So tired...

-- Arsenal vs. Manchester United was a bunch of fun. There were hundreds of people crammed into the pub, and both sets of supporters were in very fine voice. Our only real rival (Tottenham? Who are they?) actually started really strong, and Jens Lehmann was called into service early. Arsenal got into the game after that, though, and the remaining 70 minutes saw some of the most entertaining, pulsating football I've seen in a long while.

Both sides went close a couple of times, but most of the chances were swept away or blocked by the respective defenses...but, I remember Lehmann making one or two really world-class saves. Interestingly, he's getting the start in Germany's next friendly, and when Euro 2004 comes around this summer, I tend to think that he's going to be in net for them...Oliver Kahn hasn't had the greatest of seasons for Bayern Munich (who look like they're winning fuck all this season), and Crazy Jens has been awesome for us.

Finally, Thierry Henry got a little space, and he sent an absolute thunderbolt towards the net. The funny thing is, the placement of it meant that if Roy "Half-man, Half-troll" Carroll had simply jumped straight up, he could have probably punched it away, or fingertipped it over the bar. However, it was actually like a screwball in baseball -- it started to curve one way, forcing Carroll to take a few steps to his right. And, when you take a step, you hunch down a little bit...you can't move sideways and stay perfectly straight. Then, the ball swerved back the other way, and the wrong-footed trollman was never going to get there (but, fair play to him...his dive got him closer to it than most would have been, although not even Tim Howard would have saved this one). The Arsenal half of the pub erupted, and to be honest with you, I thought we had it won right there.

It got tense as it went on, and good lord, the Manks didn't even make a pretense of being anything other than diving, cheating bastards this time around. That hyperactive psycho Roy Keane wasn't even the worst offender. No, that dishonor goes to that Welsh twat, Ryan Giggs. He tried twice to draw an unfair penalty (so did Gary Neville, oddly enough...because of course we'd have to foul that feared scoring fullback with the ball at his feet in the area. Riiiiiight), and to be fair, the tackles were flying in from both sides. But, believe it or not, most of them were very fair. Wes Brown for them had a fantastic saving tackle in the area, and I believe it was Kolo Toure who did the same for us.

The game started to wind down, so Arsene started pulling off attacking players for defenders. One of them was Pascal Cygan, to which I yelled out "OH SHIT!". He was decent there for a while, but in a match of this magnitude, I don't think he should even be let inside the building. He's a somewhat useful player, but I think he would be better served going back to the French league...in that context, he's a fantastic defender. For a team chasing a treble in a top-level league, he's marginal at best. And, shock of shocks, Cygan was all the way upfield, and he couldn't shamble back to his position long enough to help out poor Gael Clichy. Now, for a young kid, Clichy was fucking immense...he made some nice tackles, and did the attacking fullback bit, too. I still think his crossing needs work, but for a 19-year old, he's already outstanding. But, back to the point: Cygan left Clichy out to dry, and that allowed two United substitutes to connect for the equalizer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sent over a perfect cross, and Louis Saha had the easiest of tap-ins.

Now that I've had a few hours to digest it, I have to say that a draw is a fair result. We did outshoot them something like 16-7, but in terms of actual very good scoring chances, I'd venture that it was almost even. Both sets of fullbacks, as mentioned, were fantastic in the tackle. Both sets of midfields did a wonderful job on both sides of the ball...Vieira was a joy to watch, Pires was pretty good, and their guys were OK too, I suppose.

Oh, and referee Graham Poll had a fantastic game. I've had issues with him in the past, but in all seriousness, he was brilliant.

-- Meanwhile, I'm watching the Yankees play the Yomiuri Giants, and I have to wonder whether that pitch that Matsui hit for a homer was a cupcake or not...it looked like it to me. But, then again, I tend to be a conspiracy theorist about this kind of thing -- I also think that All-Star Game homerun that Cal Ripken Jr. had in his last go-around was a cupcake, too. That said, the Yankees are just kicking the shit out of these guys, but a) I don't think Yomiuri has been sending their best pitchers out, and b) the team they're playing tonight, the Hanshin Tigers, are the defending Japanese champions. I tend to think these Tigers could give them a better game than the Detroit variety.

But, while I would never claim to

Some random things...

-- The Canadiens limped into the playoffs with a 3-2 overtime loss at Boston tonight. It was looking real good for a while...Jason Ward got his 4th of the year on a penalty shot about 30 seconds in, and then Stephane Quintal got a rare goal to put us up 2-0. But, the Bruins kept chipping away, and after something like 124 straight stupid penalties, the Bruins got one back. That's fine. You can't expect to shut out a team like Boston on their own ice, but the tying goal came because (I believe) the Habs came out flat for the 3rd period. That said, I think the entire team did a great job of hanging onto the regulation tie, as that's really all we needed. However, heading into the playoffs (and playing a team now the most likely to face us in the 1st round), I really could have lived without them conceding a goal in overtime. I'm even less thrilled about the fact that they couldn't capitalize on a 3:30 power play (the first 1:30 was 4-on-4 thanks to Yet Another Stupid Penalty) after that hack artist Joe Thornton tried to injure Steve Begin with a horrible check from behind. He actually should have gone right before that when Yanic Perrault got his double-minor, but of course, the brilliant officiating crew (one of whom was none other than Kerry "who needs a helmet when I use this much hairspray" Fraser) let it go. Great work, gentlemen. Oh well. The Canadiens are in the playoffs once again, and the last time we were there, we sent the B's home very, very early. I think everyone on the team, associated with them, or a supporter of them is looking forward to doing it again.

-- I find it disturbing that you can watch pool and bowling and poker (which isn't even a bloody sport) on ESPN2, but they can't find space for indoor lacrosse. My Wings need 2 straight wins against Rochester to make the playoffs...actually, in the first one, they're honoring the 1994 MILL champions, so hopefully something from that group will rub off on the current lot (the '94 edition won by demolishing Buffalo 26-15 in the final).

