Archive for April, 2010

Did that really just happen?

Posted in Alex Ovechkin, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Playoffs, Uncategorized, Washington Capitals on April 29, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

🙂

That was all I could muster for a Facebook status in the wake of the Habs’ stunning game-seven victory over the Washington Capitals last night.

I guess I could have said: Bahahahaha, suck it Washington!! I knew it was just a matter of time before Les Glorieux took you down!! I guess it’s just a tough year for big-name Russians, hey?

But had I actually said – or thought – any of that, it would pretty much solidify me as being everything I absolutely despise about SO MANY sports fans. Don’t misunderstand, I’m peaches and cream over people talking trash but when you start a series 33 regular-season points behind your opponent you should shut your mouth even after you’ve won. The satisfaction is in sending them packing, pure and simple.

And don’t even consider an attempt at professionalism as being my motive either, as anyone dumb enough to not hide my Facebook posts knows I am anything but proper on that website.

The truth is I’m as shocked as anyone about this one, including Alex Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau.

What we as hockey fans – let alone Habs lovers – witnessed over the last three games was something that just doesn’t happen. Sure, eight seeds can beat the No. 1s – believe it or not, 28 per cent have done it since the league adopted the current playoff format – but not after falling down three games to one and certainly not when playing the NHL’s top offense, top power play and supposed top player (though who are these people kidding?).

Not only did Jaroslav Halak stop 131 of 134 shots over the final trio of games, but the Habs blue-liners – led by Hal “who-the-crap-knew-this-guy-was-so-freakin’-good” Gill – blocked almost as many before they could reach the apparently-superhuman Slovak. Plus, a kid with 40 goals on the season and 44 shots in the series drew a seven-game blank and the soon-to-be Norris winner was reduced to a total liability.

These are the kinds of insane factors necessary to concoct such an unheard-of result, and no one is more surprised than me they all occurred in the favour of a team I cheer for.

But it happened. I’m clearly elated that it did. And whatever happens to Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge from this point forward is pure gravy.

When I’m not thinking about how ridiculously awesome this upset was I can almost derive some sympathy for the Caps. They had an amazing season and have taken over top billing in that city – something not possible in most American NHL towns. But when you perform at that level throughout an entire season you tend to snag some expectations along the way.

And unfortunately for them, hockey is a lousy sport to expect to win in.

The NHL playoffs are exciting to a level most hockey fans would agree other sports have trouble matching. The reason for this is the ability for underdogs to come out on top.

And the reason these Cinderella stories often come out of hockey is because of goaltenders. All other ludicrous variables aside, the Habs won because their goalie performed in a way folks will talk about for a VERY long time.

They didn’t win because the Caps played poorly. But that fact just unveils another unfortunate for that club; perception is reality and right now the perception is ‘who gives a rat’s ass about opposition net minding? What the FUntimes happened out there guys??’

The blame game began immediately after the hockey portion wrapped up and you’ll never guess where it landed. OK, maybe you will.

After Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton called this “one of the biggest failures in D.C. sports history” she went on to call out the great No. 8 on pretty much everything I labeled on him after game one.

Now, many of you will say it wasn’t Ovy’s fault and that he was one of the few to actually put up some numbers in the series, but Hamilton hits it perfect when she gets into his ability to lead.

“But the day before Game 7, Ovechkin skipped the optional skate. Nearly everyone else showed up. Semin was also a no-show. One might have thought he could use the practice. One might have thought his captain would tell him so. But it’s hard to lead by example when you’re not in the building. It’s a small thing, but it’s not, not in team sports.”

Doesn’t that just say it all? Do you really think Sidney Crosby would skip a skate before a game seven? Not a chance. And not because he thinks he needs the workout but because he understands what the letter ‘C’ means in this sport.

Plus I don’t think I need to point out the fact zero of the captain-less Habs missed out on their optional skate and won’t during the next four-seven games while Ovy goes after his third all-time hole in one.

