Monday, April 4, 2011

Beginning of the Week "Quick Hits" & Other Musings (Hockey & NCAA Final Four)

Well last week was another busy week for me though I did manage to get to the Caps - Blue Jackets game on Thursday Evening at Verizon Center. Other than that brief diversion though I've just been working pretty hard and catching up on Hockey (both NHL and NCAA) and the NCAA Final Four by reading things on line until last evening when I got to watch the Caps - Sabres game and the two NCAA Men's Basketball Semi-Finals on TV from my "usual seat" here in Bristow. So here's my catch-up quick hit musings on the diversion that following sports, especially NHL hockey create for me.

1) Last week I said I wanted to make sure I got to see the Devils - Sabres on 3/26; the Senators - Lightning on 3/29; the Islanders - Rangers on 3/31 and the Senators - Maple Leafs last night because they were going to be good and likely from a standings perspective important games. Well I didn't get to see any of them - am I sorry about that? only a little - I mean hey real life should take precedence and priorities are priorities. In any case though they were basically all pretty good games and important from a standings perspective. Last Saturday, the Sabres shutout the Devils 2-0 continuing a late season run that this morning finds them in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and on track though fighting for a playoff spot with the Canadiens, Rangers, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs. For the Devils, the game was basically "the beginning of the end" of their season. That said the game in Buffalo was a tightly played one with a playoff feel and according to the score sheet the difference was Ryan Miller who won the goalies duel against Martin Brodeaur.

While looking at the scoresheet, the Lightning - Senators game on the 29th wasn't anything to write home about, it was important in that until the last week of the month, the Lightning were not having a good March at all. The Bolts beat the Sens 5-2 that night in Tampa and it was the second win of their current 4 game streak; as I said for the month of March, I don't think the Lightning or their fans were all that thrilled with their 5-6-4 record for March. In Ottawa, between their loss to the Lightning on the 29th and their lost last evening to the Maple Leafs, while they continue to play better hockey than their place in the standings might lead one to expect, they just don't seem to be relishing their role as spoiler nearly as much as they were earlier in the month of March when they beat the Lightning twice, the Devils twice, and the Capitals and Rangers once each.

Speaking of the Rangers, on the 29th they played the Islanders on "The Island" and lost 6-2 in a game that in addition to eight goals including 4 against Henrik Lundqvist, also featured a total of 28 penalties called (17 against the Islanders and 11 against the Rangers) of which eight were fighting majors, four were 10 minute misconducts and the Islanders Zenon Konopka who leads the NHL in PIM managed to in addition to a 5:00 major for fighting, not get a misconduct but still get three (3) minors for Roughing- for a total of 11:00 in the sin bin while only playing 5:50 TOI on 15 shifts. So relative to this game, I'm sorry I missed it since it had to have been "Olde Tyme Hockey" that stirred up memories of Ranger - Islander games at "the Vet", I don't think it won't be re-shown on NHL Network as a classic anytime soon, eh? For the Rangers, the game on the Island ended what has otherwise been a pretty good month of March (8-5-1) on a low note as it was their second loss in a row and it opened the door for Buffalo to pass them in the standings and place them squarely "on the bubble."

Last night for the Senators - Maple Leafs game, the Leafs won 4-2 winning their third game in a row and keeping pace with Carolina so that in the Eastern Conference the real battle is between four teams Buffalo, the Rangers, Carolina and Toronto for two (2) playoff spots though Montreal rally does need to start playing better hockey else they maybe could end up in the melee as well. The Leafs have three games left in their season while the Sabres, Rangers, and Hurricanes all have four; the 7th place Sabres have 88 points and 34 ROW while the 10th place Maple Leafs have 84 points and 32 ROW. For those four teams fans, the next two weeks should feature a few fits of "nail biting."

