Saturday, March 20, 2010

Uspet du Jour Bodes Well for Terps

The Maryland Terrapins have been handed a golden opportunity by the college basketball Gods after Northern Iowa's stunning upset of top seeded Kansas.

If they beat Michigan State tomorrow they would avoid a nightmarish matchup with the bigger, stronger, and frankly more talented Jayhawk squad, and instead face the suddenly frisky Panthers.

What's that, you say?

"Northern Iowa beat Kansas; why couldn't Maryland? You're a loser and a moron, and you smell like cheese."

Well, sorry douchebag, I did not like that potential matchup with Kansas one bit for all of the above reasons and the simple fact that they would have no trouble getting up for another high seeded, power conference team. They fell asleep against UNI, and you just can't do that against pesky little white guys who can stroke the three-ball, especially in the last minute of the game.

Back to the Terps, they are more than capable of beating this Michigan State squad. While I am looking ahead, it is important that Gary Williams keeps his players focused on the Spartans. I'm so sick of hearing all this talk about Tom Izzo.

"But he's an amazingggggg coach."

I'm not denying that. But you know what? Gary Williams is no slouch and he will surely be headed to the Hall of Fame one day.

Shut 'em up, Terps. UNI awaits.

[Image: NBC Sports via Ronald Martinez / Getty Images]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Live Blogging: Caps @ Panthers

Because my brain is for the most part an untapped gold mine (did I just insult myself?), I thought I'd keep somewhat of a live blog for tonight's Caps game. I filtered out some of the less interesting stuff to keep it concise. Unfortunately, I forgot to note game times in my bullet points. Whatever, guessing is fun!

First Period

  • Off to a good start. I can only hope this is like the last two games the Caps played without Ovechkin (6-2 over FLA, 8-2 over PHI).
  • 1-0: Nice job by Semin on that rebound. He's looking not too shabby in his first few shifts.
  • Very strange first unit on our second power play of the night - Green, Semin, Backstrom, Knuble, and Fleischman. Strange because it appeared Knuble was manning the point with 52. Never thought I'd see him more than 8 feet away from the net on the man advantage.
  • 2-0: Oh my lucky stars! Brendan Morrison did something good - he shot the puck like he never does as Chimera crashed the net like he always does! The apocalypse is upon us!
  • Caps really look in control here. A big fat "I'm a Washington Capital, I'm better than you and I know it, with or without Alex Ovechkin" to the rest of the league?
  • Theodore continues to be very solid, especially in first periods.
  • 2-1: And right when I say that, Reinprecht goes glove side high. It was absolutely labeled, so can't really blame Theo, but you'd love your goalie to rob one or two of those every game.
  • Thank Jebus for the intermission because that third plate of pasta was a bad, bad idea.

Second Period

  • 3-1: Oh my lucky stars! Brendan Morrison did something good - he picked up a loose puck like he always does and buried it like he never does! The apocalypse is upon us!
  • It's funny that pirates are always looking for buried treasure, when in fact the real treasures are the friendships they're making. Jack Handey was a swell guy, wasn't he?
  • 4-1: Oh my lucky stars (notice a theme here?)! Brendan Morrison did something good - he kept up with his linemates like he never does and made a slick cross-ice pass like he always never does! The apocalypse is upon us!
  • The more I think the more my head hurts it's very difficult to imagine Eric Fehr in a Capitals uniform next year. Backstrom is going to command at least $7 million per year, if the Kane/Toews contracts provided any barometer, and you have to imagine the team is going to look to upgrade down the middle or on the blue line. Fehr's career year - in limited ice time no less - is likely to net him at least a $3 million offer, something GMGM will be hard pressed to match.
  • Theo, still lookin' sharp my man. Threeormore? How about Notanymore.
  • 5-1: Great stuff by Laich on the doorstep. I thought for a second there Vokoun was gonna commit highway robbery on 21 for the second time tonight.
  • Speaking of Vokoun, who has looked helpless against the Caps attack, he just got yanked. Would it be surprising if he played shitty to spite Panthers management for not trading him to tonight's opponent? Very, but it's still cool to think about.
  • You know what else is cool to think about? Bubble Tape. Haven't had that in 5, maybe 6 years.
  • 5-2: It's funny how often we give up a goal IMMEDIATELY after we score a goal. This time: 22 seconds.
  • 6-2: You know what else is funny? And by funny I mean incredibly awesome? How often we score goals in general. Backstrom knocking on the door for his first 30 goal campaign.
  • Tomas Fleischman could never again shoot with his backhand and I wouldn't even care. Backstrom needs to teach him how to get under the puck on the other side of the blade because I've seen him miss a breakaway with that backhand deke far too often.
  • Intermission. Fifteen minutes is just enough time to run to the 7/11 for some Bubble Tape and cigarettes. I promise not to eat them at the same time.

Third Period

  • For those of you who have read this far, seek help. Or become my best friend.
  • The beginning of this period is, believe it or not, a more dominating display of hockey than the first two. Just constant pressure in the Florida zone. We've got them on a yo-yo, just stringing them around, toying with them. I'm enjoying this thoroughly.
  • But it's hard for me to tell if the Caps are really that good, or the Panthers are really that bad...
  • ...but then I realize deep down inside, it's not hard at all, and I knew the answer all along. It's c) All of the above.
  • I know it, you know it, the guy who messed up his taste buds by using too much Tobasco on his Chipotle knows it: Gushy Grape has always been better than Awesome Original. And don't even get me started on Sour Green Apple or Ragin' Blue Rasberry.
  • I'm talking about Bubble Tape, by the way. Rookies.
  • Wow. Fleischman to Backstrom to Fleischman would have been the prettiest goal of the year. Too bad Flash wasn't able to get the lumber on that one.
  • 7-2: Phenomenal effort by Brooks Laich. How on earth did that squeeze through Clemmensen's pads? Because Brooksie owns the bakery and everyone else is a peasant.
  • By the way, I'm not sure which Florida defenseman slammed Brooksie's head into the ice not once but twice after his goal, but I am sure that I hate him. You know what? Wouldn't be surprised if it was Colin Campbell's son, Gregory. Oh, sweet irony!
  • Have we been on the power play all game long? Are the Panthers not even trying? Do these pants make me look fat?
  • 7-3: Garbage goal at the end for Florida. I hate those if only for the inflation of Theodore's stats. Those imbeciles who didn't actually watch the game will assume he was his "usual" mediocre self, when in fact he was pretty spectacular all game long and the last two goals he gave up were the result of lackadaisical defense more than anything else. Whatever. A win is a win is a win.
  • Game over. Just another day at the office.
  • 6-0 against the Panthers on the year. They're gonna be tough in the playoffs, though! Kidding. But wouldn't that be nice...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nicklas Backstrom's Shift in Five Frames

Nicklas Backstrom's second shift of overtime began when he hopped the boards with 2:40 remaining in yesterday's Ovechkin-less 4-3 comeback victory over Chicago. His shift begins innocently enough, as he sends a feed by Mike Green wide of Antti Niemi from the slot.

The puck comes back down ice before it's turned over in the Washington zone by Chicago's Troy Brouwer; Backstrom recovers the loose puck and skates toward center, when he slows and waits for his line-mates to complete a shift change. Brouwer reads Backstrom's intent beautifully, intercepts his attempted pass and breaks in on José Theodore.

Here's where one of the season's best shifts becomes special.

Now 40 seconds into his shift, Backstrom turns tail and back-checks ferociously, intercepting Brouwer just as he reaches the front of the net.

In one swift motion, Backstrom lifts Brouwer's stick and clears the puck from danger by banging it toward the vacant corner. Even though Tom Poti is closer to the loose puck, Backstrom accelerates in front of Poti and collects the carom off the dasher.

Backstrom builds up a head of steam through the neutral zone. After that near-fatal turnover and 45 seconds into his shift, Backstrom might have been tempted to dump the puck for a line change. But he knows Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien are trapped in his wake while Chicago's D are in the middle of a change. With plenty of room through center and Poti and Mike Knuble on his flanks, he decides to push it.

Poti and Knuble drive toward the net on the 3-on-2 while Backstrom dangles the puck in front of Brent Seabrook, inducing him to sprawl for an attempted shot block. Seabrook's Canadian Olympic teammate Duncan Keith is preoccupied by the onrushing Poti and Knuble, while the backchecking Byfuglien is too slow to do anything but watch. Backstrom toe-drags around a kneeling Seabrook and has a lane to the net the size of West Madison Street. Keith realizes this an instant too late.

Backstrom slips the puck between the legs of Niemi just before he's cleaned out by Byfuglien. It might never have happened had Brouwer not intercepted Backstrom's pass in the neutral zone.

Shifts like these mean everything to the Capitals, who showed a national television audience they have another superstar whose name isn't Alex.

It also means two things in particular to Backstrom: more Selke talk and more dollar signs.

[Thanks to YouTube user OvechkinW for uploading the video]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do You Realize How Good Nicklas Backstrom Is?

After Ovechkin received his game-misconduct early in the 1st period today, the NBC announcers left the Caps for dead. They kept harping on how this is Ovi's team, and they lacked spark without him, and the outlook seemed hopeless, and yada yada yada. All of it was true. One salient fact was overlooked, however: Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice.

There are a handful players in hockey who you can tell immediately what kind of game they're going to have; but only a few where you can tell that kind of game is going to involve total domination. Backstrom is one of those elite few, and he had that jump in his step today. The announcers didn't seem to realize this.

Even through the sluggish first two periods, he was the most noticeable player on the ice. He skated hard every shift, challenged the vaunted 'Hawks defensive corps one-on-one and had the puck on a string all game long. When it mattered most he grinded out an ugly rebound goal to cut the deficit to 1. Then in OT, he stifled a 'Hawks scoring chance on the doorstep and turned it up ice before absolutely OWNING two Canadian Olympians (Seabrook and Keith) with a curl-and-drag for the game-winner. Oh and he added an assist for good measure.

Backstrom is one of only two NHL players in the top 5 in points, assists and +/-. He is quietly one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He won a completely unwinnable game almost single-handedly. When Eric Belanger skated off the ice after the game, he told Pierre McGuire: "we never did that in Minnesota." That's because you never had a guy like Nicklas Backstrom on your team. Ovechkin for good reason overshadows him, but world, you are on notice: Nicklas Backstrom is an unstoppable hockey machine too.