-- I'm looking at the SPL standings today, and I've noticed that Glasgow Celtic's goal differential is +78. No, that's not a typo...that's 93 goals scored and 15 conceded. That's just bloody ridiculous, although I suppose it has to be expected when our nearest and dearest rivals are as far behind as they are.

-- Watched some boxing tonight...Dominick Guinn vs. Monte Barrett and Jermain Taylor vs. Alex Bunema. The first fight was kind of strange...the hometown guy (Guinn) came out firing on all cylinders, but it seemed to my (very untrained) eye that Barrett kind of let him get it out of his system, then went to work himself. It seemed like he had a gameplan, while I can believe the announcers when they said that Guinn was trying to box in a style that he's not used to. It wasn't a bad fight (won by Barrett in split decision -- it's very obvious the hometown judge had filled out his card before the fight even started), but the second of the evening was much more entertaining for me, the casual fan. Jermain Taylor is the kind of guy that would turn people onto boxing again, I think. Personally, this was the first card I've watched since some horrible fight featuring a guy named Ruiz...that was a section of my life I can never get back. However, Taylor was just phenomenal...from what the announcers were saying the Congoese guy he was fighting was pretty good in his own right, but he just couldn't touch this Taylor guy (also the hometown favorite). Taylor was extremely aggressive, and he did an awesome job of wearing the other guy down, so he could let loose with more power punches (scintillating analysis, I know, but I've never claimed to be a boxing expert). Taylor won around...err...round 7 or 8, I think, when the ref stopped the fight. Bunema made quite a stink about it, but it was apparent even to me that he was simply saved from yet more pummelling.


From a message board conversation...

So, I was wondering if people more apt in the ways of sabrmetrics (Hi, Brendan!) could tell me if I have any glaring holes in my argument here:

Stats don't win championships, players do, if it were the other way around Mr. Beane would have about 4 WS rings right now.

Stats help choose the correct players that give you a chance to win. You read Moneyball...doesn't it strike you as insane how baseball scouting has been for years and years? Unless you have a NYY or Boston-sized budget to play with, then you have to get the absolute most value for money that you can. That's where OPS+ and ERA+ and Win Shares and all the rest of it come in.

But, all sabrmetrics can do is ensure that you GET to the playoffs. The only thing that determines playoff winners is luck. That's it. It's a crapshoot -- the sample size is so small, no other factor becomes statistically significant. Look at it this way: were the Florida Marlins the best team in baseball last year? Or in 1997? The Anaheim Angels were the best team in 2002? The answer to all of the above is "HELL NO!" However, look at the Marlins' run last year: 2 costly errors from Gold Glovers (JT Snow, Jose Cruz Jr.) got them past the Giants, the Cubs had that insane breakdown, and then the Yankees...well, they were a paper tiger that was extremely lucky to get past Boston. Luck, luck, and more luck.

Stats work very, VERY well when you have 162 games to look over (or 80 in other sports). That's what they are there for.

But still, I believe that you do need a type of attitude and mental toughness to be a closer.

Anyone who makes the major leagues should have this attribute. Those who slip through the cracks do so because of poor scouting and coaching.

So from what you are saying, Rivera would be just as good as SP as a closer.

No. Some pitchers are born to be starters (Hi, Derek Lowe!), and some are born to be closers. But, once that distinction is made, there is very little to separate one closer from another. Even in the case of a very good closer like, say, Troy Percival, you can argue that Weber and Donnelly and Rodriguez are just as good, if not better members of that bullpen. Say Percival goes down...you're saying one of those three can't come in and rack up the same gaudy save numbers? Closers are very, VERY fungible, and VASTLY overrated in the market (Hi, Billy Koch!).

How many leads has BK Kim blown against the pressure of playing against the Yankees as opposed to other less meaningful games.

That's why Bill James measures saves in three categories. If you see someone blowing easy saves, then they should probably be in AAA...if they can't get 3 outs with a lead and nobody on, then they damn sure aren't going to be any more useful in the 7th with guys on already.

Bottom line is, Yes Stats mean a lot, but would you pitch BK Kim in a Game 7 of an ALCS against the Yankees with a lead?

No, but not for something as ephemeral as "he can't handle pressure". I wouldn't pitch him (or even have him on my roster in the first place) because he walks a ton of guys, he gives up a lot of hits, and is just not a good pitcher in general. Arizona got their one good season out of him...and they should count themselves as lucky for that.

Now, on to Goose:

I think it is essential for a team to have someone that can close the door in the 8th and 9th innings to have a successful team nowadays.

To me, it's not the inning that's important, but the situation. I want my best reliever on the mound when the danger to my lead is at its greatest. Let's say I'm managing Philly, and I'm in the World Series vs. the AL champ. I'm winning in the 7th, but it's close, my starter is tiring, and there's a guy on. You can bet your ass that I'm going to put Billy Wagner in then, rather than depend on a B or B- reliever to get me through it, in the hope that I'm still winning when the 9th comes around.

As for the Hall of Famers you mentioned, for a lot of those guys, the save was a very different stat. You had to go like 2 or 3 innings to get it, and I think the biggest possible lead to be eligible was like 2. Sparky Lyle won a Cy Young, and only got 26 saves (or something in that neighborhood). Actually, I claim to be the stats man, I may as well use them.

Sparky Lyle, 1977: 72 G, 13-5, 26 SV, 2.17 ERA, 182 ERA+ (meaning he's about 52% better than league average for a reliever), 137 IP, 33 BB, 68 K.

Bobby Thigpen, 1990: 77 G, 4-6, 57 SV, 1.83 ERA, 210 ERA+, 88 2/3 IP, 32 BB, 70 K.