As for those delightful little Habbies and those four-seven games they are guaranteed to play in, they have about three more seconds to enjoy this latest win because their big prize for beating the almost-best-player alive is a date with the actual-best-player alive. Oh and by the way, Sid’s never played better than he is at this moment.

Good luck boys.

As sure as I was the Caps would upend Montreal rather quickly, I’m that much more sure the Habs can’t possibly find their way to a seventh game against Pitt, let alone beyond them altogether. But I just made eight logically-sound, well-educated picks in round one and finished up 4-4, so my assuredness means about as much as Ovy’s new tri-pack of Titleists.

Quick side note: there are eight teams left and one of every seed. San Jose (1), Chicago (2), Vancouver (3), Pittsburgh (4), Detroit (5), Boston (6), Philadelphia (7) and Montreal (8). I just found that kind of interesting.

Take care all.

What a start!

Posted in Alex Ovechkin, Antti Niemi, Evgeni Nabokov, Hal Gill, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Playoffs, Sidney Crosby, Washington Capitals on April 17, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

The other day I hesitantly but publicly made my NHL first-round playoff predictions, all the while reminding everyone the best part about sports is the part where guesses don’t matter and anything can happen.

While I’m not going to let three crazy days alter which teams I believe will advance into May, I must admit I did not see this start coming. But then again, how many truly honest people can say they did?

If what we are witnessing so far is what the big brass of the league was hoping for when it implemented the salary cap, it just got my vote. I mean, I’ll watch playoff hockey regardless but I’m wondering when the last time was we saw three days of NHL hockey this spectacular?

We’ve seen just 12 games thus far and there is obviously a long way to go for the eventual winner but in those dozen contests there have been nine decided by one measly goal. And two others were one-tally games until empty netters were scored, while the last – Detroit over Phoenix Friday – wasn’t a two-goal game until the 17:54 mark of the third period.

Needless to say, the parody the league has longed for is at an all-time high and no one benefits more than the fans.

The salary cap has accomplished a couple of things with the league’s rosters. For one, it has assured the mediocre teams of still having some above-average players ­– if not a couple of all-stars – but it has also guaranteed even the elite teams of having a weakness.

Case and point: Chicago and San Jose.

These two teams have been neck-and-neck for the conference title all season and neither have a shortage in big name superstars on offense, as well as defense. But eventually that cap catches up to everyone and a hole is inevitably left somewhere.

For these clubs, everyone in North America knows that issue is goaltending. Friday night hosted five of the best hockey games anyone of us have seen – other than Olympics of course – for quite a while, but that didn’t mean every player was performing at their best.

First of all, Antti Niemi of Chicago committed the biggest playoff whiff since Dan Cloutier let that shot in from centre ice against the Wings several years back. That goal cost the Canucks the lead, the game and ultimately the series.

Nashville went on to win last night. I’d be freaking out if I were a Chicago fan right now.

Then there’s Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks, who picked up the win Friday in overtime, despite letting in five goals on the first 13 shots he faced. I know I said Joe Thornton has always been a huge playoff bust – and that’s definitely true – but if you want to stack the odds against a team with a ton of regular season success, add a goaltender who can’t make a save when it counts to an overrated superstar who plays like he could disintegrate at any moment and you’ve got the makings of a choke dynasty.

Hence, the last decade of San Jose’s history.

But aside from some subpar goaltending, the start to the 2010 playoffs has been a whirlwind of great hockey. Not a single series looks as though one team will completely dominate the other and that can only be good news for a sport, which is the caboose of the pro-sports train south of the border.

Maybe hockey is simply too fast and back-and-forth for some sports fans. I know you can turn people right off when you overcomplicate things, just look at NASCAR. As soon as you add a single right turn to a track, two million redneck morons go cross-eyed.

Maybe the NHL is hurting its reputation by being too fast paced and too full of skill and passion so far but I’m willing to take the risk. Hell, I think I’ll even watch Boston and Buffalo this morning, just to see if anything else amazing happens.

