NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
1) If Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the best goaltender in the Atlantic Division, I’d say that Islanders netminder Evgeni Nabokov’s right behind him. Nabokov was lights-out against the Flyers on Tuesday night, making 45 saves and literally stealing a hockey game for the Islanders.
I’m of the opinion that, as long as the Isles aren’t too far out of the hunt, Nabokov’s not getting traded anywhere. That’s not what the media seems to think, but it wouldn’t be the first time they were wrong about something. Between Rick DiPietro’s health issues, Al Montoya’s recent concussion and the fact that youngster Kevin Poulin needs to get his starts down in Bridgeport (AHL), the Isles are better off keeping Nabokov than trading him for a second or third-round pick, which is less than he’s worth. And besides, the Islanders are in this playoff race, whether anyone wants to believe that or not. When you have a hot goaltender, you ride that wave as long as possible, and right now that’s the best course of action.
2) Yes, the Rangers were screwed over by the referees the other night. Marian Gaborik’s late-late third period goal should have counted because he was pushed into goalie Martin Brodeur by Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Having said that, it doesn’t excuse the fact that, until the final five seconds of the game, New York could not find a way to score on a subpar defensive team like New Jersey. The Rangers were sleepwalking until the third period and, quite frankly, were lucky to only trail by a single tally. Offensive production has been pretty hard to come by for the Blueshirts these days, and if they aspire to go anywhere past the first round of the playoffs, they better engineer a solution to this problem, and fast.
3) This upcoming Winter Classic will either be a smashing success or a colossal failure. The prospect of 150,000 fans at an NHL outdoor game is very exciting and has to have the league and network brass salivating uncontrollably. However, including the Leafs could negatively affect NBC TV ratings. Given that the event’s generally been a hit, this is an experiment both sides can afford to try. Worst case, it doesn’t work and next year, they go back to staging the Classic between to American-based teams. It all depends on how many people tune in to watch.
4) Sam Gagner’s eight-point night for Edmonton came out of nowhere and the kid hasn’t stopped producing since. Fantasy owners snatched him up faster than free samples in an ice cream shop, but expectations need to be severely tempered. It would be irrational to demand that Gagner keep scoring at this pace, because he’s just not a star-caliber hockey player. He will level off. I do, however, believe that Gagner can be a top-six forward in the NHL and a good one too. He’s not Wayne Gretzky, though. Let’s not get carried away.
Dunk of the Week- Howard’s Hammer
JaVale McGee is known as a very good shot blocker in the NBA, put he was powerless to stop Dwight Howard from posting up on him, going baseline and powering it home with a very emphatic one-handed stuff.
International Dunk of the Week- You Go, Bo!
Unicaja Malaga center Luka Zoric sounds like a villain from the old Rocky movies, and he was powerless in stopping this swift power-packed dunk from Montepaschi Siena’s Bo McCalebb, whose leaping powerdunk was the best play this past week in the Euroleague top 16.
Well it’s officially here. The news many people have “known” for quite some time has now been made official: the 2013 Winter Classic is headed to the University of Michigan’s Big House to host the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Everything about this game seems to be larger than life. Maybe it’s the insane 115,000-seat stadium that will break attendance records. Maybe it’s the first Canadian team in a Winter Classic, one that sells out almost every night. Maybe it’s the prestige of “Hockeytown” versus “the Centre of the Hockey Universe”. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that the news about this game “leaked” almost right after the 2012 Winter Classic that shows the excitement for a marquee matchup such as this.
In any case this game is set to be an amazing spectacle. Both teams have incredible fan support that will sell out this massive stadium almost instantly. They have rich histories in the NHL that place them second (Toronto) and third (Detroit) all time in Stanley Cup victories. The teams seem to always fill up stadiums both at home and on the road and this big event should be no exception.