Thigpen's numbers are certainly flashier (and indicative why ERA+ isn't a be-all and end-all), but let's analyze this for a second. They have similar walk and strikeout numbers, but Lyle's ERA is a shade higher. And, of course, Thigpen has a kajillion saves there. But, notice how Lyle pitched around 50 MORE INNINGS than Thigpen did. Not only that, Lyle lost 1 less game, won a bunch more, and obviously was called on to put out actual fires, while Thigpen's numbers are VERY indicative of the dilettante "comes in when there's no real danger, and gets a bunch of cheap saves" kind of guy.

Not only that, but Lyle had a long, consistent career. Thigpen had 2 decent 30-save Rocky Biddle-esque seasons before the record-breaker, and then...wow...don't look below. He had three more seasons of consequence after that (with a tremendously steep rate of decline), and then he was GONE. Thanks for coming, Bobby.

And, when you look at Thigpen's Similarity Scores, it paints a VERY interesting picture. On one hand, he's similar to known busts Gregg Olson, Armando Benetiez, and Mel Rojas. He ALSO is similar to "proven closers" like Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, and Ugueth Urbina. To me, one can draw the conclusion that Foulke and Isringhausen and the like have simply had better teams to draw on, and thus had more 3-run leads, that sorta thing.

Even the great Mariano Rivera...stick him on the Detroit Tigers, and he's a very nice pitcher, but not really value for money. Just for fun, let's compare Mariano Rivera's season last year, with...oh, I dunno...some middle-of-the-road guy. I know...how about that guy MacDougal from Kansas City?

Rivera, 2003: 64 G, 5-2, 40 SV, 6 BS, 1.66 ERA, 265 ERA+, 70 2/3 IP, 10 BB, 63 K
MacDougal, 2003: 68 G, 3-5, 27 SV, 8 BS, 4.08 ERA, 124 ERA+, 64 IP, 32 BB, 57 K

It's not even an issue that Rivera is the far superior pitcher. Hell, his ERA+ his about double, which would mean he's twice the pitcher MacDougal is. I'd go along with that (ERA+ is a bit clumsy, but it IS useful when making general assessments). But, let's look a little deeper.

The 2003 Yankees were 101-61, whilst the 2003 Royals were 83-79. Rivera, all told, had 45 positive outcomes (wins and saves), and 8 negative ones (yes, sometimes a blown save turns into a win, but I'm just going rough and ready here). So, Rivera positively affected 44.6% of his team's wins, (again, a real sabrmetrician would shoot some holes in my methodology, but I think it works well enough for this super-basic point) and neagtively affected 11.4% of the losses. Meanwhile, Macdougal had 30 positive outcomes, and 13 negative ones. So, that works out to be 36.1% of their wins, and 16.5% of the losses.

Ergo, the difference between an absolutely top-shelf closer and a generic Some Guy is about 8% on the winning side and 5% on the losing side (of course, there's other factors...Rivera won't exit his prime for another year or so, while MacDougal is just getting there), but to me, this all leads up to one point:

As long as you don't put a total zero in the closer's spot, then it won't make a gigantic difference whether you have Mariano Rivera, or just Some Guy.

Oh, for the love...

That crazy old pope strikes again!

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Zip it, jabroni.


Switching to the footie for a second...

First: Those crazy Italian fans

Every idiot out there who has never seen a game in his life always naturally assumes that the English are the only hooligan offenders out there. Uh-huh. Compare the atmosphere at Highbury or Stamford Bridge or St. James' Park or even The Valley (hell, anywhere outside of The New Den, really), to what's going on in Serie A...or the Argentine league. I saw matches at Highbury, Shite Hart Lane, and third-division (at the time) Griffin Park, and never for a SECOND felt like I was in harm...even wearing my Arsenal shirt to S***s' ground. Between this account and what happened to Wales' travelling fans during Euro 2004 qualifiers, I wouldn't go see a Serie A game if you paid me (not to mention the fact that it's over-defensive, dive-happy shite).

Second: AC Milan is NOT messing around

Assuming we can get past Chelski, you'd have to think that these guys are Arsenal's biggest threat at stopping us from winning our first-ever European Cup. Even though it's especially hard for the holders to repeat, this Milan team seems like they're more than capable of doing it.

Russians in the playoffs...

The first comment I've ever gotten from someone I don't actually know (awww...my little blog is growing up!) questioned the worth of Russian players in the NHL playoffs...the assumption being that they haven't performed relative to the hype surrounding them. It's not something I know off-hand, so let's do some research...

First, the Canadiens' own Alexei Kovalev: 83 GP, 27-40-67, + 4, 11.7% shooting.

Not world-beating or anything, but it certainly isn't bad for a player of his caliber. With scoring at a premium in the playoffs, scoring at a 0.81 per game clip isn't bad at all. And, if you look at individual years, he hasn't had any nightmare 12-game scoreless performances...although his points per game the last two times out were 0.56 and 0.55. He hasn't been the same player as he used to be while stuck on that horrific Ranger team, but I continue to insist that he'll find his form playing within the rigid discipline of Claude Julien's system. Hell, if he scores 0.55 a game for us this season, that's all we can ask out of him.

Let's go for a slightly-bigger name...how about Sergei Fedorov? His stats are: 162 GP, 50-113-163, + 38, 8.9% shooting, 1.01 per game.

Sure, this all came on high-powered Detroit teams. But, I would postulate that Fedorov was a big reason those teams were so fearsome in the playoffs. Even to a bigger extent than Kovalev, Fedorov has been frighteningly consistent. He's never been lower than 0.83 PPG when Detroit has survived for more than 10 games. As a 33-year old two seasons ago, that 0.83 came in the shape of 5-14-19 in 23 games...what more can you ask for from any one man in the playoffs? Go ahead and look at the numbers when he was in his prime, and they're actually pretty gaudy. Not Gretzky-gaudy, but what do you want? The golden generation of Russian players (playing in the high-scoring era that Gretzky did) all pllied their trade when they weren't allowed to come to the NHL. Keep that in mind.

Another bigger name -- Pavel Bure: 64 GP, 35-35-70, + 8, 13.8% shooting, 1.09 PPG.

For someone who was under so much pressure to be THE main scoring option for those Vancouver teams, I'd argue that you couldn't ask for much more. All 4 times he made it to the postseason with the 'Nucks, they made it to at least the second round. That's not too shabby...just ask Boston fans.

Let's go back in history some, to the guy who may have been the first pure Russian scorer to play here: Alex Mogilny: 111 GP, 37-43-80, - 1, 11.2% shooting, 0.72 PPG.

There's 1992-93, 2000-01, and a whole bunch of Look Out Below. His numbers aren't terrible, but relative to the hype, I suppose this would be Exhibit A of the gentleman making the original comment.

Am I forgetting any of the major players? If so, drop me a comment...

Oh...and her'es another thing. Russian defensemen have been historically excellent on at least one side of the puck in the playoffs...I submit to the jury: Alexei Zhitnik, Sandis Ozolinsh (he played for the Russians in at least one Olympics, yeah?), Sergei Zubov, and Vladimir Konstantinov.


Random NHL stuff

Wade Belak suspended 8 games for his Tatanka impersonation

-- Wait...a TORONTO player, suspended for violent conduct? Perish the thought!

-- Pittsburgh is 7-1-1 in their last 9 games. Explain THAT one to me.

-- I'm calling it right now...I'm putting the over/under of games the 8 seeds are going to win the in the playoffs at 3, and I'm taking the under.

-- Anyone care to bet on Vancouver winning in the 1st round, whoever they play? I doubt it.

-- The Canadiens are 7-1-1-1 in their last 10. You DON'T have to explain that to me.

-- Definition of limping into the playoffs: the Ottawa Senators




3rd period:

18:59 -- MTL -- Alexei Kovalev (Andrei Markov) (empty net)

Heh. Three points for the Canadiens, two of which involve an empty net. Too bad the other team has a goalie most of the time! I still think he's going to get better and have a great playoffs for us, but I recognize high comedy when I see it.

A weird little flight of fancy...

I asked myself a little while ago, "what would the NHL standings look like if you got rid of the point for an overtime loss?" Besides making the standings look better in the newspaper, I would imagine that some things would be very, very different. I know it's not always accurate to convert overtime losses to losses...but the alternative is to try and figure out where to put those wins...I don't have time for that!

Eastern Conference:

1. Tampa Bay 42-25-8, 92 pts ( - )
2. Philadelphia 38-24-14, 90 pts ( - )
3. Toronto 40-26-9, 89 pts (+ 1)
4. New Jersey 38-24-12, 88 pts (+ 2)
5. Boston 37-24-14, 88 pts ( - 2)
6. Ottawa 39-26-9, 87 pts ( - 1)
7. Montreal 39-29-7, 85 pts ( - )
8. NY Islanders 33-31-10, 76 pts ( - )
9. Buffalo 32-36-6, 70 pts ( - )
10. Florida 27-33-14, 68 pts ( + 1)
11. Atlanta 30-38-7, 67 pts ( - 1)
12. Carolina 25-36-13, 63 pts ( - )
13. NY Rangers 25-43-7, 57 pts ( - )
14. Washington 22-44-8, 52 pts ( - )
15. Pittsburgh 19-49-7, 45 pts ( - )

Western Conference

1. Detroit 42-20-11, 95 pts ( - )
2. Dallas 38-24-13, 89 pts ( + 2)
3. Colorado 38-24-12, 88 pts ( - 1)
4. San Jose 37-25-12, 86 pts ( - 1)
5. Vancouver 37-28-10, 84 pts ( - )
6. Calgary 38-29-7, 83 pts ( - )
7. St. Louis 34-30-11, 79 pts ( - )
8. Nashville 33-30-11, 77 pts ( - )
9. Edmonton 31-31-12, 74 pts ( + 1)
10. Los Angeles 28-29-16, 73 pts ( - 1)
11. Anaheim 26-39-10, 70 pts ( + 1)
12. Minnesota 25-29-20, 70 pts ( - 1)
13. Phoenix 20-37-17, 57 pts ( - )
14. Chicago 20-45-9, 49 pts ( - )
15. Columbus 20-46-8, 48 pts ( - )

Related to the Burke thing...

From Barry Melrose's latest ESPN.com update

It's good to know that these guys have to do their research and really know what they're talking about, eh? From his mailbag:

I think Burke is the guy, Anthony. The Flyers got him specifically to be the goaltender in the playoffs because he is a veteran guy with plenty of experience. Philadelphia will likely start him to begin the playoff because it will be much easier to replace Burke if he struggles than to pull Esche after sitting down the goalie who came over at the trade deadline. That would hurt Esche's psyche and he would likely be lost for the playoffs if he struggled that badly, so playing a backup role lessens the pressure and allows Esche to be loose. And let's not forget that Burke is a pretty good goaltender, too.

This may be shooting fish in a bucket, but...

1. Unless Bobby Clarke made sure to let Barry freaking Melrose know what his intentions were, how can you automatically leap to that assumption? How do we know that Burke wasn't brought in to be an insurance policy if Esche falters, or goes down with an injury?

2. A veteran guy with plenty of experience, eh? That's one way to put it. Another way to put it would be to say that he's an ancient goaltender who has plenty of experience in not winning when it matters.

3. Shitcan that amateur psychiatrist crap, will you please? Hurt Esche's psyche?! Give me a break...or, better yet, try and remember ALL the way back to last season, when Jacques Lemaire had a much tougher goaltending decision to make. I don't even remember which one of the Dwayne Roloson-Manny Fernandez combination started first, but it didn't matter. Neither had their psyche shattered by the unusual rotation Lemaire had during the playoffs. Actually, far from it -- I believe they wouldn't have gone as far as they did if they HADN'T utilized the hot hand system.

