Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thinking About Drinking

 I was up north visiting my folks last weekend, it was the first real warm weekend of the year, of course our winter was a normal old style winter and so we reveled in the sunshine and warm breeze, its been so long.

 I'm not one to have regrets or to think that the good old days were the greatest days because these days are quite excellent thank you very much but when we came back to Toronto something had stirred me, maybe it was just the beauty of the day but I thought back to when I was a young man and how each summer day was glory, I'd work outside all day for good money and then the evenings and weekends laid out before me, no cares, no obligations, no aches or burdens, just a young man getting his drink on, all small but wiry grinning endless libido.

 Oh man.

 Was in New York a few weeks ago and found a little joint around the corner from the tiny apartment we were staying in on the Lower East Side, Molly's was the name, an old Irish saloon with banged up tables and sawdust on the floor. I walked in one morning at 11 while Jenn was out running and our traveling companions slept in and I sat at the bar and ordered a Murphys and then I ordered another and one of the best burgers I have ever had and then as I prepared to settle up your man brought me a third pint on the house to apologize for how the new equipment they had just adjusted had meant that my pints had poured slower than what was acceptable whatever that meant but a free pint is a free pint. The upshot was that just past noon I was three pints in and enjoying a sunny day walking through Manhattan with that easy beer buzz haze that envelops you when you're day drinking. Nice and steady drinking all day, first at another pub for a pint a while later than to Jimmy's in midtown, an old school New York dive bar pointed to me on Twitter, a good old long grungy place with a jukebox, an ancient bartender and four dollar pints of Sam Adams (!) with the Blackhawks and Blues on a little TV in the corner while Jenn and the girls shopped. Seabrook knocked out Backes and the Blues scored with seconds left and then it was off to another pub for dinner and then a cab back down to where we were staying and then pint after pint in pub after pub, never getting too carried away but oh it was a fine time.

 Highly recommend Jimmy's. Total dive but not in a stabby way. Go and thank me later.

  So it may have been the recent memory of that or the coming of summer or both but I thought of those days quite a bit the other day and then last night one of my old running mates from those days called me out of the blue and we're out for drinks in a few weeks from now.

 Should be good, it should be very good.

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 As round two winds up a few thoughts, for a while there it looked like the entire general consensus might be turned upside down. With Chicago and the Rangers through it looks like the final four may still be what we expected it to be as long as the Bruins and Kings hold up their end of the bargain but of course this remains to be seen.

 Someone on the HNIC broadcast last night said that the expectation was that the Pens would be back in the Final, I'm not sure who it was, either Millen or Galley I guess, I don't really pay much attention to who is talking much anymore as the commentary is generally very poor. This was certainly a case in point as nobody I know of other than a couple of old timer sports hacks called the Pens to go to the Final. Iffy goaltending and blueline, poor forward depth, some guy named Gibbons (?) playing on Crosby's wing. Oh yes it screams Stanley Cup contender. The Rangers screwed themselves on the schedule but they were superior at every position and once they got their legs it was going to take some awful luck for them not to move on.

 Now talk in Pittsburgh is that heads are going to roll and Bylsma is probably the first to go which means that someone is going to end up with a really good coach and very soon. Shero is the guy who deserves to go, he's never been able to replicate the rosters he put together originally, a nice mix of kids and vets who could play surrounding his superstars. Like all champs the Pens' depth bled away but poor drafting meant there was no stream of replacements and Shero failed to pick up any cheap options at the deadline. Gaborik, Vanek, Hemsky, Cammellari, Moulson, the one thing that was available this deadline was top six talent and the asking price was cheap and still Crosby played game seven with just some guy on his wing. Not really excusable.

 Crosby had one goal in thirteen games, same as a stretch Toews had last year despite playing with Marian Hossa for the most part but narratives say that somehow Sid lacks something and Toews is captain clutch but we've discussed this here, narrative run wild, the same playoff junk that proclaims Shawn Thornton is relevant. (Hint, he is not).

 With all of that said Crosby is not one to make excuses but if you WATCH THE GAMES NERD it was obvious that he's not right. Malkin was terrifying, well at least if you were a Ranger fan or lived in a small Balkan village in the shadow of a dark forboding forest but Crosby, well Crosby was not Crosby (Crosby) and so when he says he was healthy methinks he's subscribing to that old timey hockey ethos - no excuses!

 Hilariously for the Pens this may end up in a major overhaul when the reality is they need minor surgery, well at least everywhere but in net where Fleury was not abysmal but was below average again. Fleury always skates mostly because he has a cheerful grin but until they get rid of him (they can get better goaltending for a fraction of the cost) then they are probably not going anywhere, especially when the Rangers, the Bruins, the Habs, the Jackets, Tampa, Florida and on and on all have better options in net than Pittsburgh does.

