Friday, April 18, 2008

Jose, Can You See?

By the time the final horn sounded last night at the Xcel Energy Center, and command of what has been the most brutally contested series in the NHL playoffs was ceded to the Avalanche, there wasn’t much an objective viewer could say outside of “the Wild should have won that game.”

Because really, the Wild should have won that game.

The Avalanche were out-skated, out-shot and out-muscled by a desperate Minnesota team that did everything they could to win. Only they didn’t because of one man, Jose Theodore.


During his tenure with the Avalanche, Theo has been much maligned, and often viewed as the poster child of underachievement in Colorado hockey. In fact, if I went around even two weeks ago and asked Avs fans who they thought should be manning the pipes for the team, Peter Budaj would have been the most popular answer.

Whether it was his disqualification from the Olympics because he was rung up, for all things, using Propecia, or his short-lived relationship with Paris Hilton, or his penchant for allowing four goals a game. Theo was a train wreck and just didn’t measure up to the standard imposed by Patrick Roy. Maybe Avalanche fans really are that spoiled that we won’t allow a goalie to be considered good until he wins three Conn Smythe Trophy’s while fighting Mike Vernon at center ice.

Shoot, I speak for a fan base who somehow managed to convince themselves that David Aebischer was the next great Colorado goalie out of desperation to fill the gaping void left by St. Patrick. And truly, I was not a fan of Theodore until as recently as the All Star Break when some how, some way, he started stopping pucks and the Avalanche started winning. He just couldn't get anything right.

Going into this season Theo was viewed as an anchor; he was dead weight. He was as useful as a box of well, hair. His contract was killing the team, and essentially prevented the Avalanche from acquiring the veteran talent necessary to actually make the playoffs. Jose Theodore was the root of all evil.

Yet after last night in a game in which the Avalanche should have packed up and resigned themselves to wishing Joe Sakic a happy retirement, Theo didn’t quit; he didn’t even come close. The man didn’t just stand on his head, he was break dancing! In a performance as good or better than anything Patrick Roy put up in the burgundy and white, the Avs goalie came up with impossible save after impossible save, and not only kept the Avalanche in the series, but probably broke the spirit of Minnesota in the process.

Andrew Brunette, Wojtek Wolski, and finally, miraculously, Paul Stastny all scored important goals. But years from now Colorado fans will be talking about the game when Theo came alive and broke the Wild with a performance that can only be deemed legendary.

Maybe this is the year the Avalanche will their way back into hockey relevance on the back of a crafty former Hart Trophy winner who finally rediscovered his game.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup

Today I thought I’d throw out, as Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post would say, some “thoughts, myths and half-truths” about the goings on in hockey that don’t involve Ian Laperriere either being put on a pedestal or demonized as a coward. As Dave Foley once said in the Kids in the Hall movie “Brain Candy” Ian is “just a guy”.

It isn’t Lappy’s fault that most of the Minnesota Wild lost control in the last game and essentially put another black eye on the sport. Fortunately most of America was busy watching Master’s highlights…sometimes my country’s utter ignorance of hockey works in positive ways, so that was a close call.

Okay, on with The Show...

-It never ceases to bother me when a goalie gets hit in the head, as happened to Marty Brodeur last night against the Rangers when Jaromir Jagr skated into the future hall of famer. As a goalie myself I know that very few keepers actually keep their helmets tight to their heads. It allows you to move your head more freely, as well as prop the facemask on your forehead during water breaks. I have been kicked in the head a few times myself while playing and at no time did it ever feel good. Most of the time what happens is you end up with a twisted neck, and the tightness and pain can take months to go away. Even though things look grim for the Devils in the first round, I’m hoping that Marty woke up today able to turn his head.

-This Sean Avery faceguarding thing has taken on a life of its own, as the NHL revised their rules to disallow a player to face a goalie while blocking the keeper’s vision by putting their stick in the goalie’s line of sight. Leave it to Avery to do something cheap and disrespectful that leads to a rules change DURING the playoffs.

If I change the rules in my fantasy hockey league during the season, even to correct a minor discrepancy, I’m usually met with the wrath of nine other people even if the rules change is a good thing. In this case I fully agree with the NHL.

My solution to the Avery problem would have been to dig into the Patrick Roy book of taming forwards and cup checked Avery more than a few times when he wasn’t looking. Note to young keepers everywhere, if a forward does things like faceguarding or slashing you, keep in mind that you are not in a great position to defend yourself every time, and the referees almost never look out for you. So the next time some punk forward decides it would be cool to mess with you in the crease, take matters into your own hands and work over that sucker’s family jewels like they owe you money.

In Avery’s case I doubt many people would be disappointed if he weren’t able to spawn little Sean’s.

-Nashville is all tied up with Detroit, which is making mine and many other writers first round predictions look like bupkis. The Predators, once left for dead by pretty much everyone in hockey this season have shown great resilience, and last night out-skated the Red Wings to make things even at two games apiece. If the Preds are able to bring down the mighty, mighty Red Wings, the only thing that would be better would be an Avalanche trip to the Finals.

-Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that most people in and out of Ottawa are thrilled that the Penguins swept the Sens? Talk about embarrassing. Ray Emery really did a number on that team this season, as Ottawa was many an expert’s pick to again go to the Finals out of the East.

On the flip side the Penguins come out of the series with a ton of momentum and a confident goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. I hate to say it, but outside of the every-other-day street fighting Avs and Wild, the Pens are my favorite team to watch this postseason. They are fast, feisty, and aside from Gary Roberts, young. Unless something happens to slow them down, it would be great to see a Pens-Habs Eastern Conference Final. If the West continues to beat itself up, don’t be surprised if the Penguins dynasty gets an early start.

-Even though this is kind of old news, last night I spent some time staring at, trying to make some sense of long term contracts, as Paul Stastny and others on the Avalanche are due big contracts in the next couple of years.

I found that some long-term contracts like Rick DiPietro’s actually make sense when you stare at them on paper (4.5 mil a year until the year 3000) and some don’t, like Alex Ovechkin’s contract (9 mil a year until the sun goes nova).

At 4.5 million a year, DiPietro’s contract leaves the Isles with a bunch of flexibility in future seasons to build a better team, even if DiPi doesn’t pan out. So that was a good deal, even if at the time everyone thought it was insane. But at 9 million a year, Ovechkin’s contract will essentially take up one-fifth of the Capitals cap room, which will hamstring them for years and make it difficult to build a champion. By signing such a huge contract Alex may have condemned himself to a career in purgatory unless the Caps are able to become better at drafting and attracting free agents who are willing to take cut in pay.

In the case of Stats and the crew in Denver, the conclusion that I have come to is that taking the hit last year and missing the playoffs in order to save some cash may have been the best long term move of any Western Conference team. Especially when you consider the organization's ability to draft solid players in later rounds.

-Tonight’s game between the Avalanche and Wild will be starting at 9pm Eastern, which is a more reasonable time to begin a hockey game. My problem is that major sports sources continue in their belief that the Mountain Time Zone doesn’t exist. East Coast networks think we are all hicks in this part of the country, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t pay us the courtesy of simply typing “7pm MST”.

The last time I checked, “flyover country” was responsible for electing a corrupt moron for a president simply because he paid us the courtesy of at least acting like he appreciates this portion of the nation. So one would think that at some point the right side of the country would give us a bit more respect and post start times in MST or MDT depending on the time of year.

-Finally, I do expect a bit more civility out of the Wild tonight, as they did manage to thoroughly embarrass their home crowd in the last game. It isn’t a good thing when your squad gets blown out, and racks up a team record for penalty minutes. Not surprisingly no suspensions were handed out, so Frenchy Veilleux gets off easy, although it would be nice if justice were served on the ice. I’m not asking that Frenchy get boarded, but I wouldn’t be saddened if he ends up bleeding.

Outside of that I think the simple fact that the Wild lost it’s cool is telling in who will win the series. Surely the Wild are well conditioned, and their depleted defense got an extra day of rest. But the hockey gods will not look kindly upon that squad when it comes time to advance. The Avalanche should come out motivated and once again take an early lead. This time around I expect them to hold on for the win.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fire Starter

Today the big news in Colorado isn’t necessarily the ugly bastardization of the fine game of hockey by the Minnesota Wild, but that we’ve got wildfires a blazin’ south of Denver. It must be that time of year again…the time when the first round of “climate change doesn’t exist” editorials begin to pop up in the news from local Republican business leaders who can not or do not want to adapt to a changing world, so they deny the existence of change entirely.

I mean, it isn’t their fault if people want to keep buying Yukon’s and supporting sprawl…wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Just make sure you wear extra sunblock when you go out today…oh and don’t worry about the “campfire” smell, the government puts that into the air to attract tourists. Also, if you are interested in acquiring sunblock and mesquite car scent they are available on aisle 643 at the Wal Mart, where there’s ample parking available.

To me change is inevitable; it is a fact of life. The strong adapt and the weak are diminished. In the case of the Avalanche their adaptation to playing desperate hockey seems to have taken place about five minutes after their 3-2 OT loss the night before.

Here’s a tip for Joel Quenneville: get your team to score somewhere in the area of three goals a game and the Wild will be finished before the middle of next week.

Otherwise this series will get nastier, despite Peter Forsberg’s post-game theory that the next game might not be so violent. (Forsberg’s post-game quips came as a surprise to me considering he was probably bleeding internally)

You want to gum up the ice and cheap shot anyone not on your team Minnesota? That’s okay; the Avalanche will just outscore you. There lies the problem for the Wild. They simply don’t have the capacity to come back from large deficits, so their response to the Avalanche onslaught last night was to slash, rough or board anything that moved.

If Stephane "Frenchy" Vellieux isn’t suspended by the end of today for leaving his feet while driving Paul Stastny’s head into the boards from behind, that will be the most shocking verdict of the series. Thankfully Paul is already missing his front teeth, so the hit didn’t get bloody. If anything, my only real satisfaction to come out of last night (aside from the Avs posting five goals against an ordinarily stout defense) was to see Derrick Boogaard get run out of the building.

To some the 111 penalty minutes racked up by the Wild came as a surprise, but to this writer it only serves as vindication. What else were we to expect from a team that ices three fighters (Simon, Fedoruk, and Boogaard) as well as a host of muckers and grinders whose mission is to keep shots down and fear in the minds of opponents?

As Ryan Smyth so aptly pointed out after the game, “this is hockey.” There are games like this that happen in the playoffs, with some teams flying off the handle more than others. And during these games there is little else that can be done outside of fighting back, as was shown in the 43 minutes of penalty time accrued by the home team.

Even still, is this the kind of hockey we want to see? In the “New NHL” why is it that some coaches in the West still insist on playing jungle hockey? I understand the notion of parity and how good defense is the best offense. I also agree that this season seemed to be more tightly contested than others due to parity. But what happened last night wasn’t “hockey”. Someone is going to get severely hurt.

If Jacques Lemaire wishes to coach the Charlestown Chiefs and the Hanson Brothers, then let him do so in the ECHL. Just don’t allow him to send any more “messages” as the coach of a team in what is supposed to be the most skilled league in professional hockey.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Punk In Drublic

I know, I know. I promised an in-game blog last night and one didn’t show up. Sorry about that. Fortunately I did manage to remember most of the game from the seats that my friend Bob landed, which were five rows up on the opposing side of the ice across from the Wild bench.

Again, I apologize.

If you looked closely at the left side of the tee-vee screen I could be seen on many occasions taunting the Wild. It was fun. I think I somehow managed to get under the skin of Stephane Veilleux...who I guess doesn't like it when I would point at him as if to say "You're next, Frenchy!" Kim Johnsson doesn't like it either. Sorry about that. Freaking out Swedes is a hobby of mine.

A team that should also be apologizing today is the Colorado Avalanche for otherwise tainting what could have been the best NHL experience of my life. Well, the Avs and the guys in Armani suits who sat behind us and seemed to take issue with the fact that we were shouting the entire game…because you know, people do that sporting events. Thanks for making it out of the office to look at the hockey match, guys!

For the third game in a row the Avalanche held a lead only to give it up, then tie the game, force it into overtime, and for the second time, lose. Awesome.

No really, my head feels like it was kicked a few times after yelling things like “Derrick Boogaard eats children!” So thanks to players like Tyler Arnason and Paul Stastny for once again doing nothing outside of skating around the ice. I was fired up, maybe Peter Forsberg needed to be as excited as I was…

This is getting old.

What is wrong with the Avalanche? Why must a Colorado team with superior talent once again allow themselves to be dragged into muck and grind hockey?

Certainly there were good moments to come out of last night’s contest in which Jacques Lemaire got away with wearing a suit from the Herb Brooks mid-80’s collection. Joe Sakic once again did all he could to keep his team in the game, scoring the tying goal. Jose Theodore make a couple of critical saves on odd man rushes in overtime…before Jeff Finger skated to the wrong side of the cage on what would have been an icing call that instead turned into the game winning goal.

But I don’t get it. This team spent an entire season missing passes, going the wrong direction on breakouts, looking confused in their own zone, while at the same time boasting a great corps of talent.

Even when it seemed like the referees were going to help out the Avs the team almost refused to make smart plays. (On one faceoff the referee actually WINKED at us as if to give us the indication that he was going to slant the drop of the puck…but fortunately Paul Stastny couldn’t manage to dig that gem out. Neat.) Instead of out-skating a team that was obviously playing a conservative road game, the Avalanche skated right into their trap. At times they had the flow and cohesiveness of a lunchtime drop in hockey group at the local rink. That isn’t good.

What is it going to take to get this team to even throw the puck at the net and take advantage of bad bounces? This kind of pretty-all-the-time hockey has been going on for over a decade and it needs to stop.

If this Avalanche team is going to make any sort of Cup run and defeat an under-talented and injured Minnesota squad they must gel and gel now. They have to get mean. They must sacrifice. They must push back when they are pushed, and when necessary resort to junk hockey. Because that is what every other opponent since the inception of the Colorado Avalanche has played. Enough is enough.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if guys like Joe Sakic decide to ride off into the sunset after the team draws the curtain on yet another season in which they underachieved.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Blog With The Swearing

So here I am on a Monday thinking of ways to type faster for my Avs in-game blog that I'm going to crank out tonight, and I come across this little gem by Adrian Dater at the Denver Post.

My response to Dater's rant is this: No Shit?!

I have been complaining for years that crowds at Denver sporting events were becoming subdued, and at times could be confused for library patrons. I think this started some time around when old Mile High Stadium was torn down, Invesco was built, and most die hard fans were priced out of games.

This is not the Colorado sports scene that I grew up around. As early as junior high school I was shouting my head off at losing Broncos teams. This followed through high school when my friends and I would routinely out-shout the cheer squad at Pomona football games. And finally the waning days of my youth were spent, during the the hay days of Colorado football, when no team would dare contend with an orange tossing Folsom field crowd.

In fact, I like to think that I lost my voice shouting at just about every Colorado sporting event over the last 20 years. These teams not only represent me, they represent what many natives here feel is a state that is almost always overlooked by the rest of the nation (unless it is ski season).

So what happened? We have new facilities which accommodate even more people than before, why has going to an Avalanche game become akin to going to Sunday school?

I can blame the wealthy people who have moved into the state over the last 15 years. That is easy. You know, those people who have made it difficult to afford to buy a now overpriced house even in a great market, and like to treat die hard fans at Avs games like leppers. I love those assholes. Maybe I can some day turn into a black leather jacket wearing, trust fund having, retard some day. Oh what fun that would be!

I could go around looking down at families who have dropped hundreds of dollars they don't have to sit in horrible seats at the Can. You know those people, ya rich bastards, the people who made you rich.

