeted this filth are truly racists. They get mad when they see someone with the color of PK Subban's skin happy and celebrating. It pisses them off, it defies their view of the world, and their idea of the proper order of things. Blacks should be the low-wage janitors cleaning up the arena, not the star hockey players standing triumphant on the ice.
Both of these groups, the attention seeking trolls and the genuine racists, are not worth the attention.
I'm not saying we should ignore racism and hope it goes away. But the racists themselves deserve little to no recognition. They can't be reasoned with. They should be identified and marked (which unfortunately is near impossible over Twitter) as racist. Then their rhetoric and jokes should be dismissed as the childish crap that it is.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the classic film Twelve Angry Men. The movie is about 12 jurors arguing the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of murder. In this scene one of the jurors uses his racial prejudices to argue for convicting the defendant. I love the reaction of the other 11 jurors.
That's what we should do to these trolls and racists. Ignore their vile language. Don't give them the recognition they crave, just mark them and move on with your life. "That guy's a racist, his opinions are crap, don't pay attention to him."
If I could talk to PK Subban today, I would reinforce to him that most of us in Boston dislike him because he's a flopping douche, and because he plays so well for a team we dislike so much. I'd dislike him just as much if he were white.
And as much as I dislike Subban, I dislike these trolls and racists even more. PK Subban deserves my attention. These idiots do not.
Special teams, special teams, special teams. It was a massive strength for the Bruins in their series win over Detroit (the B's were 6 for 16 on the power play, and held Detroit to 2 PP goals in 20 chances). In just one game, however, the Canadiens have already equaled Detroit's total power play production. PK Subban scored a pair of power play goals for the Habs. The first gave Montreal a 1-0 lead, the second gave the Habs a 4-3 win.
Meanwhile the Bruins power play went 0 for 2.
I would say that special teams was the deciding difference in the game, but it wasn't. The difference was goaltending. The Bruins came into the series with likely Vezina winner Tuukka Rask in net, and the Habs brought Carey Price, who was unspectacular in Montreal's sweep over Tampa Bay. Price had a .904 save percentage in that series, with a GAA of 2.33. But it was Price who was vastly superior to Rask in Game 1.
Price stopped 48 shots, 19 more than Rask. Price also had more difficult stops to make. He played so well that he affected how the Bruins attacked. At times the Bruins tried to be too fancy with too many passes and too many moves in an effort to beat Price. It wasn't until the B's went back to basics that they were successful.
Montreal's second and third goals were saves that Rask should make. The first goal he was screened by his own players. But the second goal simply beat him high, and the third goal he had a perfectly clear view of and still got beat. So far this morning the media narrative for this game seems focused on missed offensive opportunities. I disagree. Rask didn't play up to the level he's capable of, and that should be the focus.
Rask only faced 6 shots in the 3rd and he let 1 of them in. If not for Johnny Boychuk's goal with under 2 minutes left, Rask and the Bruins lose the game in regulation.
Those missed opportunities were frustrating. But I don't consider hitting the post to be "unlucky." It's a miss. The goal is 4' x 6' and always has been and the posts are outside of the goal. When basketball players hit the rim it isn't unlucky, same goes for field goals in football that hit an upright and ricochet out.
The Bruins' young defensemen were exposed in this game. Torey Krug scored a goal but his miscues also led to 2 Montreal goals. Matt Bartkowski committed an unwarranted holding penalty that led to Subban's game-winner 7 seconds later. I miss Dennis Seidenberg. I miss Adam McQuaid. I miss Andrew Ference.
On the bright side, Brad Marchand finally scored some points with 2 assists. The Bergeron line was +2. However the Krejci line was -1, so was the Merlot line. And as mentioned, the Bruins were -2 on special teams.
PK Subban (2 goals) and Rene Bourque (goal, assist) were Montreal's best offensive weapons. Bourque remains scorching hot. Thankfully Thomas Vanek looks completely lost out there.
