Friday, December 16, 2011

Three Things #3

1. This is Ridiculous
If you missed Patrick Kane's shootout goal, which won the game for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night in Minnesota, here it is:

Watch as he nearly stops, then with a combination of body fakes, head fakes, and some of the best hands in the NHL, just toys with Niklas Backstrom. This move was really mean. Doc Emrick is speechless, Eddie Olczyk is trying not to gush over it too much, and Backstrom looks embarassed. 

I don't know why goaltenders don't start employing the sweeping poke-check more often. 

2. My favorite web-series
Web-series, eww. I know. But seriously, check these out. It's's "After Hours". They're funny, and well written, and they make you examine pop-culture a little closer.

The premise is that it's just 4 geeky friends dissecting nerd-culture at a diner after going out. 

Also, if you don't already, check out There's some real entertaining and funny stuff there.

3. Things aren't as bad as they seem in CBJ-land

Much has been made of the Blue Jackets' financial troubles and this season has seen a lousy 9-18-4 record that is good enough for last place, but there is still a sturdy group of people supporting this team.

Look at the attendance for the last seven home games: 16,090 against LA, 15,808 against Vancouver, 18,175 sellout with Boston, 13,852 with Nashville, 14,151 against St. Louis, 16,705 against Buffalo, and 11,629 against Calgary

So you've got low marks in the Calgary and Nashville games, and who knows how they've reached these numbers or how much they're inflated, but for a last place team that's made the playoffs once in ten years, I'd say those attendance figures are commendable. I think people are demonstrating that they do care about their hockey team in this city. I can only imagine how strong the building would be if the Blue Jackets actually put together a consistent winner.

Fact is, this isn't Phoenix where they're lucky if they reach 5 figures. There is interest in this sport after all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Things #2

1. LOLuongo
The Canucks well-paid goalie has had a hard go of it since about Game 3 of last year's finals. He's basically been relegated to backup (though the Canucks haven't said as much, Corey Schneider has started more games) this season, and while he hasn't been bad, he hasn't lived up to his contract or his own reputation. 

Last night Luongo and the red-hot Canucks met the Blue Jackets in Columbus before a respectable 15,800 hockey fans. The Blue Jackets started Steve Mason for the first time in 12 games. (And if Mason's name began with an L, you can bet he'd get the LOL treatment himself).

It was a spirited affair, with stellar goaltending from both sides. Jeff Carter registered his 3rd goal in as many games to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead. Vancouver would have to wait until 11:57 of the third period for the tying goal. The game came down to a shootout where the Blue Jackets have struggled mightily, and Steve Mason has at times looked like a peewee in pads for the first time. 

Surprisingly, the Blue Jackets converted on all 3 shootout attempts. Letestu, Nash, and Wisniewski all buried their move. Each one prettier than the last. Mason only had to make one save and the two points were theirs to keep. 

Some unfortunate microphone placement said more than I ever could
0 for 3 in the shootout? LOLuongo indeed. 

2. Save 'Community'
It was recently announced that while the quirky NBC show hasn't been officially cancelled, it won't be back for the January season and will be replaced by 30 Rock (a fantastic show in its own right) on Thursday nights. It's going on hiatus, as they say in showbiz.

It is a little weird that a show about community college has lasted for more than 2 years. Shouldn't they have earned their AA and be transferring to a bigger, 4 year channel by now? Lame joke aside, NBC needs to know the fans, though small in number, are very loyal to the most clever show on television. 

Community shucks traditional sitcom tropes and casts a large body of strange, but likable characters. They've parodied everything from westerns to Glee, and employ hilarious running gags that get funnier the more times you watch the show. What other show would air a clip show episode of clips that don't actually appear in any other episodes?

Also, Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie bring the smokeshow.

This 30 second clip does a good job of encapsulating the show's sensibility.

Do the right thing, sign the petition. Let NBC know they've "Britta'd" this situation and help save one of the best, most refreshing TV shows in years.

3. Oh good, the NBA's back
That title was sarcastic. I have nothing against people who enjoy the NBA (except the snobs who look down on the NHL from their "basketball is more popular" high horse) and I'm happy for them, and I'm happy for the arena employees who will be able to earn a living this year, but I hate NBA coverage. I specifically hate ESPN's NBA coverage. They're financially interested in pushing the NBA on the general public so they're also interested in making people believe the NBA is something that everyone cares about. It isn't. The other day Sportscenter led off their show with 20 minutes of discussion about a Chris Paul trade to the Lakers that never happened. The nonstop tweeting about it wasn't fun either.

I was enjoying Sportscenter this fall when the Top 10 wasn't inundated with lame dunk highlights, and when the news staff and anchors actually had to go back to covering hockey. As soon as the NBA season starts I'm done with ESPN for good. 

For others like me tired by the "Worldwide Leader", Versus, soon to be NBC Sports Network, has a daily show on at 6 called NBC Sports Talk that is FANTASTIC. I can't stress enough how good it is. It feels the way Sportscenter used to in the 90's before they became Disney-owned and self-interested. Watch it, it's great. 

That's Three Things.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Three Things #1

1 Where the Bengals lost to Houston. 
The Bengals lost to the Houston Texans 20-19 despite facing Houston's third string quarterback, leading at halftime 16-3, and leading 19-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Most people would point to the TJ Yates to Kevin Walter touchdown pass with 2 seconds left that lost the game, but there was a moment in the third quarter where the Bengals could've easily put away the game and literally botched it.

Arian Foster fumbled on Houston's own 20. Geno Atkins recovered and returned it the 10, but then fumbled it himself. With two Bengals converging on the now loose ball, one of which has been identified as Reggie Nelson, both tried to pick up and run with the ball rather than falling on it like they teach you in Pop Warner. The two Bengals knocked the ball away from one another and into the arms of a Houston Texan.

So deep in Houston territory, at worst it would've given the Bengals a field goal and a 12 point lead. At best, a touchdown and a 16 point lead.

2 The Bengals playoff Chances May be Sunk.
That measily one point may end up keeping the Bengals from playing in the postseason. A win would've given them an 8-5 record instead of the 7-6 mark they now sport.

The loss dropped them 1 game back of a playoff spot with three to play. It'll likely require victories in the last 3 games to get to 10-6 if they want to make the playoffs. Even then they'll probably need some help with losses by the Jets, Titans, and Raiders.

