Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gluttony and Greed

Lets see if I can turn around my luck tonight - this is an interesting line up seeing how the games tonight appear to be evenly matched.

Canucks / Lightning - Canucks -110 ... Luongo returns tonight after a week off, spending time with his pregnant wife. Who wouldn't cheer for him - oh yea, and he is my #1 goalie on my fantasy team

Result: I was wrong ... right ... so, when Tampa Bay can pull it together they pull it together. Not saying that Vancouver gave them the win ... but when Brad Richards is on, he is unstoppable. Vancouver tried to come in last night and dictate how the game was to be played and Tampa Bay answered back - resulting in 8 fighting majors! God I love hockey!!!

Canes / Leafs - Canes -155 ... Carolina winning 3 of its last 4 while Cam Ward has averaged 2 goals or less helps, what seals it is Toronto's 2 straight losses and winning only 1 of the last 4 games. Not have center Alex Steen isnt helping either.

Result: Thank You Rod Brind'Amore - a win is a win ... and a win in OT is still 2 points. Put me down for ONE in the "W" column!

Yes - I am well aware that these are both favorites! Let me at least get some notches in my win column and I'll start gettin risky again.

Modo No Mo and Other Stuff

Peter the Great

Forsberg has reportedly informed Modo, his former team in the Elite leagues in Sweden, that he will not be playing with them this season instead choosing to give his agent permission to begin discussions with NHL teams about a return. I would expect that he'll be signed in the next week to two weeks and I'm guessing Philly, Detroit and Calgary are the front runners.

Kovie's Knee

Reports out of Atlanta say that the Kovalchuk will miss at least two games but they don't expect him to miss a substantial amount of games due to a knee injury caused by a collision with Jarko Ruutu.

Dion Phaneuf

Arguably the most coveted upcoming restricted free agent, Dion has been busy negotiating with the Flames for a contract extension. An extension that would see him off the market and therefore safe from an offer sheet similar to those that were offered unsuccessfully to Vanek and, unfortuntately for Anaheim, successfully to Dustin Penner in the off-season. Expect the deal to be announced today and be in the neighborhood of $6 million a year for 5 years.

Oh Yes, There Will Be Blood

Some great games on tap tonight, and my game of the night has to be Rangers at Flyers. This should be a nasty game as the Rangers are struggling while the Flyers are, well, flying.

My picks for the evening.

Rangers +130 at Flyers -150. Flyers -1.5 +190.
I'll take Flyers to win and Flyers -1.5. I just can't see the Rangers hanging with Philly right now.

Result: Rangers DESTROY the Flyers and shut them out 4-0 chasing Niittymaki out of the net in the process. Flyers are brought back down to earth and hopefully for me, since I drafted Biron, this will mean the return the relatively consistent Biron.

BlueJackets+125 at Predators -145.
These odds would be heavily in the Jackets favor if this were being played on their home ice, so I'll take the "underdog" just to see what happens.

Result: Well it was apparently a night to chase goaltenders out of the net as Leclaire, leading the league in shutouts and one of the top goalies in the league statistically, only survived two periods against the Preds show seem to have some life after announcing that JP Dumont and Jordan Tootoo are there to stay.

Canucks -105 at Lightning -115.
The Lightning favored over the Canucks with Luongo back in net? Easy choice. In fact, I wish I had the odds for the Canucks winning by more than 2.

Result: Luongo looked okay but not his normal dominant self and the Lightning would eventually win 4-3, a score that makes the game seem closer than it felt.

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This

What a brutal night in terms of picks.

Conklin continued his slide down the slope of consistency by allowing 4 goals on 20 shots before being yanked for Sabourin. The Penguins offense, however, didn't give him much help only scoring 1 goal on Lehtonen in 30 shots. Atlanta looked very strong and showed why they can be a tough team when they all come together. Lehtonen was sharp but in the second period a potentially crushing blow was dealt when Jarko Ruutu attempted to finish his check on Ilya Kovalchuk and had Kovie step out of the way just enough to make knee-on-knee contact. Kovalchuk left the game and did not return and Ruutu received a 5-minute penalty for kneeing. I love that refs would call that play for a major penalty, which it wasn't, and yet allow anyone and everyone to run people from behind into the boards. No update on Kovie's status.

Anaheim got shocked in Minnesota as Giggy was pulled after allowing 3 goals in the first 3:18 of the second period. Hiller, his replacement, didn't fare much better allowing 2 goals on 12 shots. Anaheim mustered one goal to lose 5-1. Selanne didn't play and apparently it's up to him as to when he will return to the lineup. I think it'll happen on the current road trip.

Chicago looked, well, like Chicago or at least Khabibulin looked consistently like his inconsistent self allowing 6 goals on 30 shots. While the Chicago offense was anemic as well only mustering 15 shots on goal but managing to bury 3 of them. 1 on Theodore, who missed the third period with back spasms and 2 on Budaj. Budaj's stock continues to tumble as he allowed 2 goals on only 4 shots. Luckily, for Colorado, the game was already a done deal by that point.

Hey Wahhappened?

Well – you win some and lose some. Looks like I need to focus on the “win” column, since I pretty much have the “lose” column dialed in. WOW … all I can say is WOW. Last night was a very interesting hockey night. Giggy getting pulled … AGAIN for the second straight game, and to make matters worse both times were before the mid-point of the game. Did you catch that amazing pass to Owen Nolan, you know, the one Nabby walked out of the crease to give him? Had the Sharks played the whole game like the played the last 5 minutes I think they would have bested the Flames, but I am sure Ron Wilson had said that last night in Calgary. Poor showing … that’s all I can say! The Wild just embarrassed the Ducks also … not sure if the Wild were having a great night, or if the Ducks were sucking? Time will tell … this game was the launching pad for the longest road trip in team history. Not a good way to start the tour off … we’ll see what, if any, affect it has on their game.

Now – I could try to take credit for calling the Avalanche game. But since I passed on it, it’s a moot point. However, a big blow to Colorado’s already injured line-up is the addition of Jose Theodore to that list. He sat out the 3rd period due to back spasms, Jose was really showing his worth in the crease and I hope he is back in front of the net soon.

Phoenix gave the Red Wings a great game for 2 periods … they were in control. Until the 3rd when the Wings, as always, found their legs and knocked 2 down to win. This was Detroit’s first game back since the All Star break so they needed those first 2 periods to warm up the engines. Once again, Detroit has the Hockey formula and Mike Babcok knows it with this statement after the game … "If you're them, you probably think you should have had a better fate.”

I’ll put up my guesses later … back to work.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NHL Considering Adding 2 Games

Here is a juicy one that has been talked about for a while, and hopefully, will be seriously considered, if not for next season - then 2010! Just read this on Yahoo Rumors:

One of the topics of conversation at the NHL board of governors meeting last weekend was stretching the regular season to 84 games, allowing each team to have a home and road game against every other league opponent. Under the current 82-game matrix, the Boston Bruins do not play a single match this season against the teams from the Northwest Division the Boston Globe reported. NHL Players Association executive director Paul Kelly has said the players would consider adding two games to the regular season, but also said the preseason should be trimmed at the same time. Boston goalie Tim Thomas said he understands the idea behind the 84-game schedule, noting that every fan in North America wants the opportunity to see Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. But Thomas wasn't sure about the logistics of whacking preseason games to make room.

Another consideration I would like to throw into the mix would be a discussion on changing Overtime from a 4 on 4 format to a 3 on 3. I think that would open up a ton of ice for fast passing hockey along with killer break aways. Don't make it a sudden death match - but at the end of 5 minutes if it is still tied go into a shoot out.

Just my 2 cents ... I would love to see the Sharks play Tampa Bay and Florida and Atlanta every year.

Eenie, Meenie, Miney

I think its pretty funny how the lines are drawn for the NHL. I agree with Clint that the bookies and sports pages don't really know much about hockey and all the variables that come with it. I, along with Clint, love the fact that they will always give home ice advantage. Here is my guess as to how tonight's match up will pan out.

Ducks, Penguins, Sharks ... as you will quickly find out, I will never play the over / under in hockey. I think it will bite you in the ass every time you try. It looks like Clint and I are pretty close in this match up today.

Ducks / Wild … Ducks +120 … With the Ducks on a 3 game slide before the All Star break, and Teemu’s return breathing new life into the Ducks organization I don’t even think the Wild can stop this team. Even though Teemu wont play with them … they know he is back and will probably play with a new found urgency.

Penguins / Thrashers … PENS +125 … With Conklin building his own brick wall in front of the net and with the opportunity to take over the top slot in the Atlantic Division, I don’t think Atlanta has the drive to stop this team … especially after losing the last 5 games. Even without Crosby – Pittsburgh is 2-1-1 showing that they are all fighters and will rally to continue their climb up the league ladder.

Sabers / Panthers … Not worth it … I think I’ll leave this one alone, to close to call. Both teams are struggling, this is any teams game. Like John Madden would say “You know, at the end of this game we will have a winner and a loser and one will have won, and that’s what that’s all about!”

Coyotes / Red Wings … Not worth it … with the Wings favored at -310, you might as well just keep your money and put it on the Ducks or Sharks. However, I don’t think this is going to be a cake walk for the Red Wings … with Doan and Vrbata firing on all cylinders, and Phoenix sitting at 10-3-1 in the last 14 … this is going to be a very good match.

Blackhawks / Avalanche … Not worth it … Chicago being the worst (well, not counting LA … who does?) in the conference and Colorado and Phoenix fighting over that #8 spot for the playoffs this game is going to be interesting … why? Well with Colorado’s 17-8-1 home record (one of the best in the West) they have a strong foundation to play on … what worries me is having Sakic, Smyth and Stastny out … how will that affect their drive? If I were to choose it would be Colorado, but I would pass on this one since the money won is not proportionate to the risk.

Sharks / Flames … Sharks +115 … Well, cause I love the Sharks (no secret) … Nabby looking like he is unstoppable right now, and being tied for first with Dallas should give the Sharks a boost. This is going to be Nabby’s game to lose … he is 10-7-1 against the Flames with 2 shutouts … The Sharks being on a 3 game win streak helps too.

Round 2 - 1/30/08

Quite a few great games and odd lines this evening. Here are my picks:

Penguins +125 at Thrashers -145

Just in case you don't know, I'm a Penguins fan and -145 for the Thrashers is absurd. Pittsburgh wins.

Result: Thrashers beat Penguins 4-1.

Ducks +120 at Wild -140

I love the Wild, but I also love the Ducks and the Ducks will repeat this year so any opportunity you get to take them at a +, do it. Anaheim Wins

Result: Ducks lose to Minnesota 5-1.

Blackhawks +125 at Avalanche -145 - Over 5.5 +110

This is a pretty even game and you never know which goalie, and which version of that goalie, will show up for the Blackhawks. Avalanche have been struggling lately after going on a mini-run behind the rejuvenated Theodore so I'll take the Blackhawks just for the +125. I'll also take the over.

Result: Colorado beats Chicago like they stole somethin', 6-3.

Earning Shutouts

Shut-Outs are always hard on the losing team ... especially when the opposing goalie is a brick wall, and they do everything they can to squeak a puck by. But when the losing team (Edmonton) doesn't even try ... and Nabby doesn't even break a sweat stopping the 13 shots taken, you know it was a shut out handed over.

To add insult to injury, Edmonton's Craig MacTavish is quoted saying "It was a humbling effort. I didn't see this effort coming, you can say that we got outbattled but we didn't even get to the battle."

Don't get me wrong, there have been many times when I have watch San Jose look like the keystone cops ... but a win is a win, and a shut out is wonderful when Nabby is my go to goalie on my Head 2 Head Fantasy Team!

Looks like we have some good matches tonight - I'll throw my predictions up later this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quite the Powder Keg

The Rangers and Hurricanes are playing a predictably nasty game right now with 66 penalty minutes in the first period. Jaromir Jagr, of all people, jumped in to aid a teammate in a fight after Scott Walker (I believe) threw a nasty hit from behind. Looks like the Rangers my have some life after all. Oh by the way, no call on the hit from behind.

Tow the Line

Well I’m not much of a gambling man, unless it’s poker, I can’t help but look at NHL lines and laugh. If ever a gambling man wanted to have an advantage over the house in sports betting, NHL is it. The people who make hockey lines clearly don’t know hockey as well as they do the other “mainstream” sports and it gives people an opportunity to capitalize. They seem to rarely take key injuries, fatigue, backup goalies giving starters a rest, or any of the factors that decide hockey games into account. With that in mind, I’ve decided I’d put my holiest of marbles on the line, or on the ice if you will, and start a series where I discuss questionable lines of the night. It's just for fun and I'll be honest about my failures. It’s also important to note that I’m rarely interested in getting 1 to 2 on my money or anyone’s money for that matter, so I’ll only analyze what I see as mistakes. Let’s kick it off:

Kings +175 at Flyers -210 - Over 6.5 EVEN

Now you’d have to be nuts to take the Kings in this matchup, but the interesting part of the line is that over 6.5 goals is even and under is -120. So let’s see, a high scoring team with the propensity for allowing goals faces a team struggling to find a goaltender and a 5-2 final score is even? I’ll take the over. I take the Flyers and over 6.5.

Result: Flyers win but in overtime by a score of 3 of 2. LA put up quite a fight.

Penguins +170 at Devils -200

Now the first thing to realize is that the people who set hockey lines basically assume the home team will always win. Of course, tell that to San Jose who’s only lost 4 games in regulation on the road but is only .500 at home and winless against the big teams of their division. Now, the Penguins went into the break struggling a bit as Conklin started to look human again. The Devils, on the other hand, were hot and found some offense stashed away in the depths of their defensive brains. I wouldn’t take Pittsburgh, but I wouldn’t take the Devils. -200 against the Penguins is a sucker bet, unless that team is Detroit or Anaheim. I’ll take the Penguins, just to see what happens.

Result: Penguins surprise the Devils and score 3 in the third to win 4-2.

Blues +105 at Leafs -125

Another classic example of the line being skewed based on home ice. Let’s face it, the Leafs are terrible and while St Louis has had its problems they’re still a much better team than the Leafs. I’ll take the Blues just because I would never take the Leafs for anything less then even even against the Kings.

Result: St Louis jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead and then allows Toronto to temporarily climb back into it before winning 3-2.

Capitals +150 at Canadians -170

The Canadians have been great lately and I do love to see Canadian teams make the playoffs so go Habs. However, the Caps have been very good as well and are one point away from leading their division after Carolina's monumental mid-season collapse. The coaching change did wonders for Washington, election time encourages me to compare this to the country but I refrain, and even without Nylander, they're still in position to make their first playoff berth since before Jagr stole their money. This is a tough one to call, but -170 against the Caps is a sucker bet. I’ll take the Capitals just out of spite.

Result: Caps actually played a good game but their backup goaltender couldn't out duel a streaking Huet. Huet with a 35 shot shutout and Habs win 4-0.

Coyotes +125 at Blue Jackets -145

This is another game where those numbers would be flopped if Phoenix were at home. Bryzgalov versus Leclaire and with Carcillo back tonight the Yotes should have a little extra jump. That and Shane Doan playing like a man possessed, or a guy who’s sick of missing the playoffs, and the single biggest waiver pickup in a decade have the Coyotes defying expectations and beating down the door of the playoffs. I’ll take the Coyotes, just because -145 in this situation makes no sense to me.

Result: After allowing a goal on the very first shot and trailing going into the third, Phoenix has a 3 goal third period to win 4-2.

Dallas at Vancouver - under 5 +110

Dallas: anemic offense great goaltending. Vancouver: one good offensive line and great goaltending. Under 5: +110? I’ll the take under and hope Naslund doesn't wake up.

Result: I screwed this one up by failing to remember that Luongo was not returning to his team until later this week. The backup goaltenders, yes plural, could not beat Dallas but the offense of the Canucks made an important effort and closed the gap to a final of 4-3 Dallas after being down 4-1.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beware the Duck

The most poorly kept secret, and unshocking of shockers, was finally revealed today as Teemu Selanne has announced that he will return to the Ducks immediately and join them on their road trip starting Tuesday. Teemu had been involved in a skating program for about a month and was, if you believed the interviews, trying to determine whether or not he wanted to return. He rejoins one of the hottest teams in the league, and the most likely to win the cup in my opinion, and will most likely line up next to Getzlaf and Perry on the top line. If so, both Getzlaf and Perry stand to have huge second halfs now that they have the Finnish Flash to finish the play. A second line of the suddenly revived Bertuzzi, Weight and Kunitz isn't too shabby either and that's not even mentioning possibly the best defensive core assembled in a decade. As long as Giggy stays healthy and continues to play well, the Ducks and Redwings are poised for a re-match in the Western conference finals.

Oh, and Forsberg will be back too no doubt, bionic foot and all. If he re-signs with the Flyers, rumored to be in the running for his services, that means that their third line center will be Forsberg or Briere. Now that's depth.

All Stars and Entertainment

I watched the All Star weekend from the comfort of my own couch this past weekend and there were some moments that were impressive. Mostly, I feel that the All Star game is like watching a hockey clinic. Its the best of the game doing what they do best - Automatic Hockey. I am not watching the games to see the flying hits, the hip checks and the rivalries ... what I like the most is the respect these great players give each other. Any other time during the year you will see these same players going after each other like arch enemies (AO's hit on Malkin for example) ... but during the All Star weekend - it is great hockey players playing great technical hockey.

I was happy to see Staal get MVP, even though it was Kovalchuk's to lose - Stall stepped up and took it! Nabby to get a perfect period 8 for 8 ... last time an All Star goalie got a perfect period was 2002 (Khabibulin). Rick Nash joined a few elite lists this year also - scoring once in each period and also setting the fastest opening goal - 12 seconds into the game beating out a record that has been held since 1950!

Now - for the skills competition ... for me, this is what the All Star games are about. The puck handling, the slap shots and the target practice. To watch these amazing hockey players do what they do best and show us how they have helped perfect the game is inspiring to say the least. Chara's 103 MPH slap shot, Kaberle with his 4 for 4 target shots and then taking it in a shootout - one shot / one plate!!! And how about AO's creative puck flip, spin around, Barry Bonds swing for the net ... I thought that was pretty creative and fun ... next year all he has to do is connect.

Lastly - I really enjoyed the 3 on 3 young star game. It was cool having Manny Leagce mic'd (SP? - you know what I mean, having a microphone so the announcers could talk to them) up during the games ... and to hear his thoughts before, during and after a break away shot that he kicked off to the corner. Having players mic'd gave me a different look into how they relate to each other, how they admire and respect each other ... and also, how they are enjoying the game too. To most of these players ... its not a sport ... its not a job ... its their life and its their passion!

Great All Star weekend - back to the Fantasy roster ... I have some trades to make and some ground to cover!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Been a ridiculously long time coming....

After looking at the recent standings it seems as though the NHL may just have achieved a greater level of parity than any other sport in recent memory.

In the East:

Philly is in second with 59 points and Toronto is in 14th with 48. That’s a massive separation for only 11 points. It’s also interesting to note that if the Caps gain one point on Carolina they will jump from 10th to 3rd in the conference.

In the West:

San Jose is in second with 61 points and Chicago is in 14th with 50 points. Again, 11 points separates pretty much the entire conference. Detroit may be the only team in the league that you can consider dominant in relation to everyone else. Of course, we've all seen what happens to them in the playoffs.

Ultimately, we are going to have a ridiculous number of competitive teams that won’t even get to play in the playoffs. Boston, Islanders, Rangers, Washington, Atlanta, Florida, Buffalo and Toronto will all be battling for the last couple of spots in the east. Now if it weren't for Buffalo's recent slide they would never be on the outside looking in, but that's a different post altogether. As is the importance of Ovechkin (MVP) and the arrival of Backstrom in Washington.

In the West, Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado, Columbus, Nashville (what!??!), Phoenix, St Louis, Edmonton and Chicago will all be fighting for the last 3 spots. It's hard to imagine Calgary and Vancouver missing the playoffs but that last spot is for the taking. Colorado has suffered through massive injuries and, on the back of a rejuvenated Theodore, are actually hanging on to the last playoff spot. Leclaire and Hitchcock have the BlueJackets looking for their first playoff appearance and Bryzgalov's arrival in Phoenix has transformed that team into a playoff worthy group.

Anyone care to venture a guess as to who will make the playoffs and who won’t? I'll make my guesses in a later post.