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

Fishing for Fins: Sharks add Niemi

Sharks fans everywhere scoffed at acquiring Antti Niemi throughout the summer and they all were forced to eat crow Sept. 2 when the Sharks officially announced the signing of the Finnish goalie.

San Jose now boasts a goaltending tandem of also Fin, Antero Niittymaki and Niemi as opposed to last year’s twosome of Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss.

But you won’t see any partying in the streets. Reaction everywhere on Sharks forums is negative and pessimistic. Of course, being a Sharks fan, the only thing you know is bad luck and seeing the glass half empty.

Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Sharks

Playoff Proven

The addition of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie is an upgrade over Niittymaki first and foremost. You can argue technique and positioning all day, but Niemi has shown he can make the big saves when called upon.

Niittymaki has only played in two NHL playoff games and looked awful (.828 save percentage, five goals against in 73 minutes). That isn’t a big enough sample size to judge him on playoff play, but it puts him in the same boat as Thomas Greiss.

Previous all-star Nabokov was an OK playoff performer (.907 save %, 2.56 GAA), but couldn’t steal enough games by himself to bring his team to the promise land. Some fans have even dared to bring up how good he is in the regular season. Are you kidding me? Every Sharks fan should know by now how much the regular season means.

But didn’t Niemi have a great defense?

The biggest argument against Niemi and his Stanley Cup ring is that he had a spectacular defense in front of him. That’s very true, and playing for the Sharks will be a completely different experience.

However, we don’t truly know how that defense affected Niemi’s psyche. Maybe knowing he had a defense in front of him, he didn’t play up to his potential and relied on the defense to clear out his gigantic rebounds. Now backstopping an average defense in San Jose could spark him to step up his game to higher level.

Pure speculation but it’s something to think about.

Lame Argument

Niittymaki supporters like to mention that “when he’s on, he’s unstoppable.” This is an argument I love to hate. When any goalie is “on” they can be unstoppable. And if you have to use that argument at all in the first place, it means the goalie is inconsistent.

I wonder if Niitty is "on" in this picture.

The puzzle is still incomplete

One odd reaction to the Niemi addition is that people seem to think this is the roster the Sharks will enter the season with — three NHL starting goalies on one team with another star prospect (Alex Stalock) in the minors.

There is no way this team stays the way it is now. I think some trade will happen before the season starts — probably involving Greiss — to acquire a defenseman.

Ryane Clowe is a name that’s been thrown around numerous times for a package deal to bring in a top-4 defenseman. Something does have to be done about the defense, it doesn’t matter if Patrick Roy were the Sharks goalie, the defense has to improve.

San Jose lacks a shutdown pair, and unfortunately, Huskins-Wallin just won’t cut it (haha).

I’m not a fan of the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray pair, just because I’m not a Murray fan. I think he’s a pylon who’s only good for one big hit a game. He was terrible in the playoffs, always being a step behind the play and leaving a man open.

There’s been rumors of the Sharks trading Greiss + other assets to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn, and other whisperings of a potential offer sheet for Rangers restricted free agent Marc Staal.

"Jesus" Greiss' days may be numbered in San Jose

Either would be an upgrade over Murray, but those may be forever pipe dreams.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson must know the defense needs an upgrade, so I wouldn’t fret about the Sharks defense as it is now. It will change — hopefully sooner than later.

-Ray

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 60

Quite the Nab-tacular performance for the Sharks as they beat the Nashville Predators 4-3. There was no doubt goalie Evgeni Nabokov was the most spectacular player on the ice. He made 35 saves in the victory.

The Sharks were sloppy all night with their puck management, continuing to struggle with giveaways. These weren’t just harmless neutral zone giveaways — these were giveaways right in front of Nabokov. I don’t know how Nabby made some of the saves he did, but all the guys should treat him out to a week of meals and the finest Russian vodka you can find.

