Thursday, January 28, 2016

Some Thoughts on John Scott - All-star

Before you go any further – go read this post on the Players' Tribune. I'll wait.

OK. Now let me begin by saying that I voted for John Scott. Heck I probably voted for him six or seven times. I've made fun of John Scott for not being a very good hockey player. I've also made fun of him for having two first names. As everyone knows, you can't trust someone with two first names. After reading his post do I feel a little bad about it?

Maybe, for making fun of his hockey ability. After all I'm just a blogger who can barely tie his own skates let alone play hockey. He is among the top 1% of hockey players in the world, so saying he “sucks” or laughing along with other other people joking about his ability is wrong.

That being said, does he belong in the All-Star game? It all depends on what the All-Star game really means. If it's to bring together the best talent in the league to celebrate the best the game has to offer then no. If it's to have fun and show off the NHL to fans and casual observers, then why not have him there.

In fact, the NHL should mic him up while they're at it. Scott seems like an affable (and intelligent)guy who will play up the absurdity of the situation in a lighthearted manner. Heck, maybe he'll even goad one of his competitors into a “fight”. Or imagine Scott and Jaromir Jagr just hanging out along the boards together having a chat while their line mates play 2-on-2.

In other words there was a way for the NHL to embrace the result of the fan vote in. They've chosen to go in another direction. When it became apparent that fans (either a small cartel of really, really dedicated people or hockey fandom in general) didn't mind voting Scott in the league took some shady actions to try and sway the vote. They had Scott release a statement saying that he didn't “deserve” it. They buried the online voting page. Then they refused to release the standings as the contest drew to a close.

It seems like Scott was on-board with the league and probably would have declined the honor (which would have been interesting to see if the league would have then suspended him for not showing up – kind of like the folks in Flint, Michigan still getting water bills for water that is literally poisoning them) if they hadn't gone over the line:

“So when someone from the NHL calls me and says, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”

That's where they lost me....because while I may not deserve to be an NHL All-star, I know I deserve to be the judge of what my kids will – and won't – be proud of me for.”

To call him and ask that question is just so unbelievably out of line for a professional organization. I would bet a lot of money on the unidentified caller not having kids of his/her own. Because that questions doesn't insult John Scott the hockey player, it insults John Scott the father.

And it probably cost them the chance to have John Scott on their side. As his post points out, Scott is not a stupid man. He is also a proud man who has, like everyone else in the NHL, worked hard and sacrificed a lot to become a professional hockey player. Unlike some players, say the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, he wasn't blessed with exceptional skills.

He is extremely self-aware of who he is as a player, and has been so since he was in college and studied engineering so that when hockey didn't work out for him he could, in his own words, “[sit] in an office at GM back in sleepy Ontario, in my suit, and be happy as hell about it.”

If you read any of the book about NHL fighters or grinders, there is always the moment when they realize that their path to the top isn't paved with goals and assists, but with busted lips and broken knuckles. It's a choice they have to make, keep trying to score goals be out of hockey in 2 years or drop the gloves and maybe, just maybe keep the dream alive. What would any of us do in that situation?

The NHL does not come out great in this episode. They are the ones that made this into a bigger deal than it was. The players seem ok with it, heck they seem to roll with just about anything (see – Alex Ovechkin campaigning to be the last player drafted in last year's All-star draft). The fans get the kicks from poking the bear and seeing John Scott playing 3-on-3 hockey.

If the league had embraced this earlier then it's a non-issue. But then again that wouldn't be the NHL. This is the same league that thinks it's fans don't care about salaries or advanced stats. So why not taking control of the narrative from the start and lauding this as the fans recognizing the hard-working, gritty third-liner?

God knows if the league had anything to do with Arizona first placing Scott on waivers a week before the All-star break or the subsequent trade to Montreal. That's delving pretty far into the conspiracy side of things. There would be more fuel to the fire if the league was still running the franchise, but to think that they stepped in and forced a team to make a trade is pretty out there.

While saying that the league dictating trades to spite a fan-led on-line initiative ventures into Illuminati territory I'm surprised some PR whiz for the league didn't realize that trade would make a bad situation look worse? They could have told both sides to hold off until after All-star weekend. I'm pretty sure Jarred Tinordi would have still been available next week.

While I think the league carries much of the blame for this fiasco, the fans share some responsibility as well.

Can we, as hockey fans on the internet, agree that we've achieved our goal? From the original “Vote for Rory” campaign to the entire nation of Latvia voting for Zemgus Girgensons we've pretty much achieved peak trolling by getting John Scott into the all-star game. So let's just stop. If there is a fan vote next year, go back to voting for deserving players or your favorite player. After all, any internet-based campaign is pretty much going to pale in comparison to John Scott - All-star.

Sean McIndoe (aka DownGoesBrown) touched on this point a few weeks ago. He pointed out that this campaign felt a little different then the ones in the past because the fans went out of the way to identify Scott as the player most ill-equipped to be in this All-star game. In doing so it isn't the lighthearted, all in good fun write-in campaigns that we've seen in the past.

So we as fans should take it to heed when he mentions that he “busted his ass” to be one of the best players in the game of hockey. And that while we're treating his selection, and by default his career, as a joke – he has earned the right to be there.

