A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Virginia Tech demoralizes a nation. The Hokie Nation.

Nathan (Michigan) and my (Virginia Tech) college teams finally have something in common — they are the only ranked teams to lose to an FCS school.

Unbelievable.

I started to worry furing the first quarter against James Madison when the score wasn’t 21-0, and it all went downhill from there.

Coming into this season, every Hokie fan knew we had a lot to replace on defense, but the problems are far greater than anyone imagined. Even the most fundamental part of defense — tackling — is difficult for them.

Where do these players get off thinking they can just push people and they will go down? Why is it so hard to wrap up a player and bring them down?

Linebacker Bruce Taylor has already started making excuses saying practice tackling doesn’t equal game-speed tackling. Of course it doesn’t, but why don’t you start using proper technique and it won’t be a problem — especially against a second-rate opponent in JMU.

The Hokies are being featured in a "How Not To Tackle" DVD.

Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is struggling mightily in Cody Grimm’s old spot.

So, how much blame should be put on Bud Foster for the defense? About 50%. Allowing 33 points against Boise, then 21 against JMU should never happen under Foster. I could be giving him too much credit, but I think his schemes alone can limit teams to 15 points.

As for the absurdly bad offense, it’s time for a change. Bryan Stinespring has got to be in the bottom five for worst offensive coordinator in college football. With so much talent, how can Tech put up 16 points last week?

Tyrod is scrambling way too much. Every play he is rolling out of the pocket. Why? He is a good passer, and he used to have great chemistry with Danny Coale. I think I’ve seen Coale catch a handful of passes this year.

You’ve also got Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson in the backfield, the latter of which is already saying he regrets not redshirting. The Hokies don’t need any more drama.

I could go on forever about the offense, but I’ll stop.

Last but not least, Frank Beamer. He’s now 1-26, I believe, against top-five teams. And now he’s lost to a FCS opponent. It’s time to start looking for a replacement now.

But the last thing we need is a Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno situation. Just because Beamer has gotten Tech on the map and a household name in college football doesn’t grant him an automatic 10 more years of mediocrity.

Clearly whatever he says to the team before big games fails. It’s like a broken record — a big game involving Tech? Put all your money on the Hokies losing. It sucks to even say that, but it’s true.

Everyone seems Bud Foster is the easy pick to step up. I’m not sure if that’s the right pick. I’d be worried about a Norv Turner situation — great coordinator, bad coach. Foster’s enthusiasm is unquestioned, though, and it just might be what all the Hokies need to hear.

Whatever the case, something needs to change now.

–Ray

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Football | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: NHL First-Round Predictions

Nathan Skytta is back again — this time with predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings will not start their run towards the Stanley Cup at home in front of the fans at Joe Louis Arena. In a season that was plagued with injuries, featured a rookie between the pipes, and contained league diversity with no real powerhouse, the Wings struggled out of the gates.

Led by gold medal winning head coach Mike Babcock and a plethora of skill and determination, the Wings overcame their injuries and got their lineup back together. Oh and that rookie in net? Well, he turned out to be a possible rookie of the year finalist.

The Wings finished fifth in the conference and are going to take on the fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, in the first round of the playoffs. The Coyotes will put up a challenge for the Wings, but after finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Wings should be favored in advance.

RED WINGS IN SIX.

In another matchup in the Western Conference, it’s the No. 1 San Jose Sharks versus No. 8 Colorado Avalanche — a matchup that will be worth watching. The Sharks barely missed having to face Detroit, but the road to the second round didn’t get any easier when they were paired up against the Avs. The Sharks need to be on their ‘A’ game in order to have any chance of advancing.

SHARKS IN SIX.

The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the No. 7 Nashville Predators. This may be the highest scoring series out of the eight first round playoffs because each team has struggling goaltenders and stars that can put up big numbers when given the chance.

PREDATORS IN SIX.

In the last Western series, it will be the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks facing off against one of the scariest teams in the league, the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings. Both of these teams have great goaltending, but it will be the matchup of the Kings defense against the all-star duo of the Sedin twins that determines who comes out victorious.

The Kings are the Cinderella team of the NHL this season and are unpredictable, so this series is one worth watching.

KINGS IN SEVEN.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals versus the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup pits Capitals starting goaltender Jose Theodore against his former mates from Montreal.  The Capitals have too much firepower for the Canadiens and should win this series convincingly.

CAPITALS IN FIVE.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will lead his No. 2 New Jersey Devils against the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers, in hopes of clinching another Stanley Cup title. This is the time of year where Brodeur seems to always step up his game — just what any team wants to hear when facing the goaltender with the most wins in NHL history.

DEVILS IN FIVE.

Silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres face the Boston Bruins and their rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are going to have a challenge beating Miller and his teammates, so the Sabres should easily win this series, but at this time of year, anything is possible.

SABRES IN SEVEN.

Last but not least, it’s the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins versus the No. 5 Ottawa Senators. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins should advance. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should lead the charge against the Senators, who lost their star Alex Kovalev to a torn anterior cruciate ligament this past week. The Senators have a challenge ahead of them, but hopefully they can make it an interesting series.

PENGUINS IN FIVE.

Anything can happen in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so tune in and see some of the exciting hockey that the last 16 teams in the league have to offer. Versus and NBC will have all the coverage starting Wed., April 14.

–Nathan

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My NHL Playoffs Preview

It’s that time of year again for 16 teams to lace up the skates and compete for the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. No postseason compares to the NHL playoffs — the speed, the excitement, the will to win it all.

The Eastern Conference features a lot of the same faces this time around like Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington. The Western Conference showcases some fresh faces with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado. Pittsburgh and Detroit have faced off in the Finals the last two years, and a three-peat isn’t quite out of the question. Series by series, here are the matchups and predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 Montreal

The Capitals put up 121 points and 54 wins this season and are bulldozing through their opponents. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t miss time from injuries and suspensions, he would probably have won the races for goals and total points. But this team is going to need a goalie to lead them to the promise land. On the heels of a stellar comeback-type season, goalie Jose Theodore will get an easy first matchup against Montreal. Montreal will wish they had never made the playoffs.

WASHINGTON IN FOUR.

No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Philadelphia

Has there been a more confusing team this year than the Flyers? Pegged by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ve been in disarray throughout the season. Starting goalie Ray Emery didn’t pan out and ended up injured and out for the season. Captain Mike Richards is going to need to put the team on his shoulders once again. And it’s no surprise the Devils are here. Last season, the Devils were ousted by an upstart Carolina team, but it’s hard to see that happening again. It will be a tough series, though.

NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN.

No. 3 Buffalo vs. No. 6 Boston

It’s hard to believe it was just last year when Boston made it to the Conference Finals. Since then, they traded Phil Kessel and lost Marc Savard to injury, which put their offense in a serious grind. It didn’t help goalie Tim Thomas struggled mightily, but now they have 23-year-old Tuukka Rask who suffocated opponents with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. The goalie on the other side is no slouch either — USA starter Ryan Miller. This series comes down to whom can put the puck in the net. Buffalo has 12 players with 10 goals or more, and Boston’s leading goal-scorer has just 22.

BUFFALO IN SIX.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Ottawa

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins find themselves facing a somewhat surprising Ottawa team. With all the talent Pittsburgh has, it’s a mystery as to why they never compete for a top seed. But the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, of course. This is where the Penguins excel having been to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. The Senators were already overmatched, and now after losing Alexei Kovalev for the year from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Sens are the dead horse preparing to be beaten.

PITTSBURGH IN FIVE.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 Colorado

If there’s any NHL topic that’s been exhausted, it’s the playoff woes of the Sharks. They dodged a bullet in not having to face a red-hot Detroit team. The Sharks shouldn’t have any problem taking out the Avalanche early. The Avs haven’t played well since the Olympic break, goalie Craig Anderson’s massive workload has caught up to him, and key players Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene are recovering from injuries. With that being said, the Sharks still don’t have the confidence to sweep a team in the playoffs or beat them in five games. San Jose will take the series, but not without shooting themselves in the foot a couple times.

SAN JOSE IN SIX.

No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 7 Nashville

This could get ugly really fast. Chicago must be disappointed with blowing a golden opportunity in the last game of the season against Detroit. If they won, it would have meant a number one seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. That puts Nashville right in the crosshairs of an angry team led by seemingly-always disgruntled coach Joel Quenneville. The Predators have heart, though, and they never quit. Despite the high probability of being skinned alive, Nashville will give it all they have.

CHICAGO IN FIVE.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Los Angeles

Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams, only Vancouver has a losing record away from their building. This gives the Kings a chance to pull off maybe the only upset of the first round. Los Angeles has a young core of players similar to what Chicago has. The Kings have players like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar that can keep them a playoff threat for many years to come. For Vancouver, it’s all about goalie Roberto Luongo and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If you stop the Sedins, you’ll win. It’s a simple concept, but few teams can accomplish it.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN.

No. 4 Phoenix vs. No. 5 Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a typo. The Coyotes really are in the playoffs and a fourth seed no less. They shocked the hockey world after being in fire and brimstone the last several years. Ownership questions, gambling scandals and relocation considerations bogged down this franchise. But with new coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix got revitalized and finished with 50 wins and 107 points. Their reward? The hottest team since the Olympic break. Near the midpoint of the season, the Red Wings were out of the playoffs dealing with a stockpile of injuries. But they’re back to Stanley Cup form and are once again dangerous. The Western Conference can only hope Phoenix can pull a miracle and oust Detroit. But let’s be real. This is Detroit and these are the playoffs.

DETROIT IN SIX.

–Ray

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 82

Quite the rip-roaring game for the Sharks as they kept their hot streak alive with a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Things got nasty in the third period and there ended up being 96 penalty minutes.

Gotta love it.

This was a great game for the Sharks all around. They showcased their offense, defense and some heart, giving Sharks fans everywhere hope heading into the playoffs.

It was a playoff atmosphere. The pace started off fast and Vancouver was pressing hard, but the Sharks pushed back and struck first on a Joe Pavelski goal. That goal was all thanks to Ryane Clowe’s boardwork and deking. Clowe’s ripping opponents to pieces on the scoresheet, and he also fought Aaron Rome tonight.

Clowe is what we like to call a prototypical hockey player.

San Jose kept the gas pedal down by exploding for three goals in the second period. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra tallied the markers.

Torrey Mitchell assisted on Couture’s and Malhotra’s goals, which gave him his first multi-point game of his career. Torrey is officially back.

The third period is where things got scrappy. The Sharks took three penalties in quick succession to put Vancouver on a decade-long power play. And guess what? The Sharks killed it all off behind spectacular goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov.

After Jamie McGinn skated out of the penalty box, he had an altercation with one of the Sedins, and McGinn received a ten-minute misconduct for some odd reason. That’s what sparked everything.

Devin, we're back in first in the West. Show me your "O" face! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Scott Nichol cross-checked Mikael Samuelsson in the back, who dived like a little punk. When Samuelsson came back, he tried to stir the pot with Rob Blake, and Blake proceeded to punch him right in the face.

Samuelsson is a wuss. I’ve never liked him — to me he was never a Shark — which stems from his Red Wing days. He’s just an annoying pest who can’t take physicality. Much like the entire Canuck team and his former Detroit team.

Joe Thornton was getting into it with a Sedin, still talking trash for some reason. These Sedins really need to shut their mouths before they get hurt. Yap yap yap all you want twins, but someone is going to wreck you with a giant hip check one day.

Sensing that his meatball-less teammates were in trouble, Alexandre Burrows blatantly interfered with Thornton. That started a pile up, with Thornton in the middle throwing punches and ripping the helmet off a Sedin (as you can tell, I don’t know which twin but it really doesn’t matter).

Niclas Wallin and Ryan Kesler actually dropped the gloves, but it was a nice, cozy bearhug.

After all of this, the Canucks finally got on the board and ended Nabby’s shutout. Vancouver scored again soon after to actually make it a game.

Knowing that it wasn’t over, the Sharks calmed down and locked the game down for good.

This is the kind of game I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. I mentioned a while back how I wanted to see a brawl and the team needed it. Well, this was close enough and when you see Thornton getting in the mix, it always bodes well.

It would have been a good last regular season game, but there’s still one more.

Three teams in the West are tied with 98 points, so it’s still a mystery as to who the Sharks will play. The Kings, Predators or Avalanche are fine, but not Detroit. I hear some talk of “you shouldn’t be afraid of Detroit and to face them early.”

Yea, about that. I’ll take the easiest road possible to the Stanley Cup, thanks. While there would be no doubt of an explosion of optimism if the Sharks could beat the Wings in the first round, I don’t want to take chances. I’m sure people were saying similar things about the Ducks last year — anybody but Anaheim. Look what happened there.

Seto’s effort

This is worth mentioning: in the third period, Devin Setoguchi blocked a shot, took it and skated all the way down the ice, and put a shot on goal. That block had to have hurt, but he sucked it up and started a dangerous forecheck. That counts as a point in my book.

Right Wing Jason Demers?

Coach Todd McLellan is experimenting with Demers up front with Nichol and McGinn. It’s not permanent as he does play some defense during the game, but I like the concept. It’s like a mini Dan Boyle playing forward.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  VAN 16; Setoguchi and Pavelski both had three.

The Sharks finish the regular season with a home game against Phoenix, Saturday.

–Ray

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 72

Quite the truth-is-out-there game for the Sharks as they showed some effort but ultimately lost to the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2. The “truth” stands for the Sharks’ actual true potential, and it was featured in the third period.

Before that, the effort was spotty.

After such a nauseating loss and an unplanned practice, you’d think the Sharks would at least come out fierce — nah, too much to ask. Continuing their horrible play against Dallas, the Sharks allowed Vancouver to score twice in the opening frame.

Listen guys, you’re not giving yourselves chances with these bonehead penalties in the first periods of games. This time you took three penalties — that’s 30% of the period in the penalty box. And Vancouver scored on two of those power plays. It’s sickening.

Ryane Clowe scored on a nice finesse play, skating down the right side and crossing the crease for a wide open net. Good thing Clowe scored; I was prepared to rip him some more for his comments the other day. I’ll mention them anyway. In the game against Dallas, Brenden Morrow said he wanted to fight Clowe, and as we all know that didn’t happen. Here’s his quote, taken from David Pollak’s blog:

Dude! Kent, is that a puck? I'm not sure what to do with it. Me either Manny, let's just watch it. (From SJSHARKS.com)

“I told him I wasn’t going to fight him, that I’d fight Barch,” said Clowe. ”I probably should have fought him (Morrow), but I have a hard time fighting guys who are the top players on other teams. I don’t know.”

Well Clowey, I know. You have a major malfunction in your brain. Stop being a wuss. I realize you don’t want to be perceived as a goon a la Matt Cooke, but you’re supposed to be a top player for San Jose too. And I do recall Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf fighting in the playoffs. With a nose that size, you should be able to fight the world. Next time you face the Stars, I better see you and Morrow tango.

Back to the game we go, and the third period showed us what the Sharks can do when they start skating. Relentless forechecking led to a Joe Pavelski goal late in the game. Goalie Roberto Luongo saved the game for the Canucks, literally. A few breaks the other way and this game could be a Sharks victory. But when it rains, it pours. And boy is it coming down. Four straight losses for the men in teal.

Logan and Torrey

Playing on a line with Manny Malhotra, these two sped around the ice with authority. I’d say these were the two best Sharks on the ice. Couture got called up for the game finally after tearing up the AHL. He probably won’t be here too long, but I’ll say it again: put him on a line with Joe Thornton! I want to see if they have any chemistry. Of course Thornton isn’t playing great so maybe it’s for the best they stay apart.

Shut the Lu Up

I’m so sick of hearing “Luuuu” after every save Luongo makes. So annoying. If he isn’t even looking and the puck hits him, the fans will chant it. Enough. Seriously.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ14  VAN 17; Jamie McGinn and Douglas Murray led with three.

San Jose is back on the ice tomorrow for the second game of the back-to-back. It’ll be against the Flames at Calgary.

–Ray

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 67

Quite the persistence pays off game for the Sharks as they finally solved Steve Mason and defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. It was looking bad early on, but Mason finally cracked.