On a side note: And again, let me first say I am totally aware there is a LONG way to go. But am I the only one keeping track of the growing pile of evidence showing Crosby is better than Ovechkin?

My friends can all attest to the fact I have said this from day one but I think we can all agree most folks were feeling differently the last few years. But those people – even those who want to call Sid a crybaby – have to admit the Kid just gets it done.

At 22 and 24 years old respectively, Crosby and Ovechkin have long careers ahead of them and a lot can happen as far as teammates and circumstance but to this point in their lives, the argument isn’t even close.

Not close.

Ovechkin gets a boatload of points, is full of contagious personality and plays with a wrecking-ball attitude. Crosby wins.

Who are you going to build a team around? It’s not hard to see coming either if you look close enough. Ovechkin is an individual out there and tries to do too much himself, while Crosby uses all of his teammates to dissect his opponent. Not only does that by itself prove Crosby’s greatness but it also explains why he is a proven winner at every level.

As good as the defense of Montreal played in the first game the other night, Ovechkin getting zero shots in a playoff game is mind-numbingly not good enough. But when a player will continuously attempt to skate through the entire opposing team every time he touches the puck, you won’t even need Hal ‘no skill’ Gill on your blue line to offer viable protection.

As for Crosby, he beat Ottawa by himself last night – even making the save of the game to go with his goal and assist – though he faces the EXACT same blanket of pressure No. 8 does. So to those always claiming Crosby can’t handle getting pestered and simply whines, I ask you to stop basing your opinions on a couple of old YouTube clips and just watch this guy play.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Ovechkin. He’s still amazing to watch and can go off on a tear at any moment. And I don’t think the Montreal Canadiens will shut him down to that level EVER again, nor am I changing my pick of Washington in five until the Habs actually win another one.

But numbers don’t lie. Sid is two years younger than Ovy but has already won both the Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold. Does that have a lot to do with the teams Sid plays for? Of course it does.

But maybe we’ll say the same about Ovy’s teams as soon as he starts playing with them.

Yeah, this is a blog. So what? Wanna make somethin’ of it?

Posted in Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals on April 14, 2010 by Scott Schmidt

Well seeing as I’m unable to do any work this morning because I’m completely snowed in – cue hysterical laughter from any and all American or West Coast readers – and I seem to be the only person in southern Alberta with working power this morning, I feel somewhat inclined to post a blog.

Now I know I said a while ago I was ready to get back into regular posting but I really do have a solid excuse for misleading you. As it turns out, I was lying. And apparently I do that sometimes even when I’m not trying to.

I don’t know if I was waiting for something truly inspiring to write about or if I just lost the ability to come up with worthwhile thoughts for a bit there but hopefully the mass of sports the spring brings us can give me a little something to discuss from time to time.

Of course, there is nothing bigger to discuss than tonight’s commencement of the NHL playoffs.

I’m generally not a big predictions guy because they are simply guesses, no matter how educated. Being right 10 times in a row doesn’t necessarily mean you have any idea what you’re talking about, while being consistently wrong doesn’t necessarily make you an idiot.

Every result of every game in every professional sport is simple proof anything can happen. And anything DOES happen.

The best teams must still play well to beat the worst teams and absolutely no one on the outside can account for the unlimited variables contributing at all times toward how well someone does or does not play.

That being said, I’m telling you what I think anyway.

The West:

San Jose (1) vs Colorado (8) – OK so right off the bat we have the prime example of why predictions are dumb in the first place. Every single year for a decade the Sharks have started and finished the regular season as serious Cup contenders and every single year they get knocked off really early. But every single year countless media experts have them as their eventual champ. Well, not this guy. I refuse to put my name beside the Turquoise Tankers until they prove to be something else. With all due respect to his fans, Joe Thornton has been the best example of a big-game bust the professional sporting world has to offer for years and I can’t in good conscience pick a team he plays for to go anywhere, regardless of the inexperience of their opponent. Therefore, I pick Colorado and all their rookies to win in six games. And if they don’t, I pick San Jose’s next opponent to do it in five.

