North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘nhl playoffs

The Ying and Yang of P.K Subban

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A few years back, my dad and I went to a Toronto Marlies/Hamilton Bulldogs game. I honestly don’t remember too much about the game except for P.K. Subban.

 

It wasn’t that he was everywhere or made some memorable play – although he checked a guy through the glass, which was amazing. No, what I remember most was his presence: when he was on the ice, he just popped out like the message in a magic eye puzzle. It was pretty cool.

 

So I guess I’ve been a fan of him for a while, watching the ups and downs of his short career. And there’s been more than a few: a contract dispute where he missed a few games, a Norris trophy and many, many controversies. See, the thing about Subban is he works people up almost as much as Sean Avery once did. But more than that, Subban is a good player. He’s very good and arguably the best defenseman in the NHL.

 

There are many invalid and moronic reasons he gets so much flak – one’s I’ll leave unsaid because I’m completely unqualified to discuss them – but there’s good ones, too: he occasionally makes a dirty play. I think a good example of both kinds of criticism came into play the other night, during the first game of the Montreal/Ottawa playoff series.

 

I’m going off the top of my head here, but I think there’s been sixty million-plus words written about Subban slashing Mark Stone’s wrist and the immediate backlash. Subban was given the boot, which since it happened so early in the game was effectively a one-game suspension; Stone sustained a micro fracture to his wrist but hasn’t missed either game of the series.

 

The takes came both quickly and hot in the hours after the slash. They ranged from “Subban slash deserved multi-game suspension” to casting doubt on Stone’s injury. Ottawa coach Dave Cameron made a vague threat against the Habs: “when one of their best players gets slashed, just give us five. It’s not that complicated,” he said per a TSN report. That remark’s in poor taste, but given the context, I’m not getting bent out of shape. Indeed, things on Twitter got a little crazier, but that’s the nature of that beast.

 

By the time game two rolled around, I was primed for something crazy: a physical game, one where the Sens crash the net and try to rattle netminder Carey Price or maybe a cheap shot against Subban. It didn’t work out that way, but it ended up as a hell of a game. And again, Subban was the story.

 

If the first game was of the more frustrating side of Subban’s game, the second was one showcasing his positive side. When he was on the ice, he again just popped up over everyone else. Which was a lot, since his 29 minutes of ice time was the most of any Habs skater.

The goal in the second is the lasting impression. It was an amazing shapshot, an absolute beauty from the top of the circle that blew right by Ottawa goalie Andrew Hammond.

 

But there were other moments, too. One that sticks out for me was a late shot where he had the angle but didn’t quite get as much of the puck as he probably would’ve liked and didn’t score. Another is how he was right there on the ice when Alex Galchenyuk scored the OT winner, too.

 

I think the thing with Subban is how he can be frustrating but also exciting. I can’t think of another defenceman I enjoy watching as much as I do Subban, but I can’t think of anyone who generates as much controversy as he does, too. And again, most of it isn’t his fault: I completely believe Subban is held to a different standard and is criticized for things most of the NHL could get away with (ie: he celebrates too much, whatever that means).

 

But there’s certainly a ying and a yang to him. There are going to be games where he’s frustrating and games where he’s exciting. And man, that goal on Friday night. At his best, there’s nobody as exciting as Subban.

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Written by M.

April 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

Two Game Sevens, Two Heartbreakers

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The cool thing about sports is how it makes you care about stuff you really have no control over and no real stakes riding on. The outcome doesn’t really mean anything to you or me or anyone without a stake in the team itself. And even then, their stakes aren’t really all that huge. Toronto wasn’t going to go into the red if they didn’t make the second round.

But still: I cared about the Colts and the Maple Leafs. And on Monday night, both teams lost heartbreakers in game seven of their respective series. The Colts were down most of the game, tied it up late and right as the period wound down, London forward Bo Horvat scored and put the Knights ahead, so late the faceoff was just a formality.

