yankee hockey

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR

Posted in Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, post-season, stanley cup, Washington by yankhockey on May 5, 2009

What a boon for the NHL to have Ovechkin and Crosby playing each other. It helps that the leagues two biggest stars are playing like the leagues two biggest stars. On Monday the two both had hat tricks, only the fourth time in NHL history that opposing players had hat tricks in the same game in the playoffs. The match up goes beyond this series though, it’s cultural. This is a revisit to the old Summit Series that pitted Canada’s best against the Soviet Red Army teams. Believe me, Don Cherry isn’t the only Canadian who would fight anyone who said that Ovechkin is a better player. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of Canadians who think Ovechkin is better, I know a couple myself, but the entire country would love it if Crosby showed him up this post-season.

The problem is that Crosby is so hard to love. Ovechkin is the best thing to happen to the NHL since Gretzky. Every time he opens his mouth the most charismatic thing you could possibly imagine rolls out of it. When he’s on the ice his joy and enthusiasm is infectious. Crosby, on the other hand, can never quite get it right. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great – nay – amazing player. There are times when he is even the best player in the league, but as much as Ovechkin shines, Crosby whithers. During the game, in which he matched Ovechkins three goals with three very impressive goals of his own, he complained about how long it took to clean up the hats after Ovie’s hat trick. Clean up the hats? Are you kidding me Crosby? If that had happened in Pittsburgh it would have taken an hour to clean up all the hats people would have thrown. People would have left their seats, gone to the souvenir stands, bought all the hats, and then gone back to the seats to throw those.

There is a very real feud between these two, and it makes for great copy. There is a difference in how the feud is handled between the two players though. Ovechkin keeps it on the ice, Crosby brings it to the media. What this does is make Crosby seem petty and immature. Clean up the hats? Let the man have his moment in front of his fans Crosby. In the last couple years the image of Crosby the whiner has begun to fade. He hasn’t taken as many dives, he hasn’t chirped at the refs as much, and he’s played through adversity. This most recent incident makes him seem worse then ever.

In the end though, this is going to be a great series. Even if the Caps go on to sweep it in Pittsburgh it’s still a lot of fun to watch. Some people have said that it would have been better if this series had occurred during the conference final. I say that would certainly amp up the drama but the league is better served with where it is. See, this series is attracting sports fans, not necessarily hockey fans. People are tuning in to see the most dynamic pair of players in the league take it to each other, and it’s been an exciting thing to watch. Once this series is over, regardless of who wins, a lot of those people who never gave a shit about hockey before will be interested enough to continue to follow the player that makes it to the next round. People who have been attracted to the playoffs by this series will hopefully stay for the whole thing. That’s one extra round of front page news that the NHL wouldn’t normally get, so I say be glad it’s happening in the second round.

Meanwhile the Ducks have decided that they want to take down the Western Conference top teams in a row. They beat the number one Sharks and now sit one game up on Detroit. With Vancouver now one game up on Chicago (not that that series is over by a longshot), the Ducks sit in a position where it is very possible for them to go, literally, 1-2-3 and into the Stanley Cup series. The problem Detroit is facing (besides really missing Brian Rafalski) is that the Ducks are not intimidated by them. Columbus may have seen them six times during the regular season, but the playoffs are something else entirely. These are the defending champs and perennial favourites. The Ducks don’t care, they keep playing the same game they want to play. Not only that, they are making the Red Wings play their game, they are dictating the pace. Add to that the incredible Jonas Hiller and you got yourself one helluva team to beat.

Like I said before though, the Red Wings aren’t the Sharks. The Red Wings aren’t intimidated either. They have, like, 200,000,000 combined playoff games between them. They’ve won more cups then the Ducks have years of existence. The Sharks went belly-up four games in, the Red Wings will be fighting tooth and nail until that final horn sounds.

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THE SEASON THAT WAS

Well folks, the end of the season is upon us, and the reason for the season is about to start, so what better time then now to look back on all the significant events that have transpired through 2008-2009 in the NHL.

