Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Useless Showing

A National Hockey League game consists of three, twenty minute periods. Too bad no one has told that to the Vancouver Canucks. The popular trend of the Canucks this year has been playing well for half of the game, and leaving the other half else where. Tonight's game against the San Jose Sharks was another example of how the Canucks could not pull together a full, well played, sixty minute game.

The Canucks came out flying to begin the game, throwing hits, getting shots, and creating momentum in the early going. The team had numerous powerplays given to them in the first period, and at that point was their game to lose. Unfortunately, the Canucks did not take advantage of this opportunity, and in turn, lost his game 4-2. Midway through the second period with the score being 1-0, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov made a show stopping save off of Daniel Sedin on yet another Vancouver Powerplay. This, along with the gut wrenching fight between Doug Murray and Rick Rypien (in which Murray tooled Rypien), were the two vital turning points in the game, and from then on, the Canuck team did not look the same.

San Jose took control of the game, and the Canucks never got the chance to steal it back. Shortly after Nabokov's game changing save, the lazy play of Willie Mitchell (penalty for hooking) and Mattais Ohlund (penalty for holding) resulted in the Canucks being shorthanded for a near two minutes playing 5 on 3. The game broke open for the Sharks, after Steve Bernier scored the games tying goal on a nice breakaway feed by Patrick Marleau.

The third period was the Canucks period off, as they allowed three goals on thirteen shots (not Roberto Luongo's fault), and really didn't show up what so ever. However, the game was not all bad. It was relatively a good game for team (at least a great start). Two halves equal a whole. Maybe there is a need of a math tutor for this club, who still cannot put together a full team effort. One player that stood out for the Canucks was the off season acquisition Brad Isbister, skated exceptionally, using his big 6'4" frame to draw three penalties in the game. He also played on the powerplay, and was instrumental in the Taylor Pyatt goal in the first period. (Isbister's shot rang off the post and Pyatt "directed" it in with his skate).

All in all, the Canucks have yet to put in a full game effort this season. Even in the recent 4-1 win verses Edmonton, the Canucks showed at many times a lack of urgency, and as in most games this season, didn't have the killer instinct they really needed to win tonight's game. That being said, if the Canucks can play every game like they did the first period and a half tonight, the team should be up and rolling in no time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Night and Day

For me, it has been really tough to stay interested in the MLB season from start to finish over the past few years. I don't necessarily think that this is a slight on the game of baseball or the league itself, rather it is most likely a byproduct of my life as a post-secondary student trying to balance course work (and getting decent grades), a plethora of volunteer work, getting exposure as a broadcaster/journalist and being a fan. Some sports have had to take a back seat in my attempt to balance the aforementioned. Baseball - to a certain extent - has done so.

Don't get me wrong, I am very intrigued by the game of baseball. I was one of those kids who went out in his yard and had imaginary baseball games and homerun contests. I have stay, those imaginary contests provided me with quite the JR like for (see photo). But unfortunately when it comes to following the game, I have lacked. I think it most probably has a lot to do with the length of the season and the amount of games that the teams play. I also attribute my lack of attention to the ailing (Blue) Jays. If someone asked me when my drop off in baseball following began, I could pretty confidently say it was when the Blue Jays stopped being competitive, and/or when they traded away my favorite players (Alex Gonzalez, Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado).

As you can see, it was pretty easy for me to stop following baseball, I had enough reasons. But one reason which I have not mentioned, and which I beleive to be quite important is level excitement that comes with watching baseball: for the most part, the level is quite low. There are your games here and there that are exciting, but out of 162 in a season, there aren't a lot. I focused more on the exciting in your face sports like hockey, football and golf. Ok, well hockey and football.

I couldn't pay less attention to the MLB throughout the summer, but forward me to the months of September and October and the tables quickly turn. There is something about playoff baseball that is extremely enticing. The races leading up to the post-season are definitely something to watch, but once you get to the actual second season it's like no other. Take the recent NL Wildcard played between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres. A one game, winner take-all match-up to make it to the playoffs and take on the Phillies who unseated the Mets for the division title.

It's not like baseball is the type of game where you can tangibly notice that the players have gone into another gear or are giving it that extra push, but in the playoffs you can just feel it. There's no joking around in the dugouts, all the players are focused and into the game. The weather is cold and dark and every little mistake has a big impact. The Rockies ended up winning a game that ended in true MLB playoff fashion, 13 innings and by 1 run. The game could not have been any better of a precursor to the post-season; a post-season that I am very much looking forward to. For what reason? I'm not sure I could tell you, I tried to outline it above. But that is the thing about playoffs in the majors, you just have to watch because - unlike the 162 game regular season - it's always exciting.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Trip to the Barber

Monday was the time for many NHL teams to don a new look (yet again, after the introduction of the new Reebok Edge uniforms) and cut down their rosters to close to what they will look like on opening day. For many years past, specifically before the new collective bargaining agreement, training camp was a time for veterans to get in shape before the games began to count, and it was also a time for young players to make an impression on the coaching staff and audition for a possible call-up later in the season.

But now, during the newly introduced cap-era new NHL, training camp is a whole other beast. Just as the off-season has changed to have more turn-around amongst teams and players, so too has training camp. Most NHL teams which are willing to spend to be in contention have one or two players that are payed close to the max that a player can be payed. These high salaries in the past would not have been an issue, however now with a cap, high top-end salaries do not leave much room for veteran player signings to fill in the bottom-end voids.

After Monday's cuts, it's easy to see that teams are adapting to adopt a new system in the NHL. Team which have spots up for grabs, now do not look to free agents to fill those voids as free agents are commanding high (sometimes ridiculous - look at Philly's recent signings) salaries. Team's now are leaning towards filling the voids from within. And these players from within are turning out to be young draft picks. The new NHL prides itself on speed and skill and players coming out of junior, college and from overseas are those typical types of players. Not only do young players have the skill and speed to make their respective NHL teams, they have the skill and are being given the opportunity to make the team and make an impact.

The most extreme example would be Sidney Crosby but he, like Ryan Getzlaf and Jordan Staal is a special case. Take a look at this year's NHL cuts and who made what team. The Chicago Blackhawks have their number one draft picks from the last two years, Patrick Kane and Jonahthan Toews, suiting up. The Columbus Blue Jacktes are icing Jared Boll and defenseman Kris Russell. The Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Carey Price beat out last year's backup Jaroslav Halak for a job with the big club. Little Sam Gagner and David Perron have been given a chance to make a big impacts with the Oilers and Blues respectively and the Vancouver Canucks are dressing speedster Mason Raymond out of Boston College on their opening night.

It may be that the kids are getting better as the years go by, but I think that it's fair to see that the great talented youth are now finally being given the looks that they deserve because they are able to play in a non-clutching and grabbing, fast league which calls for good salary management.