4. It took about ten (10) minutes of research to determine that Burke is 13-33 in the playoffs since junior. If you want NHL-only numbers, it's still 12-23. And, if you want to just use numbers from the 1990s on, it's not any better...3-12, to be exact. I find it hard to believe that Bobby Clarke (who I hoped did at least nominal research in this respect, but after reading what baseball was like before the sabrmetrics stuff, I make no assumptions) went out and got a guy who specializes in losing 4 games to 1 to be his guy for the playoffs, especially after they already tried this several seasons ago, back when Burke was closer to his prime.

The worst part is that the non-thinking fan is going to read this tripe and assume that it's gospel. Sure, one can say that I really have to have brass ones to think my opinion is correct at the expense of a former NHL coach, but I would simply ask to be proven wrong. There's always statistical abberations and whatnot, especially in a crapshoot situation like a professional sport's playoff. However, I'll take the statistics, and the resulting greater odds that I'm correct.



It occurs to me that perhaps I should be rooting for the Canadiens to finish 7th, if the top half of the standings stay the way they are.

Of course, everything is still unspeakably close, but I'm going to work off of the premise that Tampa Bay is going to win the Eastern Conference. They're playing very well, and have an upcoming schedule filled with teams that you have to expect that they'll take points from -- the Islanders, Sabres, and Crapitals for example. The Flyers will most likely finish in second. They're in second at the moment, and have upcoming games with the Islanders (two, actually), Hurricanes, and two with the hapless Rangers. Boston's in third, with the toughest remaining schedule of the three - Tampa, Ottawa, Toronto, us, two easy ones, then two with Jersey to end the season. Fourth and fifth will likely be determined between the Laffs and Sens, though perhaps the Devils can get there if they sweep us this weekend, and continue to finish strong.

As for us, I'm certainly not saying we should tank it (it's always good to have momentum coming into the playoffs)...this is more me saying that I completely, absolutely, emphatically do NOT buy the Philadelphia Flyers once the second season rolls around. Here's why:

1. Who IS the # 1 goaltender there, anyway? Sean Burke started eight consecutive games after the trade, and went 4-3-1. Robert Esche came in and lost, then they went back to Burke, who lost again. They've played seven games since then, and Esche has been in for five (4-0-1), with Burke going 0-1-1 in the other two. The tie, by the way, was against the hopeless Penguins. Overall, Burke is 4-5-2 for them, with a 2.96 GAA, and .899 save percentage. In this "dead puck" era, that's not good. Oh, and he's 37 years old, and has never really been a winner anywhere he's gone. Let's look at his past playoff contributions.

-- 1987-88: He came up with the struggling New Jersey Devils, and basically became the #1 at the end of the season, going 10-1-0 to help the Devils sneak past the Rangers into 8th (they finished tied with 82 points, but I guess they won the season series). Anyway, they stunned the Islanders in 6 games, took out Washington in 7, and bravely took a great Boston team to 7 games before the dream finally died. However, while Burke was the main reason the Devils got there, he wasn't the main reason for their success. The Devils went 11-9 in the playoffs, of which Burke went 9-8 (Bob Sauve, the # 1 most of the year, played in the other two, I'd imagine), with a 3.41 GAA. Sadly, Slam! Hockey doesn't have a figure for his save percentage that year. By the way, this was his best-ever playoff showing. Look out below!

-- 1989-90: This was a better Devils team, finishing second in the division this time. Burke was the de facto #1, in the sense that he got a decision in more than half their games. It's worth mentioning, though, that he was a pedestrian 22-22-6. On top of that, Burke played 2 games in their opening round 4-2 loss to Washington -- he lost both, going 3.84/.877 in the process. We're not exactly talking Martin Brodeur here. Actually, I don't even think we're talking Chris Terreri.

-- 1991-92: Maybe this isn't exactly fair, but I think I should mention that he went 0-3/4.87/no save percentage listed in a first round loss for the San Diego Gulls of the now-defunct IHL.

-- 1997-98: Hey, now this is familiar, on two different levels. After starting the season with Carolina, Burke was shipped to Vancouver, where he had a disastrous 2-9-4/3.50/.876 stint. In fairness, that was a terrible team, who finished last in their division. So, they shipped him at the deadline to...hey! Philadelphia! And, tell me this isn't familiar -- he went 7-3-0 to give his team some real momentum heading into the playoffs. Oh...but once those started, he went 1-4/3.60/.877...against a pretty ordinary Buffalo Sabres team (who, to their credit, swept the Canadiens, and almost beat Washington).

-- 1999-00: After a few years in Florida (where he was supposed to be the guy who lead them to glory, but actually never even made the playoffs), they shipped him to Phoenix. Now, for full disclosure, this wasn't a great Coyotes team, and they DID have to play Colorado in the first round. But, instead of giving his team a chance to win, he came up with The Usual Sean Burke Playoff Series: 1-4/3.24/.904. Sure, the save percentage was a little better, but it still isn't indicative of a guy being a major contriubutor to his team.

-- 2001-02: This was actually a pretty damn good Coyotes team (40-27-9), but the result was SHOCKINGLY the same as always. In the first round, the Sharks easily took care of the Coyotes, although Burke wasn't the reason: 1-4/2.62/.902. However, while you can't point to him and say he's the reason they lost, he certainly didn't do anything to steal a game or two, either.

-- Oh, and this may be a cheap shot, but when he was still in junior, he went to the playoffs with Toronto of the OHL twice. The first year, he went 1-3/5.63, the second 0-4/6.05.

I tend to think the numbers speak for themselves. The guy just isn't a winner, and he never has been. If the Flyers are depending on this guy to carry them throughout the playoffs, the biggest competition they're going to have in the 2nd round is trying to schedule tee times before the other first-round victims.

