Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ravens afraid of Steelers

The Ravens have a lot to be proud of after last season. They finished with an 11-5 record, boasted the league's second best defense and finished in the final four of the NFL playoffs. Even though they lost to the Steelers three times last season, they are still a very tough and feared team in the NFL. That was until they showed off their newest addition to their uniforms which has a bright yellow streak down the back of their jerseys.

The Ravens asked the NFL not to schedule any night games against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. This request prevented a Week One prime time match up between the Steelers and Ravens on Thursday night. If I could, I would like to ask the Ravens organization one question? At what moment, exactly, did you lose your "testicular fortitude"? Did you lose them in one of your losses to the Steelers? Maybe it was after you watched the Steelers claim their 6th Super Bowl. You don't want to play the Steelers at night in Pittsburgh?? Can a Raven fan ever hold up their head again after this incredible act of cowardice displayed by their team? This intense, physical, hate filled rivalry can't be played during prime time because the Ravens are... well, lets face it; they're scared.

Mike Preston, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, however thinks this is a good idea. He wrote "The organization knows how to work the crowd. The Steelers always bring back their old-timers for the games, and it gets the crowd in a frenzied mood. The Steelers introduce former players like Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell before the game or at halftime. It doesn’t sound like much, but it definitely helps get the crowd going." The Ravens are the Steelers biggest rival. The crowd is going to be in a "frenzied mood" regardless of whether the old timers are there or not. Your team is turning into a pack of purple cowards that are not only being intimidated by the Steelers themselves, but apparently by the Steeler fans as well.

The Ravens are embarrassing themselves. They went from being a tough, hard nosed football organization to a whiny little pack of crybabies. Why don't the Ravens just ask the NFL to schedule both games against the Steelers in Baltimore? Then they won't have to worry about the Steelers "frenzied" fans knocking them off their game.

They should want to play the Steelers on prime time. They should want to prove to themselves to the league that they are capable of beating the defending Super Bowl Champions. That they are tougher and more physical. They should want to come to Pittsburgh and ruin the Super Bowl celebration and beat the Steelers on their home field. But instead, they're choosing to avoid the Steelers and avoid the national spotlight.

The Ravens are moving in the wrong direction. Winners don't look for the easy way out. Winners look to prove themselves when presented with a tough situation. The Steelers had the toughest schedule in the NFL last year and they finished with a championship. Winners want the ball at the end of the game. Winners view going into enemy territory as a challenge, a challenge that if met can prove greatness. Winners don't beg out of a prime time contest against their division rival.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brodeur great, but Roy still better

Last night, Marty Brodeur broke the record for career wins by an NHL goalie surpassing former Canadiens/Avs goalie Patrick Roy. On St. Patrick's day, no less. He did it quicker than Roy and he looks like he'll rack up quite a few more before its all said and done. You could make the argument that Brodeur is the greatest goalie in the history of the NHL. You COULD, but you'd be wrong.

I don't mean to rain the parade of Marty's great accomplishment. He is, without a doubt, the best goalie in the NHL right now. If I could pick any active goalie in the NHL going into a 7 game series, I would pick Brodeur without hesitation. Of all the goalies currently in the NHL, no one has won more trophies or championships. He is the best today, but not of all time. Those that want to anoint Brodeur "Lord of the Goaltenders" now because he owns the all time wins record, have very bad and very short memories.

Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, seems to think that 5 years from now there won't be a debate and that Brodeur will unquestionably be the greatest goaltender of all time. Conveniently, he glosses over the fact that Brodeur has played for defensive minded New Jersey and had some of the greatest blueliners of the time (Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) playing in front of him. He also states, "...for someone to argue somewhere down the line that there was a better NHL goalie will mean essentially ignoring the record book and relying totally on opinion or aesthetics." Or the fact that Roy beat Brodeur head to head in the Finals. It's okay, as a columnist knowing all the facts isn't really that important. Hey, you may want to cover your mouth, the room you're reading this in is suddenly started to fill up with sarcasm.

