Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The Third Star: Steven Oleksy Wishes You a Hoppy Halloween
Either the Washington defenseman decided to dress up as a metaphor for the Capitals' season, or he broke his skate while blocking a shot.
Look, getting around on one skate is not easy, and I think we should point out that Olesky actually pulls it off a lot better than Mike Rupp did last year.
The Second Star: Temple of the Phil
Come to think of it, I’m not completely sure what this is. Is it funny? Sad? A cry for help? Maybe we should just move on.
The First Star: Tongue-in-the-Glass Kid
Tongue-in-the-glass kid has been awarded first star of the week, the month, the 2013-14 season, and earned immediate induction into the Ilya Bryzgalov Memorial Three Stars of Comedy Hall of Fame. Yes, we waived the waiting period. This kid is just that good.
You’re the best, tongue-in-the-glass kid. Never change.
This Week’s One Star of Terror
Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who will prevent you from ever sleeping again.
In case you were busy polishing the screenplay for your gritty new take on Entourage, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Jon Lester and Koji Uehara were too much for the Cardinals as the Boston Red Sox now stand one win away from their third World Series title in a decade after beating St. Louis 3-1. "Dus-tone," Red Sox infielder Mike Napoli called across the locker room to his teammate Dustin Pedroia after the game. "This beard thing has really worked out, huh?" Pedroia smiled and said, "Yeah, yeah man, sure has. Can't wait to win this ring and shave this bad boy off." "What?" a stunned Napoli replied. "Shave it? Nah, man, you can't. You're the Mighty Mighty Dus-tone, and I am Mike Skapoli and together we're beard bros forever." Pedroia looked away from his teammate and said, "It's my wife. She's serious. No offseason beards." Napoli nodded at his teammate, but his eyes betrayed his disappointment. "It's for the best," Pedroia assured him, but it took all of Napoli's nerve to force an awkward smile.
Here are 10 vaguely connected thoughts from six hours of opening-night hockey.
The good and the bad of pregame ceremonies
The first game on the schedule came to us from Montreal, so you know there had to be a pregame ceremony. And indeed, the new season was welcomed into existence by this:
I know I can lose my Canadian passport for saying this, but that was awful, right? It was a ceremony involving the Habs and dimmed lights and a torch, so we’re all supposed to nod reverently and pretend that it was fantastic (and most Montreal ceremonies are). But that one didn’t work.
The basic premise was apparently “What if we made every Canadiens player awkwardly hold a torch at center ice while everyone stared at them for 30 seconds?” As it turns out, a player in that situation has only a handful of options:
• Stare straight ahead like a badass (P.K. Subban)
• Try to stare straight ahead like a badass and fail (Alex Galchenyuk)
In case yinz were busy getting to Pittsburgh to wait, yinz? Who the hell are yinz? Anyway, here's what you may have missed in sports on Tuesday:
Oh my goodness, hockey's back? Hockey's back! And with it came a barrage of goals from defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, which beat Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, 6-4, in its season opener. "Ten goals?" yelled 58-year-old Blackhawks fan Gary Habermeyer. "What the hell is this garbage? Polo? What happened to hockey?" When his son-in-law Dan Nielson tried to explain that there were a number of offseason rule changes put in place by the NHL to increase scoring, Habermeyer slammed down the legs of his Barcalounger and shoved a finger in Nielson's face. "I'll tell you what the problem is," Habermeyer shot back. "It's your generation. A bunch of showboaters. No one willing to do the hard work. No one willing to play defense. Patrick Kane? That's just a child wearing skates carrying around a big stick. When things get hard he'll just shut down the government. Not like Bobby Hull. Now there was a real man. Don't look at your phone when we're having a heart-to heart conversation!" But Nielson didn't look up from his phone, as he was texting his wife, Bridget, to say that she owed him more than one for spending the evening bonding with her father, and also to ask what Patrick Kane had to do with the government shutdown.
Pittsburgh's battery of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin made sure the Pirates' first postseason trip in 21 years would not be a one-game affair, as they topped the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2, in the NL wild-card playoff. "I just keep thinking, What could I have done differently?" said Reds manager Dusty Baker after the game. Baker then took a moment to think back over the events of the game, during which he managed to use seven pitchers without deploying superstar closer Aroldis Chapman, before adding, "And the answer is nothing."
In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
Playoff time in Toronto and Ottawa used to mean the Battle of Ontario. That was the creative nickname slapped onto the rivalry between the two teams who faced each other four years out of five from 2000 to 2004. Fans of either team don’t need to be reminded how that went: The Leafs won all four series, in increasingly cruel fashion.
This season marks the first time since 2004 that both teams are in the NHL playoffs, although this time they are not facing each other. This week, I dropped by Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to take in a pair of Game 4s.
In case you were busy discovering something magical, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The New York Knicks blew out the Indiana Pacers, 105-79, behind 32 points from Carmelo Anthony to even their second-round series at a game apiece. "Now I will grant an exclusive interview to any member of the New York media who didn't write our epitaph after Game 1," Anthony announced after the game while sipping an ice-cold Diet Coke. But no one in the New York press stepped forward. "Come on, anyone? OK, how ’bout anyone who didn't call me Car-Smell-O." But again there was only silence. "Um, anyone who didn't personally insult my family?" Howard Beck of the New York Times then raised his hand to ask if cousins counted, but Anthony granted him the interview before Beck had the chance to clarify.
Craig Kimbrel gave up back-to-back home runs with two outs in the ninth inning as the Cincinnati Reds shocked the Atlanta Braves, 5-4. "I'd be more ashamed if it weren't the Reds," Kimbrel explained after the game. "They were cool, which is what I think of when I think of things wrapped in red-and-white. They were ice-cold. You could throw six of them in a cooler, take ’em on a picnic, and have a hell of a day. As an Atlanta man, that's just an instinct for me at this point."
In case you were busy making a new nonalcoholic mixed drink that's half soda water, half tonic water called the Van de Velde, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Playing without Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Kirk Hinrich was too much for the Bulls, who fell 95-92 to the Brooklyn Nets. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau regrettably informed his team of their depleted forces before the game, adding, "I didn't know the games were optional." He then proceeded to drink straight from a bottle of Gilbey's gin, tell Taj Gibson that he wanted to sleep with his sister, and unleash a barrage of awkwardly profuse "real talk about love and pain" upon the injured Hinrich. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer then yelled out his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the booze stank in the room?!" before being told by Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin that games are not optional. A visibly intoxicated Boozer fouled out of his team's defeat in the fourth quarter.
Even though he had another solid outing, Atlanta starter Kris Medlen fell to 1-4 as his Braves lost to the Washington Nationals, 3-1. Medlen, snacking on biscuits after the game, blamed his spotty start to the season on fatigue based on his home life. "I've got young boys, and they're up at all hours," he said. "I've only been a little off, which just makes me think I could be 5-0 if it weren't for those Medlen kids!"
This week, Grantland's Katie Baker will be previewing the NHL playoffs' first-round series. Today: Senators-Canadiens and Rangers-Capitals. Read Tuesday's installment here and Wednesday's here.
Ottawa Senators (7) at Montreal Canadiens (2)
Backstory: While it might not have been all that much of a stretch to predict that Ottawa and Montreal would both make it to the playoffs, no one could have expected that things would unfold quite like this. The Senators, who took the Rangers to seven games last year in the first round, lost three key players (captain Jason Spezza, goalie Craig Anderson, and golden child Erik Karlsson) to major injury, but managed to remain in postseason contention through focused play by a merry and motley band of guys. Get coach Paul MacLean that Jack Adams Award already, will ya?
The NHL playoffs are here, and if you cheer for one of the 16 teams that made the cut, you know what you need to do: Put fresh batteries in the remote, kiss your loved ones good-bye, and get ready for the emotional roller coaster that you’re about to ride.
But what if your team didn’t make it? What if you find yourself looking for a bandwagon to jump on over the next few weeks? Well, in that case you could refuse to do that because bandwagon-jumpers are the absolute worst fans in sports better choose carefully!
It’s not an easy decision. In fact, choosing a temporary team can be one of the toughest calls a sports fan can make. You want a team that’s fun to watch, is riding a nice story, and preferably has a chance to win at least a round or two. You might prefer a franchise with some recent success, but not so much that you seem like a front-runner. And of course, you’ll want to be associating yourself with a worthy fan base, even if the relationship is only going to be short term.
I’m here to help. So I went through all 16 playoff teams and ranked them in terms of their desirability as a bandwagon destination. If you want someone to root for during the postseason but you’re not sure which team to choose, consult this handy guide to make sure you don’t make a decision you’ll regret.
But of all the potential pairings, one looms above the rest: the Toronto Maple Leafs facing the Montreal Canadiens.
According to Sports Club Stats, a Leafs-Habs pairing is the most likely first-round series in the league right now, at just slightly better than a 50 percent chance. Is that enough to call it a sure thing? Not at all. Is it enough to prematurely crank up the hype machine? Oh, baby.
Here are 10 things you need to know about a potential playoff meeting between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens:
Welcome to a weekly grab-bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
This Week's Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Steve Pinizzotto
If you've never heard of Steve Pinizzotto of the Vancouver Canucks, it's because he spends most of his time on the bench. Which is why you'd think he'd be able to successfully sit on one. No such luck.
The second star: Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff
Oh, just two dudes shooting the breeze before last Saturday's game. Your typical post–trade deadline chitchat. I can't imagine what they may have been talking about. The only thing missing here was James Reimer wandering up behind them and earnestly asking "Whatcha talkin' 'bout?"
Every team in the NHL has played at least 24 games. That means it’s time for a random collection of observations from the season’s first half, loosely held together by a common structure of oh, I don’t know, let’s go with “threes." Everyone good with threes? Cool, threes it is.
Three teams that have been unexpectedly good
The Ducks were supposed to be rebuilding after missing the playoffs by a mile last year. Instead, they’ve solidly established themselves as the West’s second-best team. It might not last (and if you’re into advanced stats, you’re convinced it won’t last), but Ducks fans are enjoying the ride. Things are going so well that the Ducks even got half of their soon-to-be UFA duo re-signed — Ryan Getzlaf down, Corey Perry still to go.
Call them the Anaheim Ducks of the East! (No, really, call them that; it will drive their fans insane.) The Habs have gone from 28th overall to the top of the Eastern Conference under newish coach Michel Therrien. Granted, it would be easier to get excited about them if the Bruins didn’t have roughly 19 games in hand — seriously, NHL schedule-maker, anytime you want to start giving Boston a game or two, it would be just fine with the rest of us — but they’re all but locked into a playoff spot that few predicted.
There are umpteen NHL games going on at any given time, and it's always hard to know how to allocate your attention. Here's our recommendation for the most interesting of the week's many matchups.
Anaheim Ducks at Minnesota Wild Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET Fox Sports West 2/Fox Sports North
When the Chicago Blackhawks' prosperous romp through the NHL was finally stopped by the Colorado Avalanche on Friday — and stomped on by the Edmonton Oilers two days after that — the most noteworthy thing atop the Western Conference standings wasn't that Chicago had taken some sort of Secretariat-style lead on its opponents — it was that after all that, the Blackhawks actually weren't very far ahead of the flying-under-the-radar Anaheim Ducks.