Now, as for Robert Esche. He's had his best-ever season so far (20-7-6/1.89/.923), and if the Flyers have any sense at all, will be their #1 in the playoffs. However, he has exactly a period and a half of NHL playoff experience (at least he can say he saved 13 of 14). He wasn't so good for Springfield in the one AHL playoff series he played in (1-2/4.00/.878), and that's all you can point to. It's not a big enough sample size to be worth anything. Basically, we can't say anything one way or the other about Esche, especially because the playoffs are so completly different from the regular season. Brian Boucher isn't much as a goalie, but that one freakazoid shutout streak he had would have won a playoff series...keep that in mind. Likewise, one streak like that the other way sends you home. For the moment, assuming Burke is in makes Philly DEFINITE first-round fodder, while assuming Esche is in is a wash -- you have to depend on the other factors.

2. The most important of those other factors is injury. Jeremy Roenick (18-27-45) is out for the season. They're not only going to miss his scoring -- they're going to miss his drive, his willingness to get his nose dirty, and his proven playoff track record. Keith Primeau is out indefinitely with a concussion -- reports today indicate that he still has recurring symptoms. He doesn't have a ton of points this season, but guys like him are invaluable in the playoffs. Defensemen Dennis Seidenberg is likely coming back early from a broken leg (he was expected to miss the rest of the season), but take that with a grain of salt. That kind of thing usually results in another setback happening either before or right after the return, and even if he makes it to the playoffs, are you going to be on a guy rushed back from a broken leg making it through the postseason war of attrition? I don't. Eric Desjardins is out indefinitely with a broken arm, and like Seidenberg, is a big loss...going into the playoffs short on the blueline almost never helps. Mark Recchi is out day-to-day with a broken foot. Again, this is happening BEFORE the meat-grinder that is the playoffs.

3. This is a team prepared to give Vladimir Malakhov serious ice time. Make your own joke here.

4. It isn't always fair to judge a team by past playoff performances, but let's be honest. This club has had essentially the same core of players for 4 or 5 years now. Let's summarize:

2003: Did the world a favor and beat Toronto 4-3 in round one, but gets smacked down 4-2 by Ottawa in round two.
2002: Loses 4-1 to Ottawa in the first round, scoring two whole goals in the process.
2001: Loses 4-2 to Buffalo in the first round.
2000: Annhilated Buffalo 4-1 in the first round, outdueled Pittsburgh 4-2 in round two, lost in the semifinals 4-3 to Jersey.
1999: Didn't do the world a favor, and lost 4-2 to Toronto in the firsy round.

So, as you can see, they were a complete and utter flop for 4 of the 5 years, especially when you factor in payroll and expectations. I have to be frank -- nothing this year (their gaudy record aside) convinces me that this time around will be any different. And, as Ottawa showed in 2002, this team doesn't know how to handle a speedy team that can play tough, and who has a goaltender in good form. Sound like any team you know? It does to me...if the Canadiens draw the Flyers in the first round, I can see us beating them in as little as 5 games. Seriously.


Canadiens 4, Avalanche 2

The power play was flying, Jose Theodore was his usual brilliant self, Alexei Kovalev got his first Montreal points, and yet another elite team comes away from the Bell Center with absolutely nothing to show for their efforts. I love this season.

Seriously...can anyone remember the last time the Canadiens beat supposedly-better teams with this much frequency, especially towards the end of the season? However, the true test is coming up towards the weekend...a home-and-home with the still-tough New Jersey Devils, with the caveat that we'll have Sheldon Motherfucking Souray back for at least one, and maybe both of those games. The mini-series comes at a very intriguing time...we're tied with the Devils on points, but conceding two games in hand to them. Two points is the bare minimum if we plan on holding 6th place (and making an assault on 5th), but three would be much better. Four would be too much to hope for, but if we could take both games, then I think we're safe from 7th place almost for certain.

But, then again, there are no easy games anymore. We beat Toronto and Colorado, but lost to Florida previous to that. As a reminder, the rest of the schedule after the Jersey games goes: at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Boston, at NY Islanders, then home to Philadelphia and Buffalo to close out the season.

That said, I think we should take heart. The way it stands now (as crazy as it would have sounded in the beginning of the season), 4th place and home ice isn't completely out of the realm of possibility, especially with the Laffs and Sens faltering.



Reason # 319,828,901 that ESPN.com's hockey page is completely clueless:

For a poll asking: "Who will be this year's Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the playoffs?", Rick DiPietro is one of the choices, and Jose Theodore is not. Obviously, they haven't been watching the Canadiens this season, and even more obviously, they haven't been watching the Islanders (must be all that Ranger cheerleading).


I'm loving it, but it ain't over yet.

Manchester United suffered another gigantic loss today, 4-1 to their cross-town rivals, Manchester City. That leaves Arsenal 12 points ahead of them, which has me freaking out and partying...however, I refuse to say that Arsenal is a lock for the title yet. Actually, I'll only say that when the trophy is sitting in Highbury and we're up 5-0 in the title-clinching game.

The one thing that disturbs me is the fact that we haven't lost a match yet...it has to happen SOMETIME, right? I live in fear that we finally lose one, and it snowballs into three or four on the bounce. Meanwhile (in my horror scenario), Chelsea and ManYoo both win all their matches -- all of a sudden, we're in second place, Chelski is on their way to buying the title, and ManUre is breathing down our necks.

Believe me...I remember last season. Arsenal was comfortably ahead of the Manks right around this time last campaign, too. And, we all know how THAT worked out.

That said, we're doing OK in the league now, ready for a heavyweight clash against Timmy Howard United in what's really the FA Cup Final, and ready for an even bigger clash against Moscow on the Thames in the Champions' League. I don't want to say THAT word...but maybe we have a chance at...well...you, know.

As for Celtic, they're doing a pretty good job at treading water while a significant chink of the first-choice side are out with injury and suspension. Motherwell got an early lead at Celtic Park, but Henrik Larsson equalized late to ensure that we keep the same lead over...you know...That Other Glasgow Team, who couldn't get more than a draw against Hearts.

Between this and the Canadiens (and Wrestlemania tonight), this has been a pretty effing fantastic sports weekend.


