Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ah Nuts

Here's the kind of analysis you can only get on this blog. The kind of analysis I deserve to be paid great sums for. That third period 5-on-3 decided this game. It was a golden chance to tie up the game. Barring an accidental manslaughter, they were going to be the last penalties called in the game. It was everything a team needed to get back in the series. And we spent 90 seconds watching the puck bounce over our sticks. In a series where everything has just missed, the puck just bounced over Malkin's blade when he open to rip one from the point. Zetterberg just tied up Crosby in time. And then we just lost.

Look, Detroit is definitely better than Pittsburgh. Their defense is better, their scheme is better. They've pressured us and choked us off so much that if the Penguins squeezed their sticks any tighter, the paint would fall off. Clearly, most Penguins feel like they have 0.3 seconds to make a play and everything is being rushed. Too bad, because we normally have around 0.4 second to make a play.

We didn't hold the lead long enough Saturday to change the flow of the game. If Hossa's backhander is two inches to the right and goes in instead of bouncing off the crook of the pipes, this series is 2-2. But Detroit tied it up on a shot that should've been stopped and they were able to go back to the fun and exciting trapping style that everybody loves.

The second Detroit goal summarized the entire series. We couldn't get the puck out of our zone and one of their roles players (in this case, Jiri Hudler) lobbed a soft backhander that bounced off of Fleury's shoulder, then off of the pipe, then off of the F in Fleury and into the net. we could've cleared it, but we didn't. Fleury could've stopped it, but he didn't. The puck could've bounced wide, but it didn't. C'est la vie, la fleur!

By the way, just as a reminder for a growing number of people, Malkin had 106 points during the regular season and carried the team when Crosby was out. It is probably not acceptable that a 20-something is out of gas at the end of a season he is being paid for, but that is what's happening here. He was flying in the first two rounds, which was an improvement over his first season. He'll improve further next season. Let's not trade him just yet.

Watching the game at a sports bar Saturday, I noticed that a lot of parents were bringing their kids in to eat or watch the game or whatever. And so I winced a bit every time somebody in my group used a cuss to describe something in the game. I did a lot of wincing. And during the 5-on-3 when Malkin was missing passes and turning the puck over, a guy in a corner booth yelled "Put Malkin on the fuckin' bench!" in front of his 15-year old son and 13-year old daughter. It was a little touch of Crafton in the City of Angels.

So...listen. This isn't an obituary, but like a newspaper staffer who prepares obituaries on old celebrities and dignitaries so they're ready to run the next morning, I've prepared my thoughts. And they will include the fact that the 1983 Oilers were swept by the Islanders before winning the Cup the following year. The fact that the 1995 Red Wings lost to New Jersey in the finals, then lost to Colorado in the 1996 Conference Finals before winning Cups in 1997 and 1998. The fact that this is a young team who just got a Masters-level course in playoff hockey. This was a great learning experience, like talking to a girl who's much hotter than you and telling her you work at the car wash. Next time you talk to a hot girl, you'll lie about your job. Say you're a surgeon or something. You learn by doing.

Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury. Nobody expected them to be in the finals this year. Everybody will expect to see them back in the finals next year. Just be happy this isn't all happening in Kansas City.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I Want To Be The U.S. Ambassador To Belgium

I've been thinking about a career change lately. I like to get into something that's much easier, more glamorous and involves drinking in an official capacity. Hence, an ambassadorship. Being a Los Angeles liberal, I must know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody on the Obama campaign, so I would like to make official my desire to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

I know ambassadorships usually go to campaign donors and workers and volunteers and old friends and such, but Obama has already promised a different kind of presidency. What better way to prove those aren't idle words than sending me to Brussels?

Now, you're probably thinking the best ambassadorship would be in London, Paris or Rome. But you are thinking incorrectly and from the wrong angle. Those positions would require lots of work. Take Italy. Right now, 26 CIA officials are on trial in absentia in Italy because they kidnapped a suspected terrorist (he wasn't) in Italy and sent him to Egypt to be tortured. You think I want to get in the middle of that just so I can get fresh bufala mozzarella? England and France still simmer with tension about Iraq and just think about the number of treaties we've signed with those two nations over the past two and half centuries. They probably have to be renewed and reviewed every year, even though we stopped trading molasses in 1860. Hell, England just zagged when we wanted them to zig and joined a coalition banning the use of cluster bombs. We had no idea they were going to do that. We thought they would stand with us on the continued use of cluster bombs. Can you imagine the cables and faxes and emails and teleconferences I'd be a part of this week? And I have to defend the United States' position on unexploded bomblets that kill children who confuse the birightly colored devices with rubber balls? Thanks, but no thanks. The mildest problem I would face would be in France, where angry Boeing execs would be getting on my case because the Defense Department just awarded a huge contract to Airbus. A desire to put out giant weekly infernos was not the inspiration for my career change.

No, Belgium is the place for me. Do you know how many treaties and agreements we have with Belgium? Basically one. An agreement that companies who do business in both countries won't be subjected to double taxation. And I guess probably also an implicit agreement to not bomb each other. I could spend every weekend in the countryside getting blitzed on Orval (one of the world's great beers) and keep those agreements in place with hardly a modicum of effort.

Belgium knows how to make the best fries, and I would have no problem dipping them in mayonnaise as I absolutely love mayonnaise. There are little friterie stands everywhere and when I'm sick of that (which would be approximately never), I can get crispy little sweet waffles every ten feet or so. Man, I even like brussels sprouts. Seriously. Saute them up with some bacon and chicken broth like Contessa and you will rock your mouth with flavor. Plus, going back to the beer (as I would in real life), from what I understand, basically the entire country checks out of work around 5pm and sits outside quaffing giant steins of ale. Holy Christ, sign me up for that twice!

Basically, this would be my day. Wake up, have amazing coffee and a pastry. Go to the office, make sure the United States doesn't invade Belgium. (NOTE: Task will become much easier starting January 2008) Have a meeting with some company that wants to start exporting chocolates to America. Punch out at 4:45pm and unwind with a draft Westmalle tripel. Work on my Flemish with the ale maiden. Attend a cocktail gala with the Brussels establishment, shake hands, nod a lot, accept congratulations that the U.S. finally joined the Kyoto pact.

So look out, U.S. Ambassador To Belgium Sam Fox! I'm gunning for your job starting next year! It sounds like President Obama won't be renewing your post anyway!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Did The Math And It Turns Out That 2-1 Is Better Than 3-0

Right off the bat, we don't win last night without Marc Andre Fleury. I don't care what you think of him, I don't care when he trips, I don't care what color his pads are or car is. Without him, we lose that game. Huge saves in the first when Pittsburgh was being outshot 9-1, monstrously huge saves in the third when the Pens were hanging on for dear life. Speaking of which, if we have a late lead Saturday night, maybe not such a defensive shell, eh, boys?

Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying tea and cucumber sandwiches, I thought, "You know, this is the kind of situation where Mario would go out, put the team on his back and score four goals." Sidney Crosby most definitely put the team on his back last night with incredible effort on every shift and his goals are equivalent to the four I imagined Mario scoring when adjusted for league scoring deflation. In other, briefer, words, it was a heroic performance by the face of the franchise. And he couldn't even legally buy a Yuengling after the game to celebrate. Which is fine, because Sidney Crosby doesn't drink and doesn't make sex on the ladies. He is a hockey cyborg dedicated to all hockey, all the time. Nickname: The Bulldog. That is now official by my decree.

This win came because the Penguins finally figured out the dump and chase game. Actually, this win came because we finally scored more goals than the other team, but that's a Beginner level lesson and this class is Intermediate at least. So, as I was saying, the dump and chase game. The Pens got the puck in deep all night and did so with purpose. Even when a dump in was knocked down by Detroit's defense, a trailing Penguin rifled the loose puck in. And the Penguins realized they should skate a little wider so Detroit couldn't get their drag chutes of obstruction working properly. Man, does that team hook and impede a lot. Those three Detroit sticks that went flying across the ice in the first period, those sticks that were formerly paralell to the ice and waist high before a Penguin bulled through them and blew them out of the defender's hand...I'm sure there was no penalty there. The only beer you'll find in the Detroit dressing room after a game? Red Hook.

Hooking isn't the only penalty Detroit likes to dabble in. They're also not afraid of diving. The swan styles of Chris Osgood have been well documented, but how about Tomas Holmstrom? The guy is so strong in front of the net. Like a giant redwood. Just locked in. So fierce, such a fighter! Until he decides he doesn't want to be and lays down on the ice like an old man going down for a nap. The first penalty on Gill? Okay, maybe. Maybe! The second? Holmstrom went down easier than (pick your least favorite Hollywood tartlet) after half a bottle of Grey Goose.

On another note, if I was on vacation somewhere and didn't drive a car for a month, I'm pretty sure I would hit a curb on my first driving excursion back on the mainland. But Darryl Sydor was able to skip a month's worth of hockey and then come back and play an amazing game against one of the fastest teams in the league in the biggest game of the year. Which is why he's the subject of the most superlatives in one paragraph. Great positioning, great with the stick, great breakout passes. Superb game.

Though when word came down that Sydor was in for Letang, my first thought was "Why not Scuderi?" I like Scuderi and I know the coaches love him, but our main problem in Detroit was our inability to start the transition game. Letang's skating and passing is crucial for that and skating and passing are not exactly Scudie's strengths. What he was planning to do on Franzen's goal is still up for debate. As Franzen went down the boards, Scuderi went over and lined up along the boards. But he didn't check Franzen and he didn't poke the biscuit away. He just kept backing up. Along the boards. Franzen, having two working eyes, realized that Scuderi just opened the middle of the ice and attacked the net for Detroit's first goal. Really bad play by #4 right there. Come on, Scudie! Scuuuuuuuuuudie!

Of course, maybe if Letang plays, he goes -4 in a loss. My friend Nate was railing about Adam Hall playing instead of Laraque, noting that Hall didn't do anything and Laraque could at least start a cycle. Naturally, Hall gets the game winner (off of a big cycle!) and the final clearing of the zone to clinch the game. Speaking of the cycle that led to the third goal, you could say that Andreas Lilja wanted no part of Gary Roberts and all you would be guilty of is an understatement. Roberts put Lilja on the train tracks and next thing you know Hall is pulling a Lemieux and banking it off the goalie's legs.

And yet, the Roberts blast wasn't nearly as fun as Brooks Orpik's quadhit supreme shift. I know they took the motor off of the dome, but the crowd noise almost jarred the roof back open last night. I half expected Orpik to finish off his shift by checking Talbot just because he was on a roll.

So what did we learn last night? Besides how loudly we can yell "GOAL!"? Well, we learned that the dump and chase is crucial to beating Detroit. It is possible to set up a cycle and force some pucks to the net. We learned that if the Penguins have a lead, Detroit pulls back the trap just far enough that the Pens can get some speed through the neutral zone. We learned that the officials will only call one out of every two Detroit penalties. We learned that Pittsburgh fans are the best American hockey fans and a big game in the Civic Arena ranks right up there with Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary. We learned that Marian Hossa is officially cursed. And we learned that we can win Game 4, but goddamn, goddamn, GODDAMN will it be another tough one.

Speaking of Game 4, I'll be watching it at a place that offers beer and food in exchange for money. Come on by and say how do! I'll be watching it with a friend of mine and a friend of his and a friend of the third guy, but overall, I understand that the breakdown will be two Red Wings fans against two Penguins fans. Hopefully, the Wings guys don't clutch and grab me whenever I go up to get a beer. And hopefully they're as smart as the Wings fans my friend Jeff encountered while watching the game at a bar in Charleston, South Carolina last night. According to local lore, jwebs07 (9:44:53 AM): they had a riveting convo about the "original four" between periods.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

People, We Really Have To Come Together On This And Soon

I made a decree in lieu of a New Year's Resolution because I prefer to improve others as opposed to myself. I planted this seed, watered it, made sure it got plenty of sun and gave it a good five months to sprout. However, usage of the word dildo as an insult has not flowered. Rather, it's been choked out by the spreading weed that is the word douchebag. I tried to clip the word douchebag. I dug down deep and pulled up the entire root system. But this word is pervasive and it will not be stopped, no matter how hard I try to relegate to the annals of lexicography.

Douchebag is fertilized mainly by the New York writing establishment, as most horrible things are. That and toddlers wearing AC/DC t-shirts. Much as Baby Boomers in the media field compare everything to either the 1968 Democratic National Convention or Bob Dylan plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival, Gen X writers compare anything that manages to squeeze into their tunnel vision to douchebags. Blog writers do it like exhaling, but even thirtysomethings that have penetrated old media establishments do it. This person is a douchebag, this person is not a douchebag, that move was fairly douchetastic. This is a horrible trend and it must be stopped dead cold in its tracks before it's 2038 and I'm watching Ashton Kutcher in an ad for Fidelity Sachs Investments yelling, "Don't be a douchebag! Use your 401k wisely!"

This ad will not be acceptable to me or my soul. The Millenials, who are already trying to shove Gen-X writers out of the way (sorry, Neal Pollack, you dildo!), have come up with a substitute insult for douchebag, but like almost everything else Millenials do, it is approximately one thousand times worse and more annoying. The word asshat is a burning scourge that could possibly destroy civilized society as we know it. If asshat does indeed replace douchebag as the choice insult of informed people, truly we are Rome and truly our empire will crumble.

Look, I'm willing to meet the rest of the country halfway. We don't have to use dildo as an insult. I'll happily keep it for myself. But to you Jon Stewart, to you, to you Village Voice, to you television writer, I say...stop using the word douchebag. Before it's too late. I am Cassandra on this and I am presenting an opportunity to save yourself if only you'll listen to me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

All I Can Say Is Wow. And Ouch.

I'm not sure if you noticed this while watching Games 1 and 2, but Detroit is good. Really good. Really, really good. And on top of that, everything that they're good at is an exact countermeasure for the Penguins' attack. It's shaping up to be quite a problem. Right now, the Penguins look like the first natives to find out the Europeans had guns.

In Game 1, the Penguins carried the first period and had great pressure, but nothing went in. Had I known that was such a clear harbinger for the next five periods, I would've been more concerned at the time. Fleury was, say, a little nervous. He tripped coming onto the ice and dropped an easy glove save that led to Big Ben striking two. And he misplayed Samuelsson on the first goal.

Going 0-4 on the power play in the first period was not exactly helpful. A goal or two there and we're already looking at a different series. Or during that third period power play, making it 2-1 instead of 3-0 would've been somewhat helpful.

So, okay. They lost Game 1. I watched it at a barbecue and you could charitably say that I was the only person that wanted to watch hockey. Most people didn't and some didn't even realize hockey was a televised sport. It created a lot of fun conversations about the type of person that would dominate a television during a party at somebody else's abode and, all in all, Saturday night was a double burn. About the only positive was that our strawberry basil sorbet was the runaway smash hit of the gathering to the point where people were advising us how to set up a corporation. But as I laid me down to sleep, I was thinking that I wouldn't be concerned until they lost Game 2.

This morning, of course, I'm thinking I won't be concerned until they lose Game 3. Clearly, if the Pens can defend the unopening dome in the next two games, it's a brand new series and Games 1 and 2 are rendered moot. The chances of that happening, though, are...uh...let's just say they're up in the air.

The biggest problem for the Penguins so far is that Detroit plays defense in a different part of the ice than we're used to. Every other team backs off to their blue line which either allows Crosby and Malkin to get a full head of steam, or allows the defense to start the rush with a long breakout pass. Detroit, however, plays defense at our blue line and the red line. Every single one of Kronwall's big hits comes within 10 feet of the opponent's blue line as he drills a wing looking down at a breakout pass. A wing that is most definitely not expecting a crushing shoulder right at that moment. Even if he leaves his feet on every hit, it's effective.

Our guys are simply not used to such an aggressive forecheck so far up the ice and it's simply killing our transition game. We can't get out of our zone, we can't get through the neutral zone and we can't get into the offensive zone and there is a Detroit stick in every single passing lane we want to use. Other than that, the attack is clicking. The people who thought Detroit's defense would be too much for Pittsburgh are looking smart right now and the people who didn't are looking not so smart.

And yet...and optimist sees how we could've won both games. Detroit is limiting our shots to a remarkable degree, but when we do manage to squeeze one off, we're just missing plays by 6 to 12 inches. Or else Osgood is making the timely save. The Penguins have yet to get that crazy bounce that goes into the net. The Detroit offense is decent, but not overwhelming and Fleury served up a couple of easy ones.

And the worst part of all of this - the WORST! - is that Detroit's players and fans aren't very much hateable. One can't even work up a good mouth foam when thinking about them. So instead of channeling the frustration of the first two games into a nice rage which would burn so hot and feel so good, the best I can manage is begrudging respect and lots of malaise. Ugh.

It's too early to write the season off. Game 3 has to be played first. But when and if we are ready to write the series off, here's a sneak preview of the plot: Crosby's ankle is still definitely hurt and we'll learn that in the summer, Malkin is out of gas and, as others have pointed out, Gretzky's Oilers lost in their first trip to the finals too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Chalice Fight!

A season that started off so oddly, with the Ducks and Kings playing in London for some reason, is ending so beautifully, with the two best teams battling for the Cup and all of the games scheduled for North America.

This is such an incredible matchup, such a dream pairing, that the series has too many angles to break down. The top five playoff scorers, maybe the best defensemen of all time, the two best goalies in the playoffs to this point, two teams that want to beat you with skating and scoring instead of clutching and grabbing...the ingredients to analyze just go on and on.

While David Stern is waking up at 3am trembling in fear as he considers a Detroit/San Antonio finals, Detroit/Pittsburgh could get hockey back into the mainstream. Ratings are up throughout the playoffs, national writers are mentioning hockey again, even if in passing, and it's entirely possible that Game 1 is a 5-4 barnburner that gets people talking all weekend. Coming off a series in which Penguins fans actually wondered if they would mind the Flyer team plane crashing, this series seems laden with mutal respect so far. The skill and youth of Pittsburgh is the talk of the town, while Detroit has been so good for so long, with such good guys like Lidstrom that it's alsmot impossible to genuinely dislike them. It's like Tiger against Phil at Augusta, except one team is not a chubby, fake media manipulator like Mickelson.

The prevailing wisdom thus far seems to be the offenses are basically equal and Detroit's superior defense will give it the edge. A Dallas Morning News writer picked the Wings in six because he figures the Penguins haven't seen defense like they play in the Campbell Conference. Which is fine, everybody is entitled to an opinion or a theory. But even a modicum of research shows that the Penguins went 8-1-1 against the Campbells this season, with a goal differential of 30-19. That record includes wins over Dallas, Anaheim and Minnesota, three teams supposedly renowned for their defense. The Pens scored 13 goals in those three wins alone. And that's without Ziggy Palffy!

There's no question Detroit has the better defense by name. If you don't know much about hockey, I'll keep it simple for you. Lidstrom, Rafalski and Kronwall are all good. And if the Penguins only had one scoring line, that would be fine. Dandy, even. But assuming Lidstrom and Kronwall draw the Crosby, Hossa, Dupuis trio, that leaves Gene and His Two Beans against Rafalski and Lilja. And that's a clear advantage for the Penguins. It's not like Rafalski shut down Malkin last year for Jersey.

Gonchar and Orpik will definitely have their gloves full with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. But if they can even slow that line down a little bit, the Red Wings just don't have a ton of offensive depth. Yes, Kris Draper can occasionally score off of his face, but that's not reliable output. And before you tell me for the 15th time that Johan Franzen has 12 goals in the playoffs, I'll tell you that he had at least 6 of those against an absolutely putrid Colorado team. Those goals shouldn't even count toward his total. Detroit's offense is like Detroit's industry. Two titans with absolutely no backup plan. You may have noticed that went Franzen went down with an extra-large headache, the Wings struggled to score goals like Ford is struggling to sell Excursions.

This series will come down to individual matchups, and they will be fascinating. Lidstrom vs. Crosby. Gill vs. Holmstrom on the power play. Therrien vs. Babcock with the last change deciding to put skill on skill or trying to check the top lines. It's nearly impossible to predict what's going to happen in this series, but Game 1 will be a strong bellwether. Can Detroit play puck possession, or did the weak Nashville, Colorado and Dallas offenses make Detroit look better than it was? Osgood is seeing under 25 shots most night, but Pittsburgh has been firing around 35 a game, so which trend will win out?

When Detroit finally got around to finishing off Dallas, I was fully confident that the Penguins would beat them. Then I felt like the Penguins could beat them. Then I felt like Detroit would roll. Then I felt like Detroit's performance is a little inflated since their playoff opponents sucked so heartily. Now? I feel full and loogy. But that's mostly because I had a tall stack of pancakes this morning.

I'm taking the Penguins in six. I think Pittsburgh will win all three home games and steal one in Detroit. In fact, if Pittsburgh can come out of Memorial Day weekend with a 1-1 split, I'll be so excited that I'll probably do something mildly foolish just to burn off the energy. And when the Penguins win, the biggest moment of the series will be Crosby passing off the Cup. Who will he give it to? A long time veteran like Gonchar? If he doesn't give it to Malkin, will everybody in Pittsburgh assume there's a rivalry and that Malkin will be run out of town? And will Ryan Malone be able to figure out how to sit a chick in the Cup and bone her?

We're getting ahead of ourselves here!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sweet And Savory

Holy smokes, people! The sweet and savory herbaliciousness simply does not stop. The dam of creativity has burst and the clever juices are now flooding Dulltown, washing away bad ideas and mud huts.

Last night, we brought into this world Strawberry Basil sorbet. Every bite is like listening to an orchestra. Perfect harmony washing over you. A beautiful sound. And if you focus, you can pick up the individual notes of strawberry (horns), basil (percussion) and sugar (flutes).

Here's how you bring more love into this world:

- Make some more of that simple syrup.
- Trim the top off of some strawberries and juice 'em up.
- Combine those liquids and add 1/2 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil to the festivities.
- Freeze like we talked about last time.

Good gracious, we are on to something with fruit and herb sorbets. Ben and Jerry called this morning and they were all, "Look at you two go! We will buy your recipes for $5 million each." I told them no sale. Next up, lemon cilantro.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oncle Michel's Rural Sorbet

Hey, you like things that taste good, right? After dinner, you like to enjoy a dish of something sweet and delicious, is that correct? Have I been properly informed? Well, hot on the heels of Uncle Mike's Country Fig Jam, straight from Krogmann Kitchens, Inc. comes Oncle Michel's Rural Sorbet! Tangerine Mint sorbet, to be exact. Why, just this past Sunday, our neighbor described it as "The best sorbet I ever had!" And if you can't trust that kind of hearsay, what can you trust these days?

If you make my Tangerine Mint sorbet and bring it to a dinner party or a summer barbecue, not only will you be the most popular person at the event, but people will talk about you behind your back in a positive fashion.

Here's how you do it:

- Buy a house with a tangerine tree in the backyard.
- Squeeze yourself 2 cups of tangerine juice.
- Put 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water into a pot and boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. In the culinary world, this is known as a simple syrup. It will not be brown. That's maple syrup.
- Cool the simple syrup completely.
- Combine the juice, simple syrup and 1/2 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint in a bowl and stir.
- Add the mixture to an ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions. (NOTE: If you didn't receive an ice cream maker as a wedding gift, or if your spouse got it in the divorce, just stir vigorously to completely combine the liquids.)
- Freeze overnight.
- Accept compliments and praise from all who try the sorbet.

With our herb garden fully in and nature's bounty continuing to explode in our garden and trees, look for Uncle Mike's recipe to take you all the way through summer, people!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Even Bush Doesn't Pay Attention To Bush Any More

Every President fights lame duck status in the twilight of his (not her) leadership, but it's the rare bird that is so irrelevant that he doesn't pay attention to himself any more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bush asks Saudis to lift oil quotas

With the price of oil hitting record highs, President Bush used a private visit to King Abdullah's ranch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday to make a second attempt to persuade the Saudi government to increase oil production...Earlier, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, told reporters aboard Air Force One that Bush was asking for increased production so American consumers could get some relief at the gasoline pump.

Hey, sure, why not? Be a nice thing to do before your last summer in office, drive down gas prices before summer. Sure, he asked once before and the Saudis said no, but maybe they didn't hear him the first time. Maybe the third time will be the charm, no?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bush defends Saudis on oil

President Bush said Saudi Arabia's small increase in oil production will not solve soaring U.S. fuel prices, but he defended the wealthy kingdom Saturday against American lawmakers "screaming the loudest" for Riyadh to open its spigots.

Hmm? What now? What just happened? People screaming the loudest? Like, say, a President who personally asked the Saudis to open their spigots twice in two months? Is that...does he mean himself? Is he referring to himself the day before? You took seven years, but I'm finally starting to wonder if maybe electing Bush was a mistake.

Shouldn't This Have Taken Five More Years?

I wonder what Darren Eliot thought of Daniel Briere's performance yesterday. Although in fairness to Briere, Coach Stevens didn't call him out before the game or shuffle his line, so how was Danny supposed to know this was an important game?

Also, let's take a moment to reflect on Mike Knuble's contributions to this series. That didn't take long. I know even at the his best the guy needs skill players to bank pucks off of him for goals, but geez.

A debate is raging today about when yesterday's game was iced. Some say it was after the first goal. Others say it was when Hatcher refused to fight Laraque with his team down 2-0. No need to try and give your bench a jump start down two in an elimination game, I guess. No wonder they took the captaincy away from Hatcher and gave it to Jason Smith as soon as he joined the team.

I guess losing on purpose to the Flyers in the last game of the regular season worked out beautifully. It's rare when such a tricky plan works out like that. So now we're in the Cup finals. The Penguins are 2-0 all time in the Cup finals. History is on our side!

And, thankfully, so is Marian Hossa. Four points yesterday to give him 19 in 14 games. I can see why people were so down on him right after the trade. All he does is find open slots and shoot! Who needs that on a team? He's like an upgraded version of Petr Sykora. Same knack for finding open ice, same great shot, ridiculous backchecker and a bull with the puck. I'm well aware of the money arguments against re-signing Hossa this summer. I'm choosing to ignore them, however. Man, I want that guy back. His goal yesterday was a perfect illustration of what he and Crosby could do together.

Fleury had another shutout yesterday. Made an incredible kick save to preserve a 2-0 lead. People still dislike him and they are right to do so. It's only because of our defense that we're giving up under two goals a game in the playoffs. Three shutouts, a 1.70 GAA and a .938 save percentage? Anybody could do that! Boo, Fleury! Boo!

Lastly, what the hell has gotten into Rob Scuderi? Actually shooting from the point? Hitting the post once? When Rob Scuderi is starting to shell the goalie, you know you're in trouble, opposing team!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Flyers Versus Versus

It's hard to tell which group of miscreants is bothering me more right now. On the one hand, Joe Beninati is two levels past unbearable. On the other, God himself hates Derian Hatcher. He dropped the lump of clay when He was molding Hatcher and it hasn't been right since. Back on the first hand, Darren Eliot makes Neil Cavuto look nuanced and intelligent.

Look, only a low class person insecure with his faculties would complain about officiating and announcing in a series in which his team is up 3-1. So let me tackle those very topics. Actually, the officiating wasn't as horrible as I would like to believe, although the first period certainly made it seem so. I mean, if the league is so interested in seeing a Game 5, let's just assign Philadelphia two goals before the opening faceoff and get on with it. Like handicapping in golf, to level the playing field between a superior opponent and an inferior one.

Let's just focus instead on Darren Eliot and his 60-minute knob bob job of the Flyer franchise. Hearing him talk about how incredible Philadelphia was last night, I had to go look up which team was up 3-0 in the series. (Hint: Pittsburgh)

Eliot could not stop talking about the amazing response Daniel Briere had to being called out by coach John Stevens. Briere had a power play goal in the first period and finished with 4 shots and a -1 for the game. First, I'm not sure how incredible that is. Even giving him extra credit for "effort" for the first time all series. Second, he basically checked Fleury on his goal and knocked in the puck Fleury dropped. Third, Hal Gill just didn't get turned around in time to see Briere sneaking in the back door. If he did, Briere would've been a stain in the faceoff circle. Fourth, should you be happy that somebody making $7.5 million a year needs to be called out before showing up for the conference finals? Fifth, if this was such a genius move, why didn't Stevens do it after Game 2? Hell, after Game 1. Sixth, all this lauding of Stevens for jumbling his lines? His team was down 3-0 and had 5 goals in the series! He should've switched them up earlier. Christ, how do you get credit for that? "Well, once I realized we were basically out of it, I decided to try Hartnell with Briere." "Coach, this is Darren Eliot from Versus. Just wanted to say that's a great move!" Seventh, cataloging the lunacy of Darren Eliot could honestly take all day and most of the night.

Every fan thinks the announcers are secretly pulling for the other team. It's in our sports DNA and there's no fighting it. But on his goal, Briere was hiding out along the boards and only went to the crease when he saw he could sneak behind Gill, who wasn't looking. Throughout the game, Eliot lauded Briere for his ability to play along the boards and avoid traffic in the middle. As a center. It maybe was the first time in NHL history that a pundit praised a player for not getting his nose dirty.

I guess Briere's play along the boards, far, far from the net in Games 1-3 wasn't worth bringing up. Fine, Darren Eliot loves how little Danny Briere avoids contact. So when in the third period Crosby lost the puck and Eliot accused him of bailing out of the middle because he fears contact, I almost burned Versus headquarters to the ground. Unfortunately, like almost everybody, I have no idea where the Versus offices are actually located. Little Rock? Montpelier? Somewhere where Engblom's hair can be kept away from civilized society, I know that much. Eliot opined that maybe it wasn't in Game 4 entirely, but cumulative contact over the course of the series. And I opined that maybe Eliot is an idiot and not paying attention to a series in which the Flyers are being physical with Malkin and Crosby is getting two points every night, maybe of them coming in traffic. Actually, that reminds me. You know who has been taken out of the series by physical play? Daniel Briere!

Anyway, if I did manage to find Vs. HQ, I would try to explain to somebody why they might want to show replays of penalties once in a while. If there's a penalty, you'd better catch it the first time, because there's no way Versus is showing it again. Hell, there wasn't even a mention of Orpik's penalty until :14 seconds into the kill. Luckily the arena announcer's call on power play is loud enough to hear on TV.

So Darren Eliot isn't the finest announcer in hockey history. All right, whatever. And so we have to waste another game on this goon squad. All right, whatever. Except, during play after the empty netter, Upshall charged Staal, leaving his feet to drill a guy bending over. And though it looked like Upshall was talking trash to a prone man, a second replay showed that maybe he was making sure Staal was all right. You want to make sure a guy is all right? Don't blast him in the head along the boards! I understand Upshall wanted to finally have some effect on the series, but come on.

Then of course, at the end, Richards chopped Crosby for some reason. I guess when you're the heart and soul of the Flyers, you have to do something cheap eventually.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two Great American Cities (in 1964) Ready To Go

Assuming last night's win by Dallas was an aberration, Pittsburgh and Detroit are on a collision course. Forty years ago, Pittsburgh steel went straight to Detroit, Steel City to Motor City, to become the giant Oldsmobiles that would rumble down Liberty Avenue, crashing into light poles in the snow. Man oh man, are those days ever gone. Now Chinese steel goes into Japanese cars and union pensions are just dust in the wind. All they are is dust in the wind.

But sports help us forget the bad times! And the Red Wings and Penguins are letting the good times roll right now. If military technology never advanced past tanks, the Red Wings and Penguins would be a pair of 1,000,000 pound tanks heading straight for each other on an open field. Giant Gussie and Titantic Tom, they would be called. They would have 25-man crews. They would be armed with 1500-mm barrels that could fire a 5-ton shell across three states. Their armor plating would be absolutely impenetrable. These two tanks alone could've overtaken Russia in the winter.

But as powerful as they are, one of the juggernauts has to lose. Most likely after six games of up and down pond hockey that could potentially put the NHL back on the map. Or at least in nightly highlight packages.

Word is, Mayors Ravenstahl and Kirkpatrick are going to skip the normal food bet between title game cities. No Klondikes and Primanti's versus...whatever it is they might eat in Detroit. Domino's, I guess. Or Coney dogs. Instead, they're going to wager 7,500 manufacturing jobs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Not Us? (Because You're Terrible, That's Why)

With the Pens wrapping up the Wales Conference finals last night, unofficially, I'd like to finally welcome Daniel Briere to the series. It only took him three games to notch a single assist. He was much more effective against Montreal when he was allowed to just stand by the goal on power plays. Hal Gill, however, has to decided to not allow that. So mean!

Maybe it's not entirely Briere's fault, though, because one of his linemates is Scottie Upshall. Every single time he goes over the boards, it's a wasted shift. He can't stickhandle, can't pass, can't shoot, lost a fight to Tyler Kennedy (the smallest guy on either team) in Game 2 and when he tried to nail Malkin with an elbow to the head last night, Malkin saw him coming and shifted away. Upshall can't even cheat well. Nice to see him on Philly's #1 line. It's nice if you dislike Philly and want to see them lose, I mean.

And nobody plays harder after the whistle than Scott Hartnell. When the referee pea rattles around, that guy comes alive. Cheap shots, face washes, punches, piling into the goalie, he's got it all. When everybody is relaxed and not paying attention, Scott Hartnell is going all out. Bobby Clarke wishes he could have 19 Scott Hartnells on his team. Sure, that team would go 10-72 every year, but Clarke would love their grit.

Do the Flyers have anybody good? At all? Which Flyers could play for the Penguins in this series? Mike Richards might be the only Flyer who could crack the Pens' top 12 forwards. Maybe Jeff Carter. Maybe. I'm not sure who Pittsburgh would sit for Carter, though. Probably nobody. We would take Jeff Carter right now and scratch him. Still, at least he'd finally be on a winning team.

But the most effective Flyer last night by far was Steve Downie. And by that, I mean effective for the Penguins. Downie had a late turnover in Game 2 that led directly to Pittsburgh's game-winning goal. But he also had one check that knocked somebody over, so coach John Stevens rewarded his effort with another chance in Game 3. And then Downie proceeded to make maybe the worst hockey play I've seen in my entire life. He had the puck 1 on 4 at the blue line and instead of flinging it deep behind the net and getting off the ice before he could hurt his team, he tried a pass across the blue line. It was such a bad pass that the Penguins drew straws to see who should pick it off and Malkin raced up ice with it. So while the second best player in the league is racing up ice with a puck that used to be his, Steve Downie kept gliding backwards until he hit the faceoff circle. Until he was literally the last man up ice except for Fleury. No need to jam on the brakes and bust back up ice when you just turned it over, I guess. Finally, Downie decided that if nine other guys were heading into the Flyer end, maybe he should too and he lazily drifted back, making sure he didn't pass Sarge Gonch or anything. He was still in the neutral zone when Pittsburgh was peppering Biron with the puck. The puck that used to be Downie's. He finally decided to get involved in the play and did so in classic Flyer style by drilling Petr Sykora from the blind side three seconds after Sykora shot the puck. One second after the puck, Downie's puck, was in the net. Sykora was hurt because, get this, he wasn't anticipating a late charge. But Sykora later returned to the ice. Downie didn't. And won't, for the rest of the season. Still, Bobby Clarke didn't mind the late hit. He's thinking about trading Briere (too small and faggy) for Jordin Tootoo and rolling out a #1 line of Downie-Tootoo-Hartnell next season. Intimidation factor five!

Great coaching by John Stevens there, sending Downie over the boards in the last ten minutes of a one goal game. The same guy had two back breaking turnovers in consecutive games, with only about eight minutes of cumulative ice time. Talk about knowing your team! Then again, if Stevens scratches Downie, who does he put in his place? Riley Cote? Tim Kerr?

You know, everybody says the Flyers are so rough and tough and mean, but I thought it was really polite the way they absolutely curled up and died after the third goal. We all knew the series was over at that point, so why spend the last eight minutes of the game skating hard and working for pucks and trying and stuff? You do that and somebody could get hurt!

But enough about the Flyers' terribleness, because we could literally talk about that all day and all night. Marian Hossa maybe played his best game of the playoffs, and that's saying something. I am totally and completely saying something right there. It's too early yet to do anything but hope Hossa comes back next year, but if he does, it's entirely possible the Penguins will have three 100-point scorers next year. The last team to do that was on...let me pretend to look this up...the '95-'96 Penguins. Lemieux had 161, Jagr had 149 and Francis had 119. Petr Medved had an incredibly disappointing 99 points. Sorry, Nedved. I only remember the names of 100 point scorers.

If you want to get into hyperbole, it's possible a Pens PP of Gonchar, Hossa, Crosby, Malkin and an empty bucket thrown on the ice could convert around 50% of their chances. By December, the league would adjust the rule so Pens power play goals only counted as a half goal. It would be too much of an advantage.

Oh god, please come back, Marian Hossa. $4 million a year is still a lot of money, especially in a city with one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S. In fact, it's equal to a $7.27 million offer from the Kings. Plus, the Kings are terrible. And being a Slovak, maybe you'd be interested to know that the original charter for Czechoslovakia was signed in Pittsburgh. It's true! I think the plaque commemorating that glorious moment is somewhere around Sixth and Penn. By the Benedum. You can't miss it! And I promise you, somewhere in East Liberty, an 85-year old woman knows how to make your favorite Slovak cookie with a 200-year old recipe. It'll be just like home. She even has a jar of salted beet juice, just like your grandma did!

Oh, also, I'm glad to see Ruutu didn't pick up any silly penalties like two for receiving. How you give a guy a diving call for getting punched in the face is beyond me. Basically, the official is saying, "I don't like your tactics, sir, and I'm not going to reward them. I can't ignore that fist to the chops you just absorbed, so I'm gonna give you two for unsportsmanlike and we'll play 4 on 4." It's really a preposterous job of officiating, even by the famously loose NHL standards.

So I guess that's that as far as the Battle of the Keystone State is concerned. Can the league change things to approve three game sweeps? Like, say, when a team has 12-5 goal advantage? Philly isn't going to try in Game 4, we need to get ready for Detroit, there's no need to see another Derian Hatcher hooking penalty before summer, why waste our time?

Smuggler's Blues

A couple of weeks back, a friend of mine attended the Coachella music festival of music. If you like 100 degree temperatures and 50,000 Facebook users wearing backpacks, oh my gosh will you love Coachella.

After, my friend explained how she smuggled a spliff into the concert in her underwear. A joint. A marijuana cigarette. Naturally, the people around her were quite excited and more than willing to partake. They willfully ignored the joint's temporary cargo hold, which was a very dark, sweaty, moist, squishy area heated to about 120 degrees by cotton trapping heat from the sun's rays.

If she smuggled a Twix bar into the show in her underwear and offered it around, people would be all, "Jesus Christ! Get that thing away from me! I'm not eating something that was down there! It's melted anyway!"

But for the green tea, man? Hygiene is for squares, man.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Toast At A 250th Birthday Party