It was as close as a buzzer-beater as I’ve seen in hockey in a long, long time (since maybe that Canucks/Flames series in the late 80s). It was that old line from ABC Sports: the agony of defeat, the ecstasy of victory, all that. The ref waved it off, then it went upstairs and the goal was allowed as the London crowd collectively lost their shit. Within a few minutes, the Colts cleared the ice, the Knights were posting team photos to Instragram (what a brave new world we live in) and I focused on the Leaf game.

And here too was, I suppose, agony. Toronto went ahead early and kept scoring on Rask. Kessel had a goal, then so did Kadri. Soon it was 4-1, Toronto. Later in the third, Boston cut it to 4-2 and with just under two minutes left, they pulled Rask for an extra man.

A little postscript for this season: Toronto was bad in their own end all year long. How many games did they have where they got pounded by shots and only Reimer kept them in the game? Shit, even against teams like New Jersey, the Leafs could barely keep the puck out of their own end. When you read tomorrow about how great they were at hitting the other team, remember that you don’t hit players when you have the puck. As I noted before this series, Toronto had one of the worst Fenwick Close numbers heading into the postseason.

So it shouldn’t have been a giant surprise when Toronto coughed up the lead, when Boston controlled the puck late, when the Bruins could just fire off shots as it looked like all the Leafs hung around in front of the net and couldn’t clear it out of their own end. Reimer just looked overwhelmed and, God bless him, he was. He faced more shots than anyone else in the NHL so far. And he got peppered again on Monday night: the boxscore has him facing 35 shots.

What’s there to say about overtime? Toronto came out strong, got a couple of chances and the same thing happened: Boston started forechecking, kept the puck in their hands and fired off shot after shot. And this time Reimer was literally overwhelmed: he was falling over and all outstretched when Patrice Bergeron put one past him six minutes into the extra frame.

Sure, it sucks, but this series was a fun ride. That’s the cool thing about sports: they’re fun as shit. After all, the Leafs were the also-ran in Toronto for a long time. The Jays have a longer playoff drought, but they had the excuse of Yankees/Red Sox payrolls, too. The Raptors haven’t won much in the past nine years, but they made the postseason a couple of times and even won a division title. And the Argos? They just won a Grey Cup, maybe you remember that. It happened on their home turf.

The Leafs lost, but they got into the playoffs. If nothing else, that’s something to hang on to: this season’s been better than any since the 2005 lockout. Things are slowly getting better for the Worst Sports City in the World (TM). I’m just happy they got this far. And besides, I picked Boston to win in six.

Written by M.

May 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Canada’s team, Canada’s sport, Canada’s national migrane

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It was 35 degrees here the other day. A hot, sticky, humid trainwreck of a day. Summer has arrived and it’s too late in the year for hockey, but here it comes, stealing headlines and keeping itself at the forefront of the Canadian sports media scene. The sport has led MacLean’s for the previous two weeks, leads TSN’s SportsCentre pretty much every day and has provided story after story after story. It hasn’t, isn’t and will not let up – not yet, not with the Finals just starting.

But the biggest story is Winnipeg’s coup of the Atlanta Thrashers. True North Sports and Entertainment’s purchase and subsequent move of the team to Manitoba’s capital – and the amazingly rapid sellout of season tickets – has moved the media like a, er, Jet. MacLean’s cover featured their old logo; the Toronto Sun ran picture of a pin-up girl in hockey paraphernalia above the fold. Each of the op-eds and columns reads like a gushing tribute to a national pastime, but nobody really wants to spoil the party by noting all the problems with the relocation.

The easy one is how tiny Winnipeg is: with a local population just under 700 thousand, it’s the smallest market in the NHL, behind even Edmonton. Another is how it’s not known as any kind of corporate showcase. If wikipedia can be believed, it’s home to companies like Boeing Canada, Old Dutch foods and The Great-West Life Assurance Company; one hopes there’s enough of a corporate presence to keep luxury boxes and expensive, lower-bowl seats full.

Let’s not forget about the logistics which need to be ironed out. How will their schedule look? Will teams from the Southeast have to fly in for every game? And who’s going to broadcast their games? It’s easy to assume the CBC will pick up a few weekend games (and probably the home opener) and TSN will pick up a few during the week, but what of all the rest? Rogers Sportsnet looks like a likely source, but their West channel is already home to the Oilers and Flames; is there enough room for a third team?