Whenever I go out drinking (or am otherwise incapacitated in my ability to listen to the Canadiens on NHL.com's radio), the Habs end up winning a big game. It was no different tonight, as the Canadiens outgunned the Maple Laffs 4-3 at home, thanks to goals from Mike Ribiero, Richard Zednik, Michael Ryder, and Yannic Perrault. 7 different players chipped in with an assist (Mike Komisarek had 2), which only goes to show how this team can come at with you with a lot of different weapons, and to a vastly underrated extent at that.

I don't recall when was the last time the Canadiens headed into a playoffs with so many quality wins over good opponents down the stretch....1993, perhaps?



I have counter now. W00t.


With apologies to the NY Mets...

I know I've said it before in this space, but this current West Coast roadtrip has clinched it for me. I am officially predicting that the Canadiens make it to the Stanley Cup Final. If I'm wrong (and hey, there's a very good chance), then feel free to laugh at me mercilessly. I'm a big boy...I can take it.

But, I BELIEVE in this team. I believe in this goaltender. I believe in this coach, and I believe in this general manager. I believe that the magic and the ghosts of the Forum can finally find their way to the Bell Centre. I believe that this onece-great franchise will rediscover that...that THING that made them great in the first place.

The 2003-04 Montreal Canadiens: You Gotta Believe!!!


My fantasy baseball team...

...is shaping up so far. That is, the best of my four fantasy baseball teams...

C: A.J. Pierzynski (San Francisco)
1B: Kevin Millar (Boston)
2B: Jose Vidro (Montreal)
SS: Derek Jeter (New York [A])
3B: Alex Rodriguez (New York [A])
OF: Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle), Shannon Stewart (Toronto), 3rd still to be drafted

SP: Mike Mussina (New York [A]), Wade Miller (Houston), Vincente Padilla (Philadelphia), Freddie Garcia (Seattle)
RP: Mariano Rivera (New York [A]), Joe Nathan (Minnesota)

Bench: Morgan Ensberg (3B - Houston), Mark Loretta (2B - San Diego)

And, I still have 5 picks left.



Exhibit A in why good bloggers are vastly superior to the mainstream sports press:

Aaron Gleeman takes Bill Plaschke to the woodshed

Dammit dammit sonofabitch

Celtic drew Barcelona in the UEFA Cup's Round of 16.




There goes THAT dream, then.


Busy blog day...

...for me, anyway. I don't know where the political guys find the motivation and time to put up as much stuff as they do.

Anyway, Celtic is through to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Cup, although they lost to FK Teplice 1-0. Thankfully, they won the first leg of the tie 3-0 at Paradise, so there wasn't much danger of them failing to go through. Interestingly, Martin O'Neill didn't rest many of his first-choice 11, only Joos Valgaraen finding himself on the bench. So, 3-1 on aggregate then, but there was one worrying moment...Chris Sutton had to leave with an injury, and with John Hartson, Ulrik Laursen, and Shaun Maloney already out for the season, that could be a little worrying -- especially because this Saturday is the big Old Firm clash with the Huns. We'll have to see.

The rest of the 3rd Round results (in aggregate):

(ITA) Parma 0-4 Gencerbirligi (TUR)
(FRA) Marseille 1-0 Dnipro (UKR)
(ITA) AS Roma 2-1 Gaziantepspor (TUR)
(SCO) Celtic 3-1 FK Teplice (CZH)
(FRA) Bordeaux 5-1 Groclin Dyskobolia (POL)
(BEL) Club Brugge 1-0 Debrecen Epona (HUN)
(SPA) Valencia 5-2 Besikitas (TUR)
(ENG) Liverpool 6-2 Levski Sofia (BUL)
(FRA) Auxerre 1-0 Panathinaikos (GRE)
(HOL) PSV Eindhoven 3-1 Perugia (ITA)
(ITA) Inter Milan 2-2 Sochaux (FRA) (Inter wins on the silly Away Goals Rule)
(ENG) Newcastle 4-2 Valarenga (NOR)
(POR) Benfica 2-2 Rosenberg (NOR) (Benfica wins on the silly Away Goals Rule)
(SPA) Mallorca 3-1 Spartak Moscow (RUS)
(SPA) Barcelona 3-1 Brondby (DEN)
(SPA) Villareal 5-2 Galatasaray (TUR)

Some observations:

-- Say what you want about Gencerberligi, but there were no upsets of any kind here. Parma is NOT the side they were last season.

-- That said, Gencer is definitely beatable, and if that does happen, that'll be no more Turkish sides alive in Europe, unless I miss my guess. Wouldn't THAT just be a tragedy? ::smirk::

-- You have to think Barcelona, Valencia, and Roma are the favorites at this point. Celtic would have an outside shot if they weren't decimated with injury.

-- Spain has 4 teams still alive in the competition, and at the moment, Real Madrid, Celta Vigo (and am I forgetting anyone) still alive in the Champions' League. Not a bad showing, by any means.


Toronto gets: Brian Leetch
NY Rangers get: Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, 1st rounder in 2004, 2nd rounder in 2005.

1. On the Ranger side: Who?!
2. Was that all they could get for him?
3. Dammit! Why the goddamn Leaves? I LIKE Leetch!
4. The Rangers better hope it's a deep draft this year, and that Sather doesn't cock it up.

Rangers trade Nedved, Da Joos for stuff

The purge continues.

I suppose anything that makes the Rangers get younger is good for them, but they sure are getting a whole bunch of Some Guy for players that should have been doing a lot better.

As for Nedved and Da Joos, this will at least get them out of the MSG crossfire. Who knows...maybe they'll even thrive in Edmonton, away from anything close to the NHL radar.

Who wants to bet that Sather STILL isn't done?

Nearing the trading deadline...