Injuries Galore:

There are injuries every season, but has any season seen an IR list like this year? It started small with Erik Johnson of the Blues hurting his knee by getting his foot stuck between the brake and accelerator of a golf cart during spring training. The knee required surgery and he was out for the season. Then Burnaby Joe Sakic ended up hurting his back big time, missing a significant chunk of the season. And then, with his return on the horizon, he gets his hand stuck in a snow blower, requiring surgery to repair it. Sakic is hoping to play the last three games this season. I had believed that this would be his last season. I think now he’ll come back, he wants to end it on a full season. But the Avs trouble didn’t end there, their young star Paul Stastny ended up getting injured not once… but twice! The first time missing more then 20 games, the second time… well he’s still out. Mike Richards, he of post-season glory and expensive off-season contract, ended up breaking his wrist early in the season and missing a lot of games. Then, in his long anticipated first game back… he broke his other wrist, out for the rest of the season.

In the goalie category the league lost it’s two best goaltenders long term to injury. Martin Brodeur tore a tendon in his elbow and lost 16 weeks to injury, the longest period of time he’s been out in his career. On the other coast Roberto Luongo suffered a pulled groin muscle, and after reaggravating it a few weeks later trying to come back early, ended up missing more then two months. Will it hurt his Vezina chances? Maybe. And then Ryan Miller goes down at the most inopportune time, leaving Buffalo without a solid netminder, and out of the playoffs. And I think we’re all done talking about DiPietro and his injury problems. How’s that fifteen year contract going Long Island?

In the Sharks category… who hasn’t been injured? Their entire D-corps has been out at one point or another, their starting goaltender went down… hell, I’m surprised HP Pavillion hasn’t been placed on the IR. The worst of it has been happening recently. That’s what we call a case of BAD TIMING.

Record Breakers:

Brodeur came back into the spotlight by winning his 552 game, breaking Patrick Roy’s all-time record. I’m sure New Jersey was expecting to celebrate that earlier in the year, they should be glad they got to celebrate it at all. In Washington Mike Green managed not to just break the team goal scoring record for consecutive games… he managed to break the league record (for defensemen). Green is a phenomenal offensive player… will it be enough to garner him a Norris Trophy? Also in Washington, Alexander Ovechkin became the first player to score 50 goals three times in a Capitals uniform, further justifying his “Greatest-Player-In-The-Game” status.

Melrose, we hardly knew ye:

In the most celebrated coaching hire in decades (at least, if you work for ESPN), Barry Melrose started the year behind the bench in Tampa Bay. After trying to prove to both the fans and the players that old school, hard-working hockey is better then flash-and-dash hockey for about a week, he was fired and allowed to go back to hockey analysis where he really shines. Meanwhile new coach Rick Tocchet has managed to keep them in the Tavares hunt, apparently to management’s great satisfaction.

The trade that wasn’t:

For a year… A YEAR… all I heard about was how the Panthers were going to trade Jeremy Bouwmeester. Oh how the excitement built up as the trade deadline came close. Oh how the fans of teams in the hunt held their breath trying to imagine Bouwmeester on their blueline. What’s that? The Florida held onto him for their playoff run? And now they aren’t even in the top eight with only a few games left to play? And they’re going to lose him for nothing in the offseason? Way to go Florida… way to go.

Toronto institutes a “No Stanley Cup Ever” program:

Brian Burke, fresh off riding another GM’s players into the Stanley Cup, left Anaheim and moved over to Toronto where he immediately began to trade off players. The thing about Burke is, he hates prospects. Just ask Vancouver where his handy work left them hard pressed for the kind of young talent most other teams have in their line ups. Unfortunately for both Burke and Toronto, there isn’t a Stanley Cup winning team already in place for him to leech off of. You know what, as long as he can build a decent US Olympic team I’ll forgive him anything… not sure Leafs fans will though.

Wait a minute… penguins can’t fly!:

Oh, how much joy I had when I thought the Penguins were going to miss the post-season. Alas, you just can’t stop a team with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, no matter how much the rest of the team might try. Still, it is better for the league to have this team in the playoffs. Just please please please not another Stanley Cup appearance… I don’t think my delicate constitution could take that.

To celebrate, or not to celebrate:

Don Cherry stuck yet another foot in his mouth (how many does he have in there now… fourteen?) when he started complaining about Ovechkin’s exciting, over the top goal celebrations, and lauding Crosby’s stoic “Oh, did I just score? How intriguing.” nothing celebrations.  We all get that you enjoy things that blend into the background quietly Mr Cherry, especially your clothing (want some more examples). Look Grapes, anyone who watches Ovechkin score a goal… or a linemate for that matter, and doesn’t get excited for the game of hockey is either dead or a xenophobic loud mouth. And to think, because he’s on the CBC, Canadian citizens pay his salary.