In the end, this will be forgotten by 99% of the sports world. It'll be a footnote in the history of the All-Star game, kind of like the year that they switched formats to North America vs. The World. The season-in-review posts will mention it somewhere between the NHL announcing expansion to Las Vegas and the Steven Stamkos free agent hysteria. At least that's what the league hopes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Trade Time - Cardboard Not People

It's been a few posts since I've written about cards. Let's see, my last post about hockey or baseball cards was....still looking....still looking...October. Huh. It's been a while, hasn't it. Especially for what nominally qualifies as a card blog. I guess I should work a few posts in about cards. I haven't been buying too much lately due to a self-imposed financial limit and the fact that I haven't been “wowed” by much lately. So, how does one acquire new cardboard? Trades of course!

This one was sent to me by Trevor. I left a comment on his blog, he left one on mine. There were emails involved and then we finally hashed out a deal. He has the ambitious idea of completing a master set of 2012-13 O-Pee-Chee Hockey and I had some Rainbow Parallels hiding their light in a cardboard box. He had some cards I needed and with the help of the US and Canadian Mail systems I had some new cards.

2010 Topps “The Cards Your Mom Threw Out” Eddie Murray

One of several of Topps' “Hey let's just reprint cards we've made before!” inserts over the last few years. This one features the regular back as opposed to the “original back” which features, well, the original 1978 back of the card.

To my knowledge my mom never threw any of my cards out. Did you, Mom? DID YOU? She had plenty of chances. Most notably during college when I spent four years in Florida and kind of lost interest in collecting. In fact, if I'm not mistaken they actually moved the collection from my childhood house to the townhouse they lived in while I was in college. Thanks for not throwing out all of those Gregg Jefferies rookie cards!

2012-13 OPC Pavel Datsyuk and Tim Gleason

While not as ambitious as a master set, I have been trying to put together a complete set of the 2012-13 OPC hockey set for the last 3 years. At this rate I should be done sometime around 2021.

2012-13 OPC Bobby Orr Short print

One of the reasons it will take so long is because of cards like this. The dreaded short print. The regular base set is about 500 cards so why not throw another 100 short printed cards on top of it. Christ sometimes this hobby drives me insane.

1983 Topps George Brett

A set I'm a little closer to completing is the 1983 Topps baseball. I've actually knocked out most of the “big cards” like the Wade Boggs rookie. This is one of my favorite designs of all time. I like the action shot mixed in with the floating head.

When I think of the first cards I bought/owned it's the 83 and 82 Topps that come to mind. Those were the cards that I kept first in shoe-boxes (hey I was like 8 years old and didn't know better) and are the ones that have been in my collection the longest. I have since acquired older cards, but these are the ones that I look back on with the most fondness. I would have missed these the most if my mom had thrown them away.

And look at that uniform. No belt! Those are the baseball pants we grew up with, kids. You knew you were on a good team when you got a uniform that included a belt. If I remember correctly, I didn't have a belt until high school. That was a good day.

If you guys have some extra O-Pee-Chee lying around – head over to Trevor's site and help the kid out.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Game 42: The One Where Callahan Missed All of The Chances

Game: 42
Opponent: Vancouver
Score: 3-2 OT Win

Two wins in two nights is a nice way to gain some ground in the playoff win. If the win in Edmonton was the result of lucky bounces, then the overtime win in Vancouver was a result of hard work and perseverance.

The game got off to a quick start for the Lightning as they outshot the Canucks 5-0 to open the action. With one of those shots Alex Killorn managed to beat Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom. The Harvard man received a nice pass from Nikita Kucherov, deked once to pull Markstrom out of position and flicked the puck into the open net.

After the lackluster first two periods against Edmonton Coach Cooper shuffled his lines up. Ondrej Palat was bumped up to the Steven Stamkos with Vlad Namestnikov while Killorn found himself on the “Triplets” line with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. The shakeup seems to have worked.

With all of the injured forwards back healthy again Coach Cooper has a little bit of stability to work with and some of the role players can get back to doing what they excel at. For instance, Brian Boyle hasn't scored in 10 games and has seen his time on ice dwindle from 16-19 minutes a game down to 9-12 minutes a game. That's not a bad thing.

The Lightning no longer have to rely on Boyle, JT Brown and Erik Condra to generate offense. Instead those players can work on controlling the puck and grinding down the other team so that the offense can get to work. That's the system that led to success last year and one that can carry the team in the second half of the season.

After a quick start the game settled into a slow back-and-forth battle that, quite frankly, wasn't very entertaining. Tampa Bay was once again not able to carry a lead into the second period as Vancouver scored late in the period to tie it up. For most of the second and the first half of the third the play was mired in the neutral zone and featured more broken up passes than shots.

In net Andrei Vasilevskiy, giving All-Star Ben Bishop a night off, was steady if not spectacular. While he gave up a few rebounds, for the most part he was steady and in control for the majority of the game. He looked like a viable future starter stopping 21 of 23 shots in picking up his fifth win of the season. As if General Manager Steve Yzerman didn't have enough on his table, it will be interesting to see what he does when Ben Bishop's contract is up after next season.

The Lightning got their footing back after a couple of power plays. Valteri Filppula fired a puck toward a cutting Ryan Callahan in front of the net. The pass never made it there, but it did happen to hit a skate and sneak through Markstrom's five hole. Another “lucky” break for an offense that was starved for them during the first 40 games of the season.

As for Callahan, man, you got to feel for him at this point. He is scratching and clawing for a point, but just can't seem to buy a break. He knows he has to contribute more. Five goals and nine assists just isn't good enough for him. He is a bit snake-bitten right now. In the Vancouver game he had three or four great chances that were either stopped or just missed the net. At least he managed to pick up an assist on Filppula's goal – his first point of the new year.

He has been a good soldier to this point and not complained about his ice time or his role on the third line. He has just gone out and done what Ryan Callahan is built to do – hit people and cause chaos. Should he start finding his scoring touch, then really look out for this offense to get going.

Let's celebrate a Callahan point! Photo by Jeff Vinnik (NHLI/Getty)

Vancouver did manage to tie it up as Bo Hovart managed to sneak a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy. Horvat, whose name has come up in trade rumors with Tampa, was probably the best player on the ice for both teams. He scored the the second goal and set up the first by drawing two defenders to him before sneaking a quick pass to Sven Baertschi who tapped it into an empty net.

It's kind of disconcerting to watch a Canucks game and not have the Sedin twins be the most important players for them. The 20-year-old Hovart and the 19-year-old Jake Virtanen were the best Vancouver players on the ice. They may be struggling right now, but they do have some good pieces moving forward.

The game went into overtime (where Vancouver is a dreadful 1-7). Both teams had several good chances, Vasilevskiy in particular had to make several saves to keep both teams playing. With less than two minutes to go, the Lightning managed to dig the puck off of their own boards and Vlad Namestnikov found Kucherov behind the Vancouver defense on a long stretch pass. One move by the Russian and the puck was in the net and the Lightning had another overtime win.

Like the announcer pointed out, what a horrible time to leave the ice for Henrik Sedin. Yes he was at the end of the long shift, but he's got to cover Kucherov long enough for Alex Edler to get in position. Instead he was like, “I'm done guys. Peace out.”

It was a nice, tough win for the Lightning. Again this felt like one of those games that they would lose 2-1 earlier in the year. They're starting to find their game and if they can keep this momentum going, it won't be long until they find a secure spot in the playoff race.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Alas, our protagonist was once again a healthy scratch. Young defensemanNikita Nesterov took his spot in the lineup. It's time for the team to start playing Nesterov on a regular basis. He's not going to learn anything in Syracuse or by sitting on the bench. If the Lightning want him to become the Russian Dan Boyle they need him on the ice.

He shows signs of being the puck-moving, offensive minded defenseman that the Lightning need. He needs the on-ice experience at the NHL level to get better. He needs to learn when to pinch and when to stay back. When to skate the puck out of the zone and when to dump it along the boards. The only way he does that is by playing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

24 Hours in Saint Louis. Or is it St. Louis?

The train.  It ain’t the fastest way to travel, but it gets you from point A to point B for a reasonable price.  Plus the internet is fee and the food selection is a little better.  Walking out of the station in St. Louis, the first thing I notice is that we’re right across the street from the hockey arena.  That’s always good to know.  Due to the way we came into the city I also know that my hotel is about an eight block away.  Shouldn’t be too bad.

If you take the train in, sit on the right side for the best views.

A hockey game was the reason I was in town.  Due to fact that business is a bit slow I had an extra day off this week.  I flipped around nearby cities and saw that the St. Louis Blues were home and tickets were cheap ($20 after tax, tag and title).  The train ticket was cheap and so was the hotel.  For less than the cost of a night at the Blackhawks game I was on way to the Gateway City in order to check off another hockey arena from the list.

In the spring and summer the walk from the train station to the hotel was probably pleasant. In the winter it was a bit nippy.  I probably should have worn something on my head other than my well-traveled baseball hat. At least my hoodie was fleece lined.  I cinched it up over my head and started walking like I knew where I was going.

I’ve always found that walking with a purpose and not making eye contact is the best way to avoid any interference with less desirable natives.  You know, the down on their luck types that hang around the train station at 3pm on a Tuesday.  As a walked down the slight decline on Spruce Street I was surprised by the lack of humans I encountered along the way.  In fact as I passed one building I’m pretty sure the security guard was eyeballing me a bit too hard.

After about 10 minutes (and with no assistance from GPS or a map) I arrived at the Westin St. Louis to check in.  Yes there were hotels closer to the arena, but I wanted to keep it in the family and the Westin had a decent price (almost as good as my employee rate).  Despite it being about 3.30 the lobby was empty and the process went smoothly, the only delay being when the agent asked me if I wanted a key to the refreshment bar in the room.

I’m always amused when I read comments about people complaining about the mini bar.  Yes, the sensored ones are a pain in the ass, but trust me, as a former front desk agent we really don’t give a shit if you took something or if your kid knocked it off the sensor.  It’s not our money.  Just don’t waste our time coming up with a lame story. Just say you didn’t have it and move on.

Those aren’t the complaints I’m talking about, nor are the ones about the pricing.  Yes it’s overpriced.  We make a lot of money on your inability to control yourself.  Which leads to what really chaps my ass.  People who complain about the mini bar being in the room because they don’t have the “self control to keep them from eating the high calorie, overpriced snacks”.

Holy shit people. You are (for the most part) grown ups.  How the hell have you gotten through life with that little personal responsibility.  Do you also complain to management at Jewel Osco because you can’t help yourself from buying People Magazine and a Kit Kat when you’re standing in line at the store? Don’t blame us because you’re weak.  I don’t eat a steak at Del Frisco’s and then bitch at them for clogging my arteries instead of telling me to have a salad.

After a little hesitation, I declined the key.  Not so much because I would be tempted (after all I’m only 12 days into my “no snacking” quest for the year), but more so that I wouldn’t have to turn it in when I check out on Wednesday.

I had initially thought I would check in, drop my stuff off and get a quick work out in.  My legs and back were a little stiff from the train ride and I thought a run would work the kinks out.  However, the directions to the health club included the words “walk out the front door” and that wasn’t going to happen.  Not when it was a brisk 20 some degrees outside.  Instead  I decided on a late lunch.

Based on my five minutes of research on Yelp! I knew there was a beer place a couple of blocks away. It was one of those small chains that catered to people like me.  A hundred or so craft beers on tap, mediocre food and a soundtrack that could have been ripped off of my iPod (seriously, when was the last time you heard Deer Tick in a bar).

I ordered a porter with a clever name that I’ve already forgotten. Since I didn’t go to the gym I figured I’d eat something on the healthy side (personal responsibility!).  It wasn’t bad, goat cheese and walnuts tend to improve any salad and it was large enough that I was actually somewhat full. Besides my sinuses are such a wreck right now that taste might be the weakest of my five senses.

The service at the bar was adequate if somewhat disinterested.  My bartender was just ending her shift and the other one was just starting.  They were more interested in catching up with their days then talking to the stranger eating a salad and writing in a notebook.  After hearing the two size 4’s complain about being “fat” I’m not sure we would have had much to talk about. One bemoaned her meal of a bottle of wine and a Totino’s party pizza the night before. I call that a Thursday night.

The bar might not have had Budwiser on tap, and they would surely look down at you if you tried to order it, but they did have Abita Purple Haze.  So I finished my meal with one of those.  Yes, it’s a fruit beer, but it’s also a beer that reminds me of hanging out in New Orleans with my boy Hamel.  Any beer that reminds you of good times is a good beer.

With an hour or so to kill before the game I decided to head back to the hotel.  I don’t get to watch much cable and it’s always nice to sneak in some mindless TV when I’m in a hotel room.  Instead I ended up watching the local news (something that you miss when you don‘t have cable).  I had managed to be in St. Louis on the day they would find out if their professional football team would stay or move to L.A.  At that point in the day it was looking like the NFL was favoring a deal put together by the Chargers and the Raiders instead of the Rams.  That would have been interesting since Rams owner Stan Kroenke had pretty much torched the town a week before insinuating that any team in the city would do nothing but hemorrhage money.

After an hour or so of that and some mindless channel surfing I threw my fleece hoodie back on and headed out into the darkness.  While it was still chilly the arena wasn’t that far away so I decided to hoof it up the hill.  Ok.  It wasn’t really a hill, more like a slight incline.

I made it to the arena without incident, walked past the Bernie Federko statue and into the Scottrade Center. There was a line of people waiting to go through the metal detectors, but there were also some people just going through.  I joined those people.  Apparently season ticket holders get into the building 15 minutes before the unwashed masses. AND it appears that whoever had sold me the ticket on StubHub was a season ticket holder because nobody tackled me and told me to go to the back of the line.

With 60 minutes to go until the puck dropped I wandered around the arena.  It reminded me a lot of the Ice Palace in Tampa.  An older, but not old building.  There were few of the fancy knick knacks that you find in building built this century, but it still had its charm. After a couple of trips around the lower concourse and a trip into the gift shop I decided to head up to my seat.

Once I was up in the 300 section (gotta love the buildings with 300 sections) I decided to grab a snack. The menu was typical of a sporting venue with nachos, popcorn, hamburgers and the like.  They did have one item that intrigued me. A calorie bomb called a Beer Cheese Pretzel Dog.  Melted cheese, bacon, a dill pickle on a hot dog with a pretzel bun.  It’s like they knew I was coming to the game.  With fries and a drink, my wallet was $12 lighter but my belly was happy.

The only things left were a grease spot and the dill pickle

I made my way up to my seat.  Section 329 right behind the Blues goal (and the organ player!).  When I don’t have great seats I prefer to be behind the nets instead of at center ice.  I just think you see the play develop better.  The stadium wasn’t full and I did have some room on each side and the folks around me weren’t too annoying. The seats were built after 1960 so I was able to actually sit in them without my knees touching my chin.

Here we go from HIGH above the ice

Pregame warmups were taking place, which means the arena was consumed by the overamped dance/rock music that teams seem to prefer.  I was momentarily grouchy with the atmosphere until I realized it just meant that I was getting old. “Damn kids and their hip hop music!”.  To each their own.

My reward for being an enlightened and understanding old person was.… ELVIS NIGHT!  That’s right, the St. Louis Blues decided to celebrate the King of Rock and Roll’s birthday with an Elvis impersonator.  Not just an Elvis impersonator, but a FAT ELVIS impersonator.  He sang the National Anthem.  And yes, it was as glorious as you would think it would be.

As for the game itself. The Blues scored first which is always nice for a home crowd.  Then the Devils scored twice, but for some reason never really seemed to be a threat. When the Blues tied it up, I held out hope for my first 3-on-3 overtime, but it wasn’t to be.  St. Louis scored three unanswered goals and walked away with the victory.

The crowd itself was a typical midseason crowd.  They do some weird shake, shimmy things with their hands whenever the Blues go on the power play. I guess it looks cool on T.V., but the fans embraced it with the unbridled enthusiasm that your mom has when they play the Electric Slide at a wedding reception. It was slightly disconcerting.

They also count off every time they score.  It’s weird when they score one. After all it’s just a guy on the Jumbrotron waving a rally towel and then the crowd screaming, “ONE!”  It sounds better after the second goal, “ONE! TWO” and is ok with three, “ONE! TWO! THREE!” But it just cuts off after the number.  It would be much easier on the aural palate if there was a “WHOOOO!” or something after the last number.  But coming from a city where screaming “TAMPA! BAY!” is considered the pinnacle of crowd tradition I’m not going to criticize another team’s traditions too much.

An interesting subtext throughout the evening was the Rams situation. After all there were a couple of thousand St. Louis sports fans in the building, surely some of them would be football fans. And some of those fans had to be serious Rams fans who would be heartbroken if the team left. My buddy Superstar, who I had been texting back and forth all game was the one that officially broke the news to me that the Rams were indeed heading to L.A.

From that point on, I was wondering if they would announce it over the loudspeaker.  I’ve been to a few sporting events where they’ve done similar things. I remember a Lightning game during a Bucs playoff game where they announced that the Bucs had won.  Of course, breaking bad news is a slightly different situation.  For the record, I never heard an announcement.

Nor did I overhear too much talk on the concourse.  I guess they were resigned that it was going to happen and there was no use getting worked up about it now. I was too young to be really heartbroken when the Colts left Baltimore.  Any anger I developed was based on being a son of Baltimore and following the lead of my elders.  Plus there is a big difference between sneaking out in the middle of the night and holding a press conference with the commissioner.

There were two instances that I noticed a negative reaction about the news.  First, about 10 minutes after Superstar sent me the news (and 20 minutes after our discussion if Al Hrabosky was known as “Fat Elvis“ as well as “The Mad Hungarian“), the kids next to me found out.  One guy read the Tweet to his buddies and then quietly said, “Fuck, I didn’t really think they’d move”.  His one friend responded with a dejected “God Damn it”.  They were so sad I wanted to buy them all a beer, but I don’t think they were old enough. Plus it was a pain to get out of the seats and down to the concession stand.

The other moment was well into the third period with the Blues up by two goals.  A spontaneous “KROEN-KE SUCKS!” chant started and gained in volume.  The boys next to me were happy to have a chance to vent their frustration vocally and I’m sure the chant would have lasted the rest of the game if the Devils Bobby Farnham didn’t choose that moment to try and decapitate Dmitrij Jaskin with his stick. That touched off a minor line brawl that the brought more joy to the crowd and ended with the Blues forward Ryan Reaves scrambling the brains of Jordin Tootoo with a single punch which the crowd REALLY loved.

A couple of things about that little skirmish.  First, Bobby Farnham is a dick.  If you’re going to cheap shot a guy, at least do it to the person that just checked you into the boards, not an innocent bystander like Jaskin.  By the way Farnham’s official penalty was a five minute interference penalty. I can honestly say I’ve never heard that called before.

Second, all props to Tootoo. He’s a veteran and knows what his role is. He leads the league in fighting majors so he knows how to handle himself.  But he was also giving up 3 inches and 30 pounds to Reaves. It would be like asking Manny Pacquiao to fight Deontay Wilder.  Sure he could do it, but if the big man lands a punch it’s over.  Needless to say the big man landed a punch.

I wasn’t a big fan of the second punch Reaves threw when Tootoo was down, that’s the type of punch that tends to do more damage than the initial one.  At least Reaves realized that Tootoo was done after the one extra punch, I’ve seen hockey fights where the pummeling continues until the linesmen can break it up.

The game was pretty much over at that point, New Jersey tried to make it closer by pulling the goalie, but the captain David Backes, who must be a shuffleboard legend, pushed the puck down the ice from his own zone and into the empty net to put the final nail in the Devil’s coffin.

I made my way out of the arena and after some initial confusion made it back to the hotel in time to watch the end of the Lightning game.  It was great watching Tampa do everything possible to get Stamkos the hat trick in the last five minutes. It was also great that the win put them in a playoff spot and one point behind Montreal for the 3rd seed.  Look out Eastern Conference, I think the bear is waking up.

Some more news and I was out for the count. If the weather hadn’t been icebox cold I might have entertained the thought of going out. But I’m old and tire easy after a long day. Besides I did plan on getting up early to do a little exploring before my 3pm train back to Chicago.

Early turned out to be  7.30am.  It’s so nice waking up naturally and not to a cat whining or running around the apartment like a lunatic. I flipped on the TV to see if anything new happened overnight, it had not.  Twenty seconds of Stephan A. Smith screaming about something was enough to motivate me to head into the shower.

A quick Yelp search for best breakfast’s near the Arch led me to Rooster.  The crepes are fantastic there.  At the table next to me an elderly lady had written out an itinerary for her companion, a gentleman also advanced in age.  It was interesting that she had handwritten out a few things for him to do. You don’t see that much in this digital age.

Cheese, egg and sausage in a savory wrapping.  Delightful!
I snatched a quick glance while she had the note out and it was written in the same handwriting style that women of her age seem to have.  By the time I was finished my second tea (a drink for a more civilized age) and had paid my check the gentleman was trying to explain Bluetooth speakers to the lady.  It was quite entertaining.

With a full belly I meandered down to the Arch to find that it was under construction and closed.  Boo.  At least the old courthouse was open.  Apparently it was the same courthouse that the Dred Scott Decision was made.  Yea history!  I wandered up and down the stairs for a little bit, browsed the gift shop and then went on my way.

A statue of Mr. and Mrs. Scott (Did you know she was part of the lawsuit? I did not.)

Nothing was on the agenda so I meandered over to The Landings, a strip along the river filled with bars and restaurants.  All of them were closed at that hour so I made my way to the riverfront and watched the boats go by.  Several tug boats and freight carriers made their way down the Mississippi River. The mud brown waters were moving swiftly and were filled with small groups of ice mixed in with the other debris that the waters pick up along their journey.

It’s hard to look at the river and not think of riverboats and Mark Twain. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but there weren’t many references to Samuel Clemmons in the city.  I guess I’ll have to look harder the next time I’m in town.

That's the Mississippi, the Mighty Miss, the Old Miss, the Old Man....Deep River

On the way back to the hotel to pick up my things I stopped at a bodega to get a Powerball ticket and a stamp for the postcard I bought my niece.  I wished the owner good luck on our ticket and promised him a million dollars if I won.  As I was walking out I noticed a distinct lack of Wal-Greens in downtown St. Louis. Unlike Chicago where there is one on every block I don’t think I saw a single one the entire time I traipsed about the city. Also, they call their Panera’s “The Saint Louis Bread Company” which is cute.

Picking up my bags and dropping off my keys (and momentarily contemplating taking the $19.00 bottle of wine for the train ride home) I knew I had enough time to walk to the Schlafy Tap Room for some local beer and lunch before heading to the train station.

If I was to do it again I would have stayed in the hotel and then called a cab instead.  It wasn’t the 30 minute walk, but more so the neighborhood I walked through. Not the type you’d take your wife through at night.  Of course, I didn’t really plan my time out that well and I ended up having to eat the burger way too fast (burgers on English muffins are my second favorite burgers after pretzel buns) and couldn’t enjoy a second beer.  To the gift shop for a T-shirt and back through the shady neighborhood to the train station just in time to line up and get on the 304 heading north to Chicago.

Not a bad 24 hours.  I could and will definitely come back for some more exploring. It sounds like the Arch should be open some time in the spring so maybe The Duchess and I will head down for a summer or fall visit this year.

Oh and check arena number 12 off of the list.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Game 41: The One Where the Bounces Went the Right Way

Game: 41
Opponent: Edmonton
Score: 3-2 Win

I watched most of this game.  Made it all the way through two periods before I went to bed.  Let’s face it, the first two periods weren’t the best in the history of the Lightning and things weren’t looking too bright for the third.  Plus I had to be up at 5.30am for work. I expected to wake up to a 2-1 or 3-1 loss as we’ve seen throughout the season. Of course, the Lightning would prove me wrong.

They exploded for three third period goals and won in Edmonton for the first time since 2007 (I always love that stat when teams play so sporadically in certain arenas). So color me surprised when I woke up and checked my twitter feed.  Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos all managed to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net and the Lightning ended the first half of the season on a winning note.

Other than the comeback, the main narrative from the game was that the Lightning finally buckled down and started putting pucks on the net.  Because of this they got a few lucky breaks…well three lucky breaks.  All three of the Lightning goals were deflected in by Edmonton players.

The only problem I have with quotes like this from Coach Cooper:

“ So, we kept over passing the puck. We just were not attacking the net. In the third we stacked the net.”

You would thing that was the case, but if you look at both the Hedman and the Stamkos goals - they weren’t exactly shooting the puck on the net.  In fact, both of them were passes that happened to go the Lightning’s way when they hit skates and sticks in front of the net.

I was watching the Edmonton feed for the first two periods and they were harping on the Lightning’s tendency to try and “pass the puck into the net”.  They focused on a chance that Stamkos had in the first period where he had the puck just inside the left circle with a clear shot on goal.  There was no defenseman covering him or trying to block the shot. It was the type of situation where him shooting the puck is the best option for the Lightning scoring a goal.  Instead he tries to pass the puck to Vlad Namestnikov  (who was covered) in front of the net.  The puck kicks off a skate and the Lightning miss out on a good opportunity.

It’s funny when you get the bounces to go the right way it’s a result of hard work, but when they don’t it’s just bad luck.  The Lightning won in Edmonton because they were lucky.  They got outplayed by the Oilers for two periods yet walked away with a win because the puck went left instead of right.  Some of their flaws were still glaringly on display.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope.  Once again he was a healthy scratch. I fear, baring an injury, we may never see Mr. Carle in a Lightning uniform again.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Game 40: The One That I Didn't Watch

Game: 40
Opponent: Calgary
Score: 1-3 (L)

Let's get this out of the way right now. I did not watch this game. I do not plan on watching this game. Yet, in some ways I feel like I've seen this game too many times this year. Close game, All-Star Ben Bishop plays well, a forward (Ryan Callahan) gets hurt, and the Lightning can't generate enough offense to win the game.

I was at work when the game was being played (yea second shift!) and from a couple of brief encounters on Twitter it didn't sound like things were going well, especially in the first period. It seems they righted the ship a bit as the game went on and with the extra skater managed to get within one when Steven Stamkos played Anton Stralman's bankshot off the boards perfectly.

Unfortunately, that was a close as they would get as 40 seconds later, Lance Bouma was able to find the empty net to put the game out of reach. I will say one thing, the Lightning have run into some rotten luck when it comes to empty net goals. Just off the top of my head I can remember three empty net goals the Lightning have given up from the wrong side of the red line.

Granted, the easiest way to prevent that from happening is to have the lead late in the game, but it is frustrating to see the opposing team make a risky play and have it pay off for them. File that into yet another thing that is frustrating about this season.

As painful as it is to lose a close game, it sucks even more when they lose a game when they have a chance to gain ground on the teams they are chasing. On Tuesday the Lightning lost. Montreal and Boston also lost. Those are two games that Tampa Bay is chasing in the standings. A win would have tied them with Boston and Ottawa at 44 points and lessened the gap to three points between them and Montreal.

When a team is chasing a playoff spots they have to win as many games as possible and, more importantly, take advantage when the teams ahead of them lose. The good news is that the Lightning are still within stalking distance and have yet to make a run. If they snap off a 7-3 or 8-2 run over the next couple of weeks they will be right back in the thick of things.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Matt Carle was a healthy scratch as Nikita Nesterov made his return to the lineup. With all of the trade talk surrounding the Lightning right now I'm sure Carle's name has been mentioned a time or two on Mr. Yzerman's cell phone. The asking price is reportedly extremely high for disgruntled forward Johnathan Drouin and I wonder if one of the asking pieces is that the team that gets Drouin has to take Carle with him.

Thinking about trade scenarios and seeing what Philadelphia did with retaining salary in the Lecavalier and Schenn deal got me thinking about how to move Carle. I'm sure there is no team that wants him at $5+ million cap hit. So if the Lightning move him, they would probably have to retain salary. Well, what if the Lightning could just move a portion of his salary?

Let's say they are working out a deal with Arizona for Jo Drouin. Can they say, hey we'll give you Drouin for a first round pick, a mid-to-high level prospect and you have to take $4 million differed salary off of Carle's contract over the next couple of years, but we keep him on the Lightning. Wouldn't Carle's 10-14 minutes a game look a lot better at a $3 million cap hit than a $5 million hit? Arizona has cap room to take the hit and they still end up with a pretty good player in Drouin to go along with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. I'm going to guess that kind of deal is not allowed under the CBA, but why not at least investigate it?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Game 39: The One With the Return of Palat

Game: 39
Opponent: Minnesota
Score: 3-2 (SO) Win

Two points is two points. That's all that matters in the end, right? The Lightning picked up two points against Minnesota and kept themselves in the playoff race. It doesn't matter that Tampa Bay dominated for the better part of two periods, building up a 25-15 lead in shots only to then get outshot 15-3 in the third period, right?

Oh and Ondrej Palat was back. The Triplets were back! Those are also good things. So why dwell on 20 minutes of bad hockey? The game got off to such a great start. The Lightning looked sharp on an early power play, they moved the puck with confidence, players moved without the puck to get open and most importantly – they got chances and took them. Sure they didn't score, but they had the Wild on their heels.

Then, halfway through the period, Valteri Filppula gets the puck on the wing, streaks across the blue line, uses his filthy little mitts to toe-drag around a sprawled defenseman and does what? Does he pass it to Alex Killorn? NO! He shoots! And he SCORES! It really was a beautiful display of skill.

Things are looking so good. Four minutes later, possibly out of sheer boredom (he had only made one save at this point) Andrei Vasilevskiy wanders out of his net to play a puck. Unfortunately his soft little pass went right to Charlie Coyle who backhanded it into the wide open net.

So despite outshooting and outplaying the Wild, the Lightning went into the intermission tied at 1 and I went to make tacos. It takes more than 17 minutes to cook and put together tacos so I missed MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV giving the Lightning a lead just a minute into the second period. Palat picked up an assist on Kucherov's 14th goal and team-leading 30th point.

From there on the rest of the second period was fairly even as both teams traded scoring chances. The third period as unfortunately all Minnesota as the Lightning got stuck in their own zone and never got out. The bunker mentality didn't pay off despite several key saves by Vasilevskiy, who more than made up for his earlier gaffe.

Overtime featured a few chances for the Lightning, but they were way more conservative with the puck than they had been in past extra sessions. Several times they skated the puck out of the offensive zone when they found themselves in trouble. In the skills competition Vasy came out on top stopping all three Minnesota shooters while Ryan Callahan used a nifty deke to fool Devan Dubnyk for the Lightning's lone tally.

Palat looked like he hadn't missed a beat due to his time off. He had 17 minutes of ice time, mostly with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson and looked like he rejuvenated his two teammates. Johnson played at a much higher pace than he did in his return last game and Kucherov looked to shoot the puck more than pass. Palat also showed that he wasn't shying away from contact when he absolutely leveled Coyle along the boards in overtime.

Look at the reaction from the guy on the right. Photo by Scott Audette (NHLI/Getty)

With Palat back and apparently healthy, Coach Cooper is back to having his two scoring lines (although why he broke up the Stamkos/Kucherov/Namestnikov line is beyond me). The Lightning head out west with a little momentum and if they stay healthy are poised to make a run up the standings. After all, if they can stay within 5 points of a top three spot in the division with Johnathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden and Mike Angelidis getting playing time, imagine what they can do with a healthy line up.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope. This was a good game by Matt Carle standards. By that I mean I didn't realize he was playing until about halfway through the game. All-in-all he was on the ice for 15:27 seconds (including 1:11 of short-handed play). He was on the ice for Minnesota's game-tying score and looked to be a little late picking up Jared Spurgeon who pounced on the rebound in front of Vasilevskiy.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Game 38 - The One Where I Write About Jo Drouin

Game: 38
Opponent: New York Rangers
Score: 2-5 Regulation Loss

So yeah, I didn't watch this game. Thanks to the weird NHL Gamecenter blackout rules I wasn't eligible to watch the game live. It was “blacked out” in my area. Which, if I had cable I would understand. But I don't. And the folks that control these things know that. How do I know? Because when I log into NBC Sports they say that I don't have cable so I'm not eligible to watch the game online through their website. Good times.

Instead I watched a bit of the Penguins/Toronto game. Wow, I thought Lightning fans had it bad. Pittsburgh fans must be super sad this season. After that I went to the bar, had a grilled cheese sandwich and a couple of beers, went home and listened to the third period of the Lightning game.

Apparently they didn't play that well. Even the ever-excited Dave Mishkin sounded depressed when the final horn sounded. He made a point to mention that except for a brief time in the third period they lacked urgency. Jonathan Drouin played in the game. In his 10:51 of playing time he managed be on the ice for 2 of the Rangers goals, he mustered one shot and had one takeaway. Not one of his better stat lines.

On Saturday the Lightning made a roster move. Johnathan Drouin was reassigned to Syracuse of the AHL in order to make room for Ondrej Palat who is set to come back against the Minnesota Wild. The move sent a shock wave through the Lightning community. Well maybe a shock ripple. Let's see what the response was. Here are some replied to Erik Erlendsson's Tweet:

@Ax-NHL: Bust

Yes, let's label him a bust with less than 100 games played in the NHL.

@Probbins47: Is Cooper turning into the NHL's Chip Kelly?

What? I don't even get the point this person is trying to make. First of all, Coach Cooper doesn't have final say in player moves. If Steve Yzerman want's Drouin on the roster, he would be on the roster. Also, Coach Cooper actually wins trophies.

@BraizNasty: wow TB is falling apart
@BuckB727: this organization is a mess
@_Dixieland_: what is wrong with TB

Guys. Do you remember the dark days? Do you remember when The Cowboys were in charge? Do you remember when they couldn't make payroll? That's an organization that is falling apart. This is an organization that hit a speed bump and is trying to get their top prospect some playing time.

@giamberadino: this seems to be a recurring pattern with their superstars

Yes. All of the Lightning superstars have been sent back to the minors. Remember when Stamkos and Hedman racked up all of those points with Norfolk?

Everybody needs to relax. As some other, slightly more rational, fans have pointed out, Drouin is caught up in a numbers game. With Palat coming back, the Lightning have a ton of forwards on the roster. Drouin is able to be sent down to Syracuse and not have to pass through waivers. Nobody else that might be sent down has that luxury.

Also, as much of a fan of Drouin as I am, I admit that he has struggled this year. Sadly his stat line against the Rangers isn't that much different than what he's been doing since the beginning of the year. He's had his chances on the top line and while he show's flashes of belonging, for the most part he hasn't earned his spot on the roster.

Going down to Syracuse will allow him to play 20 minutes a game. It will allow him to develop the aspects that he might be struggling with. I'm sure that Mr. Yzerman and Coach Cooper have told him what they're looking for in his play in the AHL. The general manager has already said that Drouin will be back up this year.

The Lightning are not giving up on Drouin. They are trying to make him better. That's all this is about. He might be pissed about getting demoted. Heck I'm glad he's pissed. If he wasn't I would wonder about his desire to play. Now he needs to turn that anger into points. He needs to rack up the points, win face-offs, backcheck and protect the puck like a madman. Show them the player they think he is. Make it impossible for them to keep him down there for long.

I think a lot of this, and the a lot of the #FreeDrouin “controversy” could have been avoided. Drouin wasn't ready for the NHL last year. Or at least he wasn't ready for the Lightning NHL team. He shouldn't be playing 10 minutes on the fourth line. He is a top six forward and he should be playing 17-20 minutes a game.

If the Lightning could have put him in the AHL last year, he could have spent that year developing some of the skills that he struggles with in the NHL. However, the Lightning didn't have that option. It was either the NHL or juniors – a league in which Drouin had nothing left to prove.

It is one of those situations that makes fans wonder if the current agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League needs some refreshing. For the most part it makes sense. A lot of the 18 and 19 year olds drafted are not ready for professional hockey. However, from time to time there is a player that is stuck in between.

Perhaps each organization should be allowed an exemption. I don't want to see all of the talent flow out of Juniors. It would be detrimental to the league and to the development of a vast majority of the players that come through the program. However, some flexibility would help teams with players caught in the middle – players like Jonathan Drouin.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope. Another game and another goose egg. He saw 13 minutes of ice time and, like Drouin, was a -2.