All Quiet on the Western Front

By: Marelle Cerven

Not a lot of hot news has taken place within the Western Conference this past week.  As usual, teams have their fair share of players plagued with injuries.  Other than that, I only have two small things to cover.  The Dallas Stars are now under new ownership.  The CEO of Northland Properties Corporation Tom Gagliardi has taken over the Stars after the sale of the franchise was finally completed; after initially being announced in September, the transfer from previous owner Dallas Stars, L.P. only had to await court approval before going into effect.  Although Gagliardi currently resides in Canada, the sale may just reconnect him to his mother’s Texan roots.  Nevertheless, I congratulate and wish the Stars luck for this 2011-2012 season.  In other news, All-Star voting opened this week, so go to www.nhl.com and vote!  And if you don’t know anything about hockey, just vote for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith.

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s Player to Watch segment, because it’s here to stay!  This week, I’ve chosen Jack Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings.  No, not the Jack Johnson that has us “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing.”  This Jack was born on a corn farm in Indianapolis, Indiana…ok, that’s not true, I’m just taking in one from my home state.  Nonetheless, he was chosen third overall in the 2005 draft.  He didn’t start his NHL career until ’07, but he has been a strong part of the King’s defense for the past 4 years.  His career plus/minus isn’t great, but he makes up for it in assists. Weighing in at 230 lbs., he is the king of the penalty box.  His career minutes in the box total 230.  But even with all the hitting, he’s obviously doing something right because L.A signed him for another 7 years.  Definitely watch out for this defenseman during the current season.

Looking back at last week’s game of the week, the Detroit Redwings beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 (Is it 2-0 now? Can this streak end?).  One would think that the Wings dominated the majority of the game given the score; however that isn’t the case.  Both teams picked up a goal each per period, moving into the 3rd with a 2-2 tie.  After the Wings went up early in the 3rd with a goal from Johan Franzen, some serious defense was played by Detroit.  According to Nhl.com, 5’10” and 190 lbs. defenseman Ian White showed that you don’t need to be a Chara (who I really think meant to pick the court over the rink) to block goals on the blue line.  In order to protect the Wing’s 1 goal lead, White apparently thought he was playing soccer and used his face to redirect a puck.  While he wasn’t hurt on the play, he did change the momentum of the game.  Darren Helm and Brad Stuart soon scored back-to-back goals and ended the game with Dallas seeing Stars and Tony Romo leaving the arena in tears.

In closing, it’s time for Mac’s pick of the week.  I’m going with the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Nashville Predators on Saturday, November 19th.  Both teams are in the central division of the conference, but they currently lie in very different positions.  The Preds are currently 2nd, behind the Blackhawks, with 23 points.  The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are off to a(nother) rough start.  They are in last place with a record of 3-13-2.  With that said, they are certainly not a team to underestimate.  Led by Rick Nash, Columbus has a solid and deep mix of veterans and young players.  Vinny Prospal, the oldest player on the team, has racked up the most points; 19 year-old Ryan Johansen also has the makings for a good year.  But I’m still going to go with Nashville for the win.  Along with the likes of Craig Smith and David Legwand up top, they’ve got a very solid defense.  And with Pekka Rinne’s .936 save percentage in the net, they should not have a problem holding off the Blue Jackets.

No Style in the NFL

by Kevin Daly

Earl Bennett was warned by the NFL this weekend that he may not be allowed to   step onto the field on Sunday if he chooses to wear his orange cleats once again, just as he did in his previous two games.  The cleats have already incurred fines of $5000 and $10,000, respectively, and wearing them in another game may deliver a much dearer price.

The NFL is by far the most popular and prosperous sports league in the country.  It offers a hugely entertaining product to fans across the country and to an increasingly globalized audience.  While rule changes implemented for “player safety” have aggravated players and fans alike, they were necessary adjustments to combat the game’s increasing speed, force, and consequent spike in number of injuries.

Considering the owners’ strong support for an 18 game NFL season, the idea that they genuinely care for the players as people, rather than as investments, is arguable and open to endless debate.  Perhaps their view of players as mere vehicles for greater profits can help explain the league’s vehement opposition to players’ expressions of individuality.