Well, there’s been plenty more including a great Winter Classic, some incredible rookie sensations, a few veteran comebacks, and even a fight or two. But there is one event that we should not, ever, let slip past our notice this season.

Colleen Howe, Mrs Hockey, passed away at the age of 76. They say behind every good man is a great woman, and never was it more true then in this case. Mrs Hockey not only supported her husband emotionally, she supported him professionally too, acting as his manager. She was instrumental in getting hockey players the kinds of competitive contracts they have today. When she began as Gordie’s manager he was the third highest player on the team, despite being by far the best. Thanks to the negotiating skills of Colleen, the Red Wings were forced to give him the raise he deserved. She’s been honoured more times then I can list, and her death is likely the reason that the Hockey Hall of Fame will, from now on, be allowing women to be honoured. The passing of Mrs Howe is a sad and tragic event for anyone who loves hockey, and so it is with great regret that I make it the final moment of note this season.

COAT TAILS

Posted in Boston, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Players, predictions, Washington by yankhockey on March 17, 2009

Martin Brodeur’s recent record breaking performance has led me to think about the records sitting on the other side of the puck. The list of all-time points leaders is topped by two significant names; Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Gretzky tops the list by nearly 1000 points with 2857 points in just 1487 games. For those of you counting that’s nearly two points a game for an entire career. Messier comes in a distant second with 1887 points in 1756 games. The current player closest to that number is Joe Sakic with 1641, and he’s a year at most till retirement.

So who can give Gretzky a scare? Which player playing today is going to supplant the Great One on the point throne? The answer, or course, is no one. Gretzky scored over 200 points four times, only one other person (Mario Lemiuex) has even come within one point of getting there. But someone could certainly take a run at Messier’s coveted number two. So let’s check the line-up.

Sidney Crosby:

He’s 21 and he has 384 points. If the Penguins can keep him surrounded with players who can turn his passes into goals, or give him the feeds he needs to score, then it’s unlikely that the torrent pace of points will stop. The one thing Crosby needs to worry about is his health. He’s had some injury problems, and if those problems turn into an annual occurrence it will severely stunt his numbers. However, modern medicine being what it is, it’s likely that even with injuries he is capable of a long career, so don’t expect 200 points in a year, but do expect him to be knocking at the 2000 point door at the end of his career.

Evgeni Malkin:

22 years old and he is knocking on Crosby’s door with 288 points. This is his best season however and he is handily beating “The Kid” in the points department, and I’m thinking that’s going to be the way of things as long as these two are playing together. Two reasons: 1) he stays healthier, and 2) he’s a better goal scorer. Both of these players seem to feed best off each other, whether it’s on the same line, or competing within the team. If the Penguins can’t hang on to them both (and I see no way they can) it may mean a significant drop-off in points. The other thing I see in Malkin’s future is a trip home. Europeans tend to have shorter North American careers, and with Russian money being almost as good as American money these days there’s nothing much to stop him from playing at home for the same wage.

Paul Stastny:

This wunderkind was having an awesome career until injuries dragged him and point partner Joe Sakic through the mud. Still, with genes like this (his father Peter ended his career with 1239 of his own points), he’ll certainly make a run at the points record. He’s 23 and his career is poised for the upswing, making his 185 current points a small percentage of his eventual total.

Marian Gaborik:

Ha ha, just kidding. If he even manages 800 games in this league I’ll be surprised.

Alexander Ovechkin:

He’s a little older then Crosby, and his point totals are barely more at 399, but Ovechkin seems to me to be the biggest challenger to Messier’s numbers for three reasons: 1)He stays healthy, 2) he keeps getting better every year, and 3) he’s done it with absolutely no supporting staff. Crosby at various points has had Mario Lemieux, Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa, and Evgeni Malkin to raise his game. Ovechkin has had Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Federov who are all good to great to used to be great players, but not nearly on the level of talent Crosby has had to work with. The other thing about Ovechkin is he loves playing in the NHL. He loves American media, he loves American culture, and he would love nothing more then to win the American championship. He’ll be in the league for a long time, and if at any time Washington manages to get another star for him to play with he may even skirt the 200 point mark (not really, but he’s certainly capable of 70+ goals which hasn’t happened in far too long).