While we’re not forgetting, let’s remember a column written by the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt, who tipped the nation off to the move with a column on May 19th. Wrote Brunt:

“Sources confirmed Thursday night that preparations are being made for an announcement Tuesday, confirming the sale and transfer of the Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment.

… some months back, the NHL board of governors quietly approved the sale and transfer of the team, pending the negotiation of a purchase agreement between Atlanta Spirit LLC, the Thrashers’ owners, and True North.”

Brunt’s column was correct in the most broad sense; the Thrashers are likely to move to Winnipeg. And the announcement was even on a Tuesday! Just, as it happened, on a different Tuesday.

There’s a difference between being right and being almost right. As I learned back in my J-School days, the only thing you have in this business is your credibility and you get that by being right, if not by being first. Herein lies the problem with Brunt’s column: he was wrong. There was no announcement that Tuesday, May 24. The Jets press conference was a week later. And every report, from the AP to the Toronto Sun is saying the board still hasn’t approved the sale.

It’s cool he was able to jump the gun on the announcement (one wonders if he burnt some source in running the story so early) and it’s nice to see the team actually come, but it shouldn’t rectify his column which was, essentially, wrong. He suggested that the move was finished, had been “quietly approved”, would be annouced on a set day. It isn’t, hasn’t been and wasn’t. He deserves to be held to that.

The Jets moving has also inspired talk from some rather odd angles. The other night, Toronto radio host Jeff Sammut had an hour of open lines asking if Toronto should get a second team, which is an issue nobody in their right mind talks about. Callers spouted nonsense like how Toronto can support up to five different teams, but they never will thanks to Big America. One I especially liked was the suggestion Toronto doesn’t win because of American business interests.

Canada likes to think of itself as an independent nation. It is, but it so often seems to be defined in the oddest way possible, which is that we play up how different we are than the US. It’s an oddly insecure kind of way to defend yourself: we’re better because we’re not. It lies through so much of our collective conscience (at least here). From the Avro Arrow, a jet scrapped for a missile defence system (but really because of UA big business) to the NHL (who are willing to throw the game to the wolves to sell it in the US), so much of our collective conscience seems to be about trying to play up how we’re not them.

It goes to the Stanley Cup finals this year. For instance, TSN is billing it not as the 2011 Finals, but as Vancouver’s quest to bring the Cup to Canada. Never mind that only 16 of their players are Canadian or that Boston has more Canadians on it’s roster, this is somehow Canada’s team. Never mind that in the past six Finals – from 2004 to 2010, minus the lockout year – there was three Canadian teams. This isn’t a case of Canada making a stand against

It’s silly. It doesn’t feel like rooting for anything so much as it does feel like rooting against something. It’s quickly become another political battle: us versus the US. It comes off from benign things like Boston Pizza crossing the Boston out it’s name to nonsensical things like the above call-in talk shows. And TSN sure isn’t helping when they bill the Finals in such a one-sided way.

Written by M.

June 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm

What went wrong – 2010 NHL playoff recap and picks (Western Confe

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If you haven’t read it yet, part one of my recaps and picks (all on the Eastern Conference) is over here. This piece will cover the Western Conference, recapping the first round and making some predictions for the second.

NHL Playoffs second round picks, Western Conference

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Vancouver over Chicago

If I learned anything from the first round of the playoffs, it was that Roberto Luongo can be excellent for stretches and basically shut down a hot team.

He, and solely he, is why I’m taking Vancouver to beat the Blackhawks. There are a few other options, such as questions in Chicago’s net, their relative inexperience and their reliance on outscoring, not keeping the score down. I think this has potential to be a good series, but if Luongo plays as he did in the first, it could be over in a hurry.

Detroit over Anahiem

With the Ducks the latest of the annual winner over the Sharks, an average team is going to play a very good one.

The Ducks aren’t going to win this series nine times of ten, but they could make it interesting in most of those. I would be more receptive of them if they still had somebody a little more proven then Hiller in net, but still: they did shut down the number one seed. And the Wings have been upset before.

