Tag Archives: hockey

Re-evaluating The Re-evaluation

When you sit down in the comfort of your own home and tune into an already-in-progress sporting event on television you expect a couple of things. For starters you expect to be entertained, enthralled, and emotionally invested. However, through the process of instant replay you can probably add confusion to the short list of expectations featured above.

How many times have you watched an NFL game and sarcastically joked with your friends or family “I guess I don’t know what pass interference is anymore”. Or in the NBA “I guess breathing on him is a foul now a days”. Well, begrudgingly I can now add the NHL to that less than fabled list, because I no longer know what is or is not a good goal anymore.

In the playoffs especially, the officials are there more as representations of the rule book, rather than the brute enforcers of the law. However, this may no longer be the case as the speed of the NHL playoffs and its bizarre relationship with the officiating have hit a fork in the road.

Embed from Getty Images

Prior to the 2015-16 season a brand new rule was implemented, allowing the head coach to challenge whether or not a goal should count. Now, there’s criteria that needs to be met, the goal has to have resulted in a questionably offside play by the attacking team, or a missed goalie interference call.

Albeit their mind was in the right place. When you consider time and time again questionable goals from years prior didn’t receive the attention they deserved.

Exhibit A: Blatant goal tender interference.

Exhibit B: Famously textbook offside play goes uncalled, for whatever reason.

Now it should be noted that both of these situations are examples where having the ability to challenge the play would have paid off in spades. This is not always the case. In fact sometimes perfectly good goals are wiped off the board for an infraction that had nothing to do with the end result of the play. I am, of course referencing offside calls. Nothing, and I truly mean nothing brings a perfectly good game to a sketching halt more than an unnecessarily lengthy review searching for the slightest inkling of an offside infraction.

Exhibit C: Goals being taken away well after the infraction only hurt the game.unnamed

Furthermore with the years of experience that comes with being an NHL official, one that is presumably well versed in the updates that come with the rule book. Wouldn’t you be able to come to the conclusion that JG Pageau undeniably covers the puck in the crease preventing a goal in over time of a playoff game? Need I remind you, that is in fact frowned upon and should have resulted in the very least as a delay of game penalty not to mention a penalty shot.

Image result for jg pageau covers puck in the crease

Apparently not, as neither of those calls came to fruition. This came after it was reviewed by the officials. Despite the lack of transparency one former official weighed in his take on the play.

unnamed

On top of that, Noel Acciari whom appeared to have scored to end the game earlier in overtime. Later he sat dumbfounded when the goal was taken away due to a fluky goaltender interference call. The review process lasted around 5 minutes.

I’ll admit this as dramatic an example as there is. Loopholes in the rule book can be found in rare situations in sports. But one must wonder has putting every play under a microscope helped or hindered hockey?

While there was plenty of good that came with the inception of this new rule, its also caused its fair share of  damage. Perhaps allowing a coach to possess too much power over the game. In return causing the officials to question their judgement and rely on the grace of instant replay far too heavily.

According to the NHL Public Relations twitter account on 4/30 we’ve had 19 games this playoffs that needed overtime to determine a winner through 50 games played. During the entirety of last seasons playoffs just 20 games needed overtime through 90 games played.

In a league whose major critique of themselves is a lack of offense, they appear to be doing a lot to maintain the status quo. Much attention needs to be diverted to this rule in the coming off season, to the benefit of the sport itself.

You cannot allow a questionably offside play, upwards of 30 seconds in the past rule out a perfectly good goal on the ice. Especially when the major concern of the league is finding a way to manufacture more offense.

The NHL dug themselves into this hole, it’s up to the to pull themselves back out again.

Advertisements

Water Finding It’s Level

While it may not be time to slam the panic button, your hand should be hovering over it considering Thursday nights collapse marked Boston’s fourth consecutive loss. In doing so only helping Tampa’s fleeting effort to make the playoffs. Both Ottawa and Toronto picked up huge wins, and a highly motivated New York islanders team anxiously await the opportunity to take over the final wild-card spot come Saturday afternoon.

While it should be stated that through no lack of effort were the Bruins thwarted Thursday night. In fact, their most important asset is, effort. Perhaps they should have tried their hand in trading effort for a top six forward at the deadline.

With all kidding aside, Boston shot themselves in the foot once again as a less than terrific effort in the games final frame eventually led to their demise. Yet again out-shooting their opposition only to come up short on the score board.

Rest assured, Torey Krug has stated that the fate of the last two years will not happen again this time around.

Take that how you will, but Krug’s uninspiring -14 on the season has even the biggest optimists raising an eyebrow towards the statement.

Third period collapses are some what of a specialty of the Bruins in the month of March. But it was what led up to the third period that is the most concerning. While taking the lead on three separate occasions is noteworthy. Sacrificing that lead in under a minute twice, then making Anton Stralman look like Paul Coffee a minute and change later is as deflating as it can be.

Collectively the crowd exhaled as the symbolic wind retreated from its sails. From there, it was a “wish I had that one back” goal by Jonathan Drouin to give Tampa its first lead of the game. Shortly there after, Nikita Kucherov completes the hat trick and the emphasis is pressed harder on Saturday’s showdown with the surging Islanders.

If last night was considered by most to be a must win then by all means tomorrow is do-or-die time for Boston. A win tonight by the Islanders against the defending Cup Champs means Boston is officially on the outside looking in on the playoff picture with only seven games remaining. Seven difficult games at that.

If for the third year in a row the Bruins are bounced from playoff contention with a handful of games left, one conclusion can be drawn. They’re too top heavy offensively, too porous defensively, and leaning much too hard on their 8 million dollar man, whom is paid to steal them games.

A strong effort from the bottom 6 may just be what the doctor ordered. Sooner rather than latter Cassidy will be forced to go to his backup net minders. In hopes that a new face in goal may steady the ship.

 

Hockey Hasn’t Broken Up With Violence

Despite what the numbers tell you, and in recent years they have been quite consistent, fighting has persevered in the NHL. Year to year, goons or enforcers in the NHL have diminished, thus the numbers of fights per game have also dwindled.

During the 2012-13 season, the league average of fights per game was 0.48. Up to this point of the 2016-17 season, the league average is 0.30, in fact the 2015-16 season saw 0.28 per game.

Now, just because the number is lower doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t purposeful foul play at hand. Heading into Wednesday nights game against the Winnipeg Jets, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made an interesting minor league call up. Human wrecking ball Tom Sestito dressed as a precaution, if the game were to get out of hand.

And it did.

Keeping your personal bias aside, Blake Wheeler was introduced to Evgeni Malkin elbow last month which caused an uproar. Rightly so.

Sestito’s sudden promotion obviously, was in direct relation to protecting Malkin’s well being. Geno sits among the leagues highest scorers with 70 points.

But hockey has a lot of unwritten rules, and despite your status, that doesn’t exclude you from street law.

Winning, by unanimous decision, was Mr. Wheeler. Soon thereafter, Sestito dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn in another, rage filled dispute.

Don’t fret, the shenanigans didn’t stop there, Sestito left his final mark on the game by delivering a cheap shot to Toby Enstrom.

So, after the dust settled, it was just another day at the office for Mr. Sestito and a man who brings nothing to the table besides a professional knack for face transformation.

So, what we have learned this past week is that despite fights per game on the decline? Hockey clutches to their spades. That of course being fighting in the form of street justice. Had Malkin and Wheeler squashed their beef and simply gone on with the rest of the game, perhaps it would have ended there.

Now, this potentially leaves the door ajar for general managers to make these types of unwarranted call ups. To which I argue, with the number of fights on the decline clearly the players who pride themselves in fighting are being faded out of the game. Therefore you have two combatants, on average, not well versed in fighting. Sports should leave these types of things to its players, with little or no interference from those who no longer play.

Make no mistake, fighting and violence are never going to go away, but the days of the heavy weight bouts are seemingly long gone. For the better interest of the sport itself.

 

 

 

 

The Grandest Of Finales?