Patrick Roy is the greatest goalie of all time. It cannot be disputed. His butterfly style of goaltending inspired a new generation of goalies, including Brodeur, to idolize and mimic him that changed goaltending forever. Roy showed his greatness from the moment he entered the NHL in 1985. As a rookie, he led the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup at just the age of 20 and he wasn't just there for the ride either. He won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Roy went on to win that award two more times. Once in 1993, when he defeated Wayne Gretzky and the LA Kings. Then again in 2001, when he out dueled Marty Brodeur and the Devils to win his 4th Stanley Cup and his record setting 3rd Conn Smythe trophy. Roy currently owns the record for playoff wins with 151 and playoff shutouts with 23. He was a big game goaltender. When the game was on the line, he was on his game. The bigger the game, the taller the 6'2" goaltender stood. As a die hard Wings fan, I can't even begin to tell you how incredibly frustrating it was to watch them play against Roy. The Wings could dominate the play for the entire game and still lose, simply because Roy just didn't give up anything. He was that good. He was a one man defense and made so many big incredible saves, you started to wonder how this guy ever lost. Roy retired in 2003 after posting the second best numbers of his career. In 2004, Roy was selected as the greatest goalie in NHL history by a panel of 41 writers, with Roy receiving 19 votes. The next closest to him was Hasek with 7 votes. Then in 2006, he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Its one thing to be excited about a great player breaking the record of another great player, but let's not go overboard here. Brodeur is the best goalie in the league right now and will be considered one of the greatest of all time when he retires, but a lot of people are getting caught up in the moment and forgetting the greatness of the older players.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Penguins are playoff ready

It really wasn't that long ago. The Penguins were in 10th place in the conference, Crosby was suffering between two wingers that couldn't bury the puck into the Grand Canyon and the team was playing some ridiculous defensive system. Now, that's all changed. As most underachieving teams do, the Penguins were looking for a turning point. A comeback win against the Red Wings or the Lightning. A shootout win against the Sharks. A blowout win against the Islanders. The true turning point was the firing of Michel Therrien. Some people will argue that this wasn't all his fault. That Gonchar returned at about the same time Therrien was fired and that Gonchar is the spark that turned this team around. Or they'll say that the trades turned everything around. Well I'm sorry but I'm going to have to inform you that you're wrong. Dead wrong. The Therrien firing was the turning point period.

The Therrien firing brought about change. It brought about change in the locker room terms of style of play. I love hearing sports reporters that pretend to know something about hockey say "I don't think the Penguins really changed their style that much. They just seem to have more energy now." They have "more energy" now because more guys are active in trying to score goals. Offensive defensemen like Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang or Alex Gologoski now have the freedom to skate with the puck, cross over the blueline and take a shot on goal. The past two Stanley Cup Champions believed in this and it worked out pretty well for them. This strategy also opens up space for the forwards because now defending forwards can't collapse down low in their own end. New coach Dan Bylsma also taught the Penguins to be more aggressive and attack the net, another drastic change in the style of their play. Use their talents to their fullest extent to try and to score goals, not sit back and try to defend. Didn't "change their style"; These people just simply don't get hockey and they sit there and act like they're experts on the sport when in reality they don't have a clue.   Never have and probably never will.

To accommodate the new style of play Shero went out and made a couple of deals to strengthen it. First, they deal away Ryan Whitney who became expendable once Kris Letang and Alex Gologoski showed they can play in the NHL. In return they acquired a hard nosed, playmaking winger in Chris Kunitz . Then on trade deadline day, Shero plucked away Islanders captain and power forward Bill Guerin in exchange for a conditional draft pick. Crosby not only had a competent winger to play alongside with, he now had two! The Crosby, Kunitz, Guerin line is the best non-Malkin line he's play on since entering the NHL in 2005. These trades solve a lot of immediate problems like toughness, leadership and overall talent at wing.

With two lethal top lines, puck moving defenseman now being asked to play to their strengths along with the majority of the team, this makes the Penguins a very scary playoff team now. They have the grit, the speed, the leadership, the momentum and of course now, the good coaching to get them far into the playoffs. This team is much better than whatever seeding they'll finish with when its all said and done, one of the top 4 teams won't be happy that they drew the Penguins in the first round. Don't think its possible? The 1992 Penguins barely made the playoffs tying the Devils for 3rd in the division (back then the top four teams from each division made the playoffs) and won the tiebreaker because they had one more win. That team finished the post season winning 11 straight and captured their 2nd Cup. The playoffs are a whole new game in the NHL and right now the Penguins look ready to play.