Whether it is the issue of Earl Bennett’s cleats,  Champion’s and the NFL’s condemnation of Rashard Mendenhall following his controversial line of tweets last May, and the classification of dreadlocks as part of the NFL uniform, freedom of choice is a commodity that is becoming less and less attainable for the football player.  Self-expression reflected in both appearance and opinion is a punishable luxury, rather than a right.  When a football player talks trash about other players and teams or about the league itself, he often deals with harsh criticism from ownership, the league, media, and fans.

Yes, fans, we are part of the problem.  Every time we shake our heads at a tweet, quote, or distinctive wardrobe choice from a football player, we nod in favor of the NFL taking its own course of action to deal with that player.  Unlike the MLB and NBA, the NFL doesn’t rely on the marquee names to carry the popularity of the game – a fact of which league officials are very aware: when one player falters, another will always be there to carry the torch.  Thus, the onus is always on the player to stay within the assembly line of team etiquette.

Should we applaud the NFL’s decision to allow Lance Briggs to don American flag-themed gloves and cleats?  Or should we ask ourselves about the kind of message it would send if the top sports league in the nation had rejected the request – made by one of its members, no less – to display patriotism and honor a day that will forever go down as one of the darkest in the country’s history?

There’s a lot more darkness in the NFL than we could ever see, no matter how many games we watch on any given Sunday.  The only proof we see is that of the players, when they emerge from the tunnel with nothing to distinguish them except for their name and number.  Chad Ochocinco will tell you that the NFL stands for No Fun League, as his refreshingly strong opinions and uninhibited gameday antics have vanished into the Foxboro abyss.

With one of the few people who repeatedly flipped the bird to the league’s condoned mode of conduct now standing obediently in line with the others, there’s no one to fill that vacuum.  I hope Earl Bennett decides to keep wearing those cleats, regardless of the fines and consequences, because there will be something present in his message besides defiance.  Something that I hope more players (and fans) will recognize, something we should applaud.

Real Madrid, Manchester City and their Takeover of the Beautiful Game

by Kevin Daly

Manchester City and Real Madrid will meet at the Allianz Arena in Munich on May 19 next year to determine the 2012 Champions League winner and, by extension, the best team in the world.  While I can’t predict the game’s outcome yet (Real Madrid beats Manchester City 4-2), this matchup will take place unless Manchester City somehow overtakes Bayern Munich in the competition’s group stages.  If that becomes the case, Manchester City and Real Madrid will face off in the Champions League semi-finals and the winner will play Barcelona/Man. United in the final.

To use a quintessentially British term, there has been a changing of the guard in regard to the top of the table this season.  Real Madrid has overtaken 3-time defending La Liga champions Barcelona by 3 points in the standings, while Manchester City annihilated the reigning English Premier League champion Manchester United Red Devils by a score of 6-1  three weekends ago to go 5 points clear at the top of the EPL table.  While United have gotten by on their trademark 1-0 victories, their City counterparts have steamrolled teams – most recently dominating the league darlings, previously undefeated Newcastle in terms of possession, opportunities, and goals (3-1).

Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour – He’s richer than you, and he knows it!

Barcelona continues to control opposition with their tantalizing passing attack and the one they call Lionel; however, for the first time in the past 4 seasons, they have a team who is keeping equal pace with them, if not slightly edging them, in attacking prowess.  As he has done with his teams in the past, Mourinho preached a defensive and physically disruptive style of play to the Real squad in his first 2 years.  Starting in August, against Barcelona in the Super Cup, the team’s playing style opened up and revealed a free flow unprecedented in the Great One’s tactical book.  Maybe Mourinho decided for a different approach in the ever-going plot to unseat Barcelona as La Liga royalty.  Maybe he decided to try a style which would better suit his full house of Pass-Master Cyborgs.  Or maybe, in true egomaniacal Mourinho fashion, he wanted to show the world that he, the Great One, can out-Barcelona Barcelona.

Whatever light went on in the man’s mind has illuminated the team as well: Kaka has moved away from discussion of being a Elton Brand level bust (the kind of player who plays ok after a big money team change, but everyone who sees him either thinks or says that he has been a disappointment), Angel Di Maria has been  an assist machine, and Cristiano Ronaldo has been Ronaldo on his way to being second in La Liga in both goals (behind Messi) and assists.

Truth be told, while Barcelona is still going to be seen as the best team in the world for a while, Manchester City and Real Madrid have been making a lot of noise through their play.  While anything is possible with Sir Alex at the helm for Man. United, it will take a LOT to take out David Silva, Mario Balotelli (the Ron Artest/Chad Ochocinco character that the Premier League has desperately needed), and the rest of the Eastlands Superfriends from the top of the table.  A chemistry breakdown is possible, but Carlos Tevez has done all that he can possibly do to test that – and City hasn’t exactly shown any ill effects as a side note from his idiocy. Side note: What if the Tevez drama actually has been a distraction throughout the season?  What if, one day, when West Brom or Wigan steps onto the field, City is already waiting and tell them, “We’ve finally put thoughts of that jackass Tevez behind us.  We haven’t been playing as well as we can, but NOW we’re focused.”  Should we consider whether Man. City is THAT good already? …Maybe this just interests me.  Regardless, it’s a testament to Roberto Mancini that he has been able to keep the team of superstars and big-money signings in check and focused.

Within a year or two, Real Madrid and Manchester City will be the two biggest teams in the world.  The two teams have (almost) bottomless cash resources in plunge into whenever they need, unlike in-debt Barcelona.  Although Xavi and Puyol are hardly showing signs of slowing down, aging is an inevitable process and Barcelona will feel those pains when their centerpieces do.  While they haven’t lost yet in the season, they have 4 ties – the same amount they had throughout their entire 2009-2010 campaign.

In the EPL, Manchester United “suffers,” if that’s what you want to call being in second place, from a genuine lack of star power (even though they have some great young players) alongside Wayne Rooney,  Chelsea is too old, despite their own plentiful cash reserves, and Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham will continue to look up in the table for the foreseeable future.  The Premier League is the strongest it has been in years, which makes Manchester City’s dominance all the more impressive.

Maybe City and Real are already on top.  After all, what used to be an even playing field for World’s Greatest Team has been shared in a cordial rivalry over the past 3 years by Man. United and Barcelona.  They have shown very slight steps of regression – City smelled blood, we’ll see if Madrid does when they finally play Barcelona on December 11.  No longer is the Champions League a contest amongst the giants of the Serie A, Bundesliga, Premeira Liga (the Portuguese league), and the French Ligue.  Just like in the American economy, the rich (EPL, la Liga) have gotten richer and all else has fallen to the wayside.  For Manchester City and Real Madrid, it’s not about whether they will have the players they need, but when they will have them.  Money always talks in professional sports, and the soccer world is by no means an exception to that rule.  If anything, it’s talking there louder than ever.

Jonathan Papelbon Signs with Phillies

By: Bobby Montano

Finally, a week after my first Hot Stove Report, we have our first big move:

Jonathan Papelbon has reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies, reports Jim Salisbury of Comcast Sports Network. The deal is reported by Salisbury to be 4 years, 50 million dollars. 

For Philly

This is, undeniably, a hefty price-tag to pay for a reliever. Papelbon is one of the game’s most elite relievers, so if any reliever deserves this pay day, it is him. Since becoming Boston’s main closer, Papelbon has posted a 2.30 ERA. More importantly, though, he has struck out nearly 10 per 9 innings and walked only 2. He has a WHIP under 1.00.

My only real concern with Papelbon is his walks. Through his career, he has been solid. Walking only 2.2 per 9 is low, clearly. This year he only walked only 1.4 men per 9. However, in the two years before 2011, Papelbon walked over 3 men per 9. While not a huge number, nobody likes when their closer comes in and doesn’t throw strikes.

To his credit, he rebounded after many thought his career to be finished. Closers not named Mariano Rivera have a tremendously short period of effectiveness. Because of this, I am always wary of dedicating years and money to closers. The deal isn’t terribly lavish and the Phillies have money to spend.

I like the move for Philly. They get a certifiable upgrade over Madson. If the 4/44 deal was actually offered and recinded, they get an upgrade releatively cheaply. Whether or not I think teams overpay for relievers, all big market teams do it. I do not, in any way, claim to have more baseball knowledge than Ruben Amaro. With this in mind, if Papelbon pitches to form for the next 4 years, he will have been worth the deal.

For Boston

Papelbon leaving Boston isn’t necessarily surprising, but it certainly throws a wrinkle into their team’s plans. Where do they go from here?

