Sunday, November 16, 2008

Go Figuring

Is there anything scarier than flipping open the Sunday paper to read “Flames Surround Los Angeles”, as is plastered across the top of the Arizona Republic today. Nothing says your town is in deep trouble quite like that…

I think the only thing that would be more terrifying is if “Invading Mongol Hordes” replaced “Flames” in the headline.

Is this the time to make some kind of Anze Kopitar is a pyromaniac werewolf joke? In most cases, yes. Considering how LA is under siege by nature today…maybe not. Still, I do believe that Anze Kopitar is in fact a werewolf, and I’m sticking by that assertion (note the black rings under his eyes, his shaggy appearance, and of course, the fangs). At some point if the Kings continue to flounder I fully expect to see Kopitar naked on the roof of a burning Staples Center swinging a chain while howling.

My point of this whole thing is that despite the schizophrenic play by the Avalanche over the last month, which has left many people (including yours truly) at a loss for words, things could be worse.

After last evening’s spirited 33 save effort from Peter Budaj, he of the shirtless Ned Flanders helmet is again showing enough flash to make a case that he is capable of holding down a starting goalie role in the NHL. The same can be said about Darcy Tucker, who despite his history of cheap and dangerous play has also created an argument that perhaps fans aren’t giving him a fair shake.

T.J. Hensick, not so surprisingly is also becoming comfortable playing in big leagues, which is an encouraging sign that perhaps Tony Granato is capable of using talent within the Avalanche system. This is a nice selling point when trying to discern the differences between Granato and “I fell backwards into a talented franchise in Chicago after getting fired” Joel Quenneville.

All things considered this is an Avalanche team, which like last season, is continually on the mend and still maturing. Factor in a new coach and there will be struggles. The problem as always is that in a Denver market where even a bad Broncos team will always be the draw, the Avalanche are compelled to push for the playoffs every season just to make payroll. This task is made more challenging by the fact that the organization hasn’t seen anywhere close to an advantageous draft-position since the Quebec days.

If anything this season is begging for a bit of perspective from Avalanche fans, a lowering of standards if you will. This team will surely find its way back into a relevant position. But these things take time. Baby steps…

A few other thoughts on a Sunday

-With Martin Brodeur out for a few months the obvious observation is that Patrick Roy has to be ecstatic that his wins record will take longer to break. As a goalie (and enormous apologist for Roy, who is the greatest goalie of all time) I can’t help but think that Marty’s absence from the game leaves a big hole. In the end sports are thrilling because of competition. Close games are always more fun to watch than blowouts. The Devils are not the same team without Brodeur, and as a fan of the game I can only hope that he returns to hold down the crease in New Jersey for a few more turns.

-The best regular season game I have seen in years occurred this week between the Penguins and Red Wings. Surely it was great to see the Pens come from behind to down the Wings in overtime, but that contest featured everything one could want out of two top-flight clubs. Much has been said for Detroit’s organizational resilience in the post-lockout years, but as Jordan Staal was picking the pocket of Pavel Datsyuk and shoveling the puck for a game winning assist I couldn’t help but yelp in appreciation.

Finally, talent beat Goliath. Youth overcame The System. Progress is a good thing.

-Is Dallas going to make the playoffs? I didn’t think I would be asking this question going into the season, but from the looks of it the Stars don’t have enough cohesion to make the Big Dance.

Much was made of Sean Avery’s transition to the Western Conference but it seems like his inclusion on what was otherwise a strong team may have been a mistake. Dallas already had an agitator in the form of Steve Ott, and what Brett Hull was thinking in bringing Avery over is a mystery. Avery is certainly a master at drawing attention, but in hockey, players who are perceived as self-promoting can be disruptive. Warning bells went off in Dallas after the Boston melee of a couple of weeks ago that had Mike Modano chastising the club from the mountain tops, and the return of Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen don’t seem to have had much of an immediate effect. Should Dallas continue to slide the answer may include the departure of Avery before the trade deadline.

-Poor Barry. After Melrose was let go this week, a mere six weeks into the season, I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. Here is a coach whose previous stint in the bigs had him stalking the bench behind the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille. This time much was made about how inspirational Barry was, and how he brought only the best out of his team. I still believe there is a place for that kind of attitude in coaching. Barry should have been given a longer shot at success coaching a team one season removed from a disastrous campaign, which culminated in the squad tanking in order to win the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes. As I stated above, progress is a good thing, but progress also takes time to gain momentum. The under-performing Lightning and Barry Melrose deserve better.

-Finally, how good is Boston? I keep wondering this, and not only because Tim Thomas has nicely rounded out my otherwise unbeatable stable of goalies on my fantasy team (Lundqvist, Miller, Thomas). Each season there seems to be a team that I keep flipping to when I turn on the teevee. This season I keep landing on Boston. Perhaps it’s fate?

The Bruins are 10-3-4 on the year and are beginning to look not only fortuitous, but also downright stout. Phil Kessel is in the midst of a breakout season, and Marc Savard is pumping away with 19 points in 17 games. Zdeno Chara is crushing people as usual, but the success of this team has to rest on the shoulders of Thomas.

The easy way to tell if a team is good is to look at the two-way play of their forwards, but this is a generic view. The real “tell” of a good hockey team is to watch for confidence in their goaltender. So far this season Thomas appears to have become a patient master of the position. There is absolutely no panic in that man. The Bruins are generating momentum off of this attitude, and for the foreseeable future may make for couple of surprises come playoff time.