First and foremost, I’d like to take the time to congratulate Fan Interference on celebrating its one year anniversary yesterday. Cheers!

Now, all I want for graduation is a Stanley Cup Final that lives up to the hype of the Conference Finals that come before it. In turn, not to be subjected to a similar fate of years past by having a curtain in the form of an anti-climatic close to what the NHL heralds as “a best versus best” series.

With that in mind it may be hard to duplicate the atmosphere of a  Chicago v Los Angeles or a Washington v Montreal match up with a trip to the Cup Final on the line. Considering how often those previous teams play one another. What may not be difficult to request is, having a Final reach a winner takes all game 7. Its been noticeably absent, in fact you have to go back to 2011 when the Boston Bruins went into Vancouver and came out on the other side 4-0 victors.

We, as fans have been robbed of such a luxury in the years between. In 2012, Steve Bernier plastered Kings defensemen Rob Scuderi into the glass, resulting in a major penalty. Los Angeles then bombarded Marty Brodeur on the ensuing 5 minute major on their way to a 6-1, game 6 victory. In 2013 Chicago tallied two goals in 17 seconds crushing Bostons late 3rd period lead in their last ditch effort to force a game 7 in Chicago. In 2015, Chicago yet again doubled down scoring the only two goals against Tampa Bay in game 6 to hoist their 3rd Cup in 5 years. Lastly, 2016 saw the a narrowly focused, much matured Sidney Crosby land his second ring, in a series where San Jose was never out of it but also never truly in it either.

Embed from Getty Images

For a multitude of reasons 2017 has been a year of interesting narratives, putting it lightly. But in terms of hockey, what it could potentially offer is that game 7 that has eluded fans for quite some time. Washington, who easily up to this point has established themselves as the best team in the league, beefed up by trading for Kevin Shattenkirk. Clearly the mentality is to win, now more than ever.

We’ve been teased with the notion that this is Washington’s year many a time in the past. But, with the additions of players like Justin Williams, TJ Oshie, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and the recently mentioned Kevin Shattenkirk. It be difficult to argue that the road to the Cup, does in fact run through Washington. Much forgotten the years of repeated playoff disappointments which come as early as last years defeat at the hands of Sidney Crosby. Washington has reloaded, beefed up, and have a frightening mental infatuation with putting those less than fortunate seasons behind them, forever.

Embed from Getty Images

Chicago, since the 2008-09 season has established themselves as the poster child of consistency in the NHL. Currently running through their opposition as if they were constructed of wet tissue paper, including their eyebrow raising 4-1 victory Wednesday night over Pittsburgh. Patrick Kane is back to his form which saw him win league MVP last season, while Jonathan Toews has recovered from his mid season slump.

Go down the roster, if you fancy, and attempt to pick out a match up in which your favorite team has the clear cut advantage. Even Bill Belichick would quiver in his boots at the thought of a 7 game series against the NHL’s most formidable playoff foe. Home ice advantage for the Hawks means you best win every game on your home turf, something Chicago doesn’t always let their opposition do.

Chicago has the experience, bar none. With the lethal combination of Kane and Toews.

Washington has the firepower and the confidence to go shot for shot with anyone in the league. Not to mention that Ovechkin and Backstrom go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Washington versus Chicago is the series you didn’t realize you needed in your life until right now. For the Caps they have a charismatic captain desperate for the one piece of hardware needed to complete his star studded resume. For the Hawks, one more Cup would put them in the realm of immortality, along with Gretzky’s Oilers, and Bossy’s Islanders of the 80’s.

Separately the journey to this years Cup Final won’t be easy on either side. Washington will surely see Pittsburgh again, while Chicago will have to take care of Minnesota and Los Angeles. But a hockey nut can dream, right?

Embed from Getty Images

If, by chance these two organizations meet for the right to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize, you best not blink. As for those smiles? Surly they won’t last.

#MakeAmericaHockeyAgain

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Make no mistake, Claude Julien was the best thing the Boston Bruins had going for them in 2017. Over the last decade he was able to take underachieving teams and consistently put them in a position to succeed at a higher level than they were capable of.