They can sign a Jonathan Broxton type, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Perhaps they can sign Madson. Or, most likely, they will use Daniel Bard as their closer, a move that I would support, at least in the short term. If Bard can hold the fort, perhaps they can develop another closer, trade for one at the deadline, or simply wait. Most likely, it won’t make that much of a difference.

I am of the opinion that closers are generally easily replaced. Most high leverage situations occur in another inning than the 9th. There can be more pressure on a reliever who enters a game in the 7th inning with the bases loaded and one out with a one run lead than a closer who enters the game with the bases empty and a three run lead.

This is not to say that it is easy to close games; quite the opposite, really. The last three outs are always among the hardest. But they are not the hardest outs time in a time out. Therefore, Bard can replace Papelbon on Yawkey Way and the Sox won’t lose any more games than they would if Papelbon was closing.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Bard can’t “handle” it. If I’m Ben Cherington, though, I’d be willing to take that bet. And why not: it’s a cheap one.

Power Rankings: Numero Uno

By Justin Olson

Hello Puckheads,

I hope you notice that I’m taking a level one Spanish class.  I also hope that you are enjoying the one sport that is playing now on ice (No Canada, curling does NOT count). NBA, get your act together. Sorry, I’m a little bitter if you can’t tell. Anyways, here is the first edition of my (slightly opinionated) monthly Power Rankings for the League. If you completely disagree with me, feel free to let me know it and leave a comment. I will disagree with you in turn. Enjoy:

1) Dallas Stars (11-3/22 pts): There is no doubt about it. This has been one of the most surprising teams in the league this year. In fact the only team I would say was more of a shock was the team ranked number 3.  The Stars are currently the best team in the league. This is mostly due to their very impressive consistency, never really having to deal with an extended losing streak. In the past this team has faded later in the season, but this year I think they will contend for the divisional crown.

2) Pittsburgh Penguins (9-3-3/21 pts): Everyone around the NHL world has a clock ticking down to the time when Sidney Crosby gets back from Post-Concussion Syndrome.  The only problem is that no one actually knows when that clock will run down to zero. They have been rumors that it is soon, but I’ll only believe it when I see it. The Penguins are one of the deepest teams in the league, but they are definitely not a championship team without him.

3) Edmonton Oilers (9-3-2/20 pts): The best story of the NHL so far. This was the team that finished with the league’s worst record for the last two years, and somehow now they are near the top. One of the reasons for this is the blossoming of top draft picks that the Oilers has drafted during its years of futility. In addition, the team has matured. The Oilers are still  a very young team, so it will be interesting to see if they can keep up their level of play for the entire season.

4) Washington Capitals (9-4/18 pts): After a scorching start this team has slowed down in the last few game,s but they are still a very good team. Ovechkin will make sure that this team is never bad, but the team’s Achilles heel has always been their defense. This year, the Capitals have only given up 38 goals so far – a sign of improvement.  They are probably the most complete team in the league right now.

5) Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-2/18 pts.): They can score goals. A lot of goals. They have a league leading 56 goals through the first 14 games. That’s 6 more than the second place team (Capitals).  Unlike in past years, they haven’t been giving up an extreme amount of goals. This has the makings of a team that can go deep into the playoffs this year. However, their biggest problem is inconsistency. If they can play well on a steadier basis and Pronger can stay healthy, they should be a great team.

6) Chicago Blackhawks (8-4-3/19 pts): The Hawks are back. After a mediocre year resulted from the ’09  Cup Champs’ fire sale, they have their swagger back. They lead their division early and, if the Red Wings don’t get its act together, the Hawks should win it.

7) Toronto Maple Leafs (9-5-1/19 pts.): Yes I know that they are leading the division. Yes I know that they are second in the conference. Yes I know that I only have them ranked 7th. And no, I’m not crazy. This team just isn’t that talented. Phil Kessel is having a monster year so far, but he’s inconsistent (OK so I’m a little bitter that he left the Bruins a few years ago).  This team also has a habit of fast starts every year, only to miss the playoffs every. single. time. It will be the same this year. Count on it.

8. San Jose Sharks (8-4-1/17 pts): This team had a playoff hangover for the most part of the first 10 games; however, they have been playing better lately. They are the most talented team in the league, and have been for a few years, but they always choke in the playoffs, Romo style. Is this the year for the Sharks? My instincts say probably not.