The last three games consist of a road battle against the hapless Rams and then two home dates with the Cardinals and Ravens. 3-0 in those three games is entirely possible, but you never know in the NFL. The Rams beat New Orleans earlier this season, the Cardinals are 6-1 in their last 7, and the Ravens are the Ravens (though by week 17 they could be resting starters).

The Bengals have never finished strong in the Marvin Lewis era, and they're 1-4 in their last 5. At this point I'm not even confident they'll finish above 8-8.

3. Standard Weekend for the Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets went 0-1-1 on Thursday and Saturday nights. On Thursday it looked like they were gonna cruise to a 3-1 victory over rival Nashville. That is, until they went into Scott Arniel's awesome prevent defense. The Predators cut the deficit to 1 with a goal with 1:25 left in the game. Sammy Pahlsson took a penalty that can only be described as stupid, and Nashville tied the game with 12 seconds left. Before the Blue Jackets could settle themselves into overtime, the Preds ended it with a Colin Wilson goal. A two point W turned into 1 point L in the span of about 5 minutes.

On Saturday, before a packed Nationwide Arena the Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the defending Stanley Cup champions. Boston scored twice within a minute just before the first period ended. Zdeno Chara then gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead with one of his hyperspeed slapshots. Then this happened:

Not only was Derek Dorsett injured, which is a shame because he's been on fire lately, playing the best hockey of his career, but they also called him for goaltender interference. Let me point out that he was the puck carrier, Tim Thomas iniated contact, AND Thomas was out of the crease. It's the worst call I've ever seen in 24 years of watching hockey. In that clip you can hear Boston's Jack Edwards. Edwards is notorious for his homerrific play-by-play tendencies so if Jack Edwards thought it was a bad call, it's a horrible call.

RJ Umberger evened the game at 3 late in the 2nd, but Boston would net 2 goals in the third for a 5-3 win. It was a wild raucous energy in the building which made for a fun night, but it was not a fun outcome.

The Blue Jackets can play with the NHL's best, but it's hard when they hurt themselves by not controlling better in-game momentum swings, and when the officials so consistently favor the other side.

That's  three things.

Three Things

Despite becoming less active with my blogging in recent months, traffic has increased. I think this means people are clamoring for me and that I'm going to have to start writing more often.

So new segment: every few days I'm going to write about three things that I think are funny, bother me, or needs to be discussed, but don't feel are worth my usual term-paper like scope.

The three things will most likely fall within the realm of sports, but don't be surprised to see some movies, TV shows, food, or anything else come up in the discussion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Realignment is Great News for the Columbus Blue Jackets

A year ago (Happy 1 year Birthday Sports Hate Me!) I wrote a piece about how the NHL should realign their current conference structure (found here: Realigning Hockey). Putting it briefly, it outlined that the NHL doesn't really need divisions when the NHL postseason is determined by conference standings. Last night, the National Hockey League's BOG of governors proposed, and member teams voted 26 in favor, and four in disapproval, a realignment plan that is absolutely nothing like the one I drew up 13 months ago. 

This isn't to say that I'm not pleased with the new alignment. Staying in the old system could've proven a death penalty for a struggling franchise in Columbus whose position in the strong Western Conference has been a huge obstacle.

2/15's of the obstacle

When realignment discussions began last year, we were all concerned the league would do the impractical thing and appease Detroit at the expense of the Blue Jackets by sending them to the Eastern Conference to take Atlanta's place. Thankfully this didn't happen and a more fair compromise appears to have been struck. 

The new system will level the playing field in terms of travel, will bring every NHL team to Columbus at least once a year, will spice up the already fantastic playoffs by guaranteeing playoff rivalry matchups, and will greatly reduce the number of games played in the western time zone. 

Here's how the new setup will work:

- Instead of two conferences with three divisions of five teams, we now have four conferences, two with 8 teams and two of seven teams. 

- The top 4 in each conference will make the postseason. The first two rounds will be played within each team's conference. The #1 seed plays the #4 seed, the #2 seed will play the #3 seed, and the winners will meet in the second round for the conference championship. After the second round the final four teams will be reseeded based on regular season records. 

- In addition to shuffling the divisional lineups, the schedule also underwent a complete overhaul. This alignment plan allows for a balanced slate. The new schedule has every team playing every other team at least twice every year, once at home and once on the road. This means that every NHL team will play in every NHL city every year. This isn't the case right now - Pittsburgh, for example, won't visit Columbus this year. 

- In the seven-team Conferences, teams would play six times -- three home, three away -- for a total of 36 inter-division games. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis -- for a total of 38 inter-division games. 

- The teams in the seven-team Conferences will have 46 out-of-conference games, including 23 at home and 23 on the road. The teams in the eight-team Conferences will have 44 out-of-conference games evenly split between home and away.

In the end, this will make things more fair than it is now. In past years worse teams have beaten out stronger teams for the playoffs by virtue of playing in a weak division. That can't happen in the new system. 

- The new conferences will shake down like this: 

CONFERENCE A: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver

CONFERENCE B: Chicago, COLUMBUS, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg

CONFERENCE C:  Boston, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto

CONFERENCE D: Carolina, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

- other than the curious pairing of  Tampa/Florida with their five Northeastern conference mates, that's a solid compromise for everyone. Rivalries were maintained and geography was a top priority in forming the new conferences. The Central division remained completely intact and added 2 great hockey cities in Winnipeg and St. Paul/Minneapolis. They also added Dallas, which has proven themselves as a hockey supportive city in times of success. 

3 Reasons this is Great for the Blue Jackets

- Less travel. 
The current schedule means the Blue Jackets have two swings to Western Canada to play in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. And two swings to California to play in Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. The new schedule cuts the number of trips in half, which also cuts travel expenses  to Western Canada and California in half. 

Less travel is also easier on a hockey team and the Blue Jackets, currently the Eastern-most team in the Western Conference, were traveling more than any other NHL club, a tremendous competitive disadvantage.

Speaking of competitive disadvantages, the home-and-home series mean the teams in the Eastern Conference will actually have to travel more than they currently do, which evens things up with their brothers in the midwest. 

- Making the playoffs will be easier. 
The Blue Jackets have had to deal with a strong Western Conference ever since joining the NHL in 2000, only cracking the top 8 once. In the new system their chances of reaching the playoffs actually dropped to a nice, round 50%. That said, beating out Minnesota, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Dallas, and Nashville for one of the two last spots (We're gonna go ahead and pencil in Chicago and Detroit for the #1 and #2 seeds for the rest of forever) seems far less daunting than beating out 11 other teams for the final 4 spots in the West. It won't be "easy", but it won't be nearly as hard as it currently is.

Bonus: Now I finally have a reason to hate Winnipeg, Manitoba. Did I say Winnipeg? I meant Loserpeg! FOLKS!

Winnipeg, Manitoba. Look at em, they're just sitting there.

- Every team will play in Columbus every year. 
One, this means that the superstars in the NHL will be at Nationwide Arena at least once every year. That means Ovechkin, Stamkos, Crosby, Seguin, Kessell, the Stalls, Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, etc will get to be seen by central Ohio hockey fans. 

Two, and I hate to say it, but being invaded by Penguins fans once a year is good for the Blue Jackets' wallets. The game last year when we were outnumbered by Pittsburghers was the most embarrassed I've been as a Blue Jackets fan (and that's saying something! huyuck), but it was a sell-out. It's good for the city if fans from other cities come to the games, spend money on tickets, spend money on hotels, in restaurants, bars, and stores. 

With Columbus being the centrally located city it is, and with its population boom, it is easy to get to and is home to many displaced and relocated hockey fans who can now be guaranteed that they'll get to see their team live once a year. It can only be good for Columbus and the Blue Jackets if more teams come through Nationwide Arena every year. 

There's no perfect solution, but this is a solid compromise that appeases the teams who suffered under the current alignment and doesn't do much to alienate the beneficiaries of the old model. It's no Sean McCarthy plan (*winking emoticon*), but it looks like it will be the system the league operates under for years to come, and I'm more than okay with that. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stacked To The MAC

At halftime of last night's MAC Championship game I scrolled through the boisterous (and wildly premature) victory tweets and facebook status updates of my large and incredibly attractive network of Ohio University friends and colleagues. Reading these, a thought ever so briefly rolled through my OU-educated head, "We haven't won yet, guys.", but then I shooed that notion away and instead thought about how I would've partied this moment if I was still in college in Athens, Ohio.

Then I did this.
It's customary to leave at halftime of OU games after the Marching 110's performed. Not everybody exits Peden Stadium, but a large majority of the students who started the game, will not be in their seats for the second half. Nobody's quite sure when this started, but it's a real phenomenon. Maybe it began with all the years of god-awful Ohio U football teams when the only reason to go to the games was to see the fantastic marching band (link to party rock anthem). Maybe it's because MAC games are often broadcast during the middle of the week and students are trying to get a jump on the nightlight in Athens where every night is a party. Whatever it is, this is noted and accepted behavior. 

It's possible that the Bobcats football team followed Blotto's lead and the lead of the student body because the team didn't show up in the second half either. The first half Bobcats played with an angry edge. They were underdogs to Northern Illinois and played with confidence and poise. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton and wideout Levon Brazill couldn't go wrong and by the end of the first two quarters OU held a 20-0 lead. Northern Illinois couldn't stop turning the ball over and it looked like the Bobcats were going to stroll to their first conference championship since 1968. 

The second half Bobcats did not resemble the one who decidedly claimed the MAC East title weeks earlier, or the first half team that, out of the blocks, dumptrucked the MAC West champion.

They gave up a touchdown on Northern Illinois' first possession of the second half. Levon Brazill dropped a touchdown ball that would've extended the lead to 27-7 at the time. Matt Weller, so many times the hero on the season, pushed the ball wide right on that possession's field goal attempt. OU failed to score in the second half and watched as mistakes, turnovers, defensive lapses, and to their credit, Northern Illinois' adjustments wittled away their precious lead. With 8 minutes left and a 20-13 lead, Tyler Tettleton was picked off at the 50 on a spectacular catch by a Husky defensive back. With 4 minutes left NIU tied the game, then the OU players and fans (of which my younger sister was apart of) were forced to watch the Huskies celebrate as the game winning field goal cleared the uprights as time expired. 

It was one of the most spectacular choke-jobs I've ever seen. It's the kind of choke-job that you can see happening. Everyone in the stadium knows it's happening, including the team it's happening to, which makes it even worse. There's good momentum, but there's also bad momentum, and in the second half OU couldn't stop the snowball of bad momentum.

When you're a fan of a MAC school the best you can hope for is a conference championship and a bowl victory. Last night I watched helplessly as a slow motion car accident unfolded in front of me and ripped the former from my and my OU network's grasp. 

It's been a year since The Sports Weekend From Hell. Maybe there's something about this particular date on the calendar. 

Sports Hate Me, but at least us Bobcats can still be proud of one thing: The 2010-2011 National Partying Championship. I'll drink to that. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jeff Carter's Worth: More Than Goals

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager, Scott Howson, aka "Roster Ninja", made the biggest acquisition in franchise history in late June when he traded the team's first round pick from 2007 (promising youngster Jake Voracek) and the team's 2011 first round pick (which eventually became Sean Couturier out of the QMJHL) to Philadelphia for the Flyers' all-star center, Jeff Carter.

He previously understudied for  N*sync
The Carter trade signaled a shift in attitude for a franchise desperate to win now and that's what Jeff Carter brings, the ability to win now. Carter's averaged goals in the mid 30's over the last 4 seasons, including 46 in 2008-2009 (Read: good). There's no question that he'll score goals for the Blue Jackets, but his ability brings so much more than just basic point production. Here's several reasons why Carter's presence makes the Blue Jackets an instantly better team. 

Rick Nash
The words, "Imagine how great he could be if they could just get him some help" have followed Rick Nash for his entire career. Nash is one of the league's premier talents, but one player can not carry a team in the National Hockey League. With constant double teams, and game-plans centered around him, Nash has been left on an island for all 8 years he's been in the league. 

Playing Carter at center with Nash on the wing essentially forces teams to pick their poison when game-planning for the Blue Jackets. Do you focus on the massive power forward in Nash or do you focus on the smooth skating centerman with one of the game's nastiest wrist shots in Carter? Neither is desirable for any opposing defense and both players will benefit from the others presence.

Worst case scenario, Carter and Nash fail to develop any chemistry and the Blue Jackets roll with a 30 goal-scorer on each of their top two lines.

Rick Nash: Mr. Blue Jacket
If Rick Nash is anything like me, then he jumped on his bed and threw out a few hearty fist pumps upon hearing the news of Jeff Carter's acquisition. Carter will allow Nash to finally realize his true potential. 

