Sunday, October 30, 2005

My Poor Packers

The only idea I have to fix that is for the ref to let the play play out, then issue his ruling on the field. If he thinks the guy was down, let the fumble play out, then blow the whistle and say "the ruling on the field is that the player was down by contact" and let the coach challenge if he thinks otherwise. That way, there's at least still an option to review it.
-The Blog That Yost Built, September 18, 2005
It looks like the league is listening. During the Lions game, Jeff Garthia was wrapped up by Urlacher, and flung a pass horizontally toward the sideline. A Bears LB picked up the ball and ran into the endzone for a touchdown. The refs conferenced, and threw a flag. The ref stated that the ruling on the field was an incomplete pass and intentional grounding on Garthia. The Bears challenged and on review, the play stood as called. But in previous games, the ref would have blown the play dead, and if it turned out that Garthia really did throw it backwards, The Bears couldn't have gotten the ball. The announcers said that the league is telling refs to let things play out now, so that they can cover themselves.

This ruling comes too late to save Green Bay against Tampa and Cleveland, but I applaud the league for realizing that the replay system needed tweaking and making the necessary adjustments.

My poor Packers are now 1-6, and have still outscored their opponents by 19. Their last 5 losses have come by a total of 16 points. Ugh. Favre threw 5 picks today and Green Bay's defense once again came up with an excellent performance, giving them one last chance to tie. Favre apparently tried a fake spike with 5 seconds left from the 30 yard line, but none of the Packers receivers seemed aware that he was going to fake it. So they lost again. Houston won, so the Pack is in the driver's seat for Reggie Bush, and with games coming up against Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Philly in their next 4 games, it doesn't look like it's going to get a whole lot better anytime soon.

Jim Bates has done a phenomenal job with this defense. Whatever happens in the offseason, they HAVE to keep him. I don't care if it means firing Sherman to keep Bates as Head Coach, they need that guy around. Mike Sherman deserves credit too, though. This team has nothing left on offense with Green, Davenport, Walker, Ferguson, Murphy all gone for the season and Franks, Flanagan and Martin all banged up. But they haven't quit. They're fighting, and they've been in every single game, apart from maybe the opener against Detroit. I can't believe this rash of injuries. No they aren't a good football team, but they're a helluva lot better than their 1-6 record indicates. Or at least they were before everyone went down.

Michigan hockey split with UAF this weekend up in Alaska and I'm not disappointed with that. UAF is a good hockey team (Just ask Minnesota) and that's a tough road trip to make. I wouldn't have straight up taken a split before the weekend, but it's pretty much what I expected. It looks a lot better considering Ohio State got swept by Western.

I don't have a lot to say about the Friday night game since I missed the first period (including all 4 goals in the first period) and we watched from a bar that didn't have the audio on. The camera was so damn far away it was hard to pick out different players, especially without the audio. The one thing I will say is that Windsor_Michigan and Reelking3 have sharp eyes for spotting that guy offsides on UAF's fourth goal. I didn't notice it live, but MHNet posted a link on MGoBlog to a photo from USCHO showing how far off that play was.

Yikes. The arrow on the right is pointing at the puck (kind of hard to see, but if you look at where the Michigan players are looking, it confirms that that is in fact the puck). And the UAF player is offsides by at least a couple of feet. Great positioning by the linesman by the way. Scott Hansen would be proud of that, since I'm fairly sure that's about the spot on the ice he was at when he waived off Michigan's go-ahead goal in the 2003 quarterfinals. Not that we really deserved to win that game Friday night anyway. If that was the winning goal, I'd be throwing a BWI-sized fit right now, but we really didn't get anything going offensively in the second or third periods it didn't seem like. Still, stellar call by Brian Aaron's crew. I don't care what anyone says about Wilkens, Aaron has him beat. I dread every game that guy does because we're down a goal from the start.

Saturday was a very nice way to bounce back. The game wasn't ever really in doubt. Ruden played well in goal, though with the bounces going the other way, it probably could've been getting shelled this weekend, since UAF hit at least 3-4 posts. Jack and TJ had their typical multi-point games. Dest is getting my Garrett Rivas award for the weekend. I'm not sure what it is about the kid, but when he's good, he's really good....but when he's not on his game he's awful out there. We're talking awful like Florida's football jerseys awful. (Side note, but what the hell were those things??? Those should put any discussion of our pinstripping to bed. I actually kind of liked Miami's though, even if the helmet was Fugly.) At least we probably don't have to worry about being #1 anymore. CC probably jumps us, and that's fine with me. It's pressure that team doesn't need, and a ranking they don't really deserve at this point. Home-and-home with Notre Dame next weekend, and despite Noah's shutout, I really hope they go with Sauer. That's a weaker opponent, get a little bit of confidence back. If they're thinking he's their guy, they have to go with him against ND. This game also saw the first penalty shot against U of M since 1997. Ruden made a nice blocker save. I thought the call for the PS was questionable. No comment about Kal's hit from behind game misconduct, because the feed went out for the first 8 minutes of the 3rd period. A random guy made a beautiful 2-rail shot in billiards to knock the 6 ball in, though.

The football team pulled off a huge win in Evanston, and even though Henne was schizo again, the game wasn't really ever all that close. Big time credit to Jim Hermann and the defensive staff. They held Northwestern to 17 points, including 0 in the second half, and over 100 yards below their average output. Even though Michigan only scored 6 in the second half, it was more than enough. They've actually done a pretty darn good job against the spread offenses this year. I never would have believed they'd hold NW below 20 points.

Actually ignore that last paragraph. We won because of all the phanton holding calls. Penn State fans are the best. Hold one of the top offenses in the country to 0 points and 30 or so net yards in the second half, but it was because of the penalties.

And with a 0-0 tie against MSU in women's soccer, Michigan retains the Pontiac Challenge Cup for yet another season. No truth to the rumor that they're going to rename it the Michigan Cup, since MSU has never touched it. We own you, Sparty.

The Wings kept being filthy with a second win over Chicago in as many games. Osgood got his first start back in a Wings jersey (oh boy!) and even though I didn't see a ton of the game, it sounds like he did pretty well. One goal he gave up was typically awful, but he made some nice saves toward the end of the game. Samuelsson scored yet again. The Wings are now 11-1, with another game against Chicago coming on Tuesday.

Time til I get banned from BWI: 3.....2.....1.......

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Wings Are Kinda Good

Another win last night by the Wings. This time they played probably their worst game of the season, and still managed to pull out a 5-2 win over the Blackhawks, who admittedly were without three of their best players in Ruutu, Daze, and Calder. The Wings looked awful the first two periods (bad passing, trying to be too cute in the offensive end, giving up way too many quality scoring chances), but Legace kept them in the game and then in the third, they used yet another PPG to take the lead, a fluky goal by Draper, and a late goal by Shanahan to put the Hawks away. Zetterberg and Datsyuk had pretty darn good games, and the Power Play is just sick. Put this in perspective here....the Wings have scored 20 power play goals on the season. They've only given up 21 goals period. 2nd best power play, 3rd best penalty kill, #2 in goals per game, #1 in goals against average, and far and away #1 in goal differential.

Look at the goal differential category. The Wings are first with a +2.36. Second is Ottawa at +1.75 gpg. That's a pretty big difference, but the gap to third is just nuts. Carolina (of all teams) is third with a +1.22. That means that there's only 1 team in the entire league that is within a goal per game of the Wings in terms of differential. Yikes.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that the Wings have played a real tough schedule. As this excellent article about Mike Babcock points out, they lost to the best team they've played. That said, everyone else has played crappy teams too, and no one else is 10-1-0 right now. Kudos to Manny Legace as well for breaking the NHL record for wins in the month of October (this article says he's the first goalie to ever win 10 games in a month, period. Not sure which is right).

Rasheed has a message for the Pistons' critics: "We'll see them bandwagon ass-cats come May and June." And yes the Free Press printed that whole quote. The Detroit News did not. In other Pistons news, it looks like they're getting closer to signing Tayshaun Prince to a new 5 year deal worth between $45-50 million. Unless Mike Dunleavy of all people screws things up.

Grant Hill is hurt. And in other news, the sun came up today.

A funny moment from the radio this week: Jim Rome had a guest who was supposed to appear on his TV show cancel because of a family emergency. He had only a couple hours to fill that spot and so he said on his radio show that any athlete out there who was listening should contact him if they wanted to be on the show. The first person that called up? No other than U of M's Nick Willis. They talked for a moment on the radio but Romie went elsewhere for his TV guest. It was very funny though. Rome was surprised when he found out Willis was actually an Olympian.

One other moment that made me laugh: Mel Pearson was on WTKA early in the week and Mike Wickett and Ben Holden were talking to him about how they were giving Kaleniecki crap about having not scored a goal yet, and then he went out and netted one against MSU. Pearson quipped, "Can you guys get Chad Kolarik on this week?" I don't think he made it on the radio, but Kolarik is keeping a diary of the UAF trip on MGoBlue. The first installment is up, with some nice pictures, including a beautiful shot of an Alaskan mountain range from the air, and a not-so-beautiful shot of Jack Johnson dozing. What amazed me is that they had practice less than 2 hours after they landed. That's just what I'd want to do after an 11 hour trip.

And in the latest "Whoa Daddy the Lakers are screwed" file, they may be starting Smush Parker at point guard this year. Yowsa. You read that right. Smush Parker. Starting.

In a completely non-sports related event (that I found out about while I was searching for another link), it appears that U of M has found the cause of prostate cancer and will now look to find a cure. There are some way smart people on this campus.

Michigan hockey takes on UAF this weekend. Tonight's game is on CSTV and tomorrow's will be on Comcast Local. No sleep tonight!! Go Blue!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bless Mike Babcock

A quick post about the Wings before I start working on getting the file size down of my copy of the Michigan/BC game.

Bless Mike Babcock. I don't think anyone could have asked for anything more out of his team through 9 games. 8-1-0, powerplay and penalty kill in the top 3 (which are even more important now!), and now this wonderful pearl from the Detroit News today. Manny Legace is the #1 goalie and Osgood is the backup. Bless his heart. Obviously if Legace doesn't keep playing well, that's subject to change, but just to see it in print does my heart good.

The absolute best thing about the guy though, is this. Check out the ice time that the Wings players are getting. Everyone except for Jamie Rivers and Mark Mowers is seeing 10+ minutes of ice-time a night and 12 players are seeing 15+ minutes a night. He's spreading out the ice-time, and pretty much everyone is producing because of it. Hands up, who saw Jason Williams leading the team in scoring? I didn't. I expect as the season wears on, he'll lean a little bit more on his star players, but for now, give everyone a shot. With the added emphasis on the PP and PK, it helps to develop players in those roles so that if, in the playoffs, you're faced with a situation where you have to kill off 3 penalties in a row or something, you're not scrambling to put people out there.

I've been very impressed with Babcock so far. But then again, Dave Lewis had great regular seasons as well. I just get the feeling that something is different here though...

And you can't say enough about Manny Legace. Across the league, scoring is up and the guy is still posting a 1.77 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He's been outstanding. As much as I hate him, I'm glad that Osgood is healthy though. They need someone to give Manny a break, and take 35 starts or so, and it was obvious they weren't going to let Howard do that.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Michigan 3, MSU 3

Usually it's Michigan that outshoots MSU badly and a great goaltending performance leads to either a tie or MSU win. It was the other way around tonight. Sauer was magnificent. I don't know what the hell was going on with those guys in the first 7 minutes of the game, but we're lucky we didn't end up facing a 3 or 4 goal deficit. Fretter had a breakaway 20 seconds in that Sauer stopped, then they had another break after Johnson and Hunwick got the bright idea to lead a 2 on 1 (I think that's a first!!) and no one got back. The other one that was a great save was late in the game when State threw one in off the high glass and it bounced back over the net into the slot. Sauer ducked to get out of the way so it didn't hit him in the back and go into the net, but it went right onto an MSU stick and he had to be sharp on the save there.

It seemed like a lot of the time we tried to skate the puck out of our zone when we should've passed it, and passed it when we should've skated it. I've seen far too many no look passes in our own end, thank you very much. MSU's first goal came directly off Tim Cook trying to skate it out of the zone when he had 2 guys open. Whoever the State player was made a great play--lifted his stick and stole the puck.

Timmy Miller had 2 wonderful backchecks before he went out with an injury. Let's hope he's ok.

Johnson was feisty as usual, but I thought MSU did a real nice job of not letting our point guys shoot the puck. I dont' think he ever got to really uncork one. He's definitely not scared to get into the offensive zone though. There was a play in the third period where he went in on the forecheck, nailed the MSU guy and still was the first man back on defense.

Cook got 5 and a game DQ so I believe we'll see Adam Dunlap make his debut at UAF. Couldn't see the hit, but if the one earlier in the game was a cross-checking, 2 minute penalty, then Cook's should have been as well. The one that was a 2 minute cross-check was more of a hit from behind than anything that any player has gotten tossed for so far this year. Can't believe Wilkens chickened out on that one.

Cogliano had a very nice cheering section. Several people in St. Mike's jackets and one extremely drunk guy who was a huge fan. He gave em a lot to cheer about. Love that kid!

Mitera did have a very nice game. He's going to be a very very good one.

State was better offensively than I thought they'd be. They absolutely dominated the first period...some was Michigan playing like arse, but State came out very strong. Great forechecking out of them tonight. I wasn't impressed with Abdelkader at all. I think I only noticed him out there twice tonight. They've got a good team though.

Ebbett was awesome tonight. There was one penalty that he single-handedly killed off a full minute of. He was fantastic.

Jack Johnson Sr. danced during the second intermission and the crowd gave him and Mrs. Johnson a nice Happy Anniversary chant. In other player parent news, Dan Lerg won the 50-50 raffle. I couldn't decide whether to cheer (because he played here) or boo (because he let both his kids go to State). Someone put it best "Take the money and send your kids to a real school!!" Any shot that's an improper benefit of some kind?? ;-)

Overall a really great game, and the next 3-5 this year should be dandies. I hate State and I really enjoy it when they're terrible, but it's nice for the conference that it looks like they're primed for a good season.

Wilkens called a really poor game. Let em play in the first, called everything in the second, and let State play in the third. The one where #16 for State got a double-minor and Hunwick got a 2 was ridiculous though. I have no idea how Jack Johnson managed to stay out of the box on that one.

Didn't hang around for the 3 stars, but Sauer could've made a strong case for #1. We've got a really really good goalie folks.

As for football....I'm at the point where I pretty much think that replay in the form it's in now needs to go. It's unreal. They don't review plays they should, they review plays they shouldn't, and when they DO review a play it's only 50-50 that they're actually going to get the call right. How they ruled Bass fumbled when there was indisputable video evidence that he didn't fumble is beyond me. To be fair, Martin probably fumbled earlier in the game (Should he see the field again? I dunno. I love the way the kid runs but he's worse about putting the ball on the ground than Ahman Green). I hate how the coaches have no input into what gets reviewed, and I hate that the video officials are more idiotic than the volleyball line judge in the Michigan game last night who got canned because of her ineptness.

Good win though. Can't complain about going to Iowa and coming away with a victory since no one ever does it apparently. And we go to a very Piston-like 5-0 in overtime games. I was 2 for 2 on the AFLAC trivia questions today with the Michigan one and the one in the Wiscy/Purdue game.

Still not sure what Henne is doing half the time, but hey, it's a win at Iowa so I'll take it. At this point, you pretty much assume that he's not going to be great this year, and deal with it. We've still got a real good shot at the Big 10 title, which is amazing. Is coming back? 56-3 Penn State at halftime??? Michael Robinson with 6 TDs at halftime and 4 through the air? Holy crap.

And speaking of sophomore slumps for players named Chad, has anyone seen Chad Kolarik? I swear he's been invisible so far this year....

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Wonderful Weekend That Was

We'll start with hockey since this is sweet, even if it is the kiss of death. After a pair of impressive wins this weekend, coupled with losses from pretty much everyone else in the country, Michigan is now the #1 hockey team in the country in both the USCHO and USA Today polls. I never would have believed that we'd see Michigan atop the polls this soon into a season where they're breaking in so many new players. I don't expect them to stay there, since they are going to have their ups and downs, but it'll be nice for a little while at least. Hopefully they avoid reading their own press clippings and getting the "OMG! Look how freakin' sweet we are!" attitude that the football team seems to get most years.

Thoughts on the weekend which saw Michigan hockey surge from #7 to #1 in the polls, Michigan football pull off a last-second thriller, the Wings keep rolling, and a touching tribute to a fallen star in the IRL race:

Friday Night: The crowd was rocking at Yost like we haven't heard since the victory over Denver in the NCAA Quarterfinals. It was the second loudest crowd in the old barn since the renovation (and it only missed being #1 by 4 people) and you could tell by the electricity in the crowd. What followed was one of the best college hockey games we've seen in years.

I said before the game that I wanted to see a few things...One of them was that Jack Johnson still be the best player on the ice against a quality opponent. He was. He scored in the opening minutes of the game on a 5 0n 3 and his goal was almost forgotten after the rest of his performance. The short list: He levelled two BC players on the same shift, the latter of which brought back memories of Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals when Konstantinov rocked a Flyers player and stood over top of him for a moment. He also took a slapshot from the point that knocked the BC goalie's mask off. Oh yeah, and he was the #1 star. But more than anything, he was simply the best player on the ice whenever he was out there. His spin-o-rama works everytime he tries it, and he makes his teammates better. Sometimes the best compliment you can give a defenseman is that you didn't notice him on the ice. Jack Johnson is not that type of defenseman. I'm officially out of adjectives to describe him. I've never seen Bobby Ryan play, but I can stay with 100% certainty that Anaheim made a horrible mistake taking him over Johnson.

Bill Sauer was very good in net. I thought both goals he gave up were weak, but he made a few wonderful saves. I can handle a couple softies in a game like that out of a freshman. It was different last year when it's your #6 overall pick doing it. Overall, the freshman played in his first big game and passed the test with flying colors. He's painful to watch handle the puck. That's the last time I'm going to harp on it unless it costs us a goal, but that is definitely the area where he needs the most improvement.

Cogliano was buzzing, even though he didn't get anything to go in (that would come later in the weekend). Cook didn't play well, but BC's speed wasn't a good matchup for him. MacVoy sat out, and I believe BC's speed was the reason for that as well. And once again, TJ Hensick stepped it up when we needed him to.

The last minute of the game was insane. Cogliano gets sent off for a charging the goalie call, then 30 seconds later, BC scores on a 6 on 4 to tie it. The air went out of the place for a couple seconds, and then Shegos makes a Daunte Culpepper-like motion with his hands and then waives the goal off. Bill Sauer is caught on TV going "Thank you!". Probably both questionable calls, but after he called the first one on Cogliano, he had to call the second one.

I hate the new checking from behind rule. I understand the need to get it out of the game, but I'm sick of 5 minute majors and losing a player for the entire game for a check that's borderline if it's even a penalty. Ebbett got tossed from that tilt, and I only caught the tail end of the check, but it was extremely iffy.

Overall a great win for a young team facing their first big test of the year. BC is a good, good hockey team and they're going to be scary later on in the year. Boyle is an absolute truck and I was extremely impressed with Collins. He was the best player for them.

Saturday: Boring-ass first half, decent third quarter, phenomenal fourth quarter. Everyone's covered it already, so I'm not going to spend too much time talking about this game, but man oh man, what a finish. This football season has been really tough for me since my teams are now a combined 5-7--and couple that with me being almost desensatized to Michigan losses (when PSU went up 18-10 and took the lead very late in the game I just laughed) and hating the student section more and more every time I sit in it--so it was nice to have a game remind me exactly why I love football so much. After Super Mario scored, I just dove on the first person to turn around and give me a high-five. It doesn't get much better than a last-second win, with enough controversy to keep the PSU faithful bitching for another few years. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's just more fun.

Fun side note: After the game, my dad was at Meijer and as he was walking in, a guy in a PSU jersey was walking out. My dad goes "Sorry about that, but it was a really good game." to which the PSU guy blows up "YOU GUYS SUCK! MICHIGAN'S SUCH A BUNCH OF CHEATERS!" He went on for a little while and my dad just goes "I only have one thing to say....WE OWN! PENN STATE!" and walked away. Just hilarious.

Anybody have any clue as to why Manningham barely saw the field in the first half? I didn't notice him until the third quarter. I've also made it my personal goal to get the band to play the Mario Brothers theme when he makes a big play. It's just too perfect not to use.

Carr admits that he should've been more aggressive on the series after Hall's INT, so I won't criticize him for that. But I do have a big big problem with the punt out of the field goal formation. It's 4th and 4 on like the 34 yard line. If you go for it and make it, you win the game. If you go for it at miss, they've still got a long way to go before they're in tying-FG range. Chances are, your punter is going to nail one into the endzone from there, since Ryan (and Rivas) aren't really known for the coffin corner punts. Essentially you're risking 15 yards of field position for a chance to win the game. Have faith in your guys to make a play.

I see the logic in getting PSU to use up their timeouts, but in doing so, you give up any REAL effort to make a first down and therefore are essentially giving them the ball back. I'm sorry, but in college football, 2-3 minutes is an eternity, even with no timeouts, because the clock stops on first downs. I would have rather had Michigan at least make a legit effort for a first down or two that would ice the game. You don't have to do anything risky, but don't just run it up the gut against a defense that's expecting run (Note: Unlike us against Minnesota, PSU stopped it!).

Overall they showed a lot of heart in winning that game, and Henne showed that the freshman Chad Henne is still down there somewhere (we'll ignore the play with 6 seconds left). I pretty much wrote them off after that horrid series of events that put PSU up 18-10, but they dug down deep and pulled it out. Good on them! BTW, it doesn't look like it from the TV angle, but from the low angle it looks like Henne was VERY close to being down when he had the ball ripped away from him. Way closer than I thought it was when I saw it live.

And Mike Hart should be everyone's favorite player. That kid just amazes me. He had one run that just blew my mind...the one where he dragged the pile about 5 yards. IBFC has the video. And believe you me, that one is saved to my hard drive now.

A couple quick thoughts about the Wings game Saturday: First off, it was sad to see Brett Hull hang em up. It depresses me when guys retire that I grew up watching, because it means I'm getting old too. I missed the first period of the game, but it seemed to me that the Wings got outplayed for wide margins of the game. Luckily Manny Legace was fantastic in getting the shutout, and they were able to slip a couple pucks by CuJo. It's nice to see them still win a game when they don't have their best effort, and to see their goalie bail em out, because it won't happen much once Osgood is back. The better Manny plays, the more likely it is that he'll be our starter, so it was especially nice.

Sunday: Green Bay's bye week meant that they move up by a half-game in the horrid NFC North. The Lions crapped one away as only they can, and the Vikings look worse and worse every week. I'm scared Tice gets fired this week and they get up to play for their new coach against GB on Sunday. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Michigan hockey was crapping on Merrimack's face. Kevin Porter had a hat trick in the first period (the last goal coming on a mini 3-0 after Johnson stole the puck and made an excellent feed to Porter), Cogliano got his first 2 and added 2 assists, Hensick had yet another multi-point game, and Zac MacVoy had one of the prettiest goals you'll see (shooting it with his back to the net, through his legs).

Once Cogliano got his first, you could just feel it that the flood gates were opening for this kid. He hadn't been great in the first 3 games, but he was getting his share of chances. I don't think you'll see too many more occasions where this kid goes 3 games without a point. He's getting chances solely based on his speed, and he's got as good of vision on the ice as anyone we've got. Johnson was once again excellent with his second-career playmaker, in four games. Travis Turnbull was great again this weekend. Also, with the lopsided score, the freshmen got a ton of icetime. Cogliano, MacVoy, and Tyler Swystun tallied their first career goals. Kolarik has been fairly quiet thusfar this season (though 3 assists through 4 games isn't exactly bad). But the story thusfar has been Hensick, Hunwick, and Johnson. 10, 9, and 8 points respectively, through 4 games. Yikes.

Noah Ruden was very good in net, despite a weak first goal. Merrimack had some quality chances once the Wolverines called off the dogs, and for the most part he was up to the task. That was nice to see as well.

Around the country, Minnesota only managed a loss and a tie with Alaska-Fairbanks (haha), Denver got swept by Maine, CC and OSU was a crazy weekend around the country. At this very early point in the season, every single team in the WCHA has a loss. Crazy.

The IRL race featured Bryan Herta's visor popping open while he was going 215 mph, temporarily blinding him and forcing a pit stop which ruined a pretty good run. Danica Patrick thwapped Jacques Lazier upside the head after their wreck (he claims she punched him, which would just be funny), which was completely his fault no matter what Chip Ganassi and Lazier say. The touching moment of the day was Dario Franchitti taking his car over to Turn 2, where Greg Moore lost his life 6 years ago, and doing donuts after his win at the spot where his friend perished. It was a nice tribute, and a hard reminder of the worst auto racing accident I've ever seen (I almost stopped watching racing after Moore died, because I never wanted to see something that awful again). The only thing that kind of sucked about the race was that Tony Kanaan lifted from the gas coming to the checkered flag, so that Franchitti could get the win. If he was going to let Dario win, why even pass him coming out of turn 4? Andretti-Green ended up 1 (Wheldon), 2 (Kanaan), 4 (Franchitti) and 8 (Herta) in the points. And they won something like 11 of the 17 races, and kept the streak alive of having someone on the podium every race for something like 40 straight races. That's just sick.

On another note, Lazier's wreck brought the tally of Ganassi cars in the fence to 28 for the 17 race season. That's an expensive year. According to ESPN, the amount of money in torn up equipment for Ganassi Racing topped the ENTIRE Champ Car series. Oww.

Friday, October 14, 2005

"The cup still goes through Detroit"-Andy Murray

First up, Michigan hockey takes on BC tonight and here's a six-pack of things I'd like to see:
#1) Sauer to continue playing well, cut down on his rebounds, and handle the puck a little bit better.
#2) Jack Johnson to still look better than everyone, despite playing against a top-notch team.
#3) Tim Cook to continue his strong play.
#4) The defensemen to do a better job of staying out of the box.
#5) Continue to block shots as well as they did last weekend.
#6) SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK on the Power Play.
I don't have to see a win tonight, though it'd be very very nice. This is a very nice measuring stick for how we stack up against a top-notch team (granted one that hasn't played a full game--regular or exhibition--yet). Show me some good things, and I'll be very happy.

The Wings are off to a 4-1 start, much to my delight. Before last night's win over LA, Andy Murray had this to say: "Tell me where there are holes in their lineup. I think the Stanley Cup still goes through Detroit".

Methinks Andy Murray might just be right, provided they stay relatively healthy and get anything out of their goalies come the postseason. I don't like Ken Holland, but I can give him credit when credit is due. Mikael Samuelsson was a brilliant signing. He's only 28 and he's got 4-2--6 in 5 games so far this year, and has tallied at least 1 point in every game. He looks great. The Daniel Cleary signing is also working out very nicely. He fits right in on the Grind Line and the Penalty Kill. He brings a lot of energy, and he's mentioned that Draper is a great influence. He also said something to the effect that with Babcock he knows that he's gotta go all out every night or he won't be in the lineup the next game.

Brendan Shanahan has also been much improved in the early going. He started pulling a Fedorov on a regular basis under Lewis, but there's only been 1 game this year where I feel like he's been invisible. Look at the balance on this team though. 6 guys averaging a point a game through 5 games, and only 6 players who have played a game don't have a point yet (and only 3 of those have played more than 2 games).

Legace's been solid in goal, though his save % doesn't reflect that just yet. He's been big when he has had to be. The Power Play looked great for the first 3 games, but hasn't been there for them the last 2. The Penalty Killing has been outstanding though at 3rd in the NHL...only Minnesota and TB have been better than Detroit's 93.9%. However Detroit has also scored 2 shorties, and the teams ahead of them have 0. I wish they'd enact a volleyball-hitting-percentage type rule for Power Play % and PK%. Take the number of goals scored/allowed and subtract shorties allowed/scored and then divide. Thus the Wings would be at 100% on the penalty kill, because they've scored as many short-handed goals as they've allowed power play goals. I feel like the net goals should be factored in somehow.

All things being said, a pretty solid start to the season. Zetterberg has been great, Datsyuk has shown flashes (though I'm sure he's not all there yet), we've seen a couple new guys play very well, and a couple of the older guys look to be back to where they were. I'd like to see Lilja take a few less dumb penalties, but apart from that things are good. Fischer looks really great so far, which is a nice bonus.

I'm using the head-in-the-sand tactic when it comes to Michigan football. This season just isn't happening.

And my Astros are gonna win it all. No, I don't care about baseball. I arbitrarily picked Houston as my team to root for before the playoffs, simply because I really like Roy Oswalt.

Monday, October 10, 2005

NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

A few days late, but here goes nothing. Full disclosure: No Eastern Conference games were viewed after opening night, and even then I only watched a significant part of Toronto/Ottawa. The standings were not consulted.

  1. Boston Bruins: They had a ton of free-agents and managed to get most of them signed. Hilbert wants out, and Boynton isn’t signed, but the B’s managed to lock up pretty much everyone else. They lost Gonchar and brought in Leetch. Brad Isbister is a player that you never hear a ton about but still puts up some pretty decent numbers. They’re a team that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with, but when you look at the rosters, it’s quite possible that they’re the best team in the East. Deep up front, decent defense (though if they get Boynton signed, they’re set on the blue line), and a proven goalie. They return almost everyone from a team that finished 2nd in the East before the lockout.

Biggest Gain: Leetch for Gonchar is pretty much a wash, so I’m not listing either of them. Alexei Zhamnov is my pick here. He’s 35, but since he’s broken into the league he’s had between 49-72 points every single season but 2003-04 when he had 36 in just 43 games. Great choice as a second-line center.

Biggest Loss: Since he’s not signed, Nick Boynton is the obvious choice. Great young defense prospect, and without him they’re only decent back on the blueline. With him, they’ve got a pretty formidable corps.

Biggest Question Mark: Can they do it in the playoffs? They’ve had 100+ points 2 of the last 3 seasons and haven’t gotten out of the first round. In fact, they’ve won just 2 playoff series since the 91-92 season.

  1. Ottawa Senators: A solid all-around team that finally has a goalie capable of taking them to the Cup (if he stays healthy of course). Heatley/Spezza is one of the best young duos in the league, Brandon Bochenski had a great year in the AHL last year and Daniel Alfredsson/Bryan Smolinski on the second line isn’t a bad thing. Redden, Chara, Phillips, Volchenkov is a nice top four back on D. Ottawa is a new start for Dany Heatley and he could thrive in his new environment.

Biggest Gain: Dominik Hasek. I know they signed him before the lockout, but because he didn’t suit up for the Sens before this season I feel ok listing this as a gain. When healthy, he’s a huge upgrade from Patrick Lalime. There’s only a few active goalies that have won the Cup as a starter and Hasek is one of them.

Biggest Loss: Radek Bonk. I’ve thought about it and I guess it isn’t fair to list guys like Pronger & Brewer as their teams’ biggest losses when the guy they brought in for them compensates for it. Thus it’s not fair for me to list Hossa as Ottawa’s biggest loss, because they brought in Heatley. Bonk has been a solid player for them for awhile, and of the rest of the guys they didn’t bring back, he’s the one they’ll miss most.

Biggest Question Mark: Dominik Hasek staying healthy. If he’s playing, the Senators are a legit threat to win the Cup. If he’s out, they’re not. That simple. And with Hasek’s history, it’s a major question mark if he’ll make it through the year.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins: The NHL’s most improved team without question. They go from laughing-stock to contender by adding Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John Leclair, Jocelyn Thibault, and oh yeah, some guy named Crosby. Lemieux has had a year off to rest and he should be ready to go. Their defense isn’t real deep, but Thibault is used to that, having played in Chicago and fared pretty well in the process. What he never had in Chicago was this kind of offensive firepower.

Biggest Gain: The NHL salary cap. Everyone wants me to say Sid The Kid here, but even with Crosby this team wouldn’t be in a position to contend without the Cap.

Biggest Loss: None. Seriously. You wanna pick one out of JS Aubin, Matt Bradley, Michal Rozsival, and Kris Beech? I don’t.

Biggest Question Mark: If you spend too much time Jocelying your Thibault, will you go blind? T-Bo has only played 14 games since the end of the 2002-03 season. Is he healthy? Can he stay healthy? I know it’s a copout to keep questioning the health of the team’s starting goalie, but it’s a legit question.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Still loaded up front, still pretty decent on the blueline. This time with no Khabibulin to save them. Sean Burke brings a nice veteran presence to the team and John Grahame has shown flashes. But neither one is the Bulin Wall. That said, Prospal, Lecavlier, St. Louis, Modin, Richards. They’re going to score goals.

Biggest Gain: Vaclav Prospal returns to the team from Anaheim after he missed the Cup run, but set a career high in points in the process. He’ll like playing with Lecavlier and St. Louis again.

Biggest Loss: Nikolai Khabibulin was a difference-maker in net and there aren’t too many teams that can say they have one.

Biggest Question Mark: Once again, the goaltending in Khabibulin’s absence. They’re going to score goals. We know that. Can they keep them out of their own net? We’ll see.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers: All anyone wants to talk about in handing the Flyers the 2006 Stanley Cup are the acquisitions the team made in the offseason. Forsberg, Hatcher, Rathje, Knuble. Bobby Clarke did a great job, no doubt. But they also lost Roenick, Burke, Zhamnov, Leclair, Recchi, Amonte. That said, if you look at their roster, they’re in really good shape. Add the above acquisitions to top-prospects Mike Richards and Jeff Carter along with an exisiting solid group and they’re going to fare pretty well this year. Just maybe not as well as everyone seems to think. Esche has done pretty well for them so far, but I’m not sold on him as a Cup-winning-caliber goaltender.

Biggest Gain: Peter Forsberg. The oft-injured flopper is still arguably the NHL’s best player when he’s healthy. Mike Rathje was an excellent signing as well.

Biggest Loss: They lost a lot of guys—and a lot of good players at that—so I’m going to go with Jeremy Roenick here. If Forsberg does get hurt, the Flyers suddenly don’t look so good up front anymore.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Esche do it? The Flyers didn’t bring Sean Burke back and so he’s playing goal without a safety net basically. Philly is yet another team that looks primed to make a Cup run, but might not have the goaltending to do it.

  1. Atlanta Thrashers: Healey’s out, Hossa’s in. Kovalchuk’s signed now, and he comes back to a team that added a slew of pieces in the offseason including Bobby Holik, Greg de Vries, and Peter Bondra. The learning curve for Kari Lehtonen in net has been accelerated with Pasi Nurminen having to retire because of a knee injury. Mike Dunham is there to mentor him, however, and after a great season in the AHL, he should be ready. They’ve got a great young team and will be a force in the years to come. They may be a year away from being a true-contender, but the years of the Thrashers being a joke are over. The one thing they’re missing is a true #1 defenseman.

Biggest Gain: Peter Bondra. He didn’t perform like Ottawa hoped, but I think he’s got another year or two in the tank and they got him for a bargain price.

Biggest Loss: The only one of note was Dany Heatley, and they got Marian Hossa in return. The Thrashers did a great job in the offseason.

Biggest Question Mark: No-name defense and a young goalie. How will they hold up? Lehtonen is a stud prospect, the defense is more iffy.

  1. New Jersey Devils: I said it about the Avs and I’ll say it here. My how the mighty have fallen. You look at the roster and it’s still pretty solid, but losing Niedermayer, Stevens, Hrdina and Friesen is a huge blow to this team. You don’t lose your 2 best defenseman and not feel it. Not to mention the new rules mean no more neutral zone trap. Elias is out with Hep A and Mogilny was a nice signing but is an injury question mark. That said, Gomez, Kozlov, Madden, Parise is a nice group of centers, Elias will be back, Rafalski is still around and he should do very well with the new rules, and Mogilny, Langenbruner and Gionta are good players as well.

Biggest Gain: Alex Mogilny. He can still light it up when he’s healthy, and the Devils are going to need some scoring with Elias out and Niedermayer gone.

Biggest Loss: Their defense. Niedermayer is one of the top 2 or 3 in the league (if not the best) and Stevens was the face of the team for years. Not to mention they lost the trap.

Biggest Question Mark: So, was it the players or the system? We’ll see.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto is another team that I have no clue where to put. Belfour had a great year in 03-04 and brought them a 4th place Eastern Conference finish. He’s 2 years older now (which makes him about 70 by my count). I want to like this team, but I just can’t. The defense corps looks shaky, they look good up front for now, but what if Lindros and Allison don’t make it through the season? The East is pretty solid all-around, and I feel like any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to come out as conference champs, but I think the Leafs are closer to the bottom than the top in the conference.

Biggest Gain: Jeff O’Neill. He had a down year in 03-04, putting up just 14 goals after scoring 25, 41, 31, 30 in the previous four years. He’s still only 29 and he adds a nice scoring threat to the lineup. I think last year was a fluke and he’ll fit in nicely as the #1 center (or is it centre?) on Toronto.

Biggest Loss: Brian Leetch is getting long in the tooth, but wouldn’t their defense look a lot better with his name penciled in?

Biggest Question Mark: Eric Lindros and Jason Allison were bargain signings, but they’re boom or bust players. If they’re both healthy all year, Toronto gets a pair of 60+ point players for under 3 million combined. If they get hurt, as has been the case (Allison hasn’t played since 02-03 and Lindros is a concussion waiting to happen) Toronto doesn’t look good up front (Ed Note: And this is BEFORE Sundin went down) at all. Another good question would be exactly what happened with Owen Nolan anyway?

  1. Florida Panthers: They were a busy team in free agency, landing Sean Hill, Eric Cairns, Joe Nieuwendyk, Chris Gratton, Jozef Stumpel, Gary Roberts, and Martin Gelinas. They’re also loaded in young prospects and have one of the best goalies in the league in Roberto Luongo. They’re a playoff team in a conference that has 9 of them. Sadly, there are only 8 spots in the postseason. It won’t be long. They just don’t have that dominant scorer to put them over the top.

Biggest Gain: Sean Hill is a top 3 defenseman who can put up 30-40 points a season. Good signing for the Panthers. He’ll fit in nicely with Boumeester and Van Ryn in front of Luongo. Those are some nice pucking moving guys who should flourish in the new NHL.

Biggest Loss: Mathieu Biron could end up being a pretty darn good player someday. Thankfully they’re loaded on prospects so it probably won’t matter.

Biggest Question Mark: Can one of the young forwards step into a big-time scoring role on this team? If someone can, they just might make the playoffs.

  1. New York Islanders: They’re another team that had quite a bit of turnover in the offseason, bringing in 5 or 6 solid veteran players, but also saying goodbye to Roman Hamrlik, Adrian Aucoin, Michael Peca, Mariusz Czerkawski, and Dave Scatchard. Satan and Mike York should offset some of that loss in scoring (Zhitnik can help too).

Biggest Gain: Miroslav Satan. He’s a nice scorer and Satan is a nice compliment to the Vampire, Alexei Yashin.

Biggest Loss: Roman Hamrlik. He’s been a solid defenseman since he came into the league, and in the new rules that emphasize puck movers, he should really help the Flames.

Biggest Question Mark: Even though DiPietro may turn out to be a really good player, don’t you think they wish they had kept Roberto Luongo? Another question would be how the hell does Mike Milbury STILL have a job?

  1. Montreal Canadiens: So who exactly are these guys? After you get past Kovalev, Koivu, and Theodore they’re a mix of no-namers and young prospects with some depth players (Zednik, Dandenault, Souray, Bonk) thrown in for good measure. Ryder is going to be a good player, as is Rycroft, even though I think he’s a flopper. They cycled a lot of guys in and out in free agency but nothing jumps out good or bad really. Can’t see them in the playoffs this year unless Theodore has a Vezina-caliber season.

Biggest Gain: Mathieu Dandenault. That says something.

Biggest Loss: Patrice Brisebois isn’t a great player, but they have no true #1 (or #2) defenseman. He isn’t one, but he could’ve helped a lot. It never hurts to have a 70 game-a-year guy who can chip in 30-40 points.

Biggest Question Mark: No. Seriously. Who are these guys?

  1. Carolina Hurricanes: They did a nice job in the offseason recovering from the losses of Jeff O’Neill and Ron Francis. Ray Whitney disappeared with the Red Wings, but might thrive when he can get some more ice time. Eric Staal is a very nice young player and the defense corps looks very solid. Martin Gerber put up great numbers in goal for Anaheim, but hasn’t been tested as a full-time starter. They could challenge for a playoff spot much of the year, but they’re going to come up short because there are too many teams that are just better than they are.

Biggest Gain: Martin Gerber. He may or may not be the answer, but Irbe and Weekes definitely weren’t. Bringing Tverdovsky in was another good move by Jim Rutherford.

Biggest Loss: Jeff O’Neill put up solid numbers for this team ever since they moved from Hartford. I’ve always liked him as a player. They didn’t bring in a “name” player to fill the void left by him ending up in Toronto.

Biggest Question Mark: Why do they like Danny Richmond so much?

  1. New York Rangers: No team should be happier to see the salary cap come into the picture. Now they can’t overspend for average players and get nothing out of them. No more Bobby Holik, Valeri Kamensky, Eric Lindros signings in NYC. They should welcome that. They did manage to add Straka and stole Steve Rucchin from the Ducks. The defense is iffy with Tom Poti as their best defenseman. Kasparaitis may be completely useless in the new NHL. Goaltending is a question mark as well. They have great prospects, but Kevin Weekes is currently the starter. That ain’t gonna get it done.

Biggest Gain: Straka is the sexier pick, but I really like Steve Rucchin and they didn’t have to give up a whole lot to get him. A nice move by Glen Sather.

Biggest Loss: Mark Messier. Maybe not even as much for his production as of late as his leadership abilities. The game said goodbye to one of its greats.

Biggest Question Mark: Will the lower-priced free agent strategy work for a team that has historically spend a ton on players who ended up underachieving? Which goalie prospect will end up grabbing the reins as the future? Lundqvist or Montoya?

  1. Buffalo Sabres: They weren’t good last season and they lost their two best forwards in the offseason (Satan and Zhitnik). Drury is a good player, but he’s not going to carry the offensive load for anyone. The defense corps doesn’t look good despite the acquisition of Teppo Numminen. At some point don’t they have to do something with one of their three goalies (Biron, Miller, Noronen)? Thomas Vanek of tainted 2003 OT goal against Michigan fame is in the lineup full-time now, after a great year in the AHL.

Biggest Gain: Numminen. As mentioned in the Dallas preview, he kind of disappointed there, but he’s still a guy that can put up 30-50 points and play pretty decent defense in the process.

Biggest Loss: Could it be…..Satan?

Biggest Question Mark: How long til next season?

  1. Washington Capitals: Also known as the Alex Ovechkins. They tore their team apart before the lockout and amassed a bunch of prospects, but until they come around this team is going to struggle. Olaf Kolzig better be ready to face some pucks, because they’re going to be coming and apart from the top line, he’s not going to get a lot of support. Jeff Friesen was a nice acquisition, as were Chris Clark, Ben Clymer, and Mathieu Biron. There’s really not a lot of proven talent on this team though. The blueline is almost completely youngsters.

Biggest Gain: Since he hasn’t played a game for them before this season, I feel ok picking Alex Ovechkin. As much hoopla as Crosby has gotten, Ovechkin would have received just as much if he were Canadian. He’s kind of the forgotten man, because he went #1 overall and then didn’t get to play in the NHL that year. He single-handedly ruined Jim Howard for the second half of a season based on his performance at World Juniors a couple years back.

Biggest Loss: The only players they technically lost were Chris Hajt and Trent Whitfield. They tore most of their team apart before the lockout. The biggest loss is Robert Lang. He was on pace to lead the league in scoring most of the 03-04 season and they didn’t get all that much for him from Detroit.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Ovechkin steal the spotlight from Crosby in their rookie years?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Michigan 3, Quinnipiac 1

Overall a pretty decent effort. We're going to struggle to score goals in the early going (which has me a little worried about next Friday when we face Schneider) but eventually this team IS going to be very good.

I thought Johnson was a little too into playing offense tonight. I'm all for jumping up into the play, but he was a little too careless at times. He made one bad pinch that led to a breakaway but luckily a dman got back. He has an absolute rocket of a shot though, and he's such a smooth skater. One thing that he had problems with in the Toronto game--but was better about tonight--was shooting the puck where there was no way it was getting through the dman who was right out on him. That's a good way to end up with a breakaway for the other team and he did it at least 3 times. Didn't notice him doing it tonight though, so hopefully he's getting a little more patient. He wasn't head and shoulders the best player on the ice tonight, but he still looked good.

Cogliano never really got it going tonight with his speed. He did make several nice passes on our powerplays and he's going to do very well in the playmaker role.

I don't like Ebbett running the point. He's so good behind the net that it seems like we're wasting him out there, especially since he doesn't have a big shot. I've never been a fan of us using a forward back there. Tamby was decent at it. This is one area where we've been lacking since Komo left. I like Jack, Hunwick, and Mitera as point guys on the PP. Not sure who I'd use as #4, but I don't like Ebbett back there.

As Spath pointed out to me, we had a TJ Hensick sighting on the PK. That, and Tim Cook calling for the puck (and seeing a few seconds of PP time) were the two surprises of the game. Cookie seems like he's trying to get into the offense more this year. He's probably had enough being made fun of about not having a point last year.

Billy Sauer played really, really, really well I thought. He didn't face a ton of rubber, but he was there when we needed him, and he had at least 4 big saves. I didn't think the goal was his fault. He had a guy laying in the crease and no stick (which I think the guy in the crease knocked out of his hands). He had back-to-back point blank saves in the third when it was 2-0 that were just outstanding. He's really quick down in that butterfly. The student section needs to give him some more love....there were a couple of "Billy Sauer" chants, but he had 3 or 4 saves that were pretty decent that barely drew a cheer, where if it had been Montoya, people would've been going crazy.

The one thing that I don't like about Sauer is that he's a complete opposite from Montoya at playing the puck. I meant to mention this after the Toronto game and it slipped my mind. He gave the puck away behind the goal at least 3 times during that game and once tonight. That doesn't seem to be a real strong point of his game. I think he knows it though, as he doesn't wander the way Al did.

He gave up a couple of rebounds that he probably didn't want to give up, but nothing came of it. Overall a pretty darn good effort from the kid in his first real start. He was the #3 star of the game.

Dest got tossed early on for a hit from behind. I thought it was a pretty weak call. I have no problem with them trying to crack down on it, and giving stiff penalties will help to get it out of the game...but a 5 & a game for a hit like the one Dest gave is pushing it. It was probably a 2, but definitely not a 5 from what I saw.

Is college hockey in general starting to give out instigator penalties when there are coincedental roughing minors, or is this just a Brian Aaron thing? I was just waiting for him to bust out the facemasking call. I think he's my least favorite ref in the CCHA...I hate it when he does our games.

I love Travis Turnbull. He had 2 goals tonight (Edit: Both goals got taken away, but he still had 2 assists) and he's just strong in all facets of the game. He has a lot more speed than I was expecting him to have as well. He's gonna be a good one for us.

Our defense blocks an awful lot of shots. They're all so big that they SHOULD be blocking a bunch, but I really noticed it tonight. Mitera is also good about using his skates to not let the puck get through his legs when a guy is coming in on him. He had a pretty solid game tonight I thought. Got back and cleanly broke up a breakaway.

I love the hustle by Danny Fardig. Got rewarded with a goal too!

This was another game where they seemed just a half second slow on stuff. The powerplay wasn't great again (apart from the 2 minute 5 on 3 where it took 10 seconds to score), but that'll come. There were 2 or 3 chances that should have been goals...Ebbett (or was it Kal? Maybe both...) had a golden scoring opportunity that I have no clue how it stayed out.

Overall a pretty good effort against a team that usually plays us pretty tough. Sauer's definitely earned himself another start tomorrow and I look forward to seeing him play again. I think we're gonna be ok in net, even though it is really early.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

NHL Preview: Western Conference

Full disclosure: The West rankings were written before the first games. The East rankings were done today, though it might be a couple days (or even early next week) before the team-by-team is put up. Anything that I took from the games Wednesday night has been noted, though I didn’t change any of the West rankings.

1. Detroit Red Wings: Call me a homer, but I really believe they’re the best team in the West. They have the best defense corps in the league as Lidstrom and Schneider are going to be lethal with the new rules (As will Kronwall once he comes back), Fischer makes a nice breakout pass, and Chelios and Lilja are no slouches as 4-5 defensemen. Everyone’s pretty solid in their own end, and there’s a lot of offensive talent there. Everyone wants to talk about their lack of depth now, but if you look at the rosters, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that do have depth. And Yzerman-Draper-Maltby as a third line isn’t bad at all. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the league’s brightest young stars, and having Robert Lang and a motivated Brendan Shanahan isn’t too bad either.

Biggest Gain: Mike Babcock. No question about it (and that’s not just because they were pretty quiet in the free agent market). He’s a huge upgrade from Dave Lewis and just might provide the kick in the butt this team needed.

Biggest Loss: Curtis Joseph. No he wasn’t great, but he was a darn solid goalie who deserved a lot better than he got from the Wings. Plus now they have Chris Osgood. Awesome.

Biggest Question Mark: The obvious question mark is in goal. Legace has put up great regular season numbers—and I think he’s a darn good goalie, and should be the starter—
but never has been “The Man”. Osgood is hurt (and those groin injuries can linger) and he kinda sucks. But the Wings won a Cup with Ozzie in net, and they’ve still got a great defense corps to help cover it up.

2. Vancouver Canucks: They’re deep, they have one of the best—if not THE best—lines in the NHL, Bertuzzi is going to be a force with the new rules, and they’ve got a solid defense corps. But as with the Red Wings, the big question mark yet again is in net.

Biggest Gain: Anson Carter. Nothing spectacular, but he adds good depth and can knock in some goals for them.

Biggest Loss: Brad May. Who’s going to put out a bounty on unsuspecting players now?

Biggest Question Mark: In goal. Cloutier has held them back for a couple years when it looked like they were getting ready to contend. He’s just not a good goalie. But this could be the year that it doesn’t matter all that much anymore. Or maybe they’ll just play Alex Auld.

3. Calgary Flames: I’m not quite buying all the Flames Kool-Aid that TSN, SI and ESPN have been spewing, picking them #1 in the league and whatnot. But they are going to be a very solid team, and they’re better in goal that the two teams listed above them. And they still have the best player in the league in Iginla. They’ve got a great defense corps as well. That adds up to a pretty good finish in the conference.

Biggest Gain: Roman Hamrlik. Provides some nice offensive punch to their blueline, which was lacking in it before. He edges out Philippe Sauve for this award. Just kidding.

Biggest Loss: Craig Conroy. They didn’t lose any great players, but the Flames did lose some solid ones, and Conroy is the best of that bunch.

Biggest Question Mark: Who’s going to score apart from their top line? Simon-Reinprecht-Donovan isn’t exactly a great 2nd line (though I do think the world of Reinprecht as a hockey player, and I think he’s very underrated).

4. Nashville Predators: A good team who gave the Wings fits in the playoffs two years ago added some scoring in Kariya, Vokoun looks like he’s ready to make The Leap into the echelon of top goalies, and they’ve got a good young defense corps.

Biggest Gain: Paul Kariya. If (and that’s a big if) he can stay healthy, he should thrive having the new rules, which means people can’t hit him and that makes him happy since he’s a pussy. I hate Paul Kariya, but when he’s on, he’s fun to watch.

Biggest Loss: Denis Arkhipov. He chipped in a consistent 30-40 points and was great on the line with Erat and Orszagh. The latter was a big loss as well. He may be back once his knee heals, but I think he tore all of his CLs, so he won’t be back for awhile.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Kariya stay healthy? They’ve got some solid players, but Steve Sullivan is the only other difference marker on their roster that isn’t in goal. Kariya adds that threat to a second line, which makes them that much harder to play against.

5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks: The Los Angeles Ducks of Orange County but Sometimes Anaheim Too pulled off the coup of the Free Agent Frenzy, getting Scott Niedermayer to leave New Jersey (Though really…who wouldn’t want to leave New Jersey for SoCal?) and join his brother. They also got Selanne away from his partner friend Paul Kariya. Niedermayer, Ozolinsh, Salei, Carney, Vishnevski, and the almost-Wolverine Jason Marshall make up a defense corps that any team not named Detroit would probably envy. That Fedorov guy ain’t bad either. There is a question of depth up front. Both Ducks fans have to be thinking that Steve Ruccin (who they gave to the Rangers) would be looking pretty nice still.

Biggest Gain: Scott Niedermayer. The absolute best defenseman available and they landed him. Solid all-around, spectacular on offense.

Biggest Loss: The bulk on JS Giguere’s pads.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Giguere regain his form from when he took the Ducks to the Cup Finals? If he can adjust to the new rules they could be higher than I have them ranked.

6. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks got hit very hard by free agent defections in the offseason. Check out this list from TSN: Additions: F Josh Langfeld.
Subtractions: D Mike Rathje, C Vincent Damphousse, D Jason Marshall, C Mike Ricci, F Curtis Brown, F Todd Harvey, F Alexander Korolyuk (returned to Europe). Ouch. Despite losing Rathje, the defense is still strong with Stuart, Hannah, and McLaren, and they’re strong in net with Nabokov. Up front is the same question that most teams are facing…who is going to score after the top 4-5 forwards?

Biggest Gain: Umm….I guess that’d be Josh Langfeld. That has to make Sharks fans feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Biggest Loss: Rathje. He’s huge, he logged a lot of minutes for the team, and was relatively healthy. If they had managed to keep him (and with $14 million in cap room, how did they not?) that would be one scary-good defense corps.

Biggest Question Mark: Can Milan Michalek overcome a serious knee injury and live up to the high hopes placed on him as the #1 prospect in the organization?

7. LA Kings: Conroy, Demitra, Roenick, Mr. Candice Cameron. Not a bad crop of free agents the Kings signed, and I didn’t even mention their starting goalie Mathieu Garon. They also lost quite a bit though, with Ziggy Palffy, Ian Laperriere, Anson Carter, Martin Straka, Jozef Stumpel, Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh taking off. The latter two hadn’t helped them recently, despite being great players in the past. Allison for $1-1.5 million is a gamble worth taking though, and the Leafs could hit on that boom-or-bust player.

They do, however, have a pair of young stars-in-the-making in Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri. They don’t have a great defense corps in front of their young goalie however, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold down the fort.

Biggest Gain: Jeremy Roenick. The guy can still play when he shuts his mouth long enough to do it.

Biggest Loss: Ziggy Palffy. When he’s healthy, he’s close to a point-per-game player. It’s hard to replace that, and even if you can replace that, you’d like to have it anyway.

Biggest Question Mark: The Kings have been absolutely ravaged by injury the last few years. “Can they stay healthy?” trumps “Can Mathieu Garon make an impact as an NHL starting goalie?”.

8. Dallas Stars: They managed to keep Mike Modano. That right there may have saved the fortunes of the Stars this year, because without him they were royally screwed. Their defense took a hit with Teppo Numminen and Chris Therien taking off, and I’m sorry but Martin Skoula does not fix that. Turco is a solid goalie, though he hasn’t shown it in the playoffs, which surprises me because he was just money at Michigan. Morrow-Modano-Guerin is a great line and Lehtinen and Arnott round out a solid top 5 forwards.

Biggest Gain: Modano’s signature on his contract. It looked like he was gone, but he decided to stick with the team he’s played for his whole career.

Biggest Loss: Teppo Numminen wasn’t the player for them that they hoped he would be, but when you’ve got Skoula in your top 3, you’re going to feel the loss of a guy that probably underachieved for your team.

Biggest Question Mark: Is this team good enough to make the playoffs? I feel like this team pretty much is what it is. No real injury reclamation projects, no superstud prospects adjusting to the NHL, a solid goalie, no players that seem ready to make The Leap. They’re going to be right on the bubble the whole year I think.

9. Colorado Avalanche: My how the mighty have fallen. I know Kariya and Selanne underachieved for them, but losing those two plus Forsberg and Foote in the same offseason? No one should be riding Pierre Lacroix’s jock over that one. Lacroix has been given a free ride from people after putting the Avs in contention year after year in the late 90s, but lately has made several very questionable moves and completely sold out the team’s farm system. He also had the most curious move of the offseason, signing Brad May who put out a bounty on Steve Moore last season. The defense corps is shaky once you get past Rob Blake and Karlis Skrastins (and the fact that I give them Skrastins in the “not shaky” department says something). The Anti-Christ JM Liles is a good offensive defenseman, but he ain’t Nick Lidstrom in his own end. Hedjuk, Sakic and Tanguay are as good as any top 3 forwards you’ll find, but once you get past them there ain’t a lot of scoring punch left. If the Avs offense disappointed when Forsberg, Selanne and Kariya were there, what’s going to happen with them all having departed?

Biggest Gain: Antti Laaksonen. He’s a good all-around forward who should be a fan-favorite, having played for DU.

Biggest Loss: Forsberg or Foote. Take your pick. They were both integral parts of Colorado’s success and they both did it in their own way. When healthy, Floppa was the best player in the league. Foote was a guy that no one liked to play against. And they didn’t replace either of them adequately.

Biggest Question Mark: Unfairly or not, is 2003-04 Vezina-candidate David Aebischer really a good goalie? Can he carry the load without a viable backup (still) and with a questionable defense corps? He had a great year in 03-04 but I’m still not sold on him. I’m biased, but I really don’t see this team making the playoffs.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets: Foote, Hrdina, and Berard were three nice free agent signings. Nash plays with two guys that can get him the puck in Marchant and Zherdev. Apart from the top-line though, there’s not a lot of proven depth. The defense corps is good and Denis is a capable goalie, but I don’t see them quite having enough firepower yet to make the playoffs in the close West.

Biggest Signing: Adam Foote. He can put fear in the hearts of opposing forwards and is the mean defenseman they needed to clear the front of the net.

Biggest Loss: Gerard Gallant’s moustache. He hasn’t had it for awhile I don’t think, but I still miss it whenever they show him. They didn’t really lose anyone in the offseason unless you count Zenith Komarniski, which I don’t.

Biggest Question Mark: Who scores apart from the top line, and will Rick Nash have better than a 3:1 goal:assist ratio?

11. Phoenix Coyotes: This is a team that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of. I debated putting them as high as 7th, but they end up back here and I’m not sure why. They have good forwards (Comrie, Nedved, Nagy, Doan, Hull), a solid defense corps (Morris, Tanabe, Gauthier), and a good goalie in Curtis Joseph. So why do I have them ranked 11th? No clue. I just don’t like something there and I can’t put my finger on it. They’ve got definite upward mobility from this position.

Biggest Gain: Petr Nedved. Nedved’s 40-50 points should be a nice addition to a team that doesn’t have a ton at center behind Mike Comrie.

Biggest Loss: Daymond Langkow. Nedved’s 40-50 points don’t completely replace Langkow’s 50-60.

Biggest Question Mark: Is Wayne Gretzky a face, or a legit coach? We’ll find out. They talk about how he’s great at recognizing talent. We’ll see in the upcoming seasons if he should be behind the bench or in the front office.

12. Chicago Blackhawks: They’re another sexy pick to have a breakout season, and while I could see it, I’m not going along with it. There’s so much young talent on this team that I feel like they’re still a year away. Tuomo Ruutu is sick though. Adrian Aucoin and Nikolai Khabibulin were great acquisitions. Making Martin Lapointe the third highest-paid player on the team was not. They have a very shaky defense corps. It’s a good thing they signed the Bulin Wall, because they’re going to need him.

Biggest Gain: Khabibulin. If Scott Niedermayer wasn’t the prize of the free agent class, then Khabibulin was. Does anyone really think he wouldn’t have ended up in Detroit but for the new salary cap? This was a coup for Chicago.

Biggest Loss: Bryan Berard. He isn’t a great defenseman, but he’s solid enough and would probably be their #2 guy.

Biggest Question Mark: Can the young talent get used to the NHL, and if so, how quickly? If they mesh quickly, then this team could also be shooting up the Western Conference.

13. Edmonton Oilers: They’re fast. They should greatly benefit from the new rules. They added Chris Pronger and Mike Peca. And yet, I don’t think it’s going to be enough (sorry Mgoblog). They don’t have a lot of proven scorers up front…or…well…any that aren’t named Ryan Smyth (Peca had 3 good years, but has come back to Earth the last couple of seasons). Ed note: After watching them last night, Jarrett Stoll is gonna be a player (whether it’s this year or not) and Horcoff looks like he could break out this year. The defense corps is solid, and they expect good things from ex-UNH goalie Ty Conklin.

Biggest Gain: Chris Pronger, literally and figuratively. If he stays healthy we all know how good he can be. The biggest issue is staying healthy.

Biggest Loss: Eric Brewer, both literally and figuratively. I think the world of him as a player, and the Oilers are taking a gamble that Pronger won’t get hurt yet again.

Biggest Question Mark: Who the hell is going to score for this team?

14. Minnesota Wild: The masters of the trap will have to adjust to the new NHL rules, and quickly if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. They might have the coach to do it though, as I do believe that Jacques Lemaire is one of the best minds in the game. Brian Rolston was a nice addition to help take some of the heat off Gaborik. They’ll again platoon Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez. They really could have used some help down the middle, and an upper echelon defenseman because I don’t see one on their roster. I don’t see this team doing too much this year. (Ed note: They fared ok last night)

Biggest Gain: Brian Rolston. When Alexandre Daigle was your leading scorer (probably on and off the ice), you need some help offensively.

Biggest Loss: The ability to trap.

Biggest Question Mark: Has anyone heard of any of their centers? That’s probably an exaggeration, but still…

15. St. Louis Blues: Owwwwwww! I had them ranked here even before last night’s shellacking, as did pretty much everyone else. They lost their three best players in Pronger, MacInnis, and Demitra and replaced them with Eric Brewer and the fork that is sticking out of Scott Young’s back. To top it off, Keith Tkachuk came into camp looking like Cheech Hunt. They have a nice top line and a nice top pairing on defense but after that it’s just painful to look at their roster. That playoff streak is coming to an end. There’s just no way it doesn’t, short of 7 plane crashes.

Biggest Gain: Eric Brewer. This trade will work out well for both teams. It’ll look really good for the Blues in a couple years, much in the way the Pronger for Shanahan team worked out for them.

Biggest Loss: Chris Pronger. Go figure.

Biggest Question Mark: The biggest question comes courtesy of me watching the game last night, and was echoed roughly 1 second later by everyone else I was watching with. “Dallas Drake is their captain???”

In the playoffs, the Wings come out of the West if they get any goaltending whatsoever. I have faith in Babcock he’ll go with Legace, and Manny will do just fine.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

NHL Preview to Come

It's going to be a little late, but I'm working on an NHL preview, I just don't have time to finish it before the season kicks off tonight.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Favre's Miracle Falls Short

I feel like I just got punched in the stomach. Repeatedly.

What a 4th quarter performance, only to have it fall short. Once Green Bay got the ball back with 2 minutes left, there wasn't an ounce of me that didn't think they were going to win that game.

Last week after Griese's "incomplete pass" that was really a fumble and a touchdown, I asked my dad "What else could possibly go wrong for this team?" Well....down 19 points with 6 starters out on offense, yet another WR in the hospital after being carted off on a stretcher (This is 3 since the Jacksonville game of last season), they come all the way back and lose on a dropped pass that would've come really close to getting them in field goal range.

They've now lost their last 3 games by a total of 6 points. This feels like 2000 Michigan, just with all the losses right in a row. Or the anti-1999 Packers when Favre led 3 last-second wins in the first four games.

God this hurts.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Michigan Wolverines 3, Toronto Varsity Blues 2

First off, the Varsity Blues? Was Johnny Mox in goal? Was Ali Larter waiting in the locker room in her whipped cream bikini? I thought I was going to see the oopty-oop at some point during the game.

Went into this one thinking we'd score double digit goals like we usually do against Canadian teams, but it didn't happen. They mounted quite a bit of offensive pressure, but the Toronto goalie played out of his mind (which is odd because he was in net when they gave up 15 to LSSU last year).

Jack Johnson is clearly the best player on the ice, and honest to God, I'm not sure that if we moved him to forward he wouldn't be the second best guy up front behind Hensick. He should have had about 3-4 goals today. The goalie robbed him with the glove on one, Jack hit the crossbar on a wicked shot, he danced through the defense to get denied again. He's got a cannon for a shot as well. This kid is just really, really, really good. You can tell he's in a class by himself out there. He took 6 PIMs today, including 2 minutes for instigating when there were coincedental roughing after the whistle calls. Not sure where Aaron pulled that one from. He should be playing close to 30 a night if he can handle it, because he's that much better than everyone else on defense (and that's not a knock against our other guys). On the play where he got called for instigating and roughing, he was sticking up for yet another Wolverine that had been hit from behind. Toronto liked to do that an awful lot.

Toronto had 2 guys ejected for hitting from behind (They're kind of a dirty team). The second one was iffy if it should've been 5 IMO, but the one a minute into the game was just blatant. I was kind of disappointed in the success of the power play. They did have 1 PPG, but they went both 5 minute majors w/o a goal, including a stretch in the first one where they had a 5 on 3 for almost a full 2 minutes. The Toronto goalie did play very very well though.

Cogliano can fly. Holy crap that kid has wheels. He's faster than Tambellini for sure. There was one play where both defensemen were skating backwards as Cogs brought it into the zone. The left defenseman went to check him and missed because Cogliano was by him so fast. He blew by both of them like they were standing still.

Sauer was barely tested, though he did have 2 very nice off a shot that was deflected by Kolarik and he stopped a guy who was in cold turkey on a breakaway. Ruden didn't really have a chance on either goal, and he had a great glove save when it was 1-0. Sauer's pads are great...he needs the winged helmet look on his mask though. He's got an all black one right now. He does have the winged "helmet" on his trapper though, which looks very cool.

Hard to tell much about the defense since they weren't really tested much.

TJ took the game over when Toronto tied it up 1-1. Scored an absolutely gorgeous goal, walking through the defense to make it 2-1, and then after Toronto tied it again, he set up the game winner. I'm not sure how he came out of the pile with the puck but he managed, then Cogliano fed Porter for the winner.

I really like the TJ/Kolarik/Porter/Johnson/Hunwick PP unit. That's a lot of talent there.

Turnbull looks like he's going to be a very solid all around guy. Did a nice job killing penalties out there. I really like Bailey (he's got wheels too). Naurato never got to unleash one so I could see the shot that Spath and Tbarr have been talking about, but he did have a deceptively quick wrist shot from the point that almost found the back of the net. Nice pad save on that one.

Miller, MacVoy, and Swystun didn't jump out much to me.

Tim Cook actually had a pretty nice game. Either Johnson or Cook left the front of the net wide open on one of the Toronto goals, but Cookie played pretty well I thought. He actually showed a lot more aggresiveness on the offensive end, which was nice to see because he was held without a point last year.

Dest and Ebbett were the scratches. I assume both are healthy.

Overall a pretty good effort. I could get used to the new offsides rules that they tried. It definitely made things interesting. Langseth blew it twice, ruling a play off when it wasn't under the new rule. I'm still not sure how smart it was to try something like that when you're trying to break in 8 freshmen forwards and a couple freshmen defensemen but it was an interesting idea and I thought it moved the game along pretty well.

Without an absolutely great game out of the goalie, we would've been much closer to the 10+ goals that most of us thought we'd score.

Bring on Quinnipiac and let's start playing for real!