9) Minnesota Wild (8-3-3/19 pts): Another one of the surprising teams in the league so far. Unfortunately, this team is the same case as the Maple Leafs: they just don’t have that much talent and their goaltending is suspect. I expect them to fade before the season ends.

10) Buffalo Sabres (9-5/18 pts): For some reason there were several experts and radio peopl who picked this team to go deep into the playoffs, and possibly win the championship. I never understood why. They have a Vezina-caliber goaltender in Miller…and that’s about it. They always seem to underperform. They will do so again this year.

11) Boston Bruins: Wait a minute Justin, isn’t this team 13th in the Eastern Conference right now? Yes, that is true. Then why do you have them ranked 11th? Well my biased reason is that I’m from the Boston, but before you change tabs, there is a real reason too. They had a championship hangover that they just got over and they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now. They have won 3 straight by scores of 5-3, 7-0, and 6-2. Also, if you haven’t seen Tyler Seguin play this year, watch him.  You won’t be disappointed.

12) Phoenix Coyotes (7-4-2/16 pts): Once again, amid speculation that the team will leave Phoenix in the near future, this team is having a quietly good season. In the last few years, they have been one of the better teams in the NHL.  Yet because of their ownership issues, they never get much attention on their game. It’s a shame.

13) New York Rangers (7-3-3/17 pts): Brad Richards must be happy he landed in New York. Not really. This team was supposed to be really good. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re not bad, they just aren’t as good as their talent suggests. Call them the Eagles of the NHL.  With that said, they are on a 5 game winning streak after a terrible start to the season.

14) Nashville Predators (7-5-2/16 pts): I never understood why there was a a hockey team in Nashville, but Predators have been a good one this season. It’s mostly because of their goalie Pekka Rinne, who is always in the Vezina conversation. They will make the playoffs again this year.

15) Florida Panthers (7-4-3/17 pts.): This team has been a surprising team so far (even though by surprising I mean that they actually aren’t in last). Don’t get your hopes up Panthers fans (if there are any out there).  Much like the Maple Leafs and Wild, they don’t have enough talent to stick around.

16) Tampa Bay Lightning (7-5-2/16 pts.): This is another one of those playoff teams that got off to a slow start but is now turning it around.  Goalie Dwayne Roloson is really showing his age. If I were GM Steve Yzerman, I’d start looking for the goalie of the future now.

17) Los Angeles Kings (7-5-3/17 pts): This has been one of the most inconsistent teams since the dawn of time. They are great one game and then horrific in the next. They’ll make the playoffs but they can never get enough momentum going to actually win a series.

18) Detroit Red Wings (7-5-1/15 points): What is wrong with Detroit? After a 5-0 start they have gone way down hill. They’ve been better lately but the pride of their franchise, the defense, has been shaky this year. However they’ve made the playoffs every year since the game was played with rocks and tree branches, so I’m not worried about them.

19) Vancouver Canucks (7-7-1/15 points): All I have to say is that Vancouver riot alert has to be on High right now, or at least it was until they started to play better. They aren’t having nearly as good of a year through this point in the season as they were at the same time last year.

20) New Jersey Devils (7-5-1/15 points): Kovalchuk looks to be out for a few more games with an injury, which is not good for the Devils. But hey, look on the bright start.  They’re off to a much better start then they were last year.

21) Colorado Avalanche (7-7-1/15 points): This was one of the worst teams in the league last year, so it’s nice to see them hanging around a little bit. But they’re on the downswing and look for them to continue moving in that direction.

22) Ottawa Senators (7-7-1/15 points): Sure, they started off great but they have been worse lately. Is anyone surprised? I mean, we’re talking about the Ottawa Senators here, not the Washington Capitals.

23) Carolina Hurricanes (5-7-3/13 points): Jeff Skinner is an early MVP candidate but that’s about all this team has right now. Remember when Cam Ward beat the top-ranked Bruins with his goaltending skill in the 2008 playoffs. What the hell happened to him?

24) Winnipeg Jets (5-7-3/13 points): After a terrible start, this team has turned it around a little but, but we have to be honest. Thy are still the Atlanta Thrashers, except only now, they’re disguised in a new city. They won’t get much better than they are now.