2) What's going on here in DC? I mean I thought the most dangerous job ever was fishing for crab in the Gulf of Alaska, but so far based on this NHL season, I'd say it might be playing defense for the Washington Capitals. Seriously, the Caps defense is seriously depleted right now. Tom Poti - on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a groin injury; Dennis Wideman out indefinately with a hematoma in his right leg; Mike Green on injured reserve and out indefinitely with a concussion; John Erskine out last game; and Tyler Sloan now also questionable after the last game, the Washington Capitals blue-line certainly isn't an OSHA safe workplace of the year award winner. Even though the Caps aren't the only team heading into the playoffs dealing with injuries in key places and to key players, I have to admit, I'm worried and it's got to be frustrating for all given the great promise things seemed to have after the great deadline pickups by GMGM of Wideman and Arnott. Oh well, we just have to hope somebody (or two) gets healthy and makes it aback and/or everybody else on the blue line plays at or even better above their talent levels and delivers great team defense. All that said, this is the thing I'll be most worried about and watching most closely between now and the end of the season (e.g. playoffs) for the Capitals and I suspect many of the folks who read this blog will be doing the same.

3) RE: NCAA March Madness - I'm in a win-win in the office pool. So even though I was hoping to see the VCU Rams in the championship game - Great Run Rams! - I now have a situation where if UCONN wins, I win the office pool and if Butler wins, well I'll be very happy that they did. Two years in a row in the final game is a great accomplishment for a school that isn't in one of the really "big" basketball conferences like the Big 10 or the Big East. So tonight's game should be a good one to watch, don'tcha think?

4) This past weekend's game really tightened up the races in both NHL Conferences for the playoffs, eh? In the East there's really four teams battling for two spots; though the way Montreal has been playing has also dropped them down "into the fray" and they could end up as low as ninth place and out of things, I don't see that happening. So it's 6th: Montreal - 91 points, 3 games remaining; 7th: Buffalo - 90 points, 3 games remaining; 8th: NY Rangers - 89 points, 3 games remaining; 9th: Carolina - 87 points, 3 games remaining; 10th: Toronto - 84 points, 3 games remaining. In the West it's even tighter only 7 points separate 4th place from 10th place so understanding the likely playoff seedings is pretty impossible; additionally the fact that 9th and 10th place Calgary and Dallas are playing well and winning after struggling the prior two weeks is making for some interesting times as well. In the West it's 4th: Los Angeles - 96 points, 4 games remaining; 5th: Phoenix - 96 points, 3 games remaining; 6th: Nashville - 95 points, 3 games remaining; 7th: Anaheim - 93 points, 3 games remaining; 8th: Chicago - 92 points, 4 games remaining; 9th: Calgary - 91 points, 2 games remaining; 10th: Dallas - 89 points, 4 games remaining.

At the top of each conference theres also a lot of "jockeying for positions" that are possible. The only thing locked up is that Vancouver is the top seed in the West and the President's Trophy winner. In the West second and third place Detroit and San Jose have locked up their Divisions but are separated by only 1 point so the second seeding in that Conference is open to further battle during each of those team's remaining games. In the East third place Boston is the only team to have locked up their division so far with 99 points, 4 games remaining and 42 ROW. The now second place Washington Capitals have 103 points, 3 games remaining and 42 ROW. The Caps next game is tomorrow evening in Toronto; if the Caps win, they will clinch their 4th Southeast Division Title in a row. That win will not likely come easily as it would also eliminate the Maple Leafs from contention for a post-season berth. The first place Philadelphia Flyers are in first place with 103 points, 3 games remaining and 43 ROW. In other words, they are in first only by virtue of their 1 additional ROW. The Caps - Flyers 4 game series this season has been evenly split: 2-2; every one of the four games has been decided in "extra time" with each team winning once in overtime and once in the shootout. If this regular season series results mean anything and both the Flyers and the Capitals get past their earlier round opponents and end up facing each other in the Eastern Conference finals; that series could be a "Battle Royale." Of course hopefully there will be ALOTTA hockey between now and then for both teams. If the season ended today it's likely the Capitals would have to get by both the Sabres and either the Bruins or the winner of the Pittsburgh - Tampa Bay Series; while the Flyers would need to get past the Rangers and either the Canadiens or the winner of the Pittsburgh - Tampa Bay Series. I'm getting "goosebumps" just thinking about how cool any and all of those games/series will likely be.

However, lets not get ahead of ourselves the Caps have three games left to play this regular season: Tuesday in Toronto; the Wednesday night home finale' against the Florida Panthers, and their last game of the regular season in Sunrise Florida on Saturday evening. The first round of the playoffs will start for the league on Wednesday 4/13 and hopefully by then a couple of the currently injured Capitals will be back in the game and no more of their teammates will have "fallen" off the roster.


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