Dan Boyle made his return and showed no signs of rust. Coach Todd McLellan kept Derek Joslin up as a seventh defenseman just in case Boyle struggled. He didn’t and Boyle played nearly 20 minutes (19:10).

Despite the turnovers, Nashville couldn’t put the Sharks away. The Preds took the lead three times, and each time the Sharks came back to tie it.

Dany Heatley scored two power play goals and now leads the NHL in goals on the man advantage with 14. That means almost half of Heater’s goals come on the power play. I don’t know what to say about that. Should it be a concern he needs opponents to be shorthanded to score? I don’t think so now that I think about it. That’s actually pretty good. Keep him on the ice for the full two minutes now. Ha.

I'm picturing myself giving the 21 gun salute. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Brad Staubitz and Rob Blake were the other goal-scorers. Blake’s marker put him ahead of Doug Wilson on the all-time goals for defenseman list.

Sharks commentator Randy Hahn threw out an interesting statistic last night. Prior to the game, Nashville was 10-0 when Joel Ward scored a goal, and the Sharks were 9-0 when they have multiple fights in a game. Guess what? Both happened and the Sharks improve to 10-0 with more than one boxing match.

Unfortunately, both fights were Jody Shelley getting railed on by Wade Belak. It was ugly. Shelley wasn’t throwing — just hanging on. Oh well. It worked in the bigger picture.

Airheads

Nashville fans talk a lot of smack for no apparent reason. They use the “you suck” chants more than any other team. Why? Your team is the face of perennial mediocrity. Instead of insulting opponents, maybe you should insult your own team for blowing leads.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 17  NSH 20; Scott Nichol led with four.

The Sharks travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs, Monday. It won’t be entirely different from playing the Western Conference now that Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Dion Phaneuf are there.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 22

Quite the disheartening performance by the Sharks in their 3-2 shootout loss against the Dallas Stars. The Sharks looked to be on the road to victory until they broke out their trademark lazy third period performance. I’m sensing a trend, and coach Todd McClellan better address it quick.

Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe were the goal scorers tonight. Heatley scored on a behind-the-net feed from Joe Pavelski, while Clowe scored on a wrister from the point. That’s about all the offense there is to report.

The game was all about the goalies. Dallas goalie Marty Turco is probably the luckiest man on earth. He had no right making some of the saves he did. It’s so frustrating to see a goalie beat so many times, yet fling his arms or stick out and make a save. I don’t think that’s skill at all. I can only imagine what it felt like to the Sharks players.

Picture 12

Ryane Clowe screens Marty Turco (From SJSHARKS.com)

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov matched Turco’s saves to keep the game tight. One of the Stars’ goals was a wacky deflection that Nabby had zero chance in getting. Unfortunately, that goal came back to haunt the Sharks.

Enough about the Stars’ luck, though, this third-period collapse trend is scary. I think it was a couple years back in one of Ron Wilson’s last years, if not his last year as Sharks coach, where they could never hold onto leads well. They also got complacent and lazy, and it’s coming up again. I realize I’m not a professional hockey player, but come on. Don’t you want to beat every team 10-0 every night? Why do you want to take shifts off and not try? Please tell me.

This is a rivalry game. Pummel your opponent.

Pacific Division games are boring, I must admit. I don’t know if every fan feels this way about their teams’ division games, but they put me to sleep. Playing Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas is so lackluster. Anaheim is better, but I don’t feel any intensity. Maybe some of the Sharks feel that, I don’t know.

Why did Ryan Vesce only play five minutes in this game? He looks healthy and he was on that point streak before he got injured. Give him more ice time. He deserves it, and he’s earned it.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 33  DAL 26; Douglas Murray had six hits. Jed Ortmeyer had five.

The Sharks earn another point by getting into a shootout to extend their point-streak to 10 games.

All five games the Sharks have played past regulation have gone to shootouts. They’re 2-3 in those games.

Next game is Saturday at St. Louis.

–Ray

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.

Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.

Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.

Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.

The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.

We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.

Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.

Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.

Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.

The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.

The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.

With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment