Friday, December 31, 2010

New York Islanders (at) Detroit Red Wings: The Live Blog

Pre-Game Skate:  Greetings and Happy New Year (!) from the Joe Louis Sports Arena as we join you for Detroit's annual New Years Eve Ice Hockey Classic.  And here's one for you right off the hop.  You don't see this every night: The Wings are tonight hosting a team, the Islanders, which are exactly half as good as they are.  That's not me talking, it's the standings.  Detroit comes into the game with 52 points, the Islanders have 26.  Do the math, people.  Do the math...

When I was the broadcaster in Grand Rapids our coach, Guy Charron, once confided in me prior to a New Years Eve game that he didn't like having our team play on New Years Eve because he felt that all the women being dressed up for the holiday constituted an unnecessary distraction for the boys--that all in all it was yet another obstacle for his team to overcome.   So, way to go, girls.  Your slinky cocktail dresses, your long nylon-clad legs and your high heels, your luscious ruby-red lips and all the rest of your feminine wares are, as it turns out, all it takes to make the players lose focu....what is it we were talking about?  I forgot.

I mention this by way of addressing the larger, overriding issue and it is of course, this:  all coaches in all sports ARE IDIOTS.  Thank you.

At the risk of being accused of stealing material (and perhaps rightly so now that I think of it), I have lifted the following word-for-word and verbatim from an article summarizing the Isles 2-1 shooutout win last night over the Pittsburgh Penguins--the team which began the night last night with the best record in the NHL.  Sidney Crosby brought a 25-game scoring streak into the game but Islanders goalie Rick Dipietro took care of that as part of a 37-save performance:

Crosby's streak of 25 games with at least a point -- tied for the 11th longest in NHL history -- was snapped by the Islanders and goalie Rick DiPietro, who stopped the Pittsburgh captain and the rest of the Penguins' high-powered offense in a 2-1 shootout victory Wednesday night.  Crosby had scored in every game since Nov. 3 at Dallas. The run, in which Crosby had 26 goals and 24 assists, was the longest in the NHL since Quebec's Mats Sundin had a 30-game streak during the 1992-93 season. Crosby also had goals in five consecutive games before being shut down by the Islanders, the team he has victimized the most -- along with Philadelphia -- with 62 points in 33 career games. Crosby also was denied on Pittsburgh's second shootout attempt when DiPietro made a pad save. That left the game in the hands of DiPietro and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, the only goalies to be chosen No. 1 overall in the NHL draft.

Thanks, ESPN!  I'm sure we found all of that very interesting.

Detroit is even more shorthanded than they were when the week began and when the week began they were without Pavel Datsyuk, one of the best offensive players in the whole NHL, Dan Cleary, their leading goal scorer and Mike Modano, who happens to be pretty good.  Add Patrick Eaves to the list.  He got hurt the night before last en route to scoring his first career hat trick.  He has six goals in his last seven games, but he's out tonight.

And now a little surprise.  DiPietro will not start tonight in spite of his stellar performance last night.  Dwayne Roloson starts in goal for the Isles.  It is about time to begin...

7:15pm  The Wings begin this one as they so often do here at home--they are all over the Islanders and now they go on the power play.  Detroit has scored a PP goal in 6 straight games and are 6-8 (.750) in their last 2 games.  Roloson's had all the answers so far though: the Wings get a second power play moments after the first expires but cannot score.  Detroit has outshot the Islanders 7-0 in the first half of the first period.  New York is coached by Jack Capuano--hired on an interim basis six weeks ago on account of the previous coach not being very good.  In an oddity, we have a connection, Capuano and I.  The very first game I ever broadcast was a game in which Capuano played.  He was a Muskegon Lumberjack and I was the voice of the Flint Spirits in the International Hockey League.  We were at the L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon.  It was a lot of years and a lot of miles ago.  MID-1ST: DETROIT 0, ISLANDERS 0.

7:25pm:  Detroit scores on their 9th shot on Roloson when Johan Franzen beats him from low in the circle to the goalie's left off a nice behind-the-net feed from Henrik Zetterberg.  It his Franzen's team-leading 17th goal of the year.  It comes at 11:52.  Shots on goal:  Detroit 10, Islanders 0.   LATER IN THE 1ST:  DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 0.

7:31pm:  Todd Bertuzzi goes for Goaltender Interference at 13:17 and at 13:22 (0:05 into the Power Play in other words) the Islanders get their first shot on goal and their first goal.  Andrew MacDonald fires it from the line, Jimmy Howard stops it, and Nicklas Lidstrom bats the rebound out of mid-air into his own net.  I think maybe he was distracted by a girl sitting behind the Detroit net who was wearing a shiny top--the kind a girl would wear, I don't know, because it's NEW YEARS EVE?  The goal is credited to John Tavares but I will not be surprised if they wind up giving the goal to MacDonald.  5:23 left in the 1ST: DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 1.

7:45pm:  The Wings ends up outshooting the Islanders 12-3 in the first AND THEY TRAIL 2-1.  New York gets a goal with 2.7 seconds left in the period to take the lead.  It was a backhander from out in front of the stick of Tavares who thus gets his second of the game and his 12th of the season.  Both New York goals come as a direct result of Islanders offensive zone faceoff wins. END OF THE FIRST: DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 2.

8:07pm:  We're about 5 minutes into the second and the Islanders still have that one-goal lead.  They did change the scoring on that first New York goal, by the way.  It was pretty clear from the replay that they would.  Matt Moulson (no relation to the popular Canadian beer) has been credited with the goal.  This makes my job tougher.  I'm selecting the 3 Stars tonight and it would have been an easy call had Tavares had 2 goals.  Which, for a while, he did.  But now he does not.  What to do, what to do...  12:00 TO PLAY IN 2ND PERIOD: DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 2.

8:19pm:  The Wings fall to 0-3 on the PP as Niklas Kronwall surveys the banners in the rafters after he's denied by Roloson following as pretty a give-and-go with Franzen as you are likely every to see.  Kronwall was all alone between the hashmarks but Roloson came across to stop him.  It was the best chance the Wings had during their most recent chance with the extra man.  8:00 left in 2nd:  DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 2.

8:28pm:  Another face off lost in the Detroit zone winds up in the Detroit net and now the Wings--in spite of a 22-11 advantage in shots--trail 3-1.  Jesse Joensuu (I'm not going to lie to you, I've never heard of Jesse Joensuu) tips a wrist shot from the line out of midair past Howard.  The goal, his 3rd of the year, comes at 15:13.  LATE IN THE 2ND PERIOD:  DETROIT 1, ISLANDERS 3.

8:36pm:  It's the Wings turn to get one late in a period as Valtteri Filppula bangs a rebound into an all but vacant New York net with 8.4 seconds left in the 2nd.  The sequence begins with a Lidstrom shot from the line.  Filppula comes up with the puck after it caroms right to him off the post to the right of Roloson.  Rollie the Goalie wants a do-over, citing interference in the crease by Bertuzzi.  Roloson may have a case, but there is no call forthcoming and the Wings, outshooting the Islanders 13-11 in the period and 25-15 through 40 minutes are back in the game.  It is Filppula's 9th goal of the year.  AFTER 2 PERIODS: DETROIT 2, ISLANDERS 3.

9:05pm:  Seven minutes gone in the 3rd and the Wings have held the Islanders to a single shot on goal in the period (they have 8 on the NY net) but still trail by one.  Detroit sees another power play go by without a goal.  They are 0-4 on the PP.  Bertuzzi had the best chance as he tried to slam one by from the top of the crease but Roloson was in position...again.  3RD PERIOD: DETROIT 2, ISLANDERS 3.

9:12pm:  Tomas Tatar--making his NHL debut tonight--tips a shot past Roloson and the Wings have tied the game.  It's pronounced TAH-tar (his nickname has to be sauce, right?) and the Game Notes say he enjoys going to the gym.  Who enjoys going to the gym?  Anyway, what a thrill for the second-year pro.  His first NHL goal at 10:18.  (Spoiler alert:  I have to turn in my 3 Star selections in a couple of minutes.  We're going to give the #1 star to the kid because, hey, why not?  He's got the biggest goal of the game, right?  We may as well make the night extra memorable for him.  Helm is #2, Tavares #3.)  3RD PERIOD: DETROIT 3, ISLANDERS 3.

9:29pm  OVERTIME.  Bertuzzi was all alone in front with about half a minute left but the pass went right through him and that was the last chance in regulation.  So, on the last night of the year, we play extra time...

9:38pm:  Ah, the Islanders score a power play goal with 1:03 left in overtime and the Wings will have to settle for a point tonight. Franzen was called for holding while Detroit was on the power play in the OT and when the Isles went a man to the good, Tavares found P.A. Parenteau (speaking of NHLers I haven't heard of) open in the circle to the right of Howard and he slammed it home.  It's his 9th of the year.   So, the Wings lose in overtime--no doubt a case of too many beautiful women here in the building on a New Years Eve night.  Thanks for everything in 2010!  It was a big year for me what with the getting back in the press box and all (I don't see my colleagues doing cartwheels over it, but it was big for me) and I thank you all.  We'll next file from Lions game Sunday afternoon and then will head straight from Ford Field to here for the Wings-Flyers game Sunday evening.  Right now, I've got a couple pretty girls waiting for me at home.  Happy New Year, everybody!  FINAL: DETROIT 3, ISLANDERS 4 (OT).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vancouver Canucks at Detroit Red Wings: The Live Blog

No Pre-Game Skate for you tonight as I was, truth be told and I always do my best to tell you the truth, goofiing off down in the press room when I should have been doing my job.  Sorry (not really).  Tonight come the Vancouver Canucks here to take on a Red Wings team which has been--somewhat surprisingly--struggling of late.  After going 17-4-2 (.783) to start the season, the Wings have won only three of their last nine.  They do have points in 5 of those 9 games, 3-4-2 (.444), but the drop off of late has been somewhat impressive.  After being on pace for 128 points in their first 23 games, Detroit has played at a 73-point pace in these last 9. Maybe I wasn't goofing off as much as I thought, no?

I've missed the last couple of games and it's good to be back.  I had to go back into the hospital last week as my heart (once again) began beating irregularly.   The episode lasted for only a few hours but they kept me for a couple of days to infuse a medication via an IV stuck in my arm.  I'm fine now, thanks.  In fact, I was back on the ice yesterday and--aside from a gross inability to stop the puck (WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?  YOU'RE A GOALIE!  YOUR ENTIRE JOB CONSISTS OF GETTING SOME PART OF YOUR BODY--ANY PART, IT DOESN'T MATTER--IN FRONT OF THE DAMN PUCK AND YOU CAN'T EVEN DO THAT)--I had no problems whatsever.  So, again, I am fine.  I am probably being a little hard on my (lack of) goaltending ability.  I've been playing with a torn post-tibular tendon.  And here I didn't even know I had one.  It turns out I do--we all do.  It's in the ankle.  While it sounds bad, it doesn't hurt much, but it does impair my skating: I'm sort of one-legged out there.  But, you didn't come here to hear about my health issues, now did you?  It's the Wings and 'Nucks so we shall turn our attention to that, forthwith.

7:55pm:  We've played a little over 7 minutes--no score.  Vancouver has had the two best scoring chances in a game in which they have been out shot 8-4.  I wonder if this is going to turn out like it did the last time I was here, a week ago Monday where the Wings outshot the Kings 51-26 and lost 5-0.

7:57pm:  It won't.  Dan Cleary just finished a 2-on-1 taking a nice cross-rink feed from Todd Bertuzzi and burying one high glove on 'Nucks netter Roberto Luongo.  Cleary has now scored 15 goals and has moved into the team lead, breaking a tie with Johan Franzen.   Cleary came into the game with only 2 goals in his last 9 games.  Hmmm.  We just outlined the Wings difficulty winning games in their last 9.  Coincidence, or no?  You be the judge.

8:20pm:  The period ends with a Vancouver flurry.  There were, in point of fact, a lot of those Vancouver flurries in the first, a period which saw the Canucks outshoot Detroit 17-14.   END OF THE FIRST PERIOD:  DETROIT 1, VANCOUVER 0.

8:39pm:  They called a crosscheck on Brian Rafalski that wasn't (I mean it was a really, really weak crosschecking call and I wouldn't say that if I didn't think it because, really, I don't care who wins.  Indeed, as a highly skilled broadcast journalist I'm not allowed to care) and it takes Vancouver 0:15 to cash on on this bit of largess from referees Chris Rooney and Don VanMassenhoven.  There were no penalties in the whole first period and we've had three called in the first 3  minutes here of the second.  The Vancouver goal is scored by one of Sedin brothers (Henrik in this case, but Daniel got an assist) at 1:11 of the second period.  DETROIT 1, VANCOUVER 1.

8:47PM:  Valtteri Filppula goes hard to the net--they always tell you to go hard to the net--and because he does he is right there (Johnny-on-the-spot as the old-time broadcasters would have said) to bang in the rebound of a Cleary shot.  The goal is scored at 6:29 and is the 8th of the year for Filppula:  DETROIT 2, VANCOUVER 1.

8:59PM:  Another cheesy call (Filppula, closing hand on puck) and another power play goal for Vancouver. It, again, takes them less than a minute to score it (penalty: 10:33, goal: 11:21, elapsed time: 0:48) and again Sedin is the goal-getter.  It's Daniel, this time though and that's about the only difference.  DETROIT 2, VANCOUVER 2.

9:04PM:  I forgot (and  this is a heck of a thing to forget) that we were just informed that Pavel Datsyuk has sustained an upper body injury and will not return to tonight's game.  Datsyuk, dumped in front of the Canucks net in the first period, fell on the stick of a Vancouver defenseman.  I noticed him getting some medical attention on the bench a few moments later. I hope its not a case of a broken rib or two.  (This is not because I want Detroit to win--we covered that.  It's because I enjoy watching Datsyuk play.  He's one of the best players in hockey.)

9:13pm:  Twenty seconds to go in the period (okay sticklers, 20.2) and the 'Nucks take the lead when Brad Stewart flubs an easy (EASY) hold-in at the Vancouver line and an odd-man rush against Detroit ensues.  Adding insult to the injury (the injury in this case is two-fold as you (1) hate to give up a goal in the last minute of a period--especially when it's (2) the tie-breaking goal) is the fact that former Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson scores it.  The Sedin who figures in the scoring this time is Henrik.  That's 3 Vancouver goals tonight--and 4 points by a Sedin.  The period ends and this time the Wings hold 'em to 13 shots on goal, down from 17 in the first.   But, they give up 3 goals.  AFTER 2: DETROIT 2, VANCOUVER 3.

9:32pm:   Less than 0:40 into the 3rd and Wings goalie Jimmy Howard makes two of the best saves I've seen him make all year.  He stopped a slot shot by Henrik Sedin (him, again) with his toe and then made a brilliant glove save on Sedin who swooped in for his own rebound.

9:33pm:  Detroit gets a huge break.  Henrik Zetterberg is actually behind the Vancouver red line when he tries to backhand the puck out in front and it hits Luongo and bounces into the net at 1:54.  A softy for Zetterberg (11) and the Wings have the thing tied on a fluke at 1:54.  DETROIT 3, VANCOUVER 3.

9:52pm:  At least the Sedin twins weren't in on this one: Howard overplayed a shot by Jeff Tambellini from the circle to his left and Tambellini rang it off the post and crossbar loudly enough that we could hear it way up here.  Howard moved a little too far to his left and went down a little early and, while he didn't give Tambellini much net, he gave him enough and now he and the Wings trail.  Under 6 to play, now.  DETROIT 3, VANCOUVER 4.

10:00pm:  Nick Lidstrom sneaks in from the left points and by going to the net he's right there (Johnny-on-the-spot, even) to fire in a rebound and tie the game with 3:54 to go.  Rafalski shot from the right point and Lidstrom just cruised in from the line to hit the back of the net on the power play.  Detroit had been oh-for 3 on the power play in this one, but not anymore. We approach the final minute of regulation time:  DETROIT 4, VANCOUVER 4.

10:07PM:  Overtime.  The Wings--outshooting Vancouver 15-6 in the third and getting those 2 great Howard saves on Henrik Sedin in the opening minute of the period--have forced overtime and so will get a point tonight when a few minutes ago it looked as though they almost certainly would not.  A great goal on a great play, a smart play, by Lidstrom late in the third gets them the point.

10:10pm:  Henrik wins it, but it's Zetterberg, not Sedin.  A nice hold at the line by Darren Helm precedes a blocked Rafalski shot which caroms right to Zetterberg in the left circle and he one-times it by the startled and late-to-react Luongo.   The second goal of the night and 12th of the year for Zetterberg comes at 2:59 of overtime.  It is the only shot on goal in the OT for Detroit, who outshoot the Canucks 45-39 in the game.  Detroit is off to St. Louis tomorrow--the rest of us are off to get in some last-minute shopping.  Detroit's next home game comes on New Years Eve and we will talk to you then.  Merry Christmas and good night from Joe Louis Arena.  FINAL:  DETROIT 5, VANCOUVER 4 (OT).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kings 5 (at) Wings 0: The Live Blog

I've been interviewing NHL coaches for 30 years now and I have yet to meet any, not one, who knew anything--anything at all--about goaltending.  The closest was Scotty Bowman and that's because he admitted he knew nothing about it.  Ask Scotty a question, any question, about netminding and his answer never varied a single syllable: "The goalies," Scotty would say, "Put the numbers on themselves."  Scotty looked at the Goals-Against-Average and the Save Percentage and went with the guy with the best numbers.  He never considered, never cared about how they came to get those numbers.

Comes now Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray.  On Saturday, in a 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota, his goalie, Jonathan Quick twice misplayed the puck with his stick and in each case his miscue led directly to a Wild goal.  Murray said this to the LA Times after the game about Quick's twin blunders: "Those are not fluke plays. Those are giveaways.  A puck on your stick, that's concentration, that's making the right play, the right decision with the puck."

Here's the thing, Terry.  The goal stick is a marvelous instrument when it comes to doing that which it was designed to do, which is to block a hockey puck travelling at a high rate of speed.  As an implement for stick handling and for passing a hockey puck, well, not so much.  It's a little, um, unwieldy. 