What makes this matchup even more exciting (and the fact that was announced 11 months prior) is the speculation about where these two teams could be next January. It’s no secret that the Red Wings are an old roster and are getting older, and if nothing happens for them this postseason some big name players could be gone.
Will captain and long-time Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom still be around in a year from now? Can Detroit still keep all of their younger stars? Who knows what this lineup will look like in 2013.
On the other side of the ice, Toronto has returned to “up-and-coming” status, as they appear to be in a post-rebuilding stage and looking to be a strong team in coming years. Toronto is very young and very fast and once they finalize their go-to lineup they could be a playoff team every year. The Leafs have the longer history, but Detroit is the older team.
Speculation can also be made about who will play for each side in the Alumni Game. I believe it’s safe to assume that players like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov could be expected to suit up for the Wings. As for the Blue and White, I’m sure all of Leafs Nation would love to see the return of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin and Felix Potvin. The Alumni Game is shaping up to be almost as exciting as the actual Winter Classic.
Besides for the teams themselves, the announcement of these two teams as participants is a tremendous step forward for the NHL. When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg before this season many fans and analysts were outspoken about the fact that Canadian markets are where hockey should be in the NHL, but that American cities can be formidable hockey locations when the situation is right. By placing the first Canadian team in the Winter Classic against the hockey hotbed in America, the league is realizing what the fans want and what the sport needs.
The Toronto fan base is enormous and will buy as many tickets to this Classic weekend as they can get their hands on. By having faith in the Maple Leafs to be the first Canadian team in this event, the league has chosen well to ensure another successful Winter Classic.
Could their really be two better teams for a Canada/USA matchup in the Winter Classic? Detroit has been arguably the most dominant team over the last few decades and is always a threat to win the Stanley Cup. Toronto is the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame and some of the greatest hockey history in the entire league. It’s almost too perfect.
We now begin the long 11 months toward this amazing New Year’s event that will be filled with logo and jersey unveilings, alumni invitations and an amazing HBO special. I can hardly wait.
It’s been a pretty quiet year for Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, but now he has announced he’s going back to his original last name, Johnson. The former Bengals star and New England player announced on his Twitter feed that he’ll be going back to his birth name on July 4, gaining independence from the dumb move he made in 2008.
Ochocinco/Johnson caught just 15 passes after being traded from the Bengals to the Pats, and some are speculating that the name change could come because of his upcoming summer wedding to Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada. Something tells me she has no interest in legally having her name as Evelyn Ochocinco.
If the Patriots keep Ochocinco/Johnson for next season, or if he’s on any NFL team in 2012, his jerseys will probably still have Ochocinco on the back due to the large number of unsold jerseys still circulating. Either way, it’s better late than never to take back something so incredibly stupid.
Why has San Antonio won six consecutive games to get to 18-9 and the second best record in the Western Conference even without Manu Ginobili? They’ve allowed more than 100 points just once over the last 10 games and are 9-1 in that span. Tony Parker has heated up in the month of February, averaging 28.4 points and seven assists in his last five games, including 37 and 42 point performances this week.
Another unheralded Spur has been F Tiago Splitter, who is second in the NBA with a .627 field goal percentage. He scored 15 points in a huge road win over Philadelphia on Wednesday and 14 in Monday’s win over division rival Memphis. He’s hit 63.8 percent of his shots over the last 10 games and has been a huge boost to the Spurs interior.
One other thing the Spurs do is take care of the ball. Though they force as many turnovers as they commit, their 1.63 team assist to turnover ratio is third in the league behind Philadelphia and Chicago. That’s helped by Parker’s three to one ratio and strong fundamental play from role players like Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson and Gary Neal.
The final thing San Antonio does at an elite level is hit threes. They’ve hit 45 more treys than their opponents, though they also attempt more, led by Jefferson’s 58 threes made. That’s third in the league to New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow and Orlando’s Ryan Anderson. Bonner is 15th in threes made and the Spurs are fifth in the NBA in made threes per game.