Of course, the real threat to Messier’s numbers, maybe even Gretzky’s numbers, was Bobby Orr. Orr had 915 points in only 650 games. That is almost a thousand less games then Gretzky played, and a lot of those games were being played while he suffered from horrendous knee injuries.  His knees kicked him out of the game at the young age of 30, and in those final three years he scored only 45 points in only 36 games. That means that from the age of 18 to the age of 26 he scored 871 points in 624 games, or 1.4 points per game. Messier’s was 1.07, Gretzky’s was 1.92. However, Orr’s best years were ahead of him. If not for his knee we may be talking about Orr’s record tonight instead of Gretzky’s. Also, he was +124 one year… that’s the most insane number I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

BATTLE OF THE TITANS

Posted in Pittsburgh, Players, Surprise of the Week, Washington by yankhockey on January 16, 2009

For those of you who do not get ESPN, or simply choose not to watch it, there is a very popular show which the station airs called Pardon the Interruption, or PTI. On it two sports columnists, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, argue about current sporting issues and events. It’s really a damn fun show to watch because it accurately portrays what every sports fan does with other sports fans: yell as loud as you can to be heard. These two guys have been talking and writing about sports for longer then I’ve been alive, and they really know their stuff. Well, they really know their stuff… except for hockey. It’s not their fault really, hardly anyone in the states really knows about hockey. Read any AP Wire Service game recap and you can tell the author has absolutely no idea what two teams were even playing the game. Anyway, the two men, though they both admit to attending many Capitals’ games, couldn’t talk hockey to save their lives. Thankfully the producers rarely give them hockey to talk about, unless someone does something exceptionally stupid or violent.

So I was a little surprised yesterday when they not only had a hockey topic to talk about, but that they got it right on, despite the fact that they disagreed with the majority of hockey experts. The topic: Is Alexander Ovechkin better then Sidney Crosby? Now they were talking about this because the players met on Wednesday where Ovechkin potted two goals, and added an assist, while Crosby skated away with a respectable two assists. Against the flow of the show, the two men agreed on this topic. Both men declared Alexander Ovechkin is better then Sidney Crosby despite Canadian and NHL media trying desperately to insist otherwise. And you know what my friends, they are absolutely right.

This debate has been going on since the first year these two began playing. Too be sure, they are both phenoms. They are both incredible, once in a lifetime type players. But Ovechkin has shown over and over again that he is a better hockey player. Watching Ovechkin must be similar to what it was like to watch Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, or Mike Bossy. He is a beast on skates. He hits people with such a flourish that if you missed the number 8 on his back you’d swear you were watching an enforcer play. He’s so strong on the puck that once it’s on his stick it’s only coming off at the time of his choosing. Before one of the goals he scored Wednesday, a defender had three or four whacks at the puck on Ovechikin’s blade before he scored. The guy actually defended himself out of the play trying to move Ovechkin off the puck. He’s got an unnatural ability to put pucks in the net. On his other goal of the game he went to pass across the crease and ended up knocking it off a defender’s skate and into the net. It’s not because he has the greatest hands in the world, his stick work is pretty good but far from the fanciest I’ve seen. It’s his pure determination. It’s like all he sees is pucks and nets. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Jimmy Hendrix and his guitar, Ovechkin sleeps with a stick.

Crosby is a great player, better by far then 99% of the players in the league, but he just doesn’t stand up. Even Ovechkin’s off ice time is better then Crosby’s. The man is the most personable man I’ve ever seen in sports. He’s like Terrel Owens without all the baggage. he’s charming, witty, and he bleeds excitement regardless of what he is talking about. The one area where Crosby is certainly better is passing. Ovechkin has good puck handling skills, and is a good passer too, but Crosby is even better. Crosby’s ability to pass is what really makes him a phenomenal player.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the different positions they play. Ovechkin is a winger, while Crosby is a center. The two positions have different responsibilities, and different styles. Crosby is probably currently the best at what he does, but that doesn’t make him better then Ovechkin.

The PTI guys said something else that surprised me, something else right on the ball. They said that Crosby wasn’t even the best player… on his own team! They said that Evgeni Malkin was the best player on the Pittsburgh team, and they’re right, he is. Malkin is an extraordinary player who doesn’t play with the same zest and lust that Ovechkin does, but has noticeable more skill the Crosby. Crosby may be the best Canadian player in the game today, and even if you weren’t sure about that any discussion of the top three would have to include him, but sorry Canada, he’s not the best player in the game today.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

I must say, I am quite taken aback by the resurgence of the Dallas Stars. They are 5-3-2 in their last ten, which is hardly great, but by their standards it’s incredible. They are fighting their way back into play-off contention, and you know what, they just might make it.