25) St. Louis Blues: Wow, whoever picked the name for the franchise must have been a psychic. I’ve always had a soft-spot for the Blues. I want them to do well, but they never do. It looks like it’s going to be another struggle this year. The Cardinals brought the World Series trophy to a game last week. That couldn’t have felt good for the Blues.

26) Anaheim Ducks (5-6-3/13 points): This team can’t really be this bad. Can it? I mean they have so much talent. They have the reigning MVP, Corey Perry. I want them to rise in these rankings, but they have to give me a reason first.

27) Calgary Flames (6-7-1/13 points): This is a team that has always just kind of been there,  but they’ve never really done anything good because they’ve never really had any marquee players. It looks like they’re headed to another season of mediocrity.

28) Montreal Canadiens (5-7-2/12 points):  This may sound a little biased, but this team is truly bad. They have been inconsistent in every aspect of the game and Carey Price is having a pretty terrible season in net. They’ll be looking for a new coach before the end of their year.

29) New York Islanders (4-6-2/10 points): They just fired their coach. What did that change? Absolutely nothing. This wasn’t a coaching problem. It’s a talent problem. They have none. They will be the worst team in the Eastern Conference (again) this year.

30) Columbus Blue Jackets (2-11-1/5 points): Wow. That is literally all I can say. If you want to know what I’m talking about, watch a Blue Jackets game. Try to get through the entire thing, I dare you.  It’s like watching Jennifer Simpson act: first you don’t think it’s that bad, but it wears away at you.  Rick Nash…I’m sorry.

Questions? Problems? Thoughts? Let me know.  Look out for Power Rankings: Numero Dos early next month

All standings and statistics are courtesy of NHL.Com. All team names are property of the National Hockey League.

Kings, Red Wings, and Everything in Between

By Marelle Cerven

I hope everyone is a bit more versed on their hockey lingo, because today I’m turning the Zamboni up to full speed. This week’s first story shows us that the Red Sox, Cubs, and Nittany Lions aren’t the only teams firing and hiring coaches. The St. Louis Blues have jumped on that bandwagon as well. Davis Payne was fired as head coach last Sunday and was quickly replaced with former Dallas Stars coach, Ken Hitchcock. The team’s reasons for canning Payne show that the Blues already have their eyes on the big cup. Only thirteen games in, the Blues were at a 6-7 record. While the record certainly isn’t stellar, firing your coach seems a bit extreme.  In this case, however, it certainly seems to have been a good move for the Blues, considering Hitchcock put his .588 win percentage to good use in his first game behind the bench.  The first result of the coaching change was deemed a success with a 3-0 shutout against my Chicago Blackhawks.  The Blues have (very) high hopes that they can finally win their first Stanley Cup with Hitchcock at the helm (and avoid joining the Oilers as the Cubs of hockey).

I’ve decided to try to implement something new that will hopefully improve your knowledge of the Western conference and its players. Each week, I’m going to select one Western Conference player to showcase. I’ll give you the rundown on his hockey history and stats, and maybe we’ll all learn something along the way. As much as I want to, I’m not going to start off with a Hawks player (sorry Jonathan Toews).  Instead, I’d like to begin my Showcase List with Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. He was drafted during the 2nd round of the 2003 NHL draft, and he has spent the past 8 years proving that he should have been selected earlier. Standing in at 6’ 4”, he has always been a strong part of the Pred’s defensive line. He is not a huge goal scorer, but he does his share blocking goals on the blue line. While his hits, like the one earlier this year against the Canucks’ Jannik Hansen, are sometimes too aggressive, he has certainly been getting the job done with a career plus/minus of 32. Definitely keep an eye out for the Pred’s captain during the season.

It’s about time to pick Mac’s game of the week. This week, I’m going with the Dallas Stars vs. the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings have always been a big team to watch. The combination of Mike Babcock and seasoned players usually puts them at the top of the division each year. So far, they lie right in the middle with a record at 7-5-1. The Stars are a team that usually doesn’t get the majority of the city’s attention, with the Cowboys and Dirk absorbing most of the spotlight; however, those Cowboys fans may want to start gazing at the Stars, because they have started this year with a record of 11-3. Both teams have strong goal-scoring forwards, but in the end my pick is going to be the Red Wings. It is just too difficult to look past the skills of Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, even if they have gotten off to a relatively slow start.