 As for the Rangers well I picked them to beat the Pens and we're getting to the point where we might wonder why not them? They have the goaltending and McDonaugh looks to be healthier and Staal is a bit more himself and they have the depth which to me is everything, its why they beat the Pens. Cam Thomson (RiversQ to us oldtimers) said today that while the West has to be considered the best still and the favourites in any matchup the reality is that with Lundqvist and Price or Rask being the remaining goalies standing after tonight any Eastern team will have a shot. I would bet the Rangers are hoping for the Habs tonight though they would never say so of course, I think they can beat the Habs. The Bruins on the other hand ....

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 The Habs have been lucky and Carey Price has been very good and the two together (Bruins have hit seven posts, Habs have hit one, thanks Jonathan Willis!) mean its game seven and of course anything can happen. My guess is the Bruins win it, they are the better team and they are at home and the refs are going to put the whistles away which works in Boston's favour but ... but ...

 Its been a fantastic series, the best one this round, so entertaining. The teams hate each other's guts and the Bruins, well you may loathe them but they put on a good show with larger than life characters here there and everywhere and of course the Habs have PK Subban who is pushing up the ranks of my favourite players. Hossa and Chara won't play forever after all and Subban, well, he could win this by himself. What a fantastic player. Unreal.

 I figured the Bruins out of the east all the way, same as nearly everyone else, so its not like I'm going out on  a limb there but if they go down it really blows the tournament open. If I am a Bruins' fan I'm pretty happy with the kids on defence, they have been pretty good. If I'm a Bruins' fan then I'm worried because Chara is starting to look human. That breakaway Pacioretty scored on? He had him. He could have leaned into him or used his stick and instead he just stopped skating. To me that's a sign of a tired dude and last spring against Chicago we saw what happens when Chara gets tired. It gets ugly.

 If the last few years, well, if hockey history has told us anything, its that to win the Cup you need a stud on the blue line and up the middle. The odd time you might sneak through without one or the other but there's a reason every team in the league is looking for a true number one centre and a thirty minute a night Dman. How do you think Randy Carlyle won a Cup anyhow? He had three of the latter, well close to it anyhow.

 Dougie Hamilton might be a star, its early, but if Chara is crumbling then the Bruins window is closing and soon.

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 The Hawks were ... lucky. Yes, lucky. Well, Crawford was great is what happened but the Wild announced that they are coming and coming hard and wow the west never gets easier does it? Vancouver starts to fall off and here come Dallas and Minnesota and Colorado all rising, brimming with young talent. Wow are the Oilers ever fucked.

 James Mirtle told me that the Wild had started the year as a possession team but injuries forced them into a bit of a more chip and chase style until recently. Bryzgalov was great and it was nice to see him have a good series, he's a bit of a weirdo but an endearing one. The Wild were fast as hell, they made a few Hawks look plodding and their depth actually exposed Chicago a few times. With Frolik, Bolland and Stallberg gone, Shaw out and Handzus losing whatever step he had suddenly Chicago didn't look like a four line team anymore as other than Ben Smith the replacements offered little help. What the hell happened to Kris Versteeg anyhow?

 The problem for Chicago is that fact. Also Leddy is struggling and Roscival too, replaced by Brookbank. Every shift that guy takes I can see how the Blues need to revamp their offence. He was in the lineup three games and they couldn't beat Chicago? Seriously!

 Anyhow with their depth getting pummeled the end result is the top four spent shift after shift defending and all of the offence falls on the big guys and at some point that is going to dry up probably. So they need Shaw to get back and be effective and Quenneville to figure out some sort of bottom six that can hold its own or there may be no repeat (although if I were a betting man I would still be betting on Chicago.)

 And down the road? How does Bowman get Toews and Kane under contract without becoming the Pens? At least the Hawks can draft but what a challenge that is going to be.

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 I have little to say about the Ducks and Kings except its outstanding hockey and the Ducks have done a lot better than I expected. Mitchell being out hurts the Kings I think. And I have no idea what happened to Mike Richards. Done.

 Its been close enough that the Kings winning the next two games would be no biggie but the Ducks, well it looks like they are for real after all. Speed man. Speed kills. Its a new game. Speed has always mattered of course but now so more than ever and players like Murray and his ilk are disappearing.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Collision Course - Round Two West

It remains to be seen what will happen this round of course but the reality is that barring catastrophic injury three of the four conference seeds will be Chicago, LA and Boston. In a thirty team NHL with a salary cap there's no such thing as a dynasty but smart teams can get to the top and stay there for an extended period of time.

 If they make it that far it will mark three conference finals and at least two Cups in five years for Chicago. Boston will have a Cup, another trip to the Final and at least an appearance in the conference final in four years. And the Kings will have a Cup and at least two conference final appearances in three years.

 And next year none of these teams will have major roster upheaval, all of their key players are signed and so one would expect them to be in the mix again although of course in the west especially anything can happen.

 Pretty impressive but its important to note that while the cap levels the playing field it also makes it difficult for teams to make huge strides from year to year. Toronto may talk about adding Paul Stastny (or at least their fans do) but Clarkson's contract (among others) makes that a difficult proposition. So if you can build a nice core and keep it together you can have a nice run near the top of the league with some luck.

 I'm getting ahead of myself here because anything can happen, as we know, but I'm guessing in two weeks we are going to see the Kings and Hawks facing off in a rematch of last year's conference final.

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Hawks v Wild

Minnesota is a solid club. Lots of veterans up front, Ryan Suter. But the Hawks are the Hawks. Deep up front and on the blue and against a tough out in the Blues they got stronger and stronger until they blew their doors off in game six. The scary thing for Chicago's opponents is that the Hawks have more elite offensive talent than probably any other team - Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp. With those four gamebreakers they can have one or two guys get shut down for a series and still prevail. Sharp and Hossa were both very good against the Blues although they didn't get rewarded, the Wild might focus on Toews and Kane and have these two punish them instead.

 Put it this way, the Hawks wingers are so good that they won the Cup with Handzus as their second centre last year. Unreal. And Ben Smith was excellent in that role last round.

 The saving grace for any underdog is great goaltending. I love Bryzgalov but he's shown no indication that he can steal a series. I'm thinking Hawks in five in what is a great draw for them.

Ducks v Kings

All through the year I looked at the league as follows. The true contenders were Chicago, LA, San Jose, St Louis and Boston. Then you had the Ducks in the next tier.

 Anaheim isn't horrible, they're a solid team for sure but LA is the real deal and now they're rolling. They have great depth up front, I mean the Ducks are no slouches there either, but really they can't match the Kings in overall depth and also in top end talent. The Ducks can roll out Getzlaf and Perry but LA has Kopitar and Carter and Williams and Gaborik and Doughty and okay you get the picture. Plus LA has better goaltending. Plus they are possession monsters while Anaheim are ... not.

 Kudos to the Ducks for winning the division, I thought there was no way they'd hang in there, but this is it for them and it will be quick (HAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAH*gasps*HAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHHA) and painless.

Kings in five.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Round Two



Six and two in the first round, let down by the Avs and Sharks. I mean really let down by the Sharks who I also picked over the Kings last year. Plus I picked enough of them (I had them and Chicago going to the conference final) in my pool that I am already done.

Fack.

So for the first round over nine years I am 53 and 19 which is pretty solid but I looked back at round two and I am a sad 15 and 17. Pretty confident this year I get at least to .500 though. I tend to try and be clever in round two, so none of that 'gut' stuff (looking back at last spring I went with the Sharks in round two because of my gut - dummy) plus really the second round looks pretty straight forward.

First, the east.

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Bruins - Habs

I'm figuring Bruins to represent the east again this year, I know talk about going out in a limb right? They rolled over the Wings pretty easily but I don't think the Habs will be an easy touch. Price could steal the series for them first of all and I think the Habs' speed might give the Bruins problems and I like the Habs' depth as well. A lot of decent players sprinkled everywhere through the lineup. The question is whether or not Therrien can refrain from putting Murray in the lineup if things get rough and tumble, which they will. We're witnessing the extinction of the big slow stay at home Dman these playoffs and Murray is the biggest and slowest of them all (maybe besides Hal Gill). Boston will tear him apart if he gets in there.

 Seriously though is it just me or have we not really seen an acceleration in this the last few months? Teams still look for these guys - Fraser and Gleason for example - but more and more it seems players of that ilk are getting exposed badly. The two aforementioned, Murray, Gill, Matt Greene, Regehr, Brad Stuart. The league is getting faster and faster and if you are a big man who can't skate your time is coming to an end. Its the main reason why I'm looking at Chicago to come out of the west now if they can stay healthy. Unless the Kings can grind everything to a halt (and maybe they can), the Hawks are going to eat Regehr and Greene alive.

 Back to Boston and Montreal. Probably the most fun of any series in this round and I think the Habs have a chance if Price stands on his head but really I think Bruins in six on their way to another berth in the final.

Pens - Rangers

 The Pens have one edge and one only and that's their top end talent but other than that I don't rate them with the Rangers at all. New York has the decided edge in net, on the blueline (where Marc Staal looks to have rebounded by my eye) and in their depth up front. Columbus is a typical little team that could (that is, not very good) and they gave Pittsburgh fits and if Crosby is hurt, which seems to be the consensus, then even the one edge the Pens have shrinks to almost nothing.

 And Fleury? Fleury skates from blame every year it seems but last round he was terrible in a couple of games, again, and he can be counted on being the same this round and that will be enough to cost Pittsburgh the series and probably Dan Bylsma, who I think is an excellent coach, his job. The Rangers are the one club that I think has a shot against the Bruins (though I think they will need injuries on Boston's side as well as some luck) and I think they beat the Pens pretty easily, with Nash tearing it up. He's due.

Rangers in six at most.

West tomorrow.