However, as of Tuesday, February 7th, Don Sweeney and company decided going in another direction was best for the team over 50 games into the season. Following soul crushing defeats, most recently at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, it was almost a foregone conclusion that something needed to change.

Embed from Getty Images

That being said, it may come as a welcomed surprise to some that the man who has been single handedly blamed for Peter Chiarelli’s miscalculation of the salary cap and questionable player movement, is gone. But for most, it is normal to feel a sense of emptiness. Being the most winningest coach in franchise history doesn’t come by accident and his decade long helm behind the bench which made him the longest currently tenured coach will not soon be forgotten. Giving the city its first title since 1972 and reinvigorating the passion that only Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque before him were able to create.

With inconsistencies in the playoffs and less than ideal performances come season’s end being the direct source to the decision that was made. Claude Julien may be a lot of things, but he is not a bad coach. Granted his reluctance to adapt to an evolving game at times was inductive to ripping your own hair out, but I digress.

Anyone can be successful with the right players in the right environment, but Julien never had complete control of player movement, and salary designation. Internally, the discourse between management and coach became more than apparent over the last year or so. And for better or worse as they say, a decision had to be made and a difficult one at the very least. With Cam Neely noticeably absent from the press conference held Tuesday morning, it has become outrageously obvious that the glaring issues with the organization weren’t just the coach.

Embed from Getty Images

Filling in the now vacant position is Bruce Cassidy. The 51 year old played professionally for the Chicago Blackhawks and more recently was named as Julien’s assistant entering this season. Cassidy commented that the promotion has felt like anything but, considering it has come at the demise of a friend. Now it should be noted that the promotion is on an interim basis, which more probably than not means yet another change at head coach may loom on the horizon. Through 55 games this season the Bruins have managed to keep themselves in playoff contention in a less competitive Atlantic Division. Sitting 26-23-6 places them 4th in that respective division, now only the top three teams per division make the playoffs with the possibility to qualify for two wild card spots.    

Personally I take issue with how management handled the removal of Claude Julien from the organization. Waiting until the Patriots championship parade to make the formal announcement, in what I can only imagine was a lackluster attempt to take attention away from the severity of the situation. On the other side, perhaps it was an attempt to allow Cassidy some practice time to prep his team for San Jose Thursday night. Whatever the reason Cam Neely, the president of hockey operations not even making a public appearance at said conference is laughable at best. Leaving Don Sweeney to deal with the press alone. It felt like a major disrespect to a man whom the bulk of the players had nothing but the utmost respect for. A man who for all his flaws, and there were quite a few, managed to keep himself in the discussion as one of the league’s elites.

hehehhaahhahahho

Claude Julien’s era is over in Boston and for what it’s worth he deserves to go out with respect and a sense of decency. Not with the covers thrown over his head and kicked out the back door. It doesn’t feel professional, nor does it seem like something that one of the NHL’s most sought after franchises should be doing. Don’t shed too many tears for dear old Claude. The 56 year old now free agent coach has more than enough experience to take a bubble team and make mold them into a contender. With Boston in 2007 as a prime example of just that. Winnipeg, St. Louis, Florida and now Las Vegas have all been rumored to be in the market for a new coach. Also don’t rule out a return to Montreal or even New Jersey, the teams he manned prior to Boston.

Au revoir monsieur Julien, I look forward to seeing you behind a bench in no time at all.

Same Song And Dance

Leading up to NBCSN’s broadcast of Wednesday Night Rivalry, the Boston Bruins had won three games in a row. Which when you consider how the regular season has gone up to that point was impressive. The level of inconsistency seen from the Bruins had left even the most die hard fans deflated. And the Capitals resembled an admirable opponent to go through to get their 4th win in a row.

Washington embodies the polar opposite when it comes to consistency. One of the leagues hottest teams, faces a team that still needed to find its identity. Going off that point even further, Boston only has two players to reach the 20 goal mark so far this season. In fact, they only have five players with goals in the double digits.

Embed from Getty Images

Washington has 8 players who have scored at least 10 goals so far this season with Alex Ovechkin leading the way with 25. Furthering my point on the differentiating seasons.