I'm a little worried. After Dennis Seidenberg went down the Bruins penalty kill went through some tough times. They seemed to sort it out at the end of the regular season, and they shut down Detroit. But you're only as good as your last game. Which is great news because Game 2 is Saturday afternoon at 12:30 on NBC, which means the Bruins have a chance to improve their special teams. And their goaltending.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Thursday, May 01, 2014
It's finally Thursday and it's finally time: The Bruins against the Canadiens. The B's against Les Habitants. Black and gold against the bleu blanc rouge.
This is my favorite sports rivalry. I'm more emotionally invested in this rivalry than any other in Boston sports (at least since the 2004 ALCS when the Red Sox finally overcame the Yankees). I hate the Canadiens. I hate everything their team stands for (and falls down for). And I hate their fans. This is true, mean, irrational hatred.
With all due respect to the Red Wings, the only way they were going to beat the Bruins was if the Bruins beat themselves. And did so on multiple levels. Even when Tuukka Rask let in a soft goal and the B's played like crap, Detroit barely took Game 1. The Bruins-Red Wings series was by far the least exciting of the 8 first round series in the NHL.
Montreal is different. While I can't say I respect them, I do respect the threat they pose. They're fast and they know how to use that speed. They have a goalie capable of greatness. They have very talented players like PK Subban, Max Pacioretty (39 goals this year), and Bruins killer Thomas Vanek.
In playoff hockey the Bruins usually do a good job of shutting down, or at least minimizing, an opponent's best forwards. Put Zdeno Chara and the Bergeron line on the ice against an opposing top line and keep them from beating you. However, the Canadiens don't rely on a top line for their offense. They rely on guys like PK Subban. Subban and fellow defenseman Andrei Markov were 2nd and 4th on the Canadiens in points this year. That's one reason the Habs are such a matchup problem for the B's. To be fair, PK Subban is a matchup problem for the entire NHL.
Another reason is that the Canadiens can get under the Bruins' skins. When the Bruins feel like the officials aren't calling the game they way they ought to, the Bruins have one reaction: hit somebody. And not when the time is right, NOW. The B's have a tendency to lose their composure and give gift penalties to opponents with post-whistle punches, interference, slashes, et cetera. That can only hurt them in this series.
Montreal isn't as reliant on their power play as they've been in years past, but it only takes one or two goals to flip a close series around. And this will be a close series. Don't give them the extra chances.
The emotions of this series will sway back and forth. There will be tidal waves of frustration and rage, floods of good play and bad. The difference between winning and losing might be who plays composed even when they're mad, and who forces the other team into making a heated mistake.
Some things I'd like to see from the Bruins, apart from composure:
Brad Marchand either scoring or helping others score. It's been 11 games since his last playoff point. Tuukka Rask has more points (1 assist) in those 11 games than Marchand has. Marchand is a top 6 forward, he's paid like a top 6 forward, he needs to play like a top 6 forward.
Milan Lucic needs to be a freight train that stays on the tracks. Don't derail for the sake of sending a physical message. Don't remove yourself off the ice with unnecessary penalties. That's what Montreal wants.
Don't take Montreal's speed for granted. That cross-ice passing lane that seems open, their speed will close it like a bear trap. See what I did with that pun there?
Rask needs to be exceptional at critical moments. Not just good, exceptional. There will be breakaways, there will be power plays, Rask's job is to make timely saves. Giving up a goal when it's 1-1 in the 1st period is not the same as when it's 1-1 late in the 3rd.
Special teams need to remain an advantage. I don't expect the Bruins' power play to continue at the 38% clip it produced at in the Red Wings series. It does need to continue to produce goals, and to pressure Carey Price and the Habs for 2 minutes. No easy kills for Montreal. Wear them out. This series will be a battle of attrition.
The Bruins need more production 5-on-5. They only scored 6 even strength goals against Detroit in 5 games (14 total, 6 on power play, 6 even, 2 empty-netters).
This will be an exciting, emotional roller coaster of a series. Moments of unparalleled exultation along with periods of deep dread and despair. And all of it hangs in the balance with each game, each period, each shift, each pass.
My prediction on these extremely difficult series to predict: Bruins in 7.