Archive for December, 2009

Raiders 27, Steelers 24: You Can’t Leave Bruce Gradkowski That Much Time, He’ll Carve You Up

December 7, 2009

There’s no easier, more infallible way to tell your team’s season is over than when you issue the following statement unironically:

“Crap, I think we scored to quick, we definitely left Bruce Gradkowski too much time.”

As soon as I uttered that sentence, a giant rift in the earth opened up and swallowed the Steelers and their slim playoff hopes along with it, leaving behind nothing on this terrestrial earth in the team’s place other than the refreshingly definitive notion that the Steelers will be drafting a corner in the first round this year.

I realize Troy Polamalu is out, but my God, could anyone have ever foreseen the defense playing this consistently terribly? I had absolutely no confidence that the team was gonna stop the Raiders on any of their three fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including the last one beginning from the 10 with 90 seconds remaining in the game and Oakland needing a touchdown. Last season, I would’ve been more confident that the Steelers would’ve caused a sack-fumble for a touchdown than for them to give up two consecutive first downs, let alone a 90-yard game-winning touchdown drive at home to Bruce Gradkowski and a bunch of receivers whose names had never been uttered before on this earth before their respective 50-yard game-breaking receptions.

The Raiders loss also featured some brand-new, never-before-seen Steeler mistakes that definitely don’t in any way remind us of their previous five losses this season:

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Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1 (OT): Pens Salvage A Point From Antti Niemi’s Highlight Reel DVD

December 7, 2009

Pierre LeBrun has the Blackhawks at #1 on his latest NHL Power Rankings, along with the justification:

Statement win in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, and wouldn’t that be a dandy of a Stanley Cup finals matchup?

By “Statement Win,” I assume LeBrun means, “Barely pulled-off overtime win against team missing the hottest player in the NHL thanks to ridiculous performance by backup goalie?”

The Penguins (who LeBrun ranks 6th, incidentally) dominated the second period and most of the third against the Blackhawks, but after Antti Niemi’s pad save on the Letestu-to-Gonchar one-timer in the final minute of the second, it was clear this game was gonna be one of those “The other team’s goalie is playing out of his mind and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that” games.

Even if the Pens had lost in regulation, I wouldn’t have been discouraged by their performance against Chicago — every team loses a handful of games a year to a crazy opposing goalie performance, and like a baseball team getting shut out by Roy Halladay on a great night, you just kind of have to accept it — but the Pens still tied the game in the final minute to salvage a point, and they were missing the hottest player in the NHL and likely Art Ross trophy winner, Chris Kunitz. If the Pens play this exact game against Chicago seven times — even without taking into account their missing players — they win five of them. Getting the point in the final minute was gravy.

Mark Letestu played probably the most impressive single game by any of the Pens’ many AHL callups this season, setting up numerous scoring chances and cleanly winning the faceoff that led to the game-tying goal. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Pens continue to give Letestu a chance over these next few weeks, even if Crosby and Kunitz come back; his offensive performance and random faceoff prowess made him instantly more valuable than Craig Adams and Eric Godard have been for the majority of the year, and certainly worth at least rotating him in as the go-to 13th forward in case of injury or the need to healthy scratch anyone.

I was also highly amused by the Mellon Arena fans’ reluctant on-and-off booing of Marian Hossa; it was clear that fans recognized a conscious obligation to boo him when he had the puck, but now that the Pens already got the ultimate revenge on Hossa in last year’s Cup Finals (and the fact that he now plays for the Red Wings’ archrival), the booing is so half-assed. If you’re keeping track at home, Hossa’s goal now gives him one in the last eight games against the Penguins. Dang.

Penguins Give Up On Chris Bourque After Only Twenty Chances

December 4, 2009

P-G:

The Penguins have placed forward Chris Bourque on waivers.

If he goes unclaimed by noon Saturday, they plan to send him to their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.

Bourque has no goals, three assists and a plus-minus rating of minus-4 in 20 games with the Penguins.

Other people unclaimed by NHL teams: Eric Lindros. Michal Sivek. Brian Dennehy. Abigail Breslin. House, M.D. The Mister Rodgers Statue. Any Unicorn.

Why the random list of names? Because these people also have zero goals this year.

I’m gonna go way out on a limb, then wait for that limb to grow a little so I’m even more out on that limb, then duct tape a homemade limb extension to it and venture out on that, and say that the Pens will probably fine without Chris Bourque.

Penguins 4, Avalanche 1: Pens Score Timely Power-Play Goal; Sequel To “Miracle” Planned

December 4, 2009

A timely Penguin power play goal in the third period proved the difference in a 4-1 victory over Colorado last night, which…

Wait, hold on a sec.

When I typed “timely Penguin power play goal,” a squiggly red line appeared underneath the entire phrase, and when I right-clicked it, WordPress suggested “timely Penguin power play FAILURE”. Thanks for looking out, WordPress, but for once, this was not a typo; I was gonna click “add to dictionary,” but I don’t have tremendous confidence that I’m gonna need to type this phrase again any time soon.

Still, the Pens kept rolling along last night, with Sidney Crosby notching his 18th and 19th goals off the season, putting him on a ridiculous pace for 54 goals over an 82-game season. Obviously, he probably won’t keep this pace up forever, but this projection takes into account his career-worst scoreless streak from earlier in the year, so it’s not like the dude scored twice in the season opener and we’re putting him on pace for 160 tallies. Right now, Crosby is playing the best regular-season hockey of his career; he’s playing so well, we might actually stop complaining about how the Pens still need to get a winger to play with him. But seriously dude, the Pens still need to get a winger to play with him. Crap, guess we’re not totally there yet.

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Wyoming And South Dakota Are More Confident In The U.S. Soccer Team Than The Rest Of Us

December 2, 2009

Here ya go, Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna and Freddy Adu or Tony Meola or whoever’s on the U.S. World Cup team now: You’ve got Wyoming and South Dakota behind you all the way!

Click to enlarge:

Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota are all on the fence, either because they’re waiting to see the relative strength of the U.S. group draw and the health of their midfield as match play opens, or because they don’t give a shit.

Max Talbot’s Commercial Legend Grows With “City Of Champions Crunch” Ad

December 2, 2009

Max Talbot, star of the seminal A&L Motors Commercial and its inspired sequel, Marginally Less Retarded A&L Motors Commercial, now completes his local commercial trilogy by starring opposite Hines Ward in this ad for “City Of Champions Crunch,” the first cereal smug enough for our newly-spoiled Pittsburgh fanbase:

Shortly after this exchange, Ward blindsided Talbot, severely injuring him, then Talbot got up, made a “shhhh” gesture to the crowd even though he just got the crap beat out of him, and this somehow inspired “Tastes Great” to come back from a three-goal deficit.

(via Empty Netters)

Afraid He Might Knee Them, NHL Only Suspends Ovechkin For Two Games

December 1, 2009

Washington Post:

The NHL has suspended Alex Ovechkin two games for his knee-on-knee hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason on Monday night…

The suspension, which is without pay, is the first of Ovechkin’s career and means he’ll miss Thursday’s game against Florida and Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. He will forfeit $98,844.16 of his salary for the two games.

“I regret that this has happened,” Ovechkin said in a statement. “I’m glad that Tim wasn’t injured because I never ever want to see anyone get hurt. I am disappointed to miss these games and I can’t wait to get back on the ice next week to help my team.”

He added, “And by ‘help,’ I mean, continue playing the exact same way, taking runs at dudes non-stop and dealing with a meaningless two-game suspension for every three potentially injury-inducing cheap shots I dish out. I mean, Gonchar missed two playoff games after I kneed him, and that was only one of the three hits, so I’m really coming out in the black here. The more I think about it, I’d be crazy not to continue doing the exact same crap.”

It’s probably a fair punishment, given that Gleason wasn’t injured and that the suspension had to be assessed independently of the unrelated, non-suspended hits on Gonchar last year and Kaleta last week, but it’s hard to argue that Ovechkin is deserving of a light punishment because it’s his first suspension, even though that’s semantically true. Plus taking two games to rest his injured knee is probably a smart move for him and the Capitals anyway, so, whatever. Way to send a message, NHL.

Penguins 5, Rangers 2: Rupp Outduels Gaborik In Showdown Of Star Free Agent Pickups

December 1, 2009

I woke up in the middle of the night Sunday with a startling, half-awake realization: This offseason, instead of trading multiple dudes to the Rangers to acquire Scott Gomez’s suffocating contract, why didn’t the Canadiens just trade no one and sign Marian Gaborik? I know there’s some injury concern there, but geez, the dude’s 10 times the threat Scott Gomez has ever been, Gomez’s contract is just as massive, you keep Chris Higgins this way, and you end up with a dude who’s already scored more goals in 25 games this season than Gomez has in every season of his career except one.

Yep — half-awake Me is a better GM than Bob Gainey. Man is that dude fired after this season…

Anyway…the Pens remained impressive last night, beating the Rangers on the road with Henrik Lundqvist back in goal, despite a continued power play malaise and repeated inability to cover Gaborik with seven guys at all times. We knew it going in, but how clearly is Gaborik the only remotely threatening player on this Ranger team? Who else would you even think about covering in a playoff series against the Rangers? Like, Vinny Prospal? I feel like he should be the captain and star player on an expansion team somewhere; he’ll be on the Las Vegas ThundercrushDogs for their 2012 season opener, once Phoenix moves.

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It’s Official: Alex Ovechkin Is A Pathological Kneer

December 1, 2009

Remember the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year when Alexander Ovechkin kneed Sergei Gonchar, got a two-minute tripping penalty even though Gonchar was injured, missed two games and never appeared 100% the rest of the Playoffs, and nearly every announcer — Pittsburgh and Washington alike, and even the highly biased author of this blog — argued that Ovechkin probably had the hit lined up, stuck his leg out as a last-second thoughtless reaction, and had no intention of actually kneeing Gonchar and injuring him?

Guess what? We were wrong. Turns out, Ovechkin actually is a big fan of the knee-to-knee hit, and he pulled off another stellar one last night on Carolina’s Tim Gleason, earning himself a 5-minute major penalty and his SECOND game misconduct in three games, and karmically injuring himself in the process:

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three suspension-worthy hits by Ovechkin in a span of less than 30 games, going back to last year’s playoffs. It’s now not even debatable anymore: Alex Ovechkin is, by any possible definition, a deliberate cheap-shot artist. We all knew his reputation for taking wild charges at defensemen after they dish outlet passes and are off-balance so they fall down and announcers talk about how hard he plays, but those can at least usually be defended as message-sending collisions, if irrelevant to the play, and the actual hits themselves usually aren’t illegal (because the NHL stopped calling Charging some 12 years ago).

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Ravens 20, Steelers 17 (OT): Pittsburgh Loses Without Polamalu, Roethlisberger, Kemoeatu, Goligoski, And Kunitz

December 1, 2009

I again didn’t feel like writing about the Steeler game this week, partly because I was out of town, partly cause I found the outcome simultaneously inevitable and bland, but I guess if I’m writing a blog about Pittsburgh sports I can’t just pout any time the Steelers lose, so here’s a quick recap. Then I’ll resume sucking my thumb and sneaking back into my crawlspace. You bunch of meanies.

Against the Bengals and Chiefs, I honestly never even entertained the thought that the Steelers might end up losing the games until the final minutes of each; much of this was straight-up naive arrogance on my part, but also, the Steelers appeared to be in control of both games, and given their extensive history of pulling off “what were you worried about?” fourth-quarter go-ahead drives at will last season, I’ve just grown spoiled with the idea that the Steelers are just going to prevail no matter what, just as the bloodied, limping Bruce Willis is always going to have the last laugh in any Die Hard movie.

Unfortunately, the past three weeks have been a different kind of Die Hard movie: A really boring one with and irritating ending. This has nothing to do with Die Hard, I’m just pissed about the game and attempted to write something more colorful than just “I’m pissed,” but ended up just regressing back to literally writing “I’m pissed.” And I am pissed.

I joked before the Ravens game that because the Ravens hadn’t been pulling their standard B.S. Ravens luck this season — they’ve actually lost several games on highly unlucky missed field goals and some lame penalty calls — that they had to have been saving up for one giant helping of Ravens luck against the Steelers. And wouldn’t you know it, Ben Roethlisberger finds out at the eleventh hour he can’t play, Charlie Batch is out for 6 weeks, and Dennis Dixon is starting his first NFL game on the road in Baltimore, has only two days to prepare, and the Steelers are missing Troy Polamalu, Chris Kemoeatu, and of course Aaron Smith, and the 2 1/2 Ravens point spread took an unsurprising leap to 7 1/2.

Random thoughts:

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