Ryan Johansen
Ryan Johansen of the Portland Winterhawks was taken 4th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2010 draft. He's a big kid with the ability to take over games by himself and a knack for putting the puck in the net. He potted 40 goals in 63 games with Portland in the WHL a year ago, was one of the best players at the World Juniors, and has a high ceiling. (Read: good) He is the future of the franchise.

Johansen is too young by rule to play for the Blue Jackets' minor league affiliate in Springfield, but he may be too advanced to go back to dominating juniors, and there's always concern about pushing a guy into the NHL before he's ready. It's a tricky situation, or at least, it would've been in the past.

By scouts' accounts, the Blue Jackets have another Nash/Carter waiting in the wings
Blue Jackets fans are weary of rushing prospects to the big team. We've seen that movie before. The tale of Gilbert Brule still resonates worry amongst the Union Blue faithful, but Brule's sad-sack story of NHL potential soured by playing in the league long before he was ready will be different from the scenario that Johansen faces. 

Brule was hurried to the NHL by former General Manager Doug Maclean (one day I'll write a piece about the damage Maclean did to the franchise, and my so-called "Florida Panthers Theory"). He was forced to play second line minutes and against second line talent. It swallowed him up and killed his confidence. He never reached his advertised potential or returned to the player he was in juniors. The teams Brule played with didn't have the depth that the current group has and Brule was made to play above his head. 

Jeff Carter allows centerman Derrick Brassard (who's been playing over his own head the last few years) to move to the second line. Brassard on the second line allows the team to play Johansen in a minor role as a third or fourth line center meaning the Blue Jackets can ease him into the NHL. If he proves he's capable they can move Johansen up and give him more ice time. It's really the ideal situation for a young player of Johansen's caliber and similar to the model Boston used last year when breaking in Tyler Seguin.

The Power Play
Scott Howson also went out and signed free agent defenseman James Wisniewski who showed last season his prowess as a power play quarterback. This will benefit the club as Carter is adept at burying chances set up by others. 

The power play was a serious problem last year for the Jackets as they finished 29th in power play percentage converting on just 14% of their man-up opportunities (Read: bad). Sidenote: As point of reference, Vancouver with the #1 PP unit scored on 24.4% of their powerplays. 

Jeff Carter and Wisniewski will make the power play more dangerous. This means more goals, but it also brings up positive side-effects that come with having a deadly powerplay unit. If teams are fearful of going a man-down they'll be more careful about committing penalties. Expect cheap shots and violent hits against the Blue Jackets to decrease in 2011-2012 and expect the offense to be given slightly more space to operate. Even when playing 5-on-5 the threat of a dangerous power play keeps teams from bearing down defensively and opens everything up.

The Defense/Steve Mason
This one is pretty simple, Jeff Carter is a decent two-way player and he back-checks and plays defense. Even more though, Carter means the Blue Jackets will possess the puck more, which means they won't have to play defense as often. This means Steve Mason will see fewer shots and give up fewer goals. It's a team sport, everybody wins. 

Jeff Carter brings point production and offensive credibility to a team that has lacked it for going on 11 years now, but he also elevates the entire team by simply being who he is and wearing a Blue Jackets sweater. Combine "Tha Carter 7" (I'm hoping this Lil Wayne inspired nickname catches on) with the rest of the NHL pickups by Howson this offseason and this is on paper the best team the Columbus Blue Jackets have ever iced. 2011-2012 will be a good year for playoff starved hockey fans in Columbus. 

I don't know about you, but I can't wait. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Revisiting "The Sandlot"

The Sandlot is a movie made in the early 90's about kids in the early 60's trying to retrieve a Babe Ruth baseball from the early 30's.

It is, by all accounts, a modern classic that managed to capture the spirit of summer, youth, baseball's golden age, and the imagination possessed by all 12 year old boys. This movie delivered us some of the best character names of all time - "Benny the Jet", "Smalls", "Squints", "Ham", "Timmy and Tommy Timmons", and "Yeah Yeah". Without exaggeration, I've easily seen it 100 times.

They made a straight-to-video sequel years later, but we all agreed as a country not to talk about it.

The Sandlot represented a time when giant vacant lots could be used as makeshift ball fields for adolescent kids. If it weren't for all the racial tension, intolerance, social inequality, and still largely primitive healthcare, I 'd say the early 60's would be a good time to go back to.

That said, here's 5 things that have always bugged me about this movie:

5. Benny blows up a baseball/hits the ball directly into Smalls' glove
In the first scene when Smalls is accepted onto the team Benny seemingly teaches him all the rules of baseball by telling him to hold his glove in the air and then hitting a perfect ball from home plate to left field that lands in Smalls' outstretched glove. After that Smalls fits in and is just as good at baseball as the other guys who have played together for years. That could happen in theory, but it's highly improbable. 

What's impossible is what Benny does later. Facing pitches at the plate, he connects with one, completely blowing the cover off and turning the ball into a bundle of yarn. That has literally never happened, ever, and this 7th grader just did it.

I get that Benny is good at baseball, but there's no need to make him magically good at baseball.

He was still the coolest kid ever, though.

4. Benny the Jet Steals Home
- Spoiler: Benny the Jet Rodriquez makes it to the big leagues and plays for the hometown Dodgers. That's a no brainer. I mean, he can destroy baseballs with a single swing and accurately hit a stationary target with a ball and bat from 200 feet away.

Additional Spoiler: Smalls grows up to be the Dodgers' play-by-play man, which is almost sacrilegious, considering the role Vin Scully has played as the Dodgers' real life play-by-play man for over a half century. It'd be similar to the Smalls character growing up to be the pope.

In the last scene Benny steals home to win a major league game. I'm not denying the plausibility of this. Benny was pretty fast when he was running from 'The Beast' and exposition throughout the movie has clearly painted him as an excellent baseball player. I'm denying the amount of time it takes him to do it. A major league baseball player can run from one base to the next in 3 seconds or less. By my count, it takes Smalls 8 seconds to call the action from the time Benny leaves 3rd and before he's safe at home.

Benny would've been out by 5 steps. Further aggravating is after he's won the game, Benny turns and gives his buddy in the announcers' booth a cloyingly cheesy thumbs up. Does this mean that every time Benny does anything good on the baseball field he turns around and points his thumb at the grandstand? That's something crazy people would do. Before he stole home Smalls insinuated that Benny's had a long career in the majors. If he's a major league veteran shouldn't he be over giving his boyhood friend a thumbs up anytime something good happens?

"Smalls, I've grown a moustache since we were kids"
3. Smalls' fishing hat at the end of the movie
- Also in the last scene, Smalls is shown in the Dodgers broadcasters booth. We know we're looking at grown up Smalls because he's wearing the goofy fishing hat that he was wearing at the beginning of the movie. You know, the hat he wore as a 12 year old for all of one scene?

This hat
A. Who keeps any article of clothing they had when they were 12? Who would even want to keep anything they wore when they were 12? Do you remember what you wore when you were 12? Are you still wearing it? Of course you're not.

B. The hat doesn't even fit and does he wear it every game? If so, he's probably the topic of conversation amongst his coworkers when he's not around and the conversation is, "what the f*ck is with that stupid fish hat he's always wearing? Have you seen it? It's 30 years old, at least, and it doesn't even fit his head!"

C. I realize this is the director's way of explaining who we're looking at, but a name-plate on a desk, one line of introductory dialogue ("I'm Scott Smalls and you're listening to the home of the Dodgers"), and the problem is solved without making Smalls look like a 40 year old werido.

2. The Night Game
- On the 4th of July all the kids get together because the fireworks provide enough light for them to play a night game so they can "feel like big leaguers". There's a few flaws with this. One, have you ever seen a fireworks show longer than 20 minutes? Red, White and Boom in Columbus is massive and I can't remember that lasting longer than a half hour. 20 minutes isn't long enough to play 2 innings, but apparently this small town neighborhood fireworks show has the pyrotechnic budget of U2.

Second, fireworks, even during big finales do not provide enough light to play baseball. Go outside tonight, turn on your backyard spotlight, throw a baseball in the air and try not to run away screaming once you lose it in the sky. That's what playing baseball by fireworks light would be like. Fireworks shows have breaks in the action where nothing is happening. Trying to play baseball during a fireworks show would be like trying to play baseball with a strobe light.

1. The Puke Scene
- To celebrate their trip to the neighborhood carnival all the boys take a hunk of Big Chief chewing tobacco and then proceed to hop on the Tilt-a-Whirl. This results in every single one of them puking not only on themselves, but all over innoncent victims below the ride.

My issue with this? It's not that 12 year olds were dipping, it's that the ride continues to operate even after they've all ralphed. Have you ever seen someone puke on a ride at an amusement park? They shut the ride down. People run for the hills screaming. 3 guys in hazmat suits come in and hose it off. If one kid pukes, the ride is immediately stopped. It doesn't continue so 8 more kids can puke.

"Bertram got really into the 60's. Nobody really knows what happened to him."

All that not-withstanding, it's just a movie, a Disney movie at that, a really good Disney movie at that, and it more than makes up for its flaws, but having caught it on TV last night for the first time in awhile, I thought it up to me to document my frustrations. Thanks for listening.

Follow me on twitter @TheUnionBlue for sports coverage or @McSean3 for poop jokes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Coolest Coffee Table in the World

The hockey season doesn't start for another 50 days and I'm bored out of my mind. The Reds are tanking, and the Bengals aren't showing any signs of promise. The Blue Jackets on the other hand are about to ice the best team they've ever had (on paper) and I've never been more excited for NHL hockey in Columbus. So with this extended break in the news cycle, I thought I'd share the story of something I hold near and dear - my coffee table. 

One day, like any other day, I was sitting in my 8th grade study hall doing whatever it is 8th grade boys do (I know it wasn't studying) when I was introduced to something that would go on to have a deep and profound impact on my life - Ms. Ringo's penny hockey board.

Some rules for the uniniated: penny hockey is a children's game in which two players sit at opposite ends of a wooden box made with retaining edges, pegs, and then a penny sized hole at each end. The main objective is to slide a penny into the hole at the opposite end. First to 5 goals, 10 goals, whatever, wins.

As soon as this thing was brought out of the closet every dude in the study hall took to it. We abandoned "Oregon Trail" and penny hockey became our new obsession. We formed the National Penny Hockey Association or NPHA. We had player standings, power rankings, regular seasons, and weekly tournaments. We even had a league commissioner. It was the most fun you could have at school outside field day. (sidenote: remember field day?)

Fast forward 8 years to an older, wiser, fatter, hairier, junior-in-college version of me. I can remember exactly when and where the idea came to me. I was sitting in my History of Oil class (a fascinating class taught by one of Ohio University's best professors. Take it. I promise, you'll thank me) thinking about the Columbus Blue Jackets game from the night before. They had lost at Detroit. It was a particularly aggravating loss because Michael Peca had a chance to score the tying goal late for the Jackets, but missed a wide open net trying to switch from his backhand to his forehand.

It was at that moment that I thought back to my 8th grade study hall and penny hockey. Then it came. My idea hit me like a tidal wave of epiphany. **** - Penny hockey coffee table Blue Jackets! - ****

It was such a perfect idea that it came together almost instantly. I found the board in my parents' crawlspace, old wooden hockey sticks collected over 15 years of youth hockey participation made up the dashers, and my friends at Visionary Signs were kind enough to print my artwork for free.

The finished product looked as good as it did in my head.

It wasn't until I was finished that I even realized this thing had a more practical use - as the basis for a drinking game. I took it back to my house in Athens and it was there that my roommates and I, through much trial and error, developed the rules to "Beer Hockey".

Beer hockey is simple. It's like penny hockey, but everytime you finish a beer you get to place the empty can in front of your goal to use as a defender.  

So thanks, Ms. Ringo, for your penny hockey table, for letting us play with it instead of studying in study hall, for giving me the idea for the coolest coffee table ever built, and for giving me something to write about in the middle of the slowest month on the sports calendar. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cincinnati (F)Reds

The "Freds" is a nickname my father has long used to refer to our household's favorite Major League Baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds. "Freds" simply means, "Fu*king Reds" and it's usually accompanied by at least four exclamation points sometimes while smashing a wooden hockey stick on a basketball pole in the backyard after Roy Halladay no-hits them in their first playoff game since 1995. That may or may not have happened.

Or it could stand as an expression on the name Fred and that people and characters named Fred tend to be bumbling dufuses. See: Fred Flintstone. I prefer "Fu*king Reds", but that's the beauty in the nickname. It can exist as clean or dirty at the same time.
Just like Fred Flintstone. Wilma!!

It's applicable for any situation in which the Reds manage to botch a game or it can be used to generalize a long grueling season, which up until last year was most of them. It works in any instance. "What time do the Freds lose today?", or "Who are the Freds losing to today?" or in twitter-speak, "I hate Francisco Cordero so much!!!!! #FReds".

2010 was a mostly Fred-free season. The team won games in every fashion and a magical presence seemed to permeate the locker-room. See: Jay Bruce's walkoff home run to clinch the division in October. That doesn't happen without some Harry Potter voodoo. This year that magic has inexplicably fallen on teams like the Pirates and the Indians. The Reds are dried out.
Maybe we spent it all?

The 2011 Reds, despite a nearly identical roster to 2010, lack that little extra indescribable quality that makes winning baseball teams winning baseball teams. So here we are, Freds again. 50-53 on the season and with the expectations placed on this team in spring training and with the cooky ways they've found to lose games, this may the Freddiest Reds team I've ever seen.

The good news is that there's ten weeks left in the season and the Redlegs are only 5 games out of first place. The National League Central is easily the worst division in baseball and we Reds fans should feel fortunate we're not in the East or West where we'd be a combined 93 games out to the Phillies and Giants (math may be inaccurate). Look at the NFL team Cincinnati has to look forward to and you'll see why we need the Reds to carry us to October.

5 games? Larger deficits have been overcome in shorter amounts of time by dozens of teams. We keep telling ourselves that they haven't played to their potential, that the 2010 Reds are going to show up any week now, that the starters are going to start going later, that the relievers are going to stop blowing leads, that the lineup is going to start delivering with runners in scoring position. The Brewers aren't that good, that the Cardinals lack bullpen, that Larussa is a maniac who does more harm than good, that the Pirates are gonna come back down to earth. That the Reds should waltz to the division title by default.

We keep telling ourselves those things, but it's late July and they're not here yet. Maybe this is our team. Maybe it's not going to get better. Maybe this year we're just back to being the "Freds".

Tell me I'm wrong.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Will he touch it?"

With Vancouver up 3 games to 1 on San Jose and Boston leading Tampa Bay 3-2 the yearly question arises, will the captain of either team pick up the conference championship trophy? This year that decision will likely fall on Henrik Sedin of the Canucks and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, but does evidence show that maybe they should embrace the moment and dance with the Clarence Campbell Bowl or Prince of Wales Trophy?

Here's a chart

Teams that refuse to touch the conference championship trophy are 5-6 in the finals. In years when one team picks up the trophy and the other doesn't, the team that celebrated with the trophy is 4-3. I'd embrace the moment and party with the trophy while I had the chance. Carpe diem. Seize the trophy.

Updated: Neither Henrik Sedin or Zdeno Chara picked up their respective conference trophy. Taking a page from the 2006 Hurricanes, the Bruins took a team picture surrounding the Prince of Wales Trophy, but not a single player touched it. Incidentally, both captains are European. Meaning, for just the second time ever a European captain will lift the Stanley Cup. Nik Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings was the first.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Columbus Blue Jackets Alternate Uniform Project

About a year ago when I heard the Blue Jackets were going to add an alternate jersey I became obsessed with the idea that the team would finally implement a primary logo using civil war soldier imagery in reference to their namesake. Instead of studying or reading or doing anything vaguely related to college schoolwork I spent an inordinate amount of time drawing an alternate logo for my favorite hockey team. Somehow I still ended up graduating. On time too. Go Bobcats!

This is that logo
          The 'C' stands for "Columbus"

For the record, his name is "Sgt. Atticus McArthur". If I were a Civil War buff, he'd be named after someone real, probably someone who actually had some historical influence and relevance to Columbus or Ohio, at the very least. Instead, he's named after a guy I made up.
Now that I look at it, I'm not going to pretend that I think this could've adorned the Blue Jackets' sweaters. I couldn't even figure out a good way to illustrate his eyes so I just let the cap cover them. One thing I am proud of though is that the left side of his face, minus the nose, is intentionally supposed to vaguely resemble the state of Ohio. It's one of those little subtle nuances that artists put into their work. This one is so subtle that it has to be pointed out to everyone.

I'm realistic about this now, but at the time, however, I had a horrible case of delusion. Delusions of grandeur, as they say. I imagined sharing the design with the internet, someone with the team catching wind of it and then showing it to CBJ brass. They'd say, "We love your design, and we'd like the team to wear it. Here's a 100 grand and the rights to all merchandise royalties. Also, we need a 5'10 left winger, how'd you like to suit up? We're playing Detroit tonight and we'd like you to whack Todd Bertuzzi in the face with your stick." 

Incredibly, the scenario didn't play out that way and like geocities or myspace, my designs were lost to the internet. Instead this is what the team went with: 

They hired a pro who ripped a soccer crest and stripped the uniform of red. But I spent a lot of time on my work and I'd like to share them. So here they are. (click to expand)

This was inspired by the Team USA jerseys and large block letters on the front of jerseys have been in vogue in the NHL recently.

Which would you prefer? What they actually went with, or mine? I guess I'd choose what they actually went with, but I'm self-disparaging that way.

And because I recently met someone who didn't believe that I used to play hockey, here's a picture of me playing hockey.

Whenever I tell people from small backwoods/hilljack towns that I played hockey they act like I told them that I walked on the moon or that I used to live in the white house. They're even more surprised to learn that my high school had an actual varsity ice hockey team. One day, this time of year will be filled with Blue Jackets playoff articles, but for right now, this will have to do. Thanks for reading.

Promising Start Turns Sour: The Story of the 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets

I got a text at 3:30 from some college buddies saying they wanted to go to the game that night. I told them I’d meet them downtown so we could get in together. It wasn’t until 6:45 when I was told they hadn’t left Athens until 5:45. Athens is an hour and a half from Columbus. The puck drop was scheduled for 7:06 pm. They didn’t make it.

I found myself alone, downtown, wearing the new Columbus Blue Jackets third jersey. I must’ve looked lonely because a scalper zoned in on me like I was a prize buck.

“Yeah, where’s the seat?”
“Four rows behind Steve Mason”
“how much?”
“uhh, $40?”
(inner monologue: Sean, you’re not in college anymore. You have a job. YES! Say yes) “uhhhh, yeeeee...sold”

Not bad for $40 scalp, eh?