Ahhh...the time of year where hopeless franchises like the Crapitals and the Sathers decide to cut their losses and head down to the pawn shop to see what they can get for the few guys who can come out of the first 60 games with any sense of pride at all. Two major trades have gone down so far, and I would assume that the festivities aren't done yet.


To Montreal: Alexei Kovalev
To NY Rangers: Josef Balej, 2nd-round pick in 2004.

Well, this is interesting, to say the least. Balej is a 22-year old smallish Slovakian winger, who's scoring at a pretty nice rate down in Hamilton for our farm team. However, we already have a ton of young guys like Jason Ward and Mike Ribiero and Michael Ryder up with the big club already. And, with other guys like Pierre Dagenais playing much better than expected, Balej wasn't going to get much of a shot anytime soon. Besides, the last thing we need is another Jan Bulis, anyway (Hi, Shad!). The draft pick is probably not going to be much of an issue either way -- we kept our first-rounder, and it IS Glen Sather who will be making the selection for the Rangers. Nothing doing there, then.

Kovalev is an interesting case. He was outstanding when he came up for the Rangers, but as they morphed into this fundamentally-challenged, uncoachable, lazy, bloated, expensive monster, his production summarily fell off in proportion with the rest of his overpaid mates. His last full season with NY (the first time), he was just 23-30-53, and a horrid - 22. However, a trade to Pittsburgh revitalized him, and his stats jumped up...just as recently as 00-01, he tallied 44-51-95. Unsurprisingly, when he started shuttling between the two teams (and then settling here finally), he tailed right back off again.

It seems to me that he's an extremely malleable talent -- he doesn't have the self-discipline to coach himself (a skill needed in the lawless situation in Manhattan), but in the right situation, he can be a dynamic, integral part of an offense. What gives me hope is that Montreal is a complete 180-degree turn from what Kovalev is used to. Claude Julien manages to strike a balance between being a hard-ass when needed without being a ridiculous dictator like Mike Keenan. A lot of these guys played for Julien down on the farm (where they accumulated an insanely-high winning percentage), but they also have the other half of the team, who are veterans with quite the mix of playoff success and regular season failure. This is a hungry team, this is a team with amazing chemistry (it seems), and this is a team that when they stick to Julien's system can take out ANYONE in the league...like New Jersey found out the other night.

Hopefully, Gainey isn't done. I still get the feeling that we need a little more size up front (get Darren Langdon out of the lineup, please), and maybe a big, bruising defenseman. That said, I see no reason why this team can't go far in the playoffs -- and not just as far as Theodore takes us.

Here is where I line-break, to be all dramatic. The Montreal Canadiens, if things break right (you know, 1993 style), can win the Stanley Cup. I said in the beginning of this season that the Canadiens were a playoff team. I wrote to John Buccigross (and I NEVER have the motivation to write to anyone) for picking the Canadiens to finish dead-last in the Conference. The Montreal Canadiens can win the whole fucker -- yeah, I said it. Feel free to laugh at me if they get swept out of the first round, but then I reserve the right to laugh in everyone's face if we even make a nice showing in the Eastern Conference Final.

Finally, some quotes related to this.

"I knew that eventually I was going to go somewhere, so I was ready for that. I tried to still play for this organization. You can't just stop playing, so I kept working hard. Now I am just going to another team to do my best." -- Alexei Kovalev

"He's a good player, but for whatever reason -- whether it was the chemistry or the mix -- it just didn't work," Rangers assistant GM Don Maloney

"The opportunity to support the pursuit of our goal of making the playoffs by acquiring a veteran NHL player was presented to us, and we have taken on that opportunity." -- Bob Gainey

Because Kovalev was available for prospect Josef Balej, who at 22, still isn't good enough to play for the Canadiens, and a second-round draft pick, it's clear that teams weren't exactly lining up and vying for Kovalev's services. For him, the move is not only an opportunity to get back to the playoffs, it's also a chance at a new beginning. In Montreal, he'll have the opportunity to erase memories of his poor performance in New York. -- Bill Clement

there always seems to be a team that flies under the radar and upsets someone. I'll say in the East it will be Montreal.. they can upset someone in the first round because of their goaltending and they can shut teams down defensively. But I dont' think they can do what Anaheim did. -- Darren Pang, before the trade was made

"The Canadiens hope it will be long enough to take them deep into the playoffs. Team president Pierre Boivin announced last week that Montreal must reach the third round of the postseason to break even this year." -- CP article

"Still, it was hardly much of a return for a player who, as recently as a year ago, was considered one of the NHL's best." John Dellapina, NY Daily News

"The curtain has come down on one of the most disappointing revivals ever staged on Broadway...The move, merciful for Kovalev, the Rangers and the home fans - all of whom had become increasingly frustrated with No. 27's incomprehensible incompetence wearing the Blueshirt - surely signals the beginning of a purge that is expected to claim (or set free) up to a half-dozen veterans who played in last night's match. " -- Larry Brooks, NY Post

The other big trade:

To Boston: Segei Gonchar
To Crapitals: Shaone Morrisonn (not a typo) and first- and second-round selections in the 2004 draft

This certainly makes Boston a better team, especially with moving the puck up-ice and quarterbacking the power play. However, I think their playoff run is going to depend a lot more on whether Andrew Raycroft can handle the pressure (and if the team as a whole doesn't pull their usual April disappearing act) rather than what Gonchar is or isn't going to do. In the interest of full disclosure, I know nothing about the young, oddly-monikered defenseman they gave up. The draft picks make it a bit steep, but not terribly so if the Bruins manage to re-sign him after the season (two problems with that: The Bruins are notoriously tight-fisted, and the whole black cloud of CBA Doom hanging over the league).

"When we did our research on what might be available, [Morrisonn] was one player that we really liked," McPhee said. "And to be quite honest, there were not many young defensemen available, and we felt we had to have a defenseman back in this trade, and we did very well to get him." -- Washington GM George McPhee

And...this is just the beginning. More coming, as it happens.



Tried something. Let's see if the issue is fixed.

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