Friday, May 15, 2009

Hoserdome 2009: Walker fires home winner, NHL shoots itself in the foot

The NHL is so red-faced over Scott Walker scoring a series-winning overtime goal that it's already given Donald Brashear six more games.

Having three seven-game series, two Game 7s that were tied with five minutes left in third period (on the same night) and the third period of the decisive game of the Chicago-Vancouver series should satisty any hockey fan's palate. That has to be stressed. The hockey gods, whose sense of humour seems to run very black, really outdid themselves by having Walker be the one to end the Bruins' season after the NHL's typically scattershot supplemental discipline allowed him to play in the final two games after his sucker punch on Boston defenceman Aaron Ward.

The kicker is the joke might be on the NHL. A Pittsburgh-Boston conference final was probably what the NHL and their partners at NBC wanted, since it would have involved a major U.S. television market and Sidney Crosby, who is one of only two hockey players who exist as far as the U.S. media is concerned. The only place in the U.S. that stand to be much interested in the Carolina-Pittsburgh series would be that resort town in Minnesota where the Staal brothers got high-school drunk two summers ago. Chicago-Detroit gets play on the Peacock network.

Granted, that's just an outsider opinion. What was true in Connie Smythe's day, that hockey is a great sport to survive the fools who run it, still stands today. Take away the sucker punch and Walker's winner would make for a great story. He's an underappreciated defensive specialist who checks anything that moves first and looks to contribute offensively maybe later.

The first two rounds have been very good. Scoring is up and a two- or three-goal margin doesn't equal game over like it did in pre-lockout hockey. All told, as a fan, it's pretty satisfying. Brutal and wonderful all at once; that's hockey.

Skill brings luck
The Chicago Blackhawks being in the Western final is wicked, of course (try not to make too much of the fact their power play is nails and Detroit's penalty killing has not been; the 'Hawks have to get some power-play chances for that to be a factor).

A fun fact: The Blackhawks have used the fewest players in the post-season, 20 (only counting teams who made it through the first round).

The Red Wings won 4-of-6 in the regular season vs. the 'Hawks, for what's it worth. Two of those games were in shootouts and the other was the Winter Classic. Chicago won the last two meetings during a season-ending home-and-home (not saying the Red Wings took those games lightly, but Chris Chelios moved up to play right wing one of 'em).

The week the hockey went
The trade-off of CBC picking up Game 7 of the Anaheim-Detroit series on Thursday (it was slated for TSN2) is that the people's network will go a full seven nights without a hockey telecast. TSN gets the first two games of each conference final, while Hockey Night in Canada is off until May 22, Game 3. This should service Bell Globemedia's strategy of bleeding its competitor as dry as a kosher chicken (fist bump: Allen Abel).

In TV Feeds My Family's phrasing, "The NHL playoffs have been a very quiet draw so far this spring." Feel free to use this as a jumping-off point to theorize that the saturation coverage of hockey is starting to turn off Canadians, or that the season is just too damn long if your team isn't in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

This Maurice guy can, like, coach

Carolina's Paul Maurice might never win a Stanley Cup, but he just did manage to win two playoff rounds with a team whose workhorse defenceman are Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo, for pity's sake.

Experience still counts
Three of the last four Stanley Cup-winning goalies are still in the playoffs (Detroit's Chris Osgood, Carolina's Cam Ward and Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin, who was Tampa Bay's starter in 2004).

Three of the final four teams also changed their coaches during the season. As if NHL coaches weren't an insecure enough lot already.

Monster non-sequitur
TSN's Pierre McGuire, God love him, he does a very good job as an analyst, but sometimes he phrases something in such a way that if you taken it out of context, it sounds really weird. Last night, he explained that Boston goalie Tim Thomas isn't the greatest physical specimen by saying, "If you saw him with his clothes off, you wouldn't think he was a professional athlete."

Explain why Stephen Harper likes it so much, smartypants

In place of original commentary about the Stanley Cup playoffs, here's a take on it from the Guardian over in England, where they speak real good European:
"At its best and purest hockey takes the form of the perfect society, everyone moving together for the greater good. I sometimes like to think that this is why good lefties such as Tim Robbins love the game so much. Its ideals are so undeniable that one is able even to overlook the fact that this utopia also features people getting punched in the face and rushed to hospital."
Maybe so, maybe not, but you have to love an article that says of ol' bland ambition himself, Sidney Crosby, "nothing and no one will budge this young man from the middle lane," and refers to Alex Ovechkin playing "as if his shirt was on fire."

The Crosby-Ovechkin duel spoke for itself. The day-after coverage was a major bringdown, though. If Crosby's way is superior to Ovechkin's, which seems to blend the best of Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur and Wendel Clark, then hockey might not be the greatest sport.

Vancouver 2010 on the brain
A post called "The ABCs (Anybody But... Campaigns) of Team Canada" died on the drawing board. It is funny how a month of watching the playoffs can inculcate all sorts of pet prejudices about who shouldn't be tapped for the Olympic roster. If you were picking a first line of No Way guys, Roberto Luongo would be the goalie and the Washington Capitals' Mike Green and the Calgary Flames' Dion Phaneuf would be the defence pairing. Any three out of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau from San Jose and the Senators' Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley would make up the forward line. This is based on the way people seize on the perception of anything negative, less so cold hard fact.

(Seriously, though, Cam Ward as Canada's starter. What does everyone think?)


Daniel said...

"Sidney Crosby, who is one of only two hockey players who exist as far as the U.S. media is concerned"

Who's the other one? I used to follow hockey, until they stopped televising it on real networks.

eyebleaf said...

Daniel, Versus would not be happy with your outlook on their network.

And I'm with you, Sager, about Cam Ward. What a goalie.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Can't agree with Cam Ward as the Olympic number one at this point. Let's see how he's playing then; he's been very quiet between their last cup run and this year. Luongo's still the guy in my mind; one bad series does not a bad goaltender make.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Oh, and Osgood and Khabibulin are rubbish goaltenders in my mind, and very streaky at best. Their teams are succeeding in spite of them, not because of them. Nice pickup on the McGuire quote; that man says some of the creepiest things at times, especially when he's talking about junior hockey. Interesting stuff on the TV ratings as well.

sager said...

Oh, my gut still says Luongo in Van 2010 with Ward is the No.2 man, although I have nothing to substantiate this.

Dave Hodge on TSN last night deftly sliced up all the criticism of Captain Lou.

Jordie Dwyer said...

Luongo has lost his edge - too much of an easy life on the left coast...

Give the Sherwood Park native his due, Ward is 4-0 in Gm 7s in his career - a feat only a young Ed Balfour was able to accomplish in his first four series deciding games....

Besides, the Canadian team has to go with a younger team sometime, why not start with 2010 and give them the best chance of beating the Russians - who would walk all over the old guard.

As for the rest of the goalies - leave a broken down Brodeur to rest on his deck and don't even think about picking up Joseph; Ward should be followed up with Mason and then Price as the third string.

krister said...

Hockey??? Should have finished their season by now. Time for the motorcycle - and I am a Red Wing fan but by middle of May it is just too much.

Anonymous said...

Spezza and Heatly were two of Canada's top three forwards at the World Championships so I'm not sure how they played their way on to the no-way line this past month.

Anonymous said...

The fact they took the NHL season off and that meant they were available for the worlds, where Canada lost again?

sager said...

Just to clarify, the phrase "pet prejudices" implied that someone's not always making a logical argument to say don't take this player or that player. The comment was directed more at the nature of sports fans than who should be on the team. Luongo is obviously still the No. 1 goalie and Heatley will be on that team, possibly Spezza as well.

Anonymous said...

Heatley was once again top 10 in goal scoring. How horrible.

Anonymous said...

I would not say they took the season off.If you look at there record after the coaching changes it was one of the best in the league.