I’ve definitely been a part of these games before — while playing video games of course — especially against Roberto Luongo. I try all different button combinations to set up the perfect pass and still get stoned by the goalie. That’s probably how the real players felt tonight against Mason.

It had been over seven periods since the Sharks last scored on Mason. Columbus shut out the Sharks right before the break, but the Sharks looked awful that night. This time around, San Jose swarmed the Blue Jackets and put on unrelenting pressure.

The team reacts to Jumbo saying he'll keep his shirt on for interviews (From SJSHARKS.com)

I really hope these types of games stay in the Sharks’ minds. When playoff time comes, you’re going to be down — no question. They may be just regular season games, but knowing you can come back against a hot goalie could pay huge dividends.

Dany Heatley scored the first goal, which came in the third period on the power play. A gigantic sigh exited HP Pavilion. Joe Pavelski skated around the back of the net and scored to take the lead.

A few timely saves by Evgeni Nabokov, specifically in the final seconds, sealed the victory.

Nichol Update

Scott Nichol, who was cheap-shotted last game, will be out 7-10 days with a shoulder injury. Ryan Vesce was called up to take his place. Vesce played seven minutes and amassed three hits.

Maxim Lapierre was suspended four games for the hit.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 36  CBJ 32; Douglas Murray led with six.

The Sharks’ next game is Thursday against Nashville, at home.

–Ray

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 65

Quite the Olympic hangover for the Sharks as they lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3. San Jose showed the national audience about three minutes of competence, which was surrounded by 57 minutes of Latvian play.

I don’t even know who I was watching for the first 48 minutes of the game — really. Obviously going from the Olympics to the NHL regular season is a ginormous step down in pressure, but wow. I had hope that the Olympics would be like ankle weights; take them off and absolutely fly. Nope. Thank you, come again.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was like “W-T-F, man?!” Poor sell-out crowd. They waited two weeks after that Buffalo loss just to see another clunker.

The second period is when things really fell apart. Evgeni Nabokov was seeing Canada jerseys again (come on now, the Devils jersey do resemble them) and let in three soft goals. Bad, bad, bad. One goal dropped behind him, and while Nabby did his trademark “peek behind,” he couldn’t spot the puck.

Devils goal number two was a slapshot from the point that went in cleanly. No excuse for that. I don’t remember anyone being in front of Nabby directly.

Devils goal number three was a wrister from the point by fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Again, stoppable. Again, unaccetpable.

Douglas Murray shows us what to do once you've "grabbed the Devil by the horns" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Third period rolls around and Patrick Marleau tried being Captain Canada when he ignored Doulgas Murray’s pleas to defend Travis Zajac. Patty tried to steal the puck away from another Devil — fail. Wrister in the net from Zajac.

Oh, but wait. The Sharks transformed into a Zach Parise-Ryan Kesler hybrid at the 12-minute mark of the third period. You know — late-game heroics, energetic skating — the whole enchilada.

Devin Setoguchi struck twice in two minutes on Canada-reject Martin Brodeur (yes, I said it). Joe Pavelski buried a third goal a minute later, and the Shark Tank was a-rockin’.

Side note: Before that third goal, I actually saw Thornton skate the hardest I’ve seen in a long time for a loose puck. Those five seconds of brilliance were awesome.

But the Devils coach ruined all the fun with a timeout, and the Sharks couldn’t manage a fourth goal. They were just too stupid earlier in the game. Shame.

An unfortunate start to the homestretch, but at least the loss is to an Eastern Conference opponent. And Manny Malhotra was back tonight after missing some games before the break. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is still out, though. Lower-body injury is what they say.

No Calls

The Devils only took one penalty the whole game. Granted the Sharks did score on the power play, but you have to draw more penalties on a trap team like New Jersey. They’ll lull you to sleep, a la Phoenix.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 29  NJD 14; Niclas Wallin and Murray both had four.

Olympics thoughts: I don’t think there could have been a worse scenario than watching Crosby score that overtime goal. Now the Crosby worship will reach levels I could have never imagined. I cannot stand that guy. U-S-A, U-S-A!

The Canadiens come to town Thursday.

–Ray

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment