30 September 2007

And with that, the season begins! (Wings 4 Leafs 0)

I ended up missing practice yesterday morning thanks to a technological failure, but I did make it to the Joe to see the Wings take on the Leafs in the last preseason game of the year. The game was a little lopsided, as the Wings were running most of their A team (including Datsyuk, Lidstrom, and Hasek in net), and the Leafs looked to be playing Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Toskala, and the 2007/2008 Toronto Marlies. The last two times I saw this matchup I showed up in a Leafs hoodie to show my support - and they lost both times. This time I wore my Wings jersey...and they not only one but Hasek even got a shutout. I'm not sure what this means, but I think I'm a curse on the Leafs.

Leafs starting lineup - no Sundin, no Tucker, no Blake.

The game itself was a decent tilt, even being preseason and fairly uneven. The Wings were held scoreless in the first, but followed up with two bouts of netting two in quick succession to eventually win 4-0. Some of my notes include:
  • Vesa Toskala was in net for the Leafs. Having seen Raycroft twice last year, I was hoping he would be. He put up a great show in the first period, with two brilliant saves, and looked amazing on his glove side. At least two of the three goals he let in were stick side, where he was definitely weaker, but only one was a bad goal. He also had the thinnest goalie stick I have ever seen, and liked to wander around a little bit like that other Finnish goalie. I regret to inform Jordi, however, that I was unable to steal her for him.
  • In the absence of Robert Lang, my rookie Jiri Hudler seems to have found a new friend in Dan Cleary. The two were paired up quite a bit last night and seemed to be able to find each other with an ease that reminded you of a toned down Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and the pair generated a number of great scoring chances which resulted in one goal and an insanely close follow-up. A pair to keep an eye on when the season starts, perhaps? Speaking of Hudler, while he still needs to work on speed, he looks a lot quicker and more evasive out there than last year, and he's still doing a great job getting off some seriously booming shots.
  • Both Nicklas (Wings) and Staffan Kronvall (Leafs) were on the ice - neither did a whole lot, but it was fun seeing the brothers skating against each other. Staffan, for the record, is a giant, in that Smid sort of way where he really seems small until you realize he is most certainly not.
  • Pavel Datsyuk, as almost always, had a great night - but what was almost more interesting was how well Johan Franzen looked playing with him. He was all over the ice, picked up a goal and an assist, and had several really nice plays to his name as well. They might not be the Eurotwins, but their line is going to be awfully dangerous.
  • Dominik Hasek looked spectacular, though he didn't face very many shots. Still, after the showing he had in the earlier preseason game he took part in, it was a serious relief to see him so strong.
  • Both fights near the end of the game happened directly in front of my seats - the second one right up against the glass (I hear via Bethany that I was on TV during the second). The first, Dan Cleary vs. Kris Newbury, was an awesome old-fashioned NHL fight - I was surprised how well Newbury stood up to the bigger Cleary, as well.
  • The second fight turned into more of a all-encompassing scrum, but started directly after I saw Igor Grigorenko lounging around on the ice doing little to nothing and yelled "Freakin' DO something Grigorenko!" His answer was to lazily cheap shot Jay Harrison in the face which started a big brawl right up against the glass three rows in front of me. Tomas Kopecky (who was looking great, much more toned, and tougher all night long) and joined in as well as Ben Ondrus and we had quite an eventful last few seconds of the game. As we trickled out of the stadium, we were informed that Grigorenko had amassed a total 29 penalty minutes - interference, unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, and two game misconducts. Uh, thanks for doing something, Igor.
I admit, I was a little worried in the first period when we couldn't get our offense up against what was effectively an AHL team, but we pulled it off in the end. I like to think the team was just as annoyed as me with the Leafs fan behind me (and don't get me wrong, I love the Leafs) who spent 90% of the game yelling as loud as possible "OUR B TEAM AGAINST YOUR A TEAM", "DATSUCKS", "OW HASEK PULLED HIS GROIN", and other similarly clever comments. He shut up after the first two goals. At least there was no reoccurring of "get the puck and skate with it".

You can view the rest of my shots from the game here - but don't get your hopes up too high, I forgot my camera at home and had to borrow one, which was less than amazing.

Lastly as some parting advice for anyone planning to get seats on the glass at a game in the near future, please do not ever, ever, think it is safe to set your full beer on the ledge. Or if you do, when Tomas Holmstrom slams into the glass right in front of you, and you turn, two seconds later, soaking wet and with froth in your hair, to the girl next to you, do not be surprised when she cannot stop laughing enough to breathe for the next minute and a half. I mean no, that wasn't me at all.

28 September 2007

The nail in the proverbial coffin.

Now the only question is, hate the team more because Pronger's their captain, or hate Pronger more because he's the captain of the Ducks? So much for "his own teams hate him too."

Ew either way.

I'm going to try to block it out by immersing myself in open Wings practice tomorrow morning, and the game itself tomorrow night. If anyone's going to be at either, feel free to run into me (or stalk me out and scream obscenities as some may be wont to do) - I'm sure everyone and a half will have Wings jerseys on, but I bet you won't find many others with HC Pardubice Moeller scarves. (I will not be wearing that jersey.) Expect pictures!

26 September 2007

Lest the new uniforms be outdone in terms of ugly...

About a month back I commented on the Wings' hideous new site design (to match their hideous new "Fire on Ice" slogan). Since I never took a screencap of it, you'll have to live with my description of it as a wallpaper sized red square (they couldn't even be bothered to learn enough html so that on my widescreen it wasn't surrounded by excess white) with some really awful looking jagged "flames" on it. In fact my exact words were something like "does this look to anyone else like you're viewing it on a monitor that can't display enough colors for the picture?"

Around the same time, Kukla's was running a contest to “replace the Fire On Ice graphic because it truly resembles the work of a fourth grade girl experimenting with pastels and cute little hockey icons".

Well, despite our fervent pleas, they never did bother to learn about the beauty of anti-aliasing. What they did do, however, was turn what could be a respectable website splash page into a thirteen year old kid who just got his own geocities account's wet dream:

Make sure your speakers are on.

21 September 2007

Wings gone Wild!

Preseason has officially begun, and the Wings started it off with a home and home of sorts against the Wild. Tuesday's game looked to have more of the rookies on offense and was still a brilliant 6-1 victory, while Thursday's game showed off the new potential defense and ended in a narrow 3-2 loss. I caught both games, one via the free Centre Ice Online trial and the other thanks to FSN's usually excellent support of Detroit sports on television last night and while much of both games was spent chatting with Wild fan Kirsten, I did get a few notes on the teams' performances:

  • Wings potential goalie Jimmy Howard, who's been being groomed to take on the top spot for...well how ever many years exactly have we been hearing "future of Red Wings goaltending" now, was a serious bright spot in both games. He played the first half of Tuesday night and the second of Thursday and looked sharper than I've seen him with the Griffins. He lost some weight in the offseason and said in an interview that it was a major help - must be. My faith in his stock will go way up if he keeps performing this way. Howard also claims his goal this year is to make the AHL All Star team - good luck, kid.
  • On the topic of goalies, Chris Osgood also looked phenomenal on Tuesday. I'm always a little nervous when he's in net, but his performance the other night, including a magnificent three part save, was enough to dispel that at least for a while. The quasi-tandem (assuming Ozzie gets several more starts than your standard backup thanks to the Wings trying to preserve Hasek's health throughout the season) of he and Hasek should be strong in net for us once again.
You're going the wrong way, boys.
  • Pavel Datsyuk lit up the scoreboard Tuesday night with a goal and two assists - and so did Johan Franzen with two and one. Henrik Zetterberg, on the other hand, was held off the score sheet Thursday night, but still looked good. Jiri Hudler was given almost twenty minutes of playing time and while he didn't put up any points either, he had a few excellent scoring opportunities and was robbed by Minnesota's Josh Harding - it's easy to tell he's getting better with his long slapshots, both with timing and placement, though it looks like he still likes going right top shelf. Igor Grigorenko is still hanging around, but the commotion around him might be coming to a close if he doesn't step up soon.
  • As for defensemen, the question of who will play up in the big leagues this year is still out there. Derek Meech needs to stay if the Wings don't want to risk losing him, but his proclaimed best buddy Kyle Quincey's making a good show as well. The kid had a strong showing during the playoffs last season, and while he looked a little shaky at the start of yesterday's game, he was going strong by the end and finished plus two. Both make the occasional rookie mistake, but neither look out of place on the roster with the veterans. The late training camp addition of Brent Sopel is proving interesting as well - he hasn't been perfect, but his name came up a lot, generally in a good sense, Tuesday night.
  • The team's already been hit with the injury bug, though nothing looks too serious so far. Tomas Kopecky (groin), Brian Rafalski (hip-flexor) and Dan Cleary (ribs, though Babcock says none are broken), who was a major offensive force last year, are all on the DTD list - get better, boys!
  • My favorite moment from both games was watching Derek Boogaard snag concurrent penalties in the first period, the second of which the announcers claimed was "5 for interference" after he launched himself at some poor Wing rookie. The resulting powerplay gave us two pp goals - the first of which was Chris Chelios unassisted.
As for the games themselves, they were both fun to watch and left me with a very optimistic feeling for the team this season. Granted, not a lot has changed, but I think the Wings did what they could to better themselves and all that's left now is to wait and see just how good a job they did. Preseason is far from over and a few questions remain, but we'll probably be seeing some answers in the next few days.


In non Wing-related news, despite Centre Ice blacking out the Oilers/Canucks game last night, I did see the Oil take on the Leafs Tuesday - it tore horribly at my loyalties. The Oilers, who are still captainless, looked better than they have in a while, though it was painful to see so many familiar faces missing, even in the preseason where you expect as much. Their future, however, might be looking all right, too. My boy Ales Hemsky, playing on a line with Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner (half of which I would LOVE to see - bet you can guess which) scored a hat trick at the Joey Moss game, prompting the Edmonton Sun to run the most painfully pun-filled headline ever. I bet he missed getting pounced by Sykora after every goal. He also contributed a goal and an assist last night - thanks for shooting more, Ales! Meanwhile Dwayne Roloson is expected to start 50 games this season, with Mathieu Garon taking 32 - and Roli will do it in this gorgeous piece of equipment. Wow.

They haven't been left alone on the injury front either, though - and there are concerns now that my playoff hero Fernando Pisani might be worse off than anyone thought. Let's hope not.

Times I wish I had $2000

That's right, boys and girls. In Edmonton, goalies fly.

Just another reason to want to be a Pittsburgh Penguin Season Ticket Holder. The Post-Gazette has a few nice words on what looked to be a fun night, but the biggest hit is a great video by the gentlemen over at EmptyNetters. The Sidney Crosby Show has a great recap of it as well. The video was great to watch, and hearing a couple thousand fans cheer 'Lets Go Pens' in Mellon gave me goosebumps. It's always fun to see the players come out just as people and talk, especially Armstrong and Talbot, and feel that they really want to be in Pittsburgh, playing for this team, and talking to these fans. They were all great for the camera, Sidney seemed a bit more relaxed than usual, Army was his usual funny self, Fleury was a riot with his answers and his shy demeanor, and just about anyone with a Boston accent gets a nod from me. Did anyone else notice that Staal is about a head taller than everyone else? Was the arrangement from tallest (Staal) to shortest (Crosby) purposeful or just how it went?

In other parts of the NHL, the Bruins have their season preview out. They'll be worth a watch just to see what the offseason and a fresh start does for their club and moral. Even if you aren't a fan of the B's, following Thomas and Fernandez battle for the top spot will be an interesting clash. I also can't wait to see how Bergeron does this season and if Savard will be able to sneak up into the 100 points range again. Chara, who says he'll 'be better' this season (with no reason why, just that he will. No notes from offseason?) after 11 goals and 43 points in 2006-2007, has a good baseline to go from...but his actual play left something to be desired. If he wasn't so freaking huge, he'd have a lot more issues to work out in his technique, but his size compensates for a lot. Hopefully he's right, he'll be better, and the blueline will click a bit better than it did last year. If Bergeron can remain unbroken he'll put on a decent show this season, and with Sturm and the Bruins newcomer Bochenski beside him, that line will hopefully flourish again (I sound like I'm talking about watering a garden. Ha! Garden...eh, it's early and I haven't had coffee, what do you want here?). The Bruins aren't my first team, so Bruins fans out there...any thoughts? How do you think your team will do? Playoffs in question or a year or two away?

And now from the Western Conference, the Oilers are still captain-less, but apparently not without leadership. Of course, if Ethan Moreau was leading, I'd follow. I'm happy to see him back and playing, even if it's the preseason. Welcome back! (please don't break yourself trying to punch someone, okay?)

19 September 2007

I think it's 17 now?

17 days until the season opens. I can hardly believe it.

Despite the fact that I should have been at the preseason game in Montreal last night, it was good to listen to some hockey on the radio (even if the Habs announcers got to be a little irritating towards the end of the second). Here are some thoughts from last night's romp:

-I like the Christensen-Malkin-Sykora combo. Apparently, so does Malkin, as he was flying like a man possessed last night. He fell a little flat at the end of last year, so hopefully the off season in Russia and the training camp he went to will give him a bit of extra energy this season (although if last season was his 'flat' season, I can't wait to see what a full blow out one will be like).

-Sykora, who according to the Pens site, is happy to be playing in Pennsylvania (and not for that other team), also made a hole in one during the golf outing a week ago. Too bad there was no one to clothesline.

-No Sidney last night, and I was surprised that the Montreal announcers didn't mention him until I was listening for about 40 minutes. A purposeful snub or are they just realizing that there are some other fantastic players on the team? Also, Sabourin did fairly well in goal, but Halak was switched with Price later on.

A few quick links in other news:

-A Pittsburgh couple has started up a sports travel agency for Pittsburgh fans of all sports.

-Ice Bowl tickets sold out in less than 30 minutes. Well, you can always get a pair of binoculars and buy a seat off of stubhub for 200 big ones.

-Speaking of the Chilly Willy Bowl, both Fleury and Crosby said they've never played a 'meaningful game' outside. I'm sure all the back yard rinks in Canada were warm and temperate.

-Chris Thorburn seems to have found a home in Atlanta.

-Leafs TV is broadcasting all of the preseason games for the Leafs. Lucky bastards.

-No new roster photos for the Oilers yet. Hopefully they won't be as bad as last year's.

This past weekend was quite a bit of fun, and although it wasn't the Penguins practicing, it was a good time watching the Capitals and the Baby Caps run through their drills and puck moving. I won't do a recap, as many others have already, but here are just a few randomly selected thoughts on the 2007-2008 Capitals' team.

-Chances of winning a Cup would be much improved if their star players practiced more. I saw Ovechkin about 20 minutes total.

-Their backup goalie from Hershey (Kris Mayonette?) was right on target. One of their other rookies, who I dubbed 'Fluffy' (Jay Beagle), was really rather good and quite a joy to watch skate. I noticed him on the first day because he was the only one in his group to stop and control a pass, which says something (although the rest improved after a little while, don't come down hating on me, Caps fans). He moved and hussled a lot like some other center I've seen before, even if he looked like a long-lost Staal brother.

-There was a man who looked like Malkin, and it was very disconcerting to watch him skate around in a Capitals jersey.

Go Pens!

17 September 2007

I-95 HLOG Convention AKA Okay, the East isn't SO bad.

NPI has been pretty quiet these past few days - but rest assured, it isn't because we don't love you, it's because we ventured out into the southeast. But before I get into that, some other important news!

First, fellow blogger and generally awesome guy Teebz offered a couple weeks ago to send me a copy of the Heritage Classic dvd. I got it on Thursday and didn't have a chance to drop a thank you before then (especially because it's not just a copy, but a beautiful one with the labeling copied and in a real dvd case and everything!) but it's awesome. I had time to watch just the highlights before I left, but seeing all the old Oilers still together made me unbelievably happy - and I can't wait to see what sort of trouble Conks gets himself into. Thanks again, Teebz!

Second, last Thursday I was also featured in over at Interchangeable Parts as a part of their summer "Why You Love Hockey" feature. If you've never checked these ladies out, they're hilarious, and have been putting together a charming 118 part series of exactly why they love hockey all summer long - so if you want to see me make a grammatical fool of myself while professing my love for playoff parody songs, here's the link.

And now, down to business!

I-95 HLoG MegaConvention!
(Photo taken by some random equipment boy.)

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday Elly and I had the pleasure of flying/training our way down to Washington DC for a HLOG gathering including the two of us, CapsChick, Shmee, Pookie, Schnookie, and Teka. While the weekend consisted of much drinking and viewing movies such as The Cutting Edge (yet again), the highlight, by far, was the hockey.

I confess I know almost nothing about the Capitals, but the weekend turned into a sort of baptism by fire - I now know at least six or seven players (by their real names - another ten or so clock in with names given to them by the lot of us) and even have a favorite in Milan Jurcina (who CC got a great video of goofing around):

He's not Czech, but he's close.

I'm also the first to say I don't know nearly as much as I should about the East Conference as a whole, but some important happenings are clearly just meant to be documented, whether I get them quite right or not:
  • Even though it wasn't like we had any cause or reason to take advantage of it, seeing and hearing in person just what Caps bloggers get access to was really awesome. As great as it would be the Wings would do something like that for those of us here, and as jealous as I am that we don't, it was just really cool to see the way the Caps are really trying to bring people in and work with them. Good job Capitals!
  • Ovechkin is as hilarious as you're told. I missed his little dancing with Olie episode that everyone else seems to be reporting about, but watching him walk around the rink in a neon purple shirt satisfied me well enough. I was a little disappointed at how much we didn't actually see of him - he took one afternoon practice while some other players scrimmaged, and hung around for maybe an hour on Sunday, most of which I missed.
  • I don't think the players appreciated us as much as we appreciated them, least of all Alexander Semin. After seeing him first fall over (could it be the result of hanging out with Malkin in the offseason?), then spend an entire drill sitting like this, and finally prance around shirtless for us (just so we get a few more hits for that one, I'd like to say the phrase "alex semin shirtless" here again...oh wait, no one's actually googling that?).
  • The addition of Micheal Nylander to the team looks like a really great one - all practice long he was really intense, and at the very end he was showing a rookie some puck control drills that were absolutely brilliant. He could, however, benefit from getting someone to fix his shorts so he wasn't flashing thigh at us every time he passed.
  • The Caps have had one of the by far better results when it comes to new uniforms, but the white ones, which I presume will be an issue for all teams, have this unfortunate tendency to become see-through when they get wet (henceforth known as Rod Brind'Amour Shorts Syndrome). This is not only ridiculous looking but also really unfortunate.
All in all the lot of us had an amazing weekend the likes of which all the HLOG meetups so far have been. Shmee did try to poison us with some sort of Rachel Ray concoction, but in the end it just succeeded in making us more obnoxious and her apartment more sticky, so we forgive her. Besides that, I know I didn't have a lot to say when forced to write that Caps love post earlier on in the season, but the boys looked really good out there - they've definitely built themselves up from last season and I might never hear the end of this, but I think I'll actually be keeping tabs on them when I can. I mean come on, I voluntarily went to two days worth of Caps training camp!

Last but not least, the Wings open up the preseason with a game against Kirsten's Wild - I'm interested to see what the line combinations will be as well as who will be getting a closer look in the upcoming preseason games. I have tickets to the Wings/Leafs game on the 29th and I'll be sure to keep everyone updated on what I see!

14 September 2007

I might start singing

Around this time last year a friend of mine starting singing. What was he singing? 'It's the most wonderful time of the year'. Why was he treating all of our delicate ears to this? Because this is the only time of year when you can watch baseball, football, and hockey. That's right kids, preseason opens in less than five days and the Pens' camp opens today. Whoo hoo!

Anyone else think this is an intense look?

Another article about how the NHL is going to announce that the Pens will play the Slugs on January 1st. Just announce the damn thing already!

Exciting times. Now I'm out for a fun-filled weekend in DC! I hope the Capitals practice is a good one.

12 September 2007

And with a new season comes...

Now accepting applications for Stephanie's New Favorite Red Wing.

Because guys, this shit don't fly:

(One of these days I'll stop spending more than a couple hours at a time stumbling through Czech image sites. Why would you betray me like this, Jiri?)

11 September 2007

Short and sweet

Things are getting more exciting! The season opens in less than a month, and preseason kicks off in less than a WEEK! Can you feel the thrill, the tension in the air? I knew you could.

-The Pens made some special ticket deliveries. Watch the videos, they are cinematic gold.

-Pens camp opens Thursday!

That's about all I have for in-depth on the Penguins, or anyone else, right now. A longer preseason post is coming soon, although it might have to wait until the fun-filled weekend of the Eastern HLOG convention in which I get kicked out the Capitals practice for my Penguins jersey and catcalling.


On a different note, as a semi-Bruins fan I felt the urge to post this. I need to dig into their club a bit, but I really hope they start off better than they ended. How's that knee, Patrice?

Oh, guess who The Hockey News picked to win the Stanley Cup this year?

Go Pens.

05 September 2007

This just in: new Penguins uniforms not a hideous abomination to the senses!

That's right, folks, the Penguins have escaped the new uniform storm relatively unscathed. Sure, I think that basically all of the 'new and improved' uniforms look like muscle shirts that someone has stuffed socks under, but when you get right down to it: they're Penguins uniforms. As long as the guys are on the ice playing their best, they could be wearing an old burlap sack that some ADD 4 year-old has scribbled a penguin on the front of with a sharpie and I'd be okay with it.

A little over a month and it'll be show time. I can hardly wait.

12 days to preseason!

02 September 2007

Only a little longer!

I was sitting around this evening chatting with Elly about the dismal sans-everyone Oilers season ahead of us and watching bad reruns on tv when all of a sudden, mid Sox/Indians game, this caught my attention:

Yep. It's that horribly obnoxious Absolute Pear commercial that ran a minimum of three times every commercial break near the end of last season. I literally would get this thirty second clip of a song (should you be interested, you can apparently listen to the full song, "Charmer" at Rhapsody, here) stuck in my head, it was on tv so many times per night.

So why am I posting the stupid thing? Because you guys, I haven't seen it since hockey's been gone. All summer. And now it's back. It's back! Hockey is coming back! Happy September everyone - the boys will be back soon!