I was in Pittsburgh last week for my sister's wedding. The Steel City. Health Careburgh. North Robinson. Having been a resident of Other Parts for nine years now, whenever I return to Pittsburgh, it's both as a fond old friend and an impartial observer. Like if you went to a 10-year high school reunion and one of your good friends from chorus was now a 280-pound chain smoker with bad hair. And so here are my observations on a week near the confluence:
  • First, the city is absolutely electric right now for the Penguins, and with good reason. They have the two best players in the league and they're 10-1 in the playoffs so far. We were at a bar Friday night and about an hour after the Pens wrapped up Game 1, Michel Therrien walked in and got a rousing ovation. Apparently the place is a bit of star jock bar and local celebrity joint. So it's nice that Mark Madden didn't come in, because apparently I made his radar recently.
  • If sports fanaticism was a salable good, something that you could wrap up and ship to other cities, Pittsburgh would still be the industrial king of America and would possibly rival China for goods exporting. When you arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport, two life-sized statues greet you. George Washington and Franco Harris. And 85% of returning Pittsburghers can only identify Franco while assuming George Washington is William Pitt. And because you cannot turn sports fanaticism into a salable good, the Pittsburgh International Airport is a veritable ghost town. The arrivals and departures boards each have ten flat panel monitors for listing flights, and five on each board are turned off because the airport doesn't have enough daily flights to fill them up. Maybe if they switched to a 24-point font for each flight listing.
  • The passion for sports does not always lead to intelligent discourse. In the course of one night at a bar with friends, I heard the following opinions: Marian Hossa isn't that good (12 points in 11 playoff games), Jaromir Jagr will be Crosby's winger next year and Crosby is the most overrated player in the league. I just sipped my beer in silence.
  • That is not true. I actually yelled at each of those points, but that brings us to the next topic. Pittsburgh is a fantastic beer town. Although a large chunk of the populace spins a wheel to choose between Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light and Warm Piss, more and more people are starting to opt for quality over quantity. While not exactly ignoring quantity, either. I visited Bocktown, Sharp's Edge and Pittsburgh Bottleshop Cafe, three places that offered me around a combined 50 taps and 7,000 bottles. I personally took down an unholy and unhealthy amount of beer last week. Enough that if you lick my forearm right now, it has that peppery hop taste to it. For a fancy boy like myself, it's nice to see people quaffing Erdingers and Hoegaardens while watching the game. So nice that you barely even notice guys with white baseball hats and gold chains hanging out over their t-shirts drinking Bud Light in an aluminum bottle.
  • Erie Brewing, damn, you people are all kinds of nice. I fought the Maibock and Railbender Ale twice each and came out a happy victor. Finally, a reason to drive up 79 for two hours!
  • People in Pittsburgh don't give directions by street signs, mainly because the actual presence of street signs is unreliable. On my friend's street, his street sign is twisted around like Wile E. Coyote is trying to fool the Road Runner. Instead, people give directions by landmarks. "You know where that gray Buick is always parked after 4pm? Make a left there." "Where's the Buick?!!? Where is it?!? It's 4:15!! I CAN'T TURN!!!!!!" Monday at dinner, I mentioned a cemetery (one of Pittsburgh's few growth industries) by the Parkway, but my uncle couldn't recall it. For five minutes, we spoke the native tongue and fired landmarks at him. "The Knickerbocker sign with the guy in the K." "The Vesuvius sign with the sparkly lava." "The way to the airport." Finally, my dad said, "Do you remember Scrod's?" and my uncle immediately recalled the cemetery. Scrod's was a restaurant. It has been closed for 25 years.
  • The reason my uncle was so unfamiliar with the area is because it is in the South Hills and he lives in the North Hills. People in Pittsburgh are perfectly willing to move. They'll hop from one new development to another with no problem. But nobody in Pittsburgh ever crosses a river for a move. If you were born in the North Hills, you'll die in the North Hills and you'll only see the South Hills a few times, most likely on accident.
  • Pittsburghers love chain restaurants to the point that even local places are becoming chains. The expansion of Atria's, Enrico's Biscotti, Primanti's, Sharp's Edge, Vincent's and others ensures that not only can you have the same thing every Friday night, you no longer will have to cross a river to do so. There's nothing quite like an unfamiliar menu to get a Pittsburgher's heart racing with terror.
  • Plus, at a familiar chain like Mad Mex, you can wear your Malkin t-shirt and not worry about getting cross looks. For those fancy places, you have to put on a pair of khakis, thick brown shoes and a button down shirt. Or, as I call it, Pittsburgh Dressy. All of the men at the rehearsal dinner Friday - outside of the two California pretty boys - were Pittsburgh Dressy. Tan pants and baby blue shirts as far as the eye can see.
  • Cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dublin, London and Paris no longer have bars because they foolishly outlawed smoking years ago and people simply stopped going out. Even the non-smokers stay home. Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are deftly avoiding this economic collapse by continuing to allow people to light up with immunity. There's no better reminder of last night's good times than smelling the smoke in your hair during your morning shower. Hey, my hair stinks! I had fun last night! On Sunday, we watched Game 5 of Pens/Rangers at Cupka's in the South Side. If you chipped away the decades of tar and smoke, the ceiling would be three inches higher. They might as well have drop ceilings. Also, the bar mirror at Cupka's is covered with union stickers. A set decorator for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh wanted to use Cupka's as is for a scene, but she was fired. The director thought she did a hacky job of making the bar look "too kitschy and ethnic". Hipsters would love Cupka's. Thank Holy Jesus that there are no hipsters in Pittsburgh.
  • And because there are no hipsters in Pittsburgh, that's why all of the abandoned buildings aren't turned around into useful spaces. The epidemic of strip malls in Southern California isn't the most beautiful architecture in the world, but a positive is that when Bev's Nails & More goes out of business, Suk Hoo Phun Pizza can slide right into that exact space with minimal effort. In Pittsburgh, when a factory or office building or grocery store or house had been abandoned, it stands empty forever. This used to be a Giant Eagle on Route 51 in Elizabeth. The size of the building makes it appropriate for two businesses, a roller skating rink or a grocery store. Well, nobody roller skates any more and it used to be a grocery store until it went out of business. Nothing is ever going inside these four walls again, except for the tips of nails holding on the plywood. There's a row of houses on Route 28 that will never, ever, ever be lived in again except by people who push around shopping carts all day. There's nowhere to park and you can't make a left off of your front porch because of traffic. And this is fine. Part of the change from industrial steel to white collar health coverage means that river proximity is no longer important or desirable. In fact, if your town was reliant on river traffic and access up until 1979, the better the chance that it looks like Hell's waiting room today. I'm looking in your direction, McKees Rocks and Elizabeth!The city needs to make a concerted effort to start knocking down buildings and replacing them with green space. Not even a park. Just some grass. Maybe a wildflower or two. It's pretty apparent which red brick factories could be renovated into a combination residential/retail space and which ones are just nurseries for rats. Eyesore, depressing, blight, whatever you might want to call it, these piles of stone, plywood and dust need to be handled. Mr. Ravenstahl, tear down that wall! And then that one, and that one and that one too, please.

That's what I noticed last week.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ah, Whatever

There's a new stat bouncing around the league. Teams are using it to get a sense of how their special teams are overall. Combine your penalty kill percentage with your power play percentage and a number around 100 is pretty decent. Going into last night's game, the Pens were at 120. A 92% PK and a 27% PP. I guess that's how you start off the playoffs 7-0.

But now they're 7-1. And...whatever. Yeah, it would've been nicer to win last night. Yeah, Lundqvist probably stole one. Yeah, Fleury should've stopped Jagr's shot on the first goal. Yeah, whatever. I'll only be concerned if they lose Game 5. And at that point, of course, I'll go from No Concern to Somewhat Very Concerned and if they'll lose Game 6 I'll instantly jump to Highly Aggrieved and Panicked.

About the only highlight of last night's game was the general dickheadedness of Brandon Dubinsky. Sure, Malone definitely knocked his feet out when he was in the slot on the power play. Lucky it was no penalty, in fact. And a slew foot is maybe the most dangerous play in hockey after boarding. But after getting back up and then blindly whipping the puck around for a goal, Dubinsky went after Malone in the corner and screamed at him. And then he skated by the Penguins bench with more to say, except a bear hug from the linesman cut his chat short.

Now...if I'm a rookie skating on the #1 line and I just scored my first goal in Game 4 of a 3-0 series, I might find that an inopportune time to start talking. But that's just me. Maybe in the hospital that afternoon, Dubinsky promised Avery he would do something ridiculous for him in the game that night, Babe Ruth-style.

And then we got a little chippy at the end. After the second Penguin slew foot of the night, for what's it's worth. Malkin on Mara. The highlight of the post-goal scrum by far was Gonchar and Roszival squaring off, asking if the other wanted to go, hoping the other guy would say no and then just clutching each other until everybody realized it looked ridiculous.

There is a benefit to the loss, however. Things were coming too easy for the Penguins in the playoffs and their game was getting looser and looser recently. Too many penalties, too much hooking, not enough skating. This loss, which should up being irrelevant to everything but the history books is a good, cold slap in the face and reminder that no playoff game will ever be easy. Much better to get that feedback now than in Game 1 of the Wales finals.

Lastly, not sure if you noticed this, but Detroit is good.