Monday, February 28, 2011

Andrei the Giant Underachiever and other Monday morning musings

Awfully decent of Andrei Kostitsyn to show up two days before the trade deadline. Kostitsyn's stellar performance in the Canadiens' win over Carolina Saturday was as confounding as it was exhilarating, because it makes you wonder for the hundredth or so time why he can't bring it like that every game. Even in his contract year, Kostitsyn's been mailing it in more often than not. It's a terrible waste of talent from a guy who's got the physical goods to be an elite power forward, but has a disconnect somewhere between his heart and the rest of his body...After adding the lead-footed Brent Sopel to a blueline corps that already included Hal Gill and Paul Mara, the Canadiens are officially a Gerald Diduck comeback away from having the slowest defence in the history of the NHL...Baseball Hall of Famer Duke Snider was Dave Van Horne's broadcast partner for fewer than half of the Expos' 36 seasons, but for Montrealers who came of age in the team's golden era from the mid-to-late 1970s into the early 80s, the legendary Brooklyn Dodger was as much a part of Montreal's summer soundtrack as Van Horne himself. Snider's passing on the weekend was yet another wistful reminder of how good Montreal baseball fans had it before the Expos were run into the ground by the likes of Claude Brochu, Bud Selig, Jeffrey Loria and David Samson....At the risk of insulting basketball fans and Irishmen everywhere, I find the Boston Celtics road uniforms to be shockingly unattractive. Short pants and tank tops in full-on kelly green might be de rigeur for a leprauchan, but they wouldn't flatter Shaquille O'Neal if you threw in the pot o' gold hat, shillelagh and a bowl of Lucky Charms.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Same Auld story for Habs

What is there to say about the Canadiens backup goaltending situation, except "Next!"? Alex Auld isn't getting it done, and it's not as if there's a lot to get done when you're playing behind a workhorse like Carey Price. Auld was chased last night for the second time in his last four starts, giving up three goals on just nine shots in 13 minutes, against the lowly Leafs, no less. Two of the goals were scored on Toronto power plays, but conventional hockey wisdom dictates that in order to be successful, you need your goaltender to be your best penalty killer, and Auld was not that against the Leafs.
After being the Canadiens best player in back-to-back losses in Calgary and Edmonton and a hard-fought, emotional win in Vancouver, Carey Price deserved and needed a night off. Alex Auld couldn't give it to him at a time when Price could benefit hugely from an opportunity to mentally and physically recharge for the playoffs. It's been apparent all season that the Canadiens are only going to go as far as Price carries them. That's a heavy enough burden without being called on to bail out the guy who's supposed to have your back.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gomez poster boy for a wider malaise

The next time the gang gathers 'round the water cooler to group-trash Scott Gomez, how about saving some breath for some of the Canadiens' other overpaid, say, Brian Gionta, who has more points than Gomez but fewer than Sergei Kostitsyn? I'll say that again: even with the goal he scored last night, Brian Gionta has fewer points this season than Sergei Kostitsyn. So, for that matter, does everyone else on the Canadiens except Tomas Plekanec and James Wisniewski, and the Wiz racked up the bulk of his points with the gawd-awful Islanders. There's no question that on a bang-for-the-Canadiens-buck basis, Gomez is the biggest underachiever of the bunch, but for five million dollars a year, it's fair to expect more out of Gionta than 32 points in 61 games. Same goes for Mike Cammalleri, who checks in at 6 mil a year, and has only been marginally more productive than Gionta. If the rationalization is that they're handcuffed by Jacques Martin's system, then that's an argument that has to be applied to Gomez as well. I'm not defending the guy. Anyone who's making 8 million dollars while on pace for a 9 goal season with a minus 17 rating in a system that preaches defence first is beyond defending. Gomez has earned every brickbat thrown his way, but it's not fair that he takes all the heat while others get a free ride.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Heritage Classic, Daytona, women's underwear and other Monday Morning Musings