Just not this year. Wings are too powerful and can shoot out the lights.

Eastern Conference coming up tomorrow!

First round accuracy: 2-2

Written by M.

April 30, 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in nhl playoffs, playoff picks

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Third annual NHL Playoff picks – Western Conference

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And here’s part two, with my western picks, briefly:

San Jose over Anahiem

First, the Sharks are good. Nabakov has been excellent this season, winning 41 games and posting a goals-against of 2.44. And they’re a solid offensive team, even now Jonathan Cheechoo’s scoring touch has all but vanished. The Ducks will be hard pressed to match them.

Detroit over Columbus

A popular pick this spring is to choose Columbus and there are pretty solid reasons. Steve Mason has been nothing short of superb this year, etc. But they’re over-thinking it. Detroit’s offence will keep the pressure on Mason and they will get to him. I wouldn’t expect this series to go very long.

Vancouver over St. Louis

Mostly because I think St. Louis is playing with house money since they’ve made it this far. They’re old and Vancouver’s Luongo can come up big in the postseason. I can see this one getting over in a hurry.

Calgary over Chicago

Because Chicago is young and still inexperienced. They remind me of the Penguins of a couple seasons ago, the ones that faced the Sens in the first round. Come next year, they might go a lot deeper, but for now they’ll just give chase to the Flames.

Written by M.

April 15, 2009 at 10:57 am

Third annual NHL Playoff picks – Eastern Conference

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It’s time for the second season to begin, so here’s some playoff picks for the NHL.

Boston over Montreal

Bob Gainey got the Habs under control late this season, when it looked like they had peaked early. Still, they’re a team that was a sleeper pick by some (myself included) to win the Cup in October; now they barely made the playoffs. Goalie Carey Price will have to be strong in net and a few Habs – Kovalev and Kostitsyn in particular – will have to play a lot better then they have throughout the season.

Boston, on the other hand, just missed winning the Presidents trophy, albeit in a weak division – the only other team from it are the Habs – but have looked great. Tim Thomas has stood out as one of the best goalies in the NHL and looks able to carry his team. And these Bruins faced a much better-playing Habs last year in the playoffs and took them to seven games. I expect this year, they won’t even have to go that far. I like the Bruins in five.

Washington over New York

Yes, the Rangers look good. Even Avery. And Lundqvist looks good. But the Rangers haven’t endeared themselves to me, not yet. I don’t think they’re deep enough, I don’t know if they have enough experience and as a whole they look like a team in transition between leaders – in other words, they miss Jagr.

The Caps are great though. They can score in bunches and look to improve from last year, when they left the postseason early. Ovechkin will force Lundqvist to play great; nobody on the Rangers will push Theodore that hard. With him, they won’t go deep, but I think they can outscore the Rangers in seven games, which is what I think this series will go to.

Carolina over New Jersey

Martin Brodeur has had a great season, setting records and winning games. He’s bound to be feeling better then he has in any postseason in recent memory, as he’s played less games this year then he has in over a decade. And he’s part of a good Devils team, too, that can score.

But Carolina is peaking, as they say, at the right time. Cam Ward is hot, maybe the hottest goalie in the East, and I think that makes the Canes – excuse the cliche – a dark horse to go deep. It will be tough for them and I’m still not sold on their offense, but if Ward keeps playing at this clip, they have a good shot at beating the Devils, maybe in as little as five games.

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia

The Flyers are solid – not great, not bad – and they know the Penguins; one could say a rivalry has formed between the two teams, especially after last season’s meeting between the two. They’re about the same as the Penguins, in record and statistically – but they’re not as deep. After a handful of heavies, they drop off pretty quickly. But I like their tandem of goalies.

I do like the Penguins, though, who are about as good as last year, if a little more shallow. But Crosby and Malkin are still the best 1-2 punch any team in the East has and Fleury’s won 35 games; no easy feat in a tight division that sent three teams to the playoffs, with none seeded lower then fifth. They’ll have a tough time, I imagine, but this is a winnable series for the Pens. I like them in six.