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Too many Elbows! March 9, 2010

Posted by Casey in Hockey.
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Again? MATT SLOCUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Grade 2 concussion, unconscious on the ice, this has become far too familiar in the NHL.   Marc Savard, of the Boston Bruins, suffered this hit (live :11, slo-mo replays starting :57) from Matt Cooke (Pittsburgh Penguins).  Cooke cleary directs his elbow/shoulder at the head of Savard, who would lose consciousness after contact with the ice.  The is hardly the first of these type of incidents in the NHL (two suspensions since the Winter Olympics), and is the last kind of publicity the league needs as it tries to push on from the excitement generated by the Canada-US Gold Medal Game.  On that basis the league’s response should be stern. The longest suspension this year belongs to Cam Janssen of the St. Louis Blues, for a late high hit on Matt Bradley of the Capitals.  That suspension was a 5 games, and Janssen’s  hit was much worse.  I fear that the league must make sure to be consistent within itself.  I think the league should see that the hit to Savard is remarkebly similar to this elbow also performed by Cooke, delivered to the Ranger’s Artem Ansimov.  Not to rest on his laurels he was also suspended 2 games for a hit on Carolina’s Scott Walker.  Thugs like Cooke are why the sport can never reach the popularity it promises at it’s best moment.  I would love to see the NHL do something drastic like suspend Cooke for 10 games.  Sadly, I think the league will come down with something like 2-4 games.  I love a hit as much as the next guy, but popping someone who has their head down, well after they release the puck, does nothing productive.  These acts of violence only shorten the careers of players (some talented/some not), and should be punished on an increasing scale, not constant leeway.  In on ice news, Alexander Ovechkin snapped a 6-game goal drought with two strikes (try and catch the second if you can) but his Washington Capitals lost in a shoot out to the Dallas Stars.

Weekend Preview March 5, 2010

Posted by Casey in Multi-Sport Preview/Review.
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Even I can’t keep track of the day-to-day bracket-ology changes, but I do know that it is now only 9 days to Selection Sunday!  Pittsburgh clinched a double-bye in next week’s Big East tournament with their 73-71 victory over Providence Thursday night, on a half-court shot as time expired (I’ll edit a link in here once I find one).  Maryland ‘upset’ Duke at home to tie the Blue Devils for best record in the ACC Wednesday night.  For me this game was a perfect example of fans unnecessarily storming the court…Maryland fans: you have a really good team, by acting as if you’ve never won anything before, you’re taking away from your team’s excellent victory.    Elsewhere on Wednesday, Kansas clinched the Big XII regular season title with their 85-62 victory over Kansas State and Connecticut’s NCAA Tournement hopes were hurt (as Notre Dame’s were helped) by their 58-50 loss in South Bend.  On tap this weekend I’ll be watching #8 West Virginia travel to Philly to take on #9 Villanova (12:00 ET Saturday, CBS) followed by #1 Syracuse’s trip to bubble-riding (but almost certainly in) Louisville (2:00 ET, ESPN).   ESPN will feature UNC @ Duke in prime-time Saturday night (9:00 ET) and sometimes these rivalry games can help the weaker team play up to its opponent.  Sunday afternoon sees two more bubble teams make their case: Florida hosts John Wall and his #3 Kentucky Wildcats at 12:00 ET on CBS and Illinois will take on #17 Wisconsin on their home court (2:00 ET, ESPN).  Sunday marks the final day of regular season play, with the major conference tournaments beginning early next week.  Get ready for the madness!

Paul Pierce’s return has seen the Celtics start to right the ship it will be interesting to see if they can put up a fight for the East’s 2-seed (and guaranteed home-court in the second round).  They are currently 2 ½ games behind the Magic for that spot.  David Thorpe just wrote a great piece comparing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (you need ESPN Insider access unfortunatelty), who may be the two-best pure scorers, after Kobe Bryant, in the NBA. Cleveland keeps cruising without  Shaq and has now opened a 2 game lead on the Lakers for best record in the league, they have Detroit Friday night (7:00 ET, ESPN) and Milwaukee Saturday (8:30 ET).  I think whoever selects NBA TV’s weekly Saturday night nationally televised game should be fired, New Jersey @ New York (7:30 ET)?  Really?  Their combined record (27-93, as of Thursday) must be the worst ever for a nationally televised game.  All eyes  should be on Sunday’s NBA Finals rematch, Los Angeles continues their Eastern road trip in Orlando at 2:30 ET (ABC).  In previous games against elite big men, the Magic have felt a need to give Dwight Howard help defensively, I’m interested to see how they defend the Lakers’ combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

A record amount of deals were made on NHL trade deadline day on Wednesday.  No major names changed hands and the biggest acquisition remains the New Jersey Devil’s pickup of Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers before the Olympics.  Still, some interesting moves were made and the NHL run-in should be quite exciting.  The Blackhawks have pulled even on points with the Sharks for best record in the West, and that looks like it could go down to the wire.  NHL Network has Toronto @ Ottawa at 7 ET on Saturday, and Montreal @ Anaheim at 8 ET on Sunday for your viewing pleasure.  The pick of the televised games this weekend is Detroit @ Chicago (12:30 ET Sunday, NBC), nothing beats a good old-fashioned Original 6 rivalry.

For the soccer fans out there, its FA Cup Quarterfinal weekend in England with Portsmouth-Birmingham (7:30 AM Saturday, Fox Soccer Plus), Fulham-Tottenham (12:30 PM Saturday), Reading-Aston Villa (8:30 AM Sunday) and Chelsea-Stoke (11:00 AM, Fox Soccer Plus).  I also recommend catching AC Milan-Roma (Saturday 2:45 PM, Fox Soccer Channel) and Real Madrid-Sevilla (Saturday 4:00 PM, Gol-TV).  In the latest edition of American’s abroad Landon Donovan’s Everton take on Jozy Altidore’s Hull City on Sunday at 11:00 AM ET on Fox Soccer Channel.

NFL free agency starts…now.   Here is a list of the top 50 free-agents to be.   ESPN’s Todd McShay reviews the recently concluded NFL Scouting Combine.  The PGA Tour begins its Florida swing with the Honda Classic at PGA National, NBC has the weekend rounds 3 PM -6 PM Saturday, and final round coverage starts at 3 PM and goes until they’re done.  No huge news from MLB Spring Training as yet, ‘m working on a comprehensive MLB Preview article and will try and get it done in the next two weeks or so.  That’s about all I’ve got for today, enjoy the weekend!

Good show, eh? March 2, 2010

Posted by Casey in Hockey.
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With the Olympic stage to themselves, Team Canada and Team USA played a Gold Medal Game worth its title. Hockey’s poster child Sidney Crosby scored the winner in OT to talk Canada back from its collective cliff.  American Ryan Miller has been touted as the best goalie in the NHL and preformed like it in these Olympics.  The well balanced US team made up of young scorers and experienced campaigners defied pre-tournament expectations to beat Canada in the preliminary round and push on to play for gold.  An early two goal deficit was trimmed to 2-1 by Ryan Kesler (playing in his home NHL arena) before Zach Parise’s dramatic last minute equalizer.  Americans everywhere jumped, whooped and hi-fived like it was Miracle 2.  The Canadians used the intermission to recover well and the US never really seemed to match up in the 4 on 4 sudden death overtime and Crosby and Jarome Iginla combined to score the winner 7 minutes in.  Canada deserved their victory and their gold (2 out of last 3), and Americans everywhere remembered what a breathtaking sport hockey is.

The 2010 Olympic tournament did a great job showcasing the worldwide talent in the game, two particular days stood out to me, Sunday Feb. 21 and Wednesday Feb. 24.  The 21st was the last day of preliminary round play and featured a tripleheader: Russia-Czech Republic, Canada-US and Sweden-Finland.  All are regional rivalries and combine to feature most of the best players in the world.  The second date featured all four Olympic quarter-finals:  US-Switzerland, Russia-Canada, Finland-Czech Republic, and Sweden-Slovakia.  Again, the combination of talent all competing in the same tournament on the same day is jawdropping.  While a few blowouts took some of the excitement away from the knockout rounds the gold medal game undoubtedly delivered.  Those who just can’t wait for more international hockey don’t have to look too far ahead.  The 2010 World Championships are staged in Germany in less than 3 months and will feature NHL players (wait for it….from teams that miss the playoffs, but NHL players nonetheless).  The games will be aired on Universal HD and begin May 7th.  An event as big as the World Championships should’t be held during the NHL Playoffs when the best players will not be available.  Simply put, it benefits no one, later in the summer or before the season is a must.   This same dilemma affects the startup World Baseball Classic and to be fair there is no easy answer.  All I can say is let’s hope NHL players will represent their countries in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

What can hockey do from this?  To start they have made NHL Center ICE (access to EVERY game)available for free this week (March 2-8), look for a block of channels somewhere in the nether regions of your cable box (COX Cable Hartford Channels 673-684).  Versus and the NHL Network will have a pick of the games each night featuring top teams.. I know what you’re saying, “They don’t try as hard during the regular season”.  I can’t argue, the players won’t play like the gold medal game but there is still plenty to be excited about.  Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have the makings of transcendent stars, and have already developed an intra-conference rivalry.  Perennial power Detroit faces a fight to make the playoffs, Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals have a one point lead on San Jose for best record and there is a group of talented teams vying for playoff positioning.  The NHL faces an important time period and a boost in ratings (and add revenue) could make it easier for the NHLPA and the owner’s to agree on a CBA before the words ‘lockout’ or ‘strike’ appear on anyone’s lips.  The current CBA expires after next season, 2010-2011, and with impending problems in the NFL and NBA it would be a nice to change to see both sides quietly agree to a deal.   With the emergence Kontinental Hockey League (24 teams in Russia and 3 other former Soviet republics), it’s important that the NHL avoids another work stoppage and ensure it retains the world’s best player for years to come.  If you catch one game make it New Jersey at San Jose on Tuesday night, featuring American stars Zach Parise and Jamie Langebrunner against San Jose’s Canadian line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley.  I know it’s on late but should be fun even for just the first period.   The trade deadline is Wednesday and the stretch run begins now, don’t get left out!

National Games This Week:

Monday:  9:00 ET – Detroit @ Colorado -VERSUS

Tuesday: 7:30 ET – Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay – VERSUS

10:30 ET – New Jersey @ San Jose – VERSUS

Wednesday: 7:00 ET – Washington @ Buffalo – VERSUS

7:30 ET – Vancouver @ Detroit – NHL Network

Thursday: 7:00 ET –Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers  – VERSUS

7:00 ET – Tampa Bay @ Washington – NHL Network

Saturday: 7:00 ET – Toronto @ Ottawa  – NHL Network

Sunday: 12:30 ET – Detroit @ Chicago – NBC

8:00 ET – Montreal @ Anaheim – NHL Network

Games EVERY NIGHT on NHL Center Ice’s Free Trial!

Thanks for reading and I hope to post a weekly preview tomorrow.