The worst thing to come out of last night's 4-0 loss at the outdoor Heritage Classic in Calgary was that the Canadiens were dominated in a game that had virtually no hitting. That's not a good sign for a team that favors speed and skill over size and muscle...I've heard nothing but rave reviews about the Flames' old-school, yellow-on-burgundy uniforms, despite a look that's firmly entrenched in the 1920s. I guess I'm okay with that, but it's a slippery slope from vintage jerseys to knickerbockers and singlet bathing suits...Even though the game was between two Canadian teams, it was nice of them to play the American national anthem as a nod to the seven people watching on the game on ESPN 12...Speaking of which, how about NBC hockey going head-to-head with Fox's live coverage of the Daytona 500 yesterday afternoon? The NBC crew probably could have done the Pittsburgh-Chicago game in pig Latin while wearing women's underwear without anyone being the wiser... I've always been more of a Formula One fan than I am a NASCAR guy but that doesn't make me blind to what's great and exciting about NASCAR. There were 74 lead changes before rookie Trevor Bayne's unexpected and electrifying win in the 2011 Daytona 500. There might not be 74 lead changes in F1 this season...I'm a couple of weeks late with this, but could the PGA not have come up with a better name for its Phoenix tournament a couple of weeks ago than the Waste Management Open? I realize it's a sponsorship issue, but the Canadian women's curling championship is sponsored by a toilet paper company and they still have enough sense not to call it the Bumwad Tournament of Hearts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Canadiens make a move...barely

Do you get the feeling that reacquiring Paul Mara from Anaheim for a fifth round draft pick wasn't the move Canadiens fans have been clamoring for to make the team tougher and grittier in time for the playoffs? Mara's a 31 defenceman who was more of a liability than he was an asset for the Canadiens last season, when he was minus-16 in 42 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. He's been pretty much a non-entity in Anaheim, where Mara was a healthy scratch for 23 of the Ducks' last 25 games. His are not credentials that bespeak an imminent journey to the promised land.
However, you're not going to get something for nothing, and fifth round draft choices amount to nothing 95 percent of the time, so it's not as if the Canadiens have gone out on a limb here. What Mara gives them is additional veteran depth along an injury-depleted blue line at an almost negligible salary cap hit. Even if that's not much, it's still better than nothing. The toughness and grit blockbuster will have to wait for another day, if in fact general manager Pierre Gauthier decides to fiddle with the existing dynamic of a group that in spite of all its perceived shortcomings still has the 8th best record in a 30 team league. As the guy to has to make the actual decisions and accept responsbility for the consequences, that's not a circumstance that's likely to panic Gauthier as much as it seems to consternate his volunteer army of unpaid armchair assistants.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fun with sports names

You know you've made it to the pinnacle of celebrity when you are only referred to by one name, like Bono, Madonna, Charo and Sinbad(the latter two of whom prove that fame and talent can be mutually exclusive). Nowhere is one name celebrity status more commonly celebrated than in soccer - especially Brazilian soccer, which said "ate logo" to one of its best yesterday when Ronaldo announced his retirement. Ronaldo won two World Cup championships while sharing the spotlight with such distinguished teammates as Ronaldinho, Cafu, Romario, Bebeto and the unfortunatey named Kaka, who suffered in one name the humliation it took former pro athletes Dick Pole, Harry Colon and Chubby Cox a first and a last name to acquire. Kaka aside, the Latin-based Romance languages lend themselves to credible and sonically-pleasing single names to a much greater extent than Anglo Saxon languages like English or German. Tom, Dirk and Helmut just don't have the same acoustic appeal as Pele, Zidane and Maradonna, either as soccer players or as attorneys or chartered accountants. Face it: to whom would you rather entrust a complicated litigation case or tax file - Neymar, Sandro and Ederson or Jimbo, Al and Gordie? So, as we can see, "what's in a name" is more than just a rhetorical question. I'm Ted, K103 Sports (see, that's what I'm talking about, right there.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's a Joffrey? (and other Monday morning musings)