But, whatever.  Goalie Quick, perhaps out of embarrassment over what happened Saturday, stopped 51 shots--the most saves he's ever had in a game--and turned in one of the greatest shutouts you will ever see on Monday night as the Kings rolled the Wings 5-0 before a sparse Joe Louis Arena audience.  We were there, and this is what we wrote as the evening wore on...

Pre-Game Skate:  It's probably two miles as the crow flies from my seat here in the Press Box at the Joe Louis Arena to Ford Field where my concern is that full-scale rioting has broken out.  It was announced yesterday that the Giants at Vikings game--scheduled to played Sunday in Minneapolis but cancelled when the roof collapsed at Mall of America Field (better known by its old name, The Metrodome)--and would be played here in Detroit, tonight, at Ford Field.  The Lions announced that anyone with a ticket to the Lions-Packers game Sunday could use that ticket to see the Vikings-Giants and that free admission tickets would be distributed starting this morning at 9 at the stadium box office.  I really think the Lions thought that 20 or 30 thousand fans might show up for the game tonight.  Instead, fans waited for as long as 9 hours overnight in single-digit temperatures, replete with wind-chills that made it feel like it was way below zero, for those free tickets.  Around 10:30, the Lions sent out a press release best described as "panicked" saying the distribution of the freebies was being immediately terminated, noting that Ford Field seats 64,500 and that tonight's was a "first-come, first-served" event and, further, that just because you had a ticket either from yesterday's game or one of the free admission tickets distributed this morning did not mean you were going to get in to see the game.  I have had visions all afternoon of a stampede of fans racing for the best seats and all sorts of mayhem ensuing.  I guess I'll find out how things turned out when I get home tonight.

I have to tell you, this is no screwing around weather we are having here in Detroit tonight.  Typically I would be reluctant to discuss my underwear choices with you but tonight I will confess that I am wearing my hockey underwear (the longjohns players wear beneath their uniforms) under my dress slacks just to keep me safe and warm for the 5-7 minute walk from my car to the arena door.  This place is located right on the Detroit River, and the wind whips through the area as hard as does "The Hawk" in Chicago.  It's cold enough that you could die, literally die, walking this evening between the building and the parking lot.

As I mentioned, I don't know how many have turned out at Ford Field, but it looks like they have all gone there instead of here.  Tonight's crowd is remarkably small.  I'm sure a good part of the reason is, again, the weather. Just about all the schools in the area were closed today and the roads, even tonight, are just awful.  It took me almost an hour and a half to get here.  Usually I can make it in less than half an hour.

8:00pm:  While I was banging on about the weather and the situation at Ford Field and whatnot, they started the hockey game.  We are, in fact, better than halfway through the first period and there is no score.  The Wings are doing what the Wings do, pouring it on early, looking to take the lead.  They have out shot LA 8-3 so far.

8:02pm:  The out shooting the Kings thing doesn't, as it turns out, matter at all as LA's Wayne Simmonds gets his 5th goal of the year at 13:27.  Jimmy Howard gives up an ugly rebound--the original long-range shot hit him in the midsection and looked like it would be rather easy for him to corral, but instead the puck bounded a dozen or so feet dead out in front of the net, these things happen--and Simmonds was right there to fire it along the ice through Howards's pads.   DETROIT 0, LOS ANGELES 1.

8:06pm:  The fact that the Kings have scored first might, oddly, auger well for Detroit.  In each of their last 3 games against Los Angeles, Detroit has led and Detroit has lost.  Still, LA has won only twice in their last 18 games here at the Joe Louis Arena. The Kings started the season looking like they themselves were the Detroit Red Wings, going 12-3-0.  Since, they are 4-7-1.  They are tied for second in the NHL in Home Wins (11) and 27th--out of 30--in Road Wins (5).  And they are having trouble scoring goals.  They are last in their division in Goals For and have scored more than two goals in only 2 of their last 8 games.  The Kings are starting a 5-game road trip here tonight after going 3-0-1 on their just-completed homestand, which featured a 3-2 overtime win over Detroit.

8:12pm:  The period is over and that goal by Simmonds is all we have to show for it.  END OF FIRST PERIOD:  DETROIT 0, LOS ANGELES 1.

8:30pm:  The second period begins...

8:41pm:  12:30 left in the second, still 1-0 Los Angeles and now, for the first time in the game, a power play.  Todd Bertuzzi gets tripped so the Wings are a man to the good.  As was the case here against Montreal Friday, Detroit is up against a solid penalty killing unit: LA is 5th in the League on the kill.  The Wings have, as the PP begins, out shot LA in the game 20-11.  Tomas Holmstrom has a golden chance just as the PP begins but Jonathan Quick--who has been terrific tonight, just terrific--makes a snow angel and somehow makes the stop with his paddle extended at full length along the ice.  A brilliant save if ever there was one.  All in all, the Wings get 7 shots on the power play, an extraordinarily high number, but they fail to score. Then, just 0:11 seconds after the Kings kill it off, Detroit goes right back on the PP.  They get a couple more shots this time, but again, no joy.

8:54pm:  Detroit has now out shot LA 33-11.  Once again, it doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter a bit.  Or, if you prefer, a whit.  Oscar Moller, called up from the minors (Manchester, AHL) only Saturday, gets his first of the year, and again it's a rebound that costs Howard.  The puck had rolled behind the Wings netminder but it looked like it would come to rest before it reached the goal line when Moller tapped it into the net at 13:39.  DETROIT 0, LOS ANGELES 2.

9:09pm:  The second period is over and the Wings are still not on the board.  Second period Shots on Goal: Detroit 27, Los Angeles 11.  For the night, shots are 38-17, Red Wings.  For the night, goals are: DETROIT 0, LOS ANGLES 2.  For the record and for those of you scoring at home, Detroit is 2-5-1 (.313) when trailing after 2.  Los Angeles is 8-0-0 (1.000) when leading after 2.

9:19pm:  A correction.  Shots on goal in the second period were 26-11, Detroit, not 27-11 as had been announced on the PA here.  Sorry, these things happen.  You should be able to get over this and move on.
In a note totally unrelated to our game here, I think I'll watch that Vikings-Giants game when I get home.  They are showing it at midnight on NFL Network.  It always takes me a few hours to fall off after experiencing the excitement of NHL hockey, so what the heck.

9:26pm:  We are all of 0:23 into the third and this game just ended.  Another rebound: another LA goal.  Howard was left hanging out to dry on this one as Anze Kopitar, on an odd-man rush after Howard had made the first save, beat the Detroit defense to a rebound the Detroit defense should have gotten to first and Kopitar buried it high in the net. I'm not saying Detroit can't come back and score three goals in the 19+ minutes remaining, I'm saying they won't.   DETROIT 0, LOS ANGELES 3.

9:31:  Make it 4-0, and not even three minutes into the 3rd some are leaving.  Seconds after the Kings hit the crossbar loudly enough to make our ears ring all the way up here in the pressbox (imagine how it sounded to Hoawrd just a foot or so away!), Drew Doughty redirected a pass behind the helpless Howard at 2:59.  DETROIT, 0 LOS ANGELES 4.

9:33pm:  At 3:11, a dozen seconds after the 4th LA goal, Justin Abdelkader gets a double minor for high sticking and this third period is, officially, now off to the worst start of any third period, ever.

9:36pm:  Uh, it just got even worse.  The Kings get a power play goal and have now scored 3 goals on 6 shots so far in the period.  Jack Johnson, ex-UM star, is the goal-getter this time and the score looks as bad as this game looks for Detroit.  DETROIT 0, LOS ANGELES 5.  The Wings have not lost any game this year by more than 3 goals.  That stat is, obviously, in jeopardy tonight.  It's gotten so bad now that some of the scouts are leaving the pressbox and the building--all the better to beat the traffic, etc.

9:52pm:  Is Jimmy Howard slumping?  It's a tough charge to make after the way he played here on Friday, when the Wings were outshot 20-4 in the 3rd period against the Canadiens but Howard held 'em off in a 3-2 Wings win, but in his last 11 starts--including tonight's--Howard has allowed 4 or more goals 5 times.  If Detroit fails to score in the next 3:19, they will have been shutout for the first time this season (29 games).  This especially hard to explain given that Detroit has already established a new season high in shots on goal with 49.

9:58m:  The scouts have all left now and so have most of the fans.  I don't know why they are bothering to leave early at this point.  Traffic is not going to be an issue getting out of here tonight--there can't be more than 3 or 4 thousand left in the building as Budd Lynch announces that we have reached the final minute.  Some in the crowd greet the news with a cheer.

10:00pm:  A lot of booing as the horn sounds, more than you'd expect given all this team has given these fans over the past couple of decades.  The Wings got 51 shots on goal tonight.  LA goalie Jonathan Quick had 51 saves.  You don't see that--a 50+ save shutout--every night, I can tell you that.

The St. Louis Blues come in Wednesday.  We'll be here as long as they let us in, and if they do, we'll talk to you then.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Green Bay Packers 3 (at) Detroit Lions 7–The (sort of) Live-Blog

Okay.  Here’s what I wrote in real time while at Ford Field today during the Packers-Lions game, an upset by Detroit which can largely—if not entirely—be accounted for by the game-ending injury sustained by Packers Quarterback Aaron Rogers late in the first half.  Although, who knows?  It was a 0-0 game when he left.  Today’s was the first win by Detroit since October, 1988 in which the Lions scored as few as 7 points.

(We post this now and not as it happened because. as I point out once again, Ford Field charges $30 for internet access and paying that much would seriously damage my game coverage profit margin.)

What a weekend. We got to see the Montreal Canadiens—the most storied of all NHL franchises—Friday night and now this afternoon we’ll see the most storied of all NFL franchises, the Green Bay Packers. That’s true, isn’t it? In terms of history and tradition it’s the Canadiens in hockey, the Packers in Football, the Yankees in Baseball and the Celtics in basketball, don’t you think? At any rate, with this as a backdrop, we say welcome to Ford Field on a snowy, wintery Sunday afternoon.

We always tell you: READ THE GAME NOTES! It is a Cardinal Rule of sportscasting. You learn so much when you do. To wit, here’s what we have come up with this afternoon to prepare you, pre-game, for today’s game. The information comes (indeed the information has been lifted, cut and pasted directly from) the Green Bay Packers Official Game Notes, which they call “The Dope Sheet.”  For the record, they are the only team in the NFL to call their game notes that and there’s a story behind it.  Green Bay’s first publicist may have invented the very concept of game notes and when he did, he called them, “The Dope Sheet.”  In his honor, the Packers have retained that title for their notes.  Anyway, here’s the pertinent “Dope” for today’s game:

  • No other NFL teams have played every year since 1932, when the Packers and the Lions, then known as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, began their yearly home and home series. This is Game No. 163 in the all-time series. Green Bay leads 89-64-7 overall, trails 36-40-3 in Detroit and are 6-2 at Ford Field.
  • The Packers’ 10-game winning streak against the Lions is tied for No. 2 among NFL series behind only New England’s 14-game winning streak against Buffalo. The Packers have won 18 of the last 20 against Detroit.
  • Green Bay Head Coach Mike McCarthy is 9-0 against the Lions since taking over coaching duties in 2006.
  • The Packers have a 20-8 (.714) mark against NFC North opponents under McCarthy, which ranks first among NFC North teams.
  • QB Aaron Rodgers has a 109.1 passer rating in nine career starts in domes, with 2,599 passing yards, 18 TDs and just four INTs on 198-of- 296 passing (66.9 percent). His 109.1 passer rating indoors since 2008 ranks No. 1 in the league among NFL quarterbacks over that span. Rodgers has topped 300 yards passing in four of his five career starts against Detroit.

So, now that we have a firm grounding in the history and statistics surrounding this series we are ready to begin, which is a good thing as the (8-4) Packers have just been introduced. Now, the (2-10) Lions trot onto the field accompanied by the usual pyrotechnics: the fog machine, the cannon shots, the loud music and the rest.

The big pre-game news here at Ford Field, by the way, is the announcement that Ford Field will host the New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings game here tomorrow night. The roof of Mall of America Field (formerly the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome) collapsed overnight due to the weight of accumulating snow so the game there today was cancelled (it would have been even if the roof had not caved in because the Giants happen to be stuck in Kansas City, snowed in and unable to fly to Minneapolis) and has been re-scheduled for tomorrow night here at Ford Field. In a delicious irony, this means that the first Monday Night Football game ever to be played at Ford Field will NOT feature the Detroit Lions. There is a rumor that tickets will be free and will be available at the box office starting at 9 a.m. We’ll let you know as soon as we have a confirmation on that. I’d like to come myself, but I can’t. The Wings are hosting the Kings Monday night as I am expected there.

1:03pm: Kick-off. Logan returns, Detroit holds, and the Lions start at their own 8. Typical Lions, don’t you think? The Lions—in a remarkable turn of events, actually try to get the ball to Calvin Johnson, a.k.a. “The Best Receiver in the NFL” not once but twice on the opening series. The first is a bad throw by Drew Stanton, but the second one, on 3rd down, isn’t. The thing is, Johnson, who complained (and rightfully so) about the Lions inability to get him the ball in an interview earlier this week, naturally flat out drops it when the Lions do try to get him the ball and Detroit’s three and out. It’s Lions football in its purest form.

1:08pm: Landon Johnson forces a fumble after a 12-yard Aaron Rogers pass completion and the Lions recover at their own 28. How about that? Detroit stops a Green Bay drive and gets the ball back. The fans, many of whom have apparently stayed home due to the snow, are delighted. There are many, many Green Bay fans here today, but not quite as many as the number of Chicago fans who joined us here last week when the Bears fans actually outshouted the Detroit fans, especially in the second half.

1:15pm A stupid play by Stanton: The Lions had driven to the Green Bay 27 when Stanton, pressured, lobbed it into the end zone for an easy interception by Tramon Williams. This one has some hang time to it. When it was in the air you could tell—and I said out loud—“That is going to be picked off.” And it was. Had Stanton merely thrown the ball out of bounds, Detroit would have at least had a chance to try a field goal. Instead, 1st-and-10 Packers at the 20, still no score with about 9 minutes left in the first.

1:19pm: Turk McBride sacks Rogers on 3rd and one so Detroit winds up getting the ball back. It was a huge 62-yard punt by Tim Masthay of the Packers but Logan returns to the 29 before getting smacked down big time and the Lions have their 3rd possession of this first quarter. It goes nowhere—3-and-out—for the second time in those 3 possessions.

1:28pm: Three-and-out for the Packers, too with the big play a tackle for loss (5-yards) by Ndamukong Suh. This game has turned into a battle of the punters. Stefan Logan—Detroit’s presumptive MVP—picks up 11 on first down but that it. Stanton missed Johnson badly on third down which is too bad because Johnson had a step and if you get the ball to him in stride a step is maybe all he needs to take it to the house but the trow was way behind him and incomplete.

1:35pm: There are flags all over the field and nobody knows what the deal is. A long pass to Greg Jennings is bobbled by Jennings, plucked out of midair by Detroit’s Amari Spievey and he returns 37 yards out to midfield but a block in the back on the return moves the Lions back to the 35. Still, it’s the Lions second takeaway of the first quarter and as we move into the final minute of an turnover-filled quarter, the score remains 0-0. The Lions again fail to garner points off the turnover—another three and out for Detroit and the punt it away. End of the First Quarter: DETROIT 0, GREEN BAY 0.

1:46pm: Green Bay has to punt again. That makes 7 punts today for these two teams today combined and we are only a couple of minutes into the second quarter. Green Bay is playing an altogether mediocre game so far. It’s almost as though they realize a game consists of two halves and they’ve seen how the Lions have done in second halves this season.

1:49pm: The Lions use Calvin Johnson on a reverse and it gains 11. There’s a way to get him the ball. A play later Clay Matthews sacks Stanton for a loss of, get this, 19 yards. It’s 3rd and 25 and so Stanton, trying to pick it up, instead throws his second pick of the game. It’s almost as good as a punt into the end zone, though. Green Bay starts at their own 29.

1:57pm: Make it 8 punts today as Masthay boots it away again for Green Bay. We’ve got 6:43 to go before the half and there is still no score.

2:28pm: Sorry, we’ve been away for a few minutes as I’ve had to do a couple of live updates on Ron Cameron’s show on WDFN. The story is right now that we are at halftime and it remains scoreless. The big story though came late in the quarter when packers QB Rogers, tackled at the end of a long gainer, slammed his head against the Ford Field turf and sustained a concussion. We have been told that Rogers, who was standing on the sidelines wearing a baseball cap while his replacement Matt Flynn was in there for Green Bay’s final possession of the half, will not return. So, this is now a battle of a second-string QB, Flynn, against a third-string QB, Stanton. For the record, Stanton was 3/8 for a grand total of 21 yards through the air in the first half with 2 interceptions. The game has featured 12 punts so far. It has hard to imagine that any of the preceding 162 meetings of these two teams featured less actual football action than has the first half of this one. Halftime: DETROIT 0, GREEN BAY 0.

2:45pm: Detroit’s Landon Johnson is placed on a backboard and carted off the field. The good

news is that Johnson you could see Johnson move his left leg.

2:47pm: Green Bay is moving the ball to start the second half. They began at their own 29 and have it now first-and-ten at the Lions 31.

2:51pm: We have our first points of the game and they go to Green Bay. Mason Crosby kicks a 42-yard field goal. The way the Lions offense looks today, Detroit may now be hopelessly behind. Meanwhile, it is announced that Landon Johnson has sustained a neck injury but does have movement in his extremities. With 10:55 left in the 3rd: DETROIT 0, GREEN BAY 3.

2:56pm: Punt #7 for Detroit and now Stanton is 3-for-11 on the day. Meanwhile, we can see just a little sliver of outside from our press box seat and it looks like it is really coming down out there and it looks like it has really been coming down since an hour or so before this game started. I wonder how many inches will have fallen by the time we get out of here this afternoon.

3:07pm: DeAndre Levy intercepts Flynn in the end zone to end a Green Bay drive which had begun at the Packer 10 and which saw Green Bay move all the way to the Lions 9. In other words, just when it looked like Green Bay was going to go in and score and make it a ten-point ball game, Flynn throws a terrible ball and now Detroit has the ball at the 9.

3:11pm: With less than 3 minutes left in the 3rd, the Lions finally complete a pass to Calvin Johnson. And it’s a big one: 44 yards. Stanton had, up until that time, thrown for 24 yards in the game, total. The Detroit drive stalls three plays later so Dave Rayner comes on to attempt a 48-yard, game-tying field goal. He yanks it left, no good. We’re down to 1:17 left in the 3rd and that Green Bay field goal is holding up. End of the Third Quarter: DETROIT 0, GREEN BAY 3.

3:29pm: Stanton hits Will Heller with a 13-yard TD pass and for the first time today they can play the Lions fight song on the PA system. It’s an impressive Detroit drive—right on down the field: 80 yards in 12 plays, taking 6:37 off the clock. Stanton just dumped it off to Heller around the 20 yard line and the big TE ran over Packers and fell into the end zone for the first Detroit score of the day. The Lions lead. Can they hang on for the remaining 7:55? DETROIT 7. GREEN BAY 3.

3:39pm: I don’t know how to break this to you, but the Lions are going to win this game. There’s 5:27 left and the Lions still lead 7-3 after the Packers again couldn’t move it and Masthay had to punt for the 7th time in the game. Detroit is now in a position to run the clock out if they can pick up a first down or two. Or not. The Detroit punts comes with 4:06 left, so the Lions wound up burning less than 2 minutes off the game clock. The key miscue was Stanton’s incomplete pass to Calvin Johnson on third down. Johnson broke one way, Stanton threw it the other, and the Lions, once again, had to kick it away.

3:45pm: Green Bay took over at their own 9 with 3:58 to go and now, at the 2 Minute Warning, they are at midfield. You have to be thinking that the Lions failure to burn clock when they had the chance the last time they had the ball is going to wind up killing them. Again.

3:57pm: It doesn’t. Green Bay had 3rd and 1 at the Detroit 31 and Flynn tried to throw long. It was incomplete. On 4th and 1, same thing. Flynn tried to go long and again it was incomplete. When the Lions took over on downs there was under a minute to go and Detroit, with Stanton throwing an incomplete bomb on 4th down to burn the final 0:03 off the game clock, holds on for the win. Detroit’s ten-game losing streak to Green Bay ends. It was a win nobody saw coming as Detroit goes to 3-10 while the Packers fall to 8-5. Detroit plays their next 2 in Florida (at Tampa and at Miami) before closing it out (it being the 2010 season) here against Minnesota on January 2nd. Again, the Vikings-Giants game is here tomorrow (Monday) night and its free. I’ll be at the Wings-Kings game and we’ll talk to you then. FINAL: DETROIT 7, GREEN BAY 3.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Red Wings v. Les Canadiens (The Live-Blog)

The first thing I want to say is: THIS IS SO COOL!  The Montreal Canadiens are here and the place is full and its just like a playoff game and it is just such a shame that Canadien only come in once every two years.  Everybody is pumped.  The game wasn't 90 seconds old and the crowd had the
Let's go Red Wings" cheer going in full throat.

Detroit gets an early power play chance but they can't do a thing with it which is no surprise.  Canadiens are #1 on the penalty kill in the league (89.3%) and #1 on the PK on the road, (95.6%).  They've allowed 2 power play goals on the road this season (11 games).  With the kill on Detroit's first power play of the night, Montreal has now killed 46 of 48 penalties against them, improving the road PK percentage to 95.8%.

There are not nearly as many empty seats in the arena tonight as there were against Nashville here on Wednesday which proves this much, at least: the Montreal Canadiens are a better draw than dollar hot dogs.

Montreal scuffled along last season, making the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, earning the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference.  They, as you will recall, thereupon upset the #1 seed, Washington, and the #4 seed, Pittsburgh.  In the off-season they proceeded to not sign Jaroslav Halak, the goalie whose remarkable play (remarkable being a word which grossly understates the case) was responsible for those upsets.  Carey Price--benched in last year's playoffs--has won the Montreal starting job this season and has responded pretty well, you'd have to say.  His goals-against is 1.96, his save percentage is .936.  He's 4th in goals-against, 3rd in save percentage, and, most importantly of all, first in wins with 17.

Travis Moen has just opened the scoring.  At 11:25 he banked one in off Jimmy Howard's right skate from behind the net.  The fans always take a dim view when this sort of thing happens, the general opinion holding that it's a bad goal, but the boards are lively here and Howard had to go post-to-post after a long-range Montreal shot missed the net.  It's hard to cover the sole of your foot with your hand, especially if you are using it to hold a goalie stick at the time.  (If you don't believe me, try it at home.)

Canadiens take separate penalties :09 apart late in the period.  This will test that Montreal road PK.  Detroit gets plenty of chances in the first 50-seconds of the 5-on-3 and after Price makes a glove save and a beauty (he's made quite of few of them here int he first period) Montreal calls time-out.  When the game resumes its chance after chance for Detroit, the play at all times from below the top of the face-off circles in.  Finally, it pays off.  The goal comes with no time showing on the clock, but upon review, the shot, by Nicklas Lidstrom from the top of the crease off a Pavel Datsyuk centering feed from behind the net, crossed the goal line with 1.2 seconds left in the period.  The official time is thus 19:58. Detroit outshot Montreal 18-7 in the first 20 minutes and still came within a second or so of trailing after one.  Instead, it's: DETROIT 1, MONTREAL 1.  

The Wings get yet another power play early in the second (their 5th of the night against none for Montreal) when the Canadiens are called for Too Many Men on the Ice.  The Wings don't use it break the tie, but moments after the penalty ends, they do.  Dan Cleary comes through with what might be the assist of the year, a centering pass while lying flat on his belly, and Niklas Kronwell banks a slapper off the goalpost and in to the left of Price at 3:48 to make it:  DETROIT 2, MONTREAL 1.  Cleary thus moves into contention for what is, right now, a tight battle for one of the "Three Stars" accolades--which I get to pick tonight.  (We'll show those Montreal writers how its done!)

Pavel Datsyuk just scored as pretty a goal as you are ever likely to see which is getting somewhat tiresome as he does this more or less every night.  This time he roofed a backhand to finish a breakaway and put Detroit up by 2.  Datsyuk actually used the blade of his stick to scoop the puck up and throw it under the crossbar over the left shoulder of Price who, when all was said and done, didn't have a chance in the world.  The goal came 0:14 after the first penalty of the game on the Red Wings (Jonathan Ericsson, Hooking at 13:17) came to an end.  The Wings get still another power play before the period ends and now have 6 PP's to 1 for Montreal.  The period ends.  The score now: DETROIT 3, MONTREAL 1.  

Welcome back to the game, which by the way, we now have one of to welcome you back to.  Montreal's back in it.  Here's what happened.  Todd Bertuzzi lost his stick and Canadiens nearly scored because of it, but finally the Wings got it out of the zone.  They seemed to relax once that happened though, had a sloppy line change, and let Benoit Pouliot walk in and rip one past Howard from between the rings at 7:43.  So...about 9 to go now and we have a game:  DETROIT 3, MONTREAL 2.

We're down to 7:30 to go and so far in this third period, the Wings have managed only 2 shots on goal.  Canadiens, for those of you scoring at home, have 12.  The Wings are hanging on, barely.

They just asked me for the 3 Stars which they do with about 5 minutes to go.  Here they are: #1 Datsyuk for his great goal and for assisting on the goal that made it 1-1 in the first, #2 Cleary for his great assist on the go-ahead goal, and #3 Howard because, right now, well, he's winning.  We'll see how these picks hold up.  3:41 left to go, now.

Howard just did his part.  He made a unbelievable save on P.K. Suppan, gloving the puck while falling backwards.  A true game-saver, I can tell you that and the 20,000 here would back me up.

Patrick Eaves finishes it with 0:46 left.  He got a loose puck on the left side and waited and waited and waited until he fired a writer into the empty net from just inside the Montreal line.  It's unassisted and it sends the crowd home happy.  Still 0:30 to go but it looks good for sure: DETROIT 4, MONTREAL 2.  

The horn and it's over.  In spite of being outshot in the 3rd period 20-4, the Wings win.  Thanks for a great night, Montreal, we'll see you right back here in, oh, about two years. (Unless we both make the Final!  Hey, there's a thought...) It's the Packers in town to try to Lions Sunday afternoon (I can't see that going well) and we'll talk to you then.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nashville at Red Wings (The Live Blog)

The title of this post is the problem with this post.  Nashville’s in town.  Who gives a damn?  Who cares?  It’s bleeping Nashville.  This is the problem with playing in the West.  Every night it’s Nashville, or Columbus, or Edmonton or some other team you just could not care less about if you gave not caring everything you had to give.  If, in other words, you didn’t care 110%. 

I’ve said it before: What the National Hockey League needs is an Original Six division.

Its almost ironic that we go from Nashville tonight—a team with no history and no tradition—to Montreal—the most storied of all NHL franchises, the most storied of all franchises period except for the hated New York Yankees, in 48 hours.  It’s the first time in 2 years to Rouge, Blanc and (whatever the French word for Blue is), have been in Detroit in 2 years.

Hell, when I was growing up, Montreal would come to town 7 times a year and every night at the Olympia was a great night because if it wasn’t Montreal playing Detroit it was Toronto.  Or Boston, or the Rangers, the Bruins or the Blackhawks.  Ah, for the good old days.

And the proof  of what I’m saying is tonight not in the pudding but in the seats.  More correctly, the truth is in the unoccupied seats, of which there are thousands.  This is the smallest crowd I’ve seen in this arena probably in nearly 30 years.  The smallest since the early 80’s when the Wings were brutal and we used to wonder what this place would be like if there were actually fans in the Upper Bowl.  So many empty seats here tonight, and on Dollar Hot Dog Night, to boot.  (I was going to end that last sentence with “no less” but “to boot” sounds slightly more Canadian and therefore slightly more hockey-like.)

In a totally unrelated note, I just came up with my best hockey-related idea, like, ever.  How about this?  When you score a shorthanded goal, your guy gets to get out of the penalty box.  What’s not to like?  You get a little extra reward for scoring the shorty and it would add a little offense (and therefore a little extra risk-taking) to the penalty kill (or is its called in the business and when I say “the business” I mean “the industry", the PK).

As an aside, as long as the boys are giving their all down there, we may as well mention that they trail the Predators (Chris Hanson’s favorite team, we presume) 2-1 as we enter the 3rd period.  Nashville scored in the last minute of the first period and in the first minute of the second and Detroit have (we’re trying hard to speak Canadian tonight so its Detroit “have” not Detroit “has” ) been trying to catch up all night.  Detroit are (not Detroit “is”) 2-6-0 (.250) when trailing after 2.  And here’s something that doesn’t apply to tonight’s game at all, but since we looked it up the other night we may as well use it: Detroit had been 13-0-2 (.933) when scoring first this season until they scored first in their last game here Monday against San Jose but lost 5-2.  So now they are 13-1-2 (.875) when scoring first. 

Standing, literally, in the Wings’ way tonight is Nashville goalie Anders Lindback.  It turns out he’s one of the tallest goalies in National Hockey League history—6’-6”.  Even when he drops into the butterfly, even when he’s down on his knees, he still covers an awful lot of net.  He and Wings goalie Jimmy Howard entered play tonight with identical save percentages: .916. 

Detroit’s on the power play now with 13-and-a-half left and with Detroit still down a goal.  This is what is known as a “key moment in the game” or, if your prefer, a “turning point”. 

No turning point for Detroit.  Dan Cleary took a cross-crease pass and had a chance to just stuff it in and tie the score, but he fanned.  But, Nashville just got caught cheating again, so just like that, Detroit goes on the power play again.  There’s 11:03 left.  Another (potential) turning point…

Another heart-wrenching disappointment, another power play failure for Detroit, which is (sorry, which “are”) 0-4 on the PP tonight.

The game just ended.  J.P. Dumont scored, unassisted, on a 3-on-1 with about 5 minutes to go so now its 3-1 Nashville and the Wings aren’t coming back in this one.  This will be the first time all season (26 games) that the Wings have lost games back-to-back in regulation time.  In other words, the first time all season the Wings have gone two games without picking up a point.

I hope the dollar dogs were good, at least.  We’ll chat you up Friday night when Les Canadien are here.  Oh, I almost forgot.  I get to pick the 3 Stars for that game.  I look forward to showing those Montreal writers how its done!

(Johan Franzen scored with Howard pulled and 1:33 left to make it 3-2 and to make the finish interesting, but Franzen, set up in front with seconds left couldn’t finish a second time and time ran out.)