Chicago (2) vs Nashville (7) – While I admit they have tweaked their uniforms here and there for the better and they are a pretty exciting team for the most part on the ice, all I picture when I think of the Nashville Predators is a giant, unsightly mustard stain. So even though I believe Nashville could pose some serious trouble for the Hawks, I’ll be adamantly cheering for their failure. But this is a good thing because even the unbiased portion of my brain thinks Chicago will win this one in six games, though it will likely be in spite of mediocre goaltending from Cristobal Huet.

Vancouver (3) vs L.A. Kings (6) – This to me is the most exciting of the Western series to watch and because of that is also the biggest coin toss as to who will come out on top. The Canucks have the Art Ross winner, his twin brother, solid two-way forwards, a great blueline and the gold-medal-winning goaltender – though Luongo has stunk it up a bit lately. The Kings have the best defenseman in the league – even though he’s so young we’re not supposed to call him that yet ­– a great group of speedy, skilled forwards complimented by some good size and toughness, and a solid, albeit unproven, net-minder. I honestly believe this could go either way so I will simply choose based on experience and home games, and Vancouver has the edge in both. Canucks in seven.

Phoenix (4) vs Detroit (5) – Awwww, isn’t it heartwarming to see what the Phoenix Coyotes have accomplished in the midst of all their off-ice turmoil and uncertainty? This is without a doubt one of the best stories the NHL has to offer this year and it would be just wonderful to see them make a solid run at the Cup to show the desert fans that hockey is a sport they can love. Yeah? Well story’s over sweetheart, you got Detroit. They were like 17-3 and down the stretch and are full of proven winners. Wings in an easy five.

The East:

Washington (1) vs Montreal (8) – A few weeks back when I first thought these two teams might meet in round one I started to search for a diplomatic way to tell you all I thought the Habs would win that series. They are one of the only teams to win in Washington this season and they almost did it twice. But more importantly, Jose Theodore is the only French-Canadian goalie alive who doesn’t make his career stoning the Habs and seems to even be intimidated by his former club. However this was all before the Habs proved to be the softest team in the league with no hope of beating anyone unless their goaltender stands on his head. And then for good measure, Thomas Plekanec gives the Caps extra momentum – as if they needed it – by insulting Theodore and saying “he’s good but it’s not like we’re facing Miller or Brodeur.” Smart comment from a guy who has yet to perform well in the post season and is hoping to land a big-money deal in a few months. Washington in five.

New Jersey (2) vs Philadelphia (7) – The only team entering the playoffs with as little momentum as Montreal is Philly. While that triumphant shootout win over NYR surely gave them a high to take into the first round, I seriously doubt it will matter a lick against the best goalie of all time and his supporting cast of Parise and Kovalchuk and Elias and Zajac and Langenbrunner and Rolston and so on and so on… Devils in five.

Buffalo (3) vs Boston (6) – Maybe it’s solely because I’m a Habs fan or maybe these two teams really are that lame but I can’t think of a series I’d rather watch less than this one. Boston has nothing but heart to hang on to as far as I’m concerned, while Buffalo has serious speed and goaltending advantages. Buffalo will win in six, but wake me up when they do.

Pittsburgh (4) vs Ottawa (5) – I know 4-vs-5 series should be tough to pinpoint but, as was in the West, I believe this one is an easy pick. Ottawa has been a team no one can really figure out this season as most of their campaign was riddled with lengthy streaks. A good month would shoot them up the standings, while a bad month would follow and bring everyone back to their heels. Pittsburgh on the other hand played pretty consistent all season, though they were nipped by the Devils for the division crown and they are, of course the defending champs. Even if Malkin continues to underperform I’m still sure the Pens will take this series easily. I’ll say six games but if it goes less, I’ll be the least surprised.

So those are my picks. But like I said, take them for what they are worth. If the Flyers beat the Preds for the Stanley Cup in two months, I’m not taking responsibility for any bets you may have lost along the way.

Bye for now!