Waking up Thursday, following the 5-3 loss to the Capitals, the Bruins clutched to the final playoff spot in the Atlantic for dear life. Having learned nothing new about the team that has spent a significant portion of the season soul searching.

Embed from Getty Images

Brad Marchand remained Boston’s hottest scorer, but one player can’t win you a hockey game. Along with Marchand’s two goals, David Krejci also got his name on the score sheet while David Pastrnak chipped in with three helpers. Which is all well and good, but it continues to prove a point, which is Boston lacks significantly with depth scoring.

The expectation going into the season is that your top six forwards will manufacture the bulk of your offense. While your bottom six forwards contribute sparingly along the way. Outside of those top six forwards, Boston’s next highest goal scorer is their 4th line center, 36 year old Dominic Moore.

Players such as Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey were brought in to be very productive third line players with the potential to crack the second line. Both of which to this point have not lived up to the expectation.

Now more than ever, the Bruins need those who play in the latter half of the lineup to get involved offensively. Especially with Brandon Carlo, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask being banged up across the last two games.

If Boston is going to hold on to the playoff spot they currently possess, a move must be made at the deadline. A deal with more magnitude than swapping a 3rd round pick for a bottom six defense  man such as Wade Redden, or another aging veteran who’s best offensive days are well behind him like Brian Rolston.

 

 

New faces in familar places

Doc Emerick once said, “it’s often the third and fourth line guys”. In terms of cultivating a championship caliber team, the latter portion of your lineup often is the most important. That being said, finding the proper components is easier said than done.

In the case of the Boston Bruins, since their 2013 run at the Cup, finding those players has proven to be difficult. Recently that trend initially appears to be changing. In fact they didn’t have to go very far geographically to find them.

Both Frank Vatrano and Tim Schaller went undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts and Providence College respectively. Vatrano signed a deal with the Bruins entering 2015-16 after a strong training camp, but was assigned to the AHL affiliate Providence. From there, he was nearly a goal per game player. The East Longmeadow Massachusetts native possesses the skating ability and heavy snap shot to compete at the NHL level with ease. While short in stature, there is no lack of heart when it comes to “Frank the Tank“. Off season surgery sidelined him for the bulk of the early portion of the 2016-17 season, but since his return, he’s added another scoring threat on the power play. Also, allowing head coach Claude Julien some flexibility with his line mixing in game.

Embed from Getty Images

Merrimack, New Hampshire product Tim Schaller may have raised some eye brows when he chose the Friars rather than committing to his hometown team. In four seasons at Providence, Schaller’s most productive season came in his last as a Friar tallying 23 points. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, it was enough to be signed by Buffalo. In three seasons between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans, he was far more effective at the AHL level than the NHL.

Unlike Vatrano, Schaller didn’t impress the brass with his first shot at professional hockey. So, when the Bruins signed the free agent this past off season, not a whole lot was expected of him. Especially when you consider it was only a one year deal. Regardless of the logistics, to the contract one thing is for certain, Schaller has made the best of his second shot at the NHL.

Embed from Getty Images

Since being a relatively obvious choice to crack the opening night lineup, he’s posed as another cog to allow Julien some breathing room with his lineup. You don’t have to ask twice when it comes to Tim as he’ll most likely do what he’s asked of. He’s fought, gone to the dirty areas on the power play, and most notibly shown chemistry with the Bruin’s top offensive weapons.

Boston currently owns the second playoff spot in the Atlantic, with absolutely no cushion separating them from just about everyone else below them in their division. At this point of the season, every team has its laundry list of injuries, as points reach its highest premium. It’s the players like Vatrano and Schaller that need to shine brightest in order to solidify Boston’s appearance in the playoffs.

On the edge of missing the playoffs for an unprecedented third season in a row, it’s all hands on deck for Boston. Collecting 6 out of a possible 8 points on the road in four games, it’ll be a mad scramble to the finish line. With the injuries suffered to key players on the four game road trip, the previously mentioned players may be leaned on more than ever.