Random observations from section 108 at the Bell Center Saturday: Who are these Leafs? At least when Toronto had Ed Belfour, Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker, you knew who to hate. The current Leaf roster is stacked with no-names like Rosehill, Crabb and Aulie, who sound more like a Vaudeville trio than they do hockey players...This hasn't been a stellar season for Jaroslav Spacek and he's read and heard all about it, so it's only fair to acknowledge that he was rock solid Saturday. Better late than never for Spacek, whom the Habs need to lift his game a notch or three for the stretch run to the playoffs and beyond...I've become the hockey fan I loathed at the dawn of the Blackberry era - the guy who gets great seats and then spends half the game texting. The drugstore reading glasses only add to my shame...The opposition criticism of P.K. Subban has reached the point of gratuitousness. Joffrey Lupul's bellyaching that Subban didn't take the time to remove his helmet and visor before their first period fight smacked of the same petty resentment that's followed the talented and entertaining Subban around the league this season. Lupul should concern himself with his own issues, like the fact that his parents couldn't even spell "Jeffrey."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Toughness" an overrated hockey virtue

By Montreal standards, the public clamor for more muscle on the Canadiens after Wednesday's beatdown in Boston wasn't an overreaction, because it was entirely predictable. Every time the Habs get pushed around by bigger, tougher teams, the knee jerk reaction is to pillory the front office for not having a resident cementhead to dissuade the Bruins and Flyers of this world from bullying the poor, helpless Canadiens.
Does no one remember Georges Laraque, and what a difference he didn't make after Montreal signed him to a 3 year free agent contract when Laraque was the reigning NHL heavyweight champion? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but big Georges was a bust, so why are so many people so eager to go down that road again? The Canadiens didn't win many of the fights Wednesday, but neither did they back down, and it's common playground knowledge that anytime you stand up to a bully, he tends to think twice about coming after you the next time. If the Canadiens can use their speed and skill to draw penalties and capitalize on the power play, let the goon teams bring it on. Carey Price isn't going to give up 8 goals a game very often, and if the Habs score six on the road, including four on the power play, they'll come away winners 19 times out of 20.
The Canadiens don't need to be tougher than the Bruins and the Flyers. They only need to be better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Smackdown in Beantown

Referee Don van Massenhoven must have had a premonition last night when he delayed the start of the second period in Boston until he was sure the goal lights were working. The Bruins and Canadiens combined for eight goals in the middle 20 minutes of a game that featured everything except, ironically, stellar goaltending in a matchup of the two best goalies in the Eastern Conference, if not in the entire league. Along with being lit up at their respective ends of the rink, Carey Price and Tim Thomas failed to distinguish themselves in a goalie fight that looked like two grandmothers fighting over the last pair of orthopedic panty hose at a K-Mart clearance sale.
The game started innocently enough and had the makings of an easy win for the Bruins, who dominated the early going and led 2-0 after one period, but lit the fuse for the fireworks in the dying seconds of the first when Milan Lucic lowered the boom on Price in the Canadiens crease. That got the Canadiens attention, and by 12:48 of the second, the two teams had combined to score six goals in a little more than four minutes, and there were eleven players simultaneously crammed into the two penalty boxes - six Bruins and five Habs. There were two more melees late in the third, to the point where - between penalties, misconducts and ejections - both teams barely had enough players to finish the game.
To summarize: 14 goals, 12 fighting majors, four game misconducts and 182 total penalty minutes in an epic battle fraught with enduring images. Oh, by the way, the Bruins won 8-6. They also won most of the fights, leaving Canadiens and their fans to ponder which was worse - getting beaten, or getting beaten up.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lorne Greene Super Bowl tribute and other Monday morning musings

Random thoughts on Super Bowl XLV in Dallas: Quarterbacks sometimes win Super Bowl MVP awards by default, but Aaron Rodgers was entirely deserving of the honor. If his receivers hadn't dropped so many passes, Rodgers would have had five or six touchdown passes instead of three. Green Bay fans who weren't over Brett Favre before last night are over him now...Prior Super Bowl experience was supposed to serve Pittsburgh well, but the Packers take the prize for pure poise for overcoming the loss of two starting defensive backs, and not coming unravelled on the two second half occasions when Pittsburgh made it a one possession game...I don't even try to understand the point of having famous Americans recite the Declaration of Independance on the Super Bowl pre-game show. I'm just grateful the CFL doesn't get Leonard Cohen to read the British North America Act before the Grey Cup...I've heard of people playing God, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took self-deification to a new level when he proclaimed that weather won't be an issue at the 2014 Super Bowl in New York. That's beyond presumptuous with snow on the ground at Super Bowl 45 in Dallas and New Yorkers still digging out from the snowiest January in the city's history. Maybe Goodell is in tight with David Suzuki and knows something we don't know about the pace of global warming...Awfully decent of the Lorne Greene estate to donate his Battlestar Galactica wardrobe for the Black Eyed Peas halftime show.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hockey fights not for the faint of heart

There may yet come a time when fighting is banned in the NHL, but it won't be anytime soon and it won't result from a groundswell of pacifist sentiment in Boston. A full house at the Garden and players up and down both benches were beside themselves with delight last night as the Bruins and Dallas Stars set a new precedent for getting down to the bare-knuckled business of exchanging haymakers at center ice. Boston's Gregory Campbell and Steve Ott of the Stars went at it one second after the opening faceoff, followed by Shawn Thornton and Krys Barch on the next faceoff and Adam McQuaid versus Brian Sutherby when the puck was dropped at center ice for a third time.
Four seconds, three fights, and not just sweater-grabbing dance numbers where they hold on to each other and turn around in circles until one of the linesman makes his choreographed entrance. We're talking toe-to-toe, free-wheeling fisticuffs requiring the maintenance crew to come out and scrape the blood off the ice when it was over. As an added bonus for the home crowd, the Bruins scored two goals in the first minute and 20 seconds and went on to win the game 6-3. You could tell on TV that the atmosphere in the building was absolutely electric.
And guess what? There was no mad dash for the exits and no lamenting the mindless violence of it all, at least not among the fans in the building, who are the ones paying the bills, and the players in the game, who dropped the gloves of their own free will. So you can lump it if you wish, but the simple fact is that the overwhelming majority of people with a vested interest in hockey love a good hockey fight, and the only thing they love more is three good fights in a row.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The decline of Alexander the Great

TSN's Ray Ferraro, who's quickly become the most astute and palatable in-game analyst in hockey television, did a terrific job last night of isolating and exposing Washington's Alexander Ovechkin in the Capitals' 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Canadiens. Ferraro highlighted Ovechkin's lack of resolve and repeated and overt displays of frustration with his teammates, and allowed the viewer to come to the conclusion that Ovechkin is a lazy and selfish hockey player, without coming right out and saying so himself. It was an excellent illustration of the malaise that's overtaken Ovechkin, who's on a pace for what would be his least productive season since turning pro six years ago.
What really stood out last night - and what Ferraro's analysis revealed - is that Ovechkin isn't having fun, and that's a radical departure for a player who's natural ability was matched only by his sheer and infectious joy for the game. As recently as last season, if he wasn't the best player in the NHL, Ovechkin was unquestionably the most exciting player to watch. On a what-have-you-done-lately level, he shows only infrequent bursts of his trademark enthusiasm, and barely makes it into a conversation about hockey's top 10. That's still pretty heady company, and 98 percent of the players in the league would love to be averaging a point a game, but at 25, it's way to soon for someone of Ovechkin's remarkable talent to be going from Alexander the Great to Alexander The Still Pretty Good But Something's Missing.