But that isn't the complete answer. Maybe the noise makers, the people who made the South Stands at old Mile High a dangerous place, have simply given up and now watch games at home? Maybe since the Avs missed the playoffs last season many of the fair weather fans (Denver isn't short on these people. The Rockies anyone?) just don't care anymore?

Whatever it is I am tired of watching Canadian playoff games where the entire crowd sings the national anthem without help from the singer. I'm sick of staring at Montreal games where fans sing "Ole', ole', ole'", and there is no jumbotron to tell them when to sing. And lastly, I can not take it when I'm watching an Avs/Wild game and rabid Minnesota hockey fans make me actually want to buy a plane ticket, fly out to Minneapolis and experience what it is like to be amongst people who actually know what they are looking at, know how to cheer, and don't stop until the home team scores the winning goal.



Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thoughts on a Sunday

We are a week into the playoffs and fortunately most of my picks are holding up, saving me from feeling shame. Although it looks like the Ducks might not be able to keep up with the Stars. This is okay with me, even though I have a long-standing hatred of the Dallas hockey squadron going back to the days when they moved to Texas from Minneapolis. Which still stands in my mind as the most evil thing to ever happen to American hockey.

Anyways, here are some things that have been running though my mind besides anxiety over the Avs and cheap beer.

-Interesting how Ian Laperierre has been subjugated to the 4th line for the Avs since he beat up Marian Gaborik last week. It is almost like both Joel Quenneville and Jacques Lemaire understood Lappy’s motivation in the incident and aren’t making an issue of his actions, although Gaborik has yet to make a dent in the series.

-Alex Ovechkin is playing like a ringer that the Caps brought down from a higher league for the playoffs; he has that much ability. What makes Alexander the Great’s achievements, like how he was able to single handedly overthrow the Philly defense in scoring the goal of the playoffs the other day, is that his mates aren’t even close to his level. Maybe next year Backstrom can pick up the pace but until then, Alex is an army of one.

-Not that anyone was watching but Tampa Bay won the draft lottery and Steve Stamkos sweepstakes, easing the pain of trading away Brad Richards. Southeast division teams never cease to amaze me, both in their ability to harbor talent (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Staal, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Boyle, Jokinen, etc.) but for their ability, at least in Tampa Bay’s case to tank an entire season in a crappy hockey market in order to horde that talent. Go team!

-Montreal is kicking the beans out of Boston, and for all intents and purposes should sweep the Bruins (I picked them in five games). The best part of the Habs winning is so I can screw with my friend Hippie Nate. You know “that guy” in your fantasy league who doesn’t really know anything about hockey, but has a successful season because of dumb luck and collusion? Well, let’s just say that the farther the Habs go the more I get to see Nate squirm because of his season-long insistence that Montreal was a terrible hockey team. Silly Nate, hockey is for people who actually watch games!

-Here’s a prediction! If Calgary beats San Jose the Western playoffs will come down to two teams, and one of them will be Detroit. The Wings are using up all their turbos against Nashville, and should San Jose lose, that clears their way to the conference finals…unless of course the Flames turn into world-beaters again.

-For the Avalanche to beat Minnesota, they simply have to continue to play the same game they have been playing. The Wild have hit, so the Avs have hit. The Wild have sprinted, so the Avs have sprinted. See a trend? The Avalanche are turning out to be the better team because they played two games in St. Paul where they adjusted to playing Minnesota’s game. Tomorrow when the series starts up again at the Can I’m looking for the Avalanche to take control, as aside from a couple periods in which they played desperate hockey the Wild just don’t have the depth or ability to skate seven games with the Avs.

-One final thought. Is it me or has Marty Brodeur completely forgotten how to play goalie over the last three weeks? Ever since the Devils began to play a more offensive game this season, Marty has seen nearly the same playing time as in the past, only this season he’s had to work harder during those minutes. Once again I’m left to wonder if Brodeur’s career production was truly bolstered by a solid defensive team playing in front of him, and if the “new” Devils offensive bent is leading to a sharp decline in Marty’s production.

Okay gang thanks for reading as you shake off your hangovers, I recommed Gatorade. I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of tomorrow’s Avs/Wild matchup.