By the time I walked into Nationwide Arena the game was already five minutes old and the Blue Jackets trailed the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0. I took my lonely ticket and sat with families and friends that I didn’t know. “Great, I’m the biggest loser in the arena and the Jackets are going to get blown out.” Fast forward to the third period and the Blue Jackets hold five unanswered goals, rookie Matt Calvert beams with only the second rookie hat trick in CBJ history, I charmed the guys around me, and the crowd is raucous. Raucous like the crowds of seasons 1, 2, and 3 before Columbus became jaded and tired of watching a lousy team.

The crowd was thirsty. Thirsty for more games like this one, thirsty for action in the Stanley Cup playoffs that seemingly every other fanbase gets to experience. It was a playoff atmosphere and the ‘W’ moved the Blue Jackets to within two points of only their second playoff berth. It was the best game I’d been to all season, and I went alone on a day when I had no intentions of watching NHL hockey. The best experiences are always the ones you don’t plan.

After the game the Jackets embarked on a road trip that we all knew would go a long way to determine their playoff fortunes. They went 0-3-2, and the negative momentum dropped them out of the hunt. They missed the playoffs for the ninth time in ten years.

The team jumped out to their best start ever. A 14-6 mark that gave a 96% chance of making the playoffs. Through all past NHL situations, and 1000 simulations, 96% of the teams who started 14-6 made the playoffs. We were the 4%. On the last day of November the Jackets played a home game against the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference. We lost. A promising start turns sour can basically sum up the story of the 10 year history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

- November 17-20, 2010 California Sweep. Early in the season the Blue Jackets went out west and swept California for the first time. They took 3 games from the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks in a 4 day span. Rick Nash potted a hat-trick in the final game in San Jose. All three California teams qualified for the post-season, which incidentally is more playoffs teams than Canada had. 

- November 10, 2010 “Soccer-gate”. A lot of NHL teams warm up before the games by kicking a soccer ball in the tunnel under the stands. Blue Jackets alternate captain, RJ Umberger, started an altercation with the St. Louis Blues who he felt were too close to the Jackets’ locker-room. It almost came to blows before security broke it up. Umberger showed pride for the franchise that so many fans yearn for and the team backed him up by thumping the Blues 8-1.

- February 25, 2011 Aforementioned game against Phoenix. Matt Calvert scored a natural hat trick and the Blue Jackets came up big against a playoff team in a game they needed to win. It marked the 8th win in the last ten games and those two points put the CBJ back into the playoff mix.

- February 8, 2011 4-1 win in Pittsburgh. Small revenge for the December game in Columbus.

- December 4, 2010. "The Penguins Game". An estimated 10,000 Penguins showed up to watch their team play at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately for Blue Jackets fans, Nationwide Arena is in Columbus. It was bad enough that the Penguins fans took over the arena, but the Blue Jackets didn't show up either, losing 7-2. It was made even worse by the Penguins fans behavior who were the most obnoxious, boorish, drunk idiot visiting fans I've ever had to deal with. It's easily the worst game I can remember in ten years of going to Blue Jackets games.

- February 27 - March 7, 2011 "The Road Trip". The Jackets left for the last big road trip of the season with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten and two points out of a playoff spot. They returned with an 0-3-2 record on the trip recording two out of a possible ten points. It started with a third period collapse against Nashville (where they've lost 17 straight games), a shootout loss in Vancouver, a 4-2 loss in Edmonton (the worst team in the NHL), a 4-3 loss in Calgary, and a shootout loss in St. Louis. The 5 game roadie killed any momentum they had and delivered the blow that pretty much ended any chance of a playoff visit. 

Rick Nash 
This basically by default, but Nash is one of the best players in the world. He scored 32 goals, 34 assists for 66 points on the season and was a +2, a rarity in Columbus. All of that done with little to no help. This sounds like a broken record, but if the organization can find Nash a number one center, he'll reach his potential. Let's hope that happens before Nash runs out of prime years. He's 26 right now, but if he hangs on a little while longer, first round pick Ryan Johannsen should be in the NHL next few seasons and he has the skill to deliver the puck to Rick. 

Honorable Mention
RJ Umberger

Bright Spots
Matt Calvert 
Calvert showed signs of promise in his half season with the big club. He scored 11 goals with 9 assists. Calvert has the potential to develop into a top 6 forward. At the very least, he'll be a capable third liner in the NHL. 

Grant Clitsome
That's his real name. Clitsome came up mid season from Springfield of the AHL and instantly provided help on the blue line and showed signs of being that puck moving defenseman that every team is looking for. Clitsome had 19 points in 31 games, and was +2. All solid numbers for a defenseman, plus his name is Clitsome. His work on the power play is encouraging for a power play unit that ranked 29th in the league. Try to guess his nickname in the locker-room.

Scott Arniel
Arniel inherited a team with a lot of problems in his first season as a head coach in the NHL. The players seem to like him enough and his system is the kind that wins games in today's NHL. The problem is the Blue Jackets don't yet have the personnel to play the system, but Arniel has shown that he's willing to play to the style of what he has rather than trying to cram players into a system they aren't built for, which was the problem with old coach, Ken Hitchcock. 

Steve Mason

Nikita Filatov

Jake Voracek

The Blue Jackets aren't as far away from being a contender as some are choosing to believe, but it won't be easy. Conventional hockey wisdom says that you build from the net out. I disagree. I say you build from the blue line back and then work on your forwards. If you have a solid defensive corps then you can win a lot of games with an average goaltender. It's how the Red Wings were able to win all those years with Chris Osgood as their goalie. 

Steve Mason hasn't played well since winning rookie of the year, but part of the problem is a weak  Blue Jackets defense in front of him. Shoring up the D might take awhile because big time free agents seem allergic to Columbus, but there's pieces in the system that aren't too far from being competent NHL players, and Marc Methot and Grant Clitsome made big strides last year. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stanley Cup Playoffs Primer: Eastern Conference

Yesterday, we looked at the Western Conference's slate of playoff matchups. (Western Conference) Today, we're going to break down the inferior...I mean Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Washington vs. New York
It’s incredible that the Capitals are in the number one position. For much of the season they struggled to find their identity and the HBO documentary, “24-7 with the Penguins and Capitals” happened to catch the Caps at their darkest hour. The cameras showed up just in time to document the 9 game losing streak that was tormenting the Washington hockey team. Since beating Pittsburgh at the Winter Classic the season has looked up. The Capitals come in trying to shed the playoff chokers label. They’ve lost home game 7’s in each of the last 3 seasons. In the case of 2010 they were the President’s Trophy winners and held a 3 games to 1 lead on Montreal before blowing three straight.

The only team Washington’s beaten in the playoffs since Ovechkin’s arrival was the New York Rangers, and even that was a brutal 7 game series. New York snuck in on the last day of the season thanks to a loss by the Carolina Hurricanes, but the blue-shirts did go 3-1 against the Caps in the regular season.

Guys to Watch:
Alex Ovechkin – Ovechkin had a down year in production, but his mere presence on the ice changes the way other teams operate. The scurvy Russian will be an impact player with or without a boatload of points.

Jason Chimera – the former Blue Jackets’ great is the kind of role player who can make or break a playoff run. He’s huge, and one of the fastest skaters in the league. If he can help provide secondary scoring and shut down the energy line of the other team then the Capitals will have an improved chance of going deep.

Bruce Boudreau – The Capitals head coach gained fame during “24-7” for creative use of the ‘F’ word and indulging in a Miller Lite tallboy after the Winter Classic. Boudreau is one of the more entertaining coaches in the league, but if Washington fails to advance deep in the playoffs he could be sweating his job.

New York
Henrik Lundqvist – The Rangers goaltender is one of the best in the game. If he gets hot, the Capitals could be in trouble.

Sean Avery – the pest of all pests. There’s a rule about blocking a goaltender’s vision named in his honor. Avery can get under this skin of the Washington players and take them off of their game or at least try very hard, either way, it’ll be entertaining.

Philadelphia vs. Buffalo
A year ago the Flyers made the playoffs on the last day of the season thanks to a shootout victory over the Rangers. The Eastern Conference’s 7 seed then won three series before dropping the finals to the Blackhawks. Carrying that momentum the Flyers played most of the season in first place before going into coast-mode and falling behind Washington. Philadelphia has 3 solid defensive pairings that could all be the top pair on any team. They also have depth at forward, and a relatively unknown, but capable goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Sabres on the other side are on fire. 9-1-2 in their last 12 games took them from bubble playoff team to a team that may do some damage in the playoffs.

Guys to Watch:
Chris Pronger – Pronger is no stranger to deep playoff runs. He helped Edmonton reach the finals in 06, won a cup with Anaheim in 07, and was a big part of the Flyers’ run last year. Pronger turns it on during the postseason and is not only a shut down D-man, but also a threat to score from the point on the power play.

Philadelphia forwards – the Flyers had 6 guys score more than 20 goals in the regular season. Shutting down the top two lines will be key to upsetting Philadelphia.

Ryan Miller – the team USA goalie, Miller will determine how far the Sabres go in the playoffs.

Boston vs. Montreal
This is an interesting matchup because Boston-Montreal is one of the game’s most historic rivalries and this will be the third time in 4 years that the two teams have met in the playoffs. Expect a very intense matchup.

The Bruins were a game away from the Eastern Conference finals last season…for four games. They led Philadelphia 3 games to none, blew games 4, 5, and 6. In game 7 they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in front of their home crowd, and in one of the all-time greatest choke jobs, gave up 4 goals in the second half of the game and lost the series. The sting of that series should be at the forefront of Bruins fans minds coming into this postseason and against last year’s Cinderella darlings, it’s important they don’t fall into the same trap again.

The Canadiens won two series last year as the 8 seed, both coming back from 3-1 deficits to take out Washington and Pittsburgh. They placed all of their chips on goaltender Carey Price and let playoff hero Jaroslav Halak walk to St. Louis. Can Montreal complete another surprising run or can perennial playoff contender Boston finally advance past the second round?

Guys to Watch:
Zdeno Chara – He’s a 6’10 Slovak, but his skills seem to have faded. Montreal’s quick forwards could take advantage of his slow skates.

Tim Thomas – the favorite to win the Vezina (best goalie), Thomas has played less than stellar in the playoffs in recent years. So Thomas goes, so go the Boston Bruins.

Mike Camalleri – the University of Michigan product was a key player in the Canadiens ride to the conference finals last year. One of those players that seems to step up their game in the playoffs, Montreal will need him to come up big again.

PK Subban – Last year’s playoffs were his coming out party, and his first regular season this year showed he has the skills to be a superstar. The defenseman can snipe from the point on the power play or join the rush.

Carey Price – There may be no job in sports more demanding than Montreal Canadiens goaltender and early in his career it looked like Carey Price couldn’t deal with the pressure. This season he’s been the reason for the Canadiens’ success, but he still needs to prove that he can perform in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay
I’m not even going to try to be unbiased here. I’m rooting for Tampa Bay, which is hard because of the way their first year head coach, Guy Boucher, spurned the Blue Jackets offer to be the bench boss in Columbus. But Pittsburgh, and their fans, are responsible for the worst game I’ve ever been to in ten years of going to Blue Jackets games. (read about that here Sports Weekend From Hell). I can’t even try to be impartial towards that city or one of their teams.

The Penguins will probably have Sidney Crosby back, who hasn’t played since January 5 after sustaining a concussion. Crosby has been practicing in full contact drills without any ill side effects. It’s probably safe to say that he’ll be on the ice for the playoffs. The Penguins are also without Evgeni Malkin and have played just two games all season with their “big three” intact (Crosby, Malkin, Stall).

Tampa is making their first playoff appearance since 2007. They have a high powered power play and potent offense, but are weak on the back end and the question remains, will 41 year old goaltender Dwayne Roloson have enough in the tank for another playoff run?

Guys to Watch:
Sidney CrosbyCrosby is the best player in the world, but will he show any rust after not playing for 3 months?

Tampa Bay
Steve Stamkos – the number one overall pick from a few years ago has blossomed into a deadly sniper, especially on the power play.

Martin St. Louis – St. Louis is like 4’8, but incredibly skilled and in the latter part of his career is trying to win Tampa their second cup in franchise history.

Dwayne Roloson - If he doesn’t get hurt in game 1 of the 06 Finals, the 8 seed Oilers probably win the Stanley Cup with him. He’s a very capable goalie, but the Tampa defense will need him to make a lot of big saves on his own. He could be hung out to dry often and he’ll need to come up big if the Lightning have any hope of knocking off the Penguins. 

Stay tuned for more playoff coverage as they unfold. 

There you have it. If you agree, disagree, or have thoughts of your own. Share them with us at OR follow us on twitter at!/SeanofUnionBlue