To end my post, let’s head to California with a recap of last week’s game to watch. In the showdown between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks came out victorious. This can only mean…that I was right (1-0 and 100% correct on my picks, but who’s counting?).  Nonetheless, San Jose topped L.A. by the score of 4 -2.  The Kings dominated the first period, yet had nothing to show for it, as the score remained 0-0. The Sharks took advantage of the Kings’ futility in the second period, answering the Kings’ first goal with three goals of their own and capping off with a nice backhanded shot by Logan Couture.  The Kings’ Anze Kopitar quickly answered with a goal of his own, but it wasn’t enough to grasp a draw. Even with L.A’s seemingly “strong” showing, the fact that they scored both of their goals on power plays makes me wonder if they can have enough offensive firepower to score on a team at full strength.

That’s all for now, see you back here next week, and thanks again to NHL.com.

Jack’s Whacks – NFL Games of the Week

1:00 New York Jets vs. Buffalo Bills

In this week’s SSB 1:00 Game of the Week, the Jets look to take down the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills are going to try to get to 5-0 at home for the first time since 1995. Yes, that’s 16 years.

The Jets, coming off a bye, classified this a “must win” in order to remain in the hunt for the the AFC East title. Granted its only Week 9, but in Rex Ryan’s previous two seasons coaching the Jets, the team has lost after the bye week. Maybe it has something to do with Rex laying on the couch, and staying off his FEET. Get it? Because he likes feet? Never mind, that was bad. I’m sorry I’m not nearly as good as Wes Welker when it comes to this stuff. But anyways, the Jets have been hot against the Bills recently, winning five of the past 6 meetings. An area that the Jets could potentially exploit is the Bill’s running defense, which is 20th in the league and allows 120.0 running yards a game. The Jet’s, before their bye week, busted out for over 162 rush yards agains the Chargers, whose run defense is comprobable to the Bills. The Jet’s defense looks to stop Fred Jackson, who is 2th in the league in rushing yards, averaging over 103 a game. Besides the run game, the Bills also have Ryan Fitzpatrick, the star from Harvard. He got a 1570 on his SAT’s. Out of 1600. That’s incredible. So not only is he smart, he’s also a pretty good quarterback, with a 97.8 quarterback rating. Fitzpatrick is coming off a pretty good win against the Redskins, which hopefully brings him some confidence for his travels to Revis Island. The question is, will Darrelle have a great performance, or get burned by Bill’s wideout Steve Johnson? My bet is on Revis.

When it all boils down to things, the Bills have a better offense, but have an equally poor defense. The Jets need to win this game in order to remain competitive in the hunt for the playoffs. I believe that this desire will be enough to stop Fred Jackson and the Bills from winning their first five home games. I’m taking the Jets in a close battle.

Jets – 21 Bills – 17

4:15 New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

February 3, 2008. Super Bowl XLII. The last time the Giants and Patriots met. A clash of the titans. It was a game to remember. I mean who can forget that drive; the scramble, the catch, and the fade pass into the back of the end zone.  I don’t think that this game will consist of anything that memorable, but I do think that this will be a great game. The Giants look to hold 1st place in the NFC East, and the Patriots hope to bounce back from last weeks’s loss against the Steelers. Currently, the Patriots have won 20 home games in a row, and 31 with Brady leading the team. What doesn’t help the Giants is all the injuries suffered. Running back Amhad Bradshaw, wide recieve Hakeem Nicks, center David Baas, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora are all questionable, severely hurting the Giants ability to stop the Patriots home win streak. Eli Manning has proved to be a top-tier quarterback. He is third in the league in quarterback rating, right behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Brady will have to go up against a tough Giant’s D, which gives up only 225 ypg, as compared to the 323 the struggling Pat’s defense gives. So it looks like Eli Manning will be hooking up with Victor Cruz frequently, and keeping the game close.

I believe that this will be a battle through the air. One, both Eli and Tom are too good for this game to be played on the ground. And besides, Bradshaw is hurt, and Brandon Jacobs is too busy driving around in his fast car to actually play. When it comes down to things, the Pat’s have s**t on lock in Gilette Stadium, but being a Giants fan, I have to go with Big Blue in this game in a narrow win.

Giants – 28 Patriots – 24