Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lightning Weekly Round Up - Week 4

The Weekly Roundup

Weekly Record: 1-2

Overall Record: 3-6, 9 points, 3rd in the Southeast 5 points behind the Caps

Wasteland +/-: -1

Key Injuries: Paul Ranger - Personal Reasons. The reason for Ranger leaving the team hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully it’s something that can be fixed and he can return to the team soon.

Highlight: This was a tough one. I was torn between their first win against a quality opponent (the Sharks) or Vinny scoring his first goal. Since I am the proud owner of a Vincent Lecavalier jersey I’m going with Vinny’s goal. He scored in the dying seconds of Saturday’s game against the Sabres.

Since Coach Tocchet redistributed the scoring wealth the Lecavalier line has scored twice. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a dramatic improvement over the zero goals they scored in the previous seven games.

Disappointed By: The entire team’s shootout performance. It would be comical if it wasn’t costing the team points. Losing three games in shootouts isn’t horrible, not scoring a single goal in any of the shootouts is. Ten times they have skated one-on-one with the opposing goalie and ten times they’ve failed to put the puck in the back of the net.

What’s worse is that with the exception of Steven Stamkos rattling a post none of the attempts have even threatened crossing the goal line. Marty St Louis even tried his patented, backwards skating move to no avail. At some point they might as well just start ripping slap shots at the goalie.

Surprised By: Mike Smith’s performance over the past two games has been a welcome sight. Against the Sharks he picked up his first win and his game against the Sabres might have been his strongest this season. By stopping 30 of the 32 shots fired his way he‘s showed the form that makes the organization believe he has the potential to be an elite goaltender. His performance in the shootout against Buffalo, stopping five of six, silenced some of his critics as well.

Perhaps sitting out two games was a bit of a wakeup call for the big net minder.

Playoff Confidence: 60% For the first time this season the Bolts looked like they belonged on the ice with a couple of a playoff-caliber teams. Games against Ottawa and New Jersey will test them against this week.

Pet Peeve of the Week

The use of “we” when talking about a sports team. Unless you are getting a check from that team you are not part of the we, nothing you did helped them win or lose. So please stop saying things like “We really kicked butt tonight” or “If we don’t get in gear we won’t make the playoffs”.

The only exception I grant - if you are talking about a college team and you went to that school. With what it costs to go to school you’ve earned the right to feel like a part of the team.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grrr These Guys Make me Angry!!!

Yesterday, while watching Fernando Torres save Rafa Benitez’s job today I realized that no matter how much you like a certain team there are always going to be players you don’t care for playing for them. I suppose I could say hate, but that word (like the word “great”) is overused. So let’s make a list. The Wasteland’s List of Players That Make Us Angry. Grrrrrr.

Liverpool - Lucas

Of all the one named Brazilian players playing in organized soccer, why oh why did Liverpool sign this guy? Lucas, which I’m assuming is Portuguese for midfielder that wanders around and occasionally misses a pass or blasts a shot ten rows into the Kop, has been with the team since the 2007-08 season. With the departure of Xabi Alonso, Lucas has played in all of the Premier League games but has yet to find the back of the net. In fact he hasn’t even garnered an assist yet. He does not play “the beautiful game”. It’s more like a sort of confused, ugly game.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Lukas Krajicek

No, I haven’t sworn a vendetta against athletes named Lukas. Currently a consistently healthy scratch, Krajicek actually led Lightning defensemen in ice time last season. Don’t read that as being any indication of his talent, unless the talent is remaining healthy on a team that was decimated by injuries.

At 6’3” and 205 lbs, the 26-year-old doesn’t play a physical game. Nor does he play a particularly offensive game. His number one move seems to be pitch forking the puck out of his own zone into center ice. A move he uses on such a consistent basis that The Wasteland has dubbed him “The Farmer”.

Lightning fans wish him more playing time only so that a team desperate for defense might take him off the team’s hands.

Baltimore Orioles - Danys Baez

It’s not so much Baez as the fact that he’s getting paid $19 million to be an average middle reliever. Well let’s say he got paid $19 million, he’s now a free agent. Let’s see what kind of production that type of money buys:

2007 53 games 50.1 innings 0 wins 6 losses 3 saves 6.44 ERA
2008 out injured
2009 59 games 71.2 innings 4 wins 6 losses 0 saves 4.02 ERA

Wow. Even by Orioles’ standards that is a bad return on their investment.

Baltimore Ravens

This was a tough one. For one thing I pretty much like the team that Ozzie Newsome has assembled. Also, there are so many back up linebackers, special teams players, third string long snappers, etc it’s hard to get a feel for everyone on the team.

So for lack of a better choice I’m going with Willis McGahee, and it’s strictly fantasy football related. I’m starting Ray Rice in both of my leagues this year, and while he’s been one of the steals of the draft he isn’t exactly a touchdown machine. Why? Because a certain touchdown vulture by the name of Willis McGahee is taking them away!

The former University of Miami star has only 45 carries this season, yet five of those have resulted in touchdowns. He’s listed at 235lbs, but I doubt he’s more than 220 lbs and who has every heard of a goal line back who’s 6’0 220 lbs? I figure he’s cost me at least 18 points over the season.

So who else has players they don’t care for out there?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wasteland Hall of Fame Induction Time!!!

Normally, I would wait for a slow spot in the sports season to write this column, but it’s been kicking around in my head for about 24 hours so I figured I would get it out of the way now. I was editing an old column the other day and realized it’s been more than a year since anyone has been inducted into the Wasteland Hall of Fame. So I started thinking, who should join Michael Taylor in these hallowed halls?

All I know is that it had to be someone worthy. So I met with the Wasteland Hall Committee, which consists of me, The Whiteness and TimMAY. Seeing how The Whiteness and TimMAY are both cats I was able to bribe their votes with extra food (slow cooked BBQ Chicken to be exact).

Having happily sold their votes for human food they are now napping and I am writing this to announce that the newest member of the Tampa Sports Wasteland Hall of Fame is……

Joe Orsulak

Yes I know, quite a stunning selection.

Your first question, if you weren’t an O’s fan growing up in the 80’s and 90’s might be, “Who is Joe Orsulak, exactly?”

Well he was an erstwhile outfielder for Baltimore during the not so good days of 1988-1992. In his 14 year career he also spent time with the Pirates, Mets, Marlins and Expos. He wasn’t a flashy player, but you always had the sense that he tried his hardest. Few games went by where his uniform wasn’t dirty from hurling himself after a fly ball in the outfield.

It was that mind frame which endeared him to the blue collar fans in the Baltimore area. After all, look at the sports icons in that town - Cal Ripken (went to work everyday) and Johnny Unitas (rocked an awesome crew cut while redefining the modern day quarterback). It’s not a town that idolizes flash without substance. Even the current king of braggadocio, Ray Lewis, earned his keep by being among the elite linebackers of his generation.

Orsulak was the type of player who came into spring training every year fighting for his job, sure to be supplanted by Steve Finley, Chito Martinez or Stan Jefferson. While those aren’t household names to most fans, they were the prospects that were going to beat Smokin’ Joe O’ out of a spot in a given year.

Not only would he beat them out for the starting job, he would end up being one of the team’s better hitters during the season. “Better hitters” is a relative term for the O’s during his playing days.

Three times in the six seasons he was with the club the New Jersey native would lead the club in hitting. In 1988 he led with a .288 average, in 1989 he repeated the feat with a .285 average. In 1992, his last season with the club, he would lead the team with a .289 average. Not numbers that strike fear in hearts of opposing pitchers, but better than the more revered Ripken or Fruit Loop eating Mickey Tettleton.

He never played in an all-star game or led the league in any category. His name isn’t in the top 10 in any statistical stat in the O’s records book. Nor is he in the team’s hall of fame. The best stat I can find is that he gunned out 22 base runners in 1991. So why is he in this hall of fame?

Because he is was one of my favorite players when I was growing up and this is my blog. Simple isn’t it? I’m not sure why he was one of my favorites, he played the outfield and I abhorred the thought of playing out there. He was left-handed like I was, but he didn’t have the smooth swing that most southpaws display in the majors. In fact I believe John Lowenstein referred to his hitting style as a “man chopping wood, badly”.

I think it has more to do with the fact that he never played like he was entitled to anything. In this day in age where 18 year olds are handed tens of millions of dollars without recording an out in the major leagues, it’s nice to recognize a player who he had to perform his best to earn his paycheck, which according to baseballreference.com was never more than $1.3 million in one season.

To a 12-year-old kid, why wouldn’t a guy who slammed into walls and dove after line drives in the gap be among his favorites? Perhaps he did something great in a random game during my childhood that captured my attention and that’s why I rank him up there with Ripken and Don Mattingly (yes I was a bit of a blood traitor growing up). Memory tends to glorify the deeds of past heroes while dimming their actual accomplishments. I seem to recall him getting clutch hits every time he came up to bat or making game saving catches every time the ball was hit to him.

While a quick perusal of his career stats crushes those childhood memories it doesn’t mean he should go unrecognized. He represents all of the other players that kids or adults latch on to for no obvious reason. To have Joe Orsulak or Toby Hall or Spike Owen as your favorite player begs questions from other fans. If you asked someone who their favorite player was and they said “Milt Thompson”, wouldn’t you ask them why?

It’s easy to say Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter is your favorite player. They provide plenty of reasons for a fan to like them. They’re superstars on the way to the hall of fame. To me fans who’s favorite players are among the semi-known are interesting to talk to because they always have a story as to why.

I don’t know if honoring someone because they represent the common player is noteworthy, but isn’t it what baseball is all about? The elite players may garner the most press, but most teams win because of the average guy. Wasn’t Jayson Werth a prime example in last season’s World Series? While superstars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hit .167 and .286 respectively, the much traveled Werth (a former Orioles farmhand) bedeviled the Rays all series long with key hits and stolen bases.

Orsulak isn’t involved with baseball much these days, according to a 2008 Baltimore Sun article he doesn’t go to many games because he doesn’t want to become, “one of those guys who are experts way up in the stands”. He first wife passed away in 1994 from a brain tumor, he has since remarried and continued to live his life quietly in Maryland. But for me he represents what is good about baseball, what is fun about cheering for players on teams.

Congratulations Mr. Orsulak and welcome to the Wasteland Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trade Bait!

So I went to the ol' card shop today because I was feeling like spending some money. A couple of packs of Topps Update and SP Authentic satisfied the urge but left me with some inserts I did not need. So they're up for trade. If you see anything you like, leave a comment or shoot me an email (you can find it in the contact field) and we'll see what we can work out.

Batch Number 1

Top Row

Juan Marichal Legends of the Game (LGU12)
Adrian Gonzalez Topps Town Blue (TTT58)
Andrew McCutchen Turkey Red (TR135)

Bottom Row

Miguel Cabrera Ring of Honor (RH91)
Freddy Sanchez Gold 293/2009 (UH283)
Ryan Howard Faces of the Game (199) Apparently not an insert, oh well
Alex Rodriguez Gold Variation 33/299 (13)

Batch 2

Top Row

Zack Greinke Victory Insert (PP30)
Ryan Church Black Border 7/58 (UH138)
Pee Wee Reese Ring of Honor (RH92)
Justin Upton Victory Insert (PP19)

Bottom Row

Kobe Bryant 20th Anniversery Card (1634)
Dan Uggla Topps Town Blue (TTT60)
Wade Boggs Legends of the Game (LGU16)
Ty Cobb Turkey Red (TR101)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Naked Hockey? Whatever works!

Like that title don't you?

A little team bonding at the end of practice, strip shootout. If a player misses on a shootout he has to remove an article of equipment. It seems Marty St Louis was in danger of frostbite by the time he scored.

Video link came from Erik Erlendsson, fearless coverer of all things Lightning related for the Tampa Tribune.

What me Worry? Nahh Vinny will be fine.....

It would be easy to join the rest of the crowd and start ripping on the captain. After all he’s gone seven games and hasn’t scored a goal. If the team is struggling the simple thing to do is to point the finger at the guy banking $10 million and is getting outscored by Todd Fedoruk. But you know what? I don’t care. With more than 70 games to go I have no doubt Vincent Lecavalier will end up with at least 30 goals.

Why am I not concerned? Well the answer, my friend, is three fold.

1. Vincent is a streaky scorer.

Throughout his career there have been scoring droughts. Granted, none have been this long (14 games if you include last season). On the same token there are stretches where he scores goals at an elite rate. Even while mired in a miserable slump last season he briefly broke out in January with a 5 goal, 8 points in five games performance.

All scorers, with maybe the exception of the one they call Ovcehkin, go through slumps for unknown reasons. As long as he keeps getting his chances he will be fine. Twenty-six times he’s fired the puck towards the net which is second only to Steven Stamkos. A couple have clanged off of the pipe and he’s been robbed by good saves. Fourteen of the shots have found the goalkeeper, sooner or later they’re going to start trickling in.

The shake up of lines might help him out. He’s always enjoyed success when skating with Marty St Louis and James Wright is the type of player that can allow Lecavalier to roam a bit more. If the teenaged Wright holds up his end of being the defensive forward on the line then Vincent is free to be a little more daring offensively.

There is the possibility that the St Louis / Lecavalier combination will get too pass happy, a drawback that used to drive Coach Tortorella insane during his tenure with the team.

2. He’s healthy.

This can’t be stressed enough. The past two season’s haven’t seen a 100% healthy Vincent Lecavalier. Whether it was his shoulder or wrist something was always bothering him to some point. If there are two things a skilled player doesn’t want bothering him it’s his upper body.

His play this season has been much more physical this year and his shot has been a lot heavier. There is still probably some rust being shaken off so he might not be up to full speed for another month or so.

3. He’s doing well with the intangibles.

Well they’re not really intangible, rather the little things. He’s winning 53% of his faceoffs, he’s shooting the puck and he’s using his size to shield the opposition from the puck. He’s also staying out of the penalty box. So far he’s only been called for one penalty, and that means the more he’s on the ice the better chance he has of scoring.

When Lecavalier has slumped in the past it’s been noticeable on the ice. His body language would speak of his disappointment. Sagging shoulders, lack luster skating, turnovers are all indicators of a disinterested Vincent. His skating would be off and he would pick up lazy penalties like hooking or tripping.

So far those traits have been largely absent. He is fighting for the puck, diving to block shots (and he’s even managed to block one!) and working hard to set up his teammates. As long as he keeps the work ethic going he will break through.

Out of the six assists he has four of them have come on the power play. Though they are at a pedestrian 17% on the season as a team, their first line is lethal. It’s strong enough that a Pens fan texted me during the game on Saturday amazed at the talent they put on the ice.

Playing the point with the extra man isn’t going to lead to a ton of goals for him, bit it is where he is most effective, and it’s best for the team. As Coach Tocchet has mentioned repeatedly this isn’t the “Vinny Lighting” (I like Vinny Bay Lightning better) it’s the Tampa Bay Lighting. There is no need to move him from that spot, let Ryan Malone get the garbage goals in front, Vincent will find his where he always does - one timers from the right circle.

Is he pressing a bit now? Most definitely. It seems like he is waiting for the perfect opportunity to shoot rather than just ripping the puck at the net. Against the Panthers he had the puck in a good shooting zone (in front of the net) and the goalie was off balance. Rather then shoot he took an extra stride and allowed the defense to recover and disrupt the shot. When his confidence is soaring he trusts his inherent talent and lets it fly.

Once he lights the lamp for the first time whether is be on the power play, penalty shot, empty net, triple deflection, the floodgates will open.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lightning Weekly Roundup

The Weekly Roundup

Weekly Record: 1-2

Overall Record: 2-5

Wasteland +/-: -3

Key Injuries: None

Highlight: The win against the Panthers. Last season, going into the third period down by one normally signaled a loss for the Lightning. Forty-two times they trailed after two periods and thirty-nine times the game ended in defeat. Hopefully, the come from behind victory signals that this is a team that won’t fade in the third period.

Disappointed By: Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay. Normally, I would give them another week to find their scoring touch, but in the last few games they’ve been perhaps the third best line on the team. I’m not worried about Vincent scoring goals, he’s historically been a streaky scorer. This time next week there’s a chance he could have three or four goals. Tanguay, on the other hand, has struggled. Only one lonesome assist in seven games and just six shots. He has simply not been a factor when he’s been on the ice.

Coach Tocchet has seen enough and according to the reports from the St Pete times there will be changes. Currently Tanguay has been dropped to the forth line with Jeff Halpern and Drew Miller. James Wright is called up to Lecavalier’s line as is Marty St Louis. The coach is risking breaking up his best line (also one of the best in the NHL right now) to help Lecavalier out of his goal slump.

If this shakeup doesn’t work, perhaps it’s time to try someone from Norfolk. As of right now the Bolts aren’t carrying any extra forwards. If the offense as a whole continues to struggle perhaps an injection of new blood would shake them up. A quick perusal of the stats shows that a couple of late cuts from camp are off to hot starts. Ryan Craig (CRAIGGERRS!!!) and Brandon Bochenski have both netted 4 goals a piece in the first six Admiral games.

Surprised By: The aforementioned James Wright. He’s nineteen years old and a rookie, yet he’s showing the poise of a veteran. He might not be lighting the lamp (zero points in seven games), but he’s playing with the type of grit and tenacity that the team has been lacking.

He gets his shot with Lecavalier against the Sharks on Thursday. It’s not a bad idea, sometimes offensive lines can have too much creativity. Tanguay is a skilled offensive talent, but digging the puck out of corners isn’t his strong point. Vinny can muck it up when he wants to, but if he’s battling in the corner, the chances are he won’t be scoring many goals.

Playoff Confidence: 50%. They haven’t shown the ability to beat a top tier team yet, the two teams they beat are behind them in the standings. On the road they looked out-classed against Ottawa and Pittsburgh. They have two big games coming up this week. Both San Jose and Buffalo have gotten off to strong starts and are quick, puck-moving teams. Those types of teams have given the Lightning a fit over the last two seasons.

Pet Peeve of the Week

People who tuck sports jerseys into their pants. Back when I worked at the No Limits Fun Factory the employees were allowed to show their pride by wearing their favorite team’s jersey. It sounds stupid, but we ate it up, it was right up there with a dental plan as far as perks.

I don’t know if it was because it was an IT company, but a copious amount of employees would tuck their No. 40 Alstott shirts into their khakis or jeans. Look, there are two shirts that should never be tucked in - sports jersey’s and Hawaiian shirts. So stop it…..right now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quick Hits - Post Orlando Edition

So I go away for a couple of days and the Lightning fall apart? I think I might be glad I didn't have a chance to watch the game against the Senators 7-1? Even I couldn't put a positive spin on that one.

Speaking of dissapointment - how about that Liverpool squad? Four losses in the BPL already. Last season they only had two defeats all season long. I have a feeling the sacking of Rafa Benitez isn't far off.

The Bucs traded Gaines Adams to the Bears for a 2nd round pick. You usually don't see too much about the Bucs on this site, but for the team to admit defeat on their 2007 number one pick is noteworthy - if just for the fact that Adams will be replaced by the wonderfully named Stylez G. White.

Two biggest needs for the Rays in the off-season? Catcher and closer.

Memo to Champs Sports Stores. If you're going to run a promotion with the Lightning make sure your stores are aware of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Look Who Bought New Cards!

So I was working on getting out of the condo before 10.00am this morning when there was a knock at the door. It was my friendly neighborhood UPS guy. He had a box in his hand, woo-hoo! So much for going to see the Lightning practice in Brandon (didn’t really feel like driving that far anyway).

Inside the box was another box, the greatest kind of box of all. It was the kind that was filled with cards! As a present to myself for landing a new job (funemployment ends November 2nd) I bought a box of 2008-09 Upper Deck Black Diamond Hockey for about $50.00

A recently released, higher end product for less than $60.00 was right up my alley. So I commenced to ripping and here is what I received.

A mass of single diamond base cards. Nothing too fancy with these cards, basic photos with a little bit of etching on the top to make the cards feel pretty cool. Tactile cards are the best. The only major complaint I have with this set is the number of doubles. Out of 120 cards there were 22 doubles, all in the single diamond category. Boo!

The only cards with players pictured in a Lightning uniform - Vinny Prospal (cut in the off-season and now with the Rangers and Triple Diamond Rookie Vladimir Mihalik (a 6’7 defenseman manning the blue line in Norfolk for now).

There were 7 of the Double Diamonds

There were three Triple Diamond regular cards and 3 Triple Diamond Rookies. The Rookies (not pictured) were Mihalik, Brian Lee from Ottawa and Nikolai Kulemin from Toronto. Not quite Stamkos or Drew Daughtery, but some rookies are better than none.

I only received one Quad Diamond, I think one of other hits cancelled out my promised second Quad. Bobby Orr cards are always nice, look at the head of hair on that kid!

The Hits part 1:

Ruby Single of Andrei Markov 009/100
Premier Cut Single Jason Spezza (I’m a magnet for Spezza inserts)
Premier Cut Double Henrik Lundqvist

I really like the Premier Cuts, of course I get excited about any die cut cards, hey I’m easy like that.

The Hits part 2:

Gemography of Marc Antoine Pouliot
Quad Jersey of Olli Jokinen
Quad Jersey of Tim Thomas

I think the auto was the hit that replaced my extra quad diamond card. It’s a sticker auto, but the sticker doesn’t take away from the card.

The Jokinen card is nice, glad that a red swatch made it onto the card to break it up. As with a lot of Upper Deck cards of hockey players that move around he is pictured in a Panthers uniform but there is a Coyotes logo on the card. The uniform matches the photo which is nice.

The Thomas card is one of my favorite cards. Multiple color swatches, some striping, a goalie. It can’t get much better than that!

Overall, I like this set. I’m a little perturbed about the doubles, but hey it gives me some trade fodder for completing the rest of the set. For the price it’s a nice bargain, two relic cards and the chance to hit an auto as well for $50 bucks.

Of course I didn’t pull any Vincent Lecavalier cards, he is a quad diamond in this set. So if anyone out there has an extra one lying around let me know and I’m sure we can work something out. All of the hits are available for trade, or if you have nothing to offer I’m sure we can work out a nominal fee.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Weekly Round Up - Week II

The Weekly Roundup

Weekly Record: (1-2)
Overall Record: 1-3 (In the Wasteland Shootout Losses count as regular losses)
Wasteland +/-: -1
Key Injuries: Kurtis Foster - back, David Hale - flu, Mike Smith - run over by a truck.
Highlight: I think I have to go with the Ryan Malone hat trick on Saturday night. Two things that you won’t see in the box score about Malone.

1. About 6 minutes into the game a group of about 6 fans sat down behind us. One of the ladies commented, “That Malone better get his ass in front of the net, ‘cause he’s crap anywhere else on the ice!” The words alone were great, but when spoken with a Plant City-esque accent it was priceless.

2. After the puck went in the net for Malone’s third goal the crowd wasn’t quite sure what to do. One hat made it onto the ice about 30 seconds later, but it sat out there all alone for another 30 seconds until the next hat came out.

I don’t know if the crowd:
(a) didn’t realize that Malone scored the goal. After all he was dumped on the play by a Carolina player and it could have been hard to see which Lightning player touched it last.
(b) tough economic times + $28.00 hats = lack of participation
( c ) lack of hockey fan knowledge

I’m going with a little (a) and a lot of ( c ).

Disappointed By: Paul Ranger. He did pick up a goal on Saturday night, but is still plagued by inconsistency. His bad clearing attempt that led to New Jersey’s tying goal on Thursday was just the most glaring turnover he’s made so far this season.

It’s hard to say if it’s a confidence issue or if he’s having trouble with the system. It seems that he is struggling to regain his pre-injury success. At best he is their 4th best d-man (Hedman, Ohlund and Meszaros would be the top three), and could be a scratch candidate when Kurtis Foster is back.

Surprised By: Marty St Louis. I’m not sure what’s gotten into him this season, but he’s definitely playing with a chip on his shoulder. Coach Tocchet has mixed him in with Lecavalier’s line during games, but it’s blatantly obvious that he is gelling with Stamkos and Malone best. With 7 points in 4 games St Louis is on pace for a career year.

Playoff Confidence: Still hanging at 65%. Even in their win they had a 10 minute malaise that left Carolina back in the game. Their struggling on the power play as well as the penalty kill. Without improved special teams they will struggle against higher echelon teams.

Pet Peeve of the Week: I share this one with my buddy Hamel. People who get on the elevator before you get off. Look folks, the elevator isn’t going to go faster just because you push your way on. It’s not the subway.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Calmer Look at Last Night's Loss

Alright. It’s been twenty four hours since the latest Lightning loss. It’s been twenty four hours since Mike Smith was writhing around on the ice with blood streaming from his forehead. Twenty four hours since they failed to score a shootout goal, again.

Luckily for the Lightning Smith didn’t re-concuss himself in the collision, it was only his back that he thought he broke. Greeeeeaaaaat. The last thing the Bolts need is another number one goalie with a back issue a la Darren Puppa.

Smith finished the game and looked like his normal acrobatic self so it looks like he’s going to be fine. Young Victor Hedman appears to be fine as well. Two more assists were added to his season total. And they were assists that show the versatility of his game. Assist number one was a long lead pass to Steven Stamkos and the second was a nifty cross ice pass in the offense zone to Todd Fedoruk after a rush up ice.

I’m not going to focus on the fact that Fedoruk now has more goals than Captain Vincent, instead I’m going to enjoy the fact that Stamkos is picking up right where he left off last season. He now has four points (2 goals and 2 assists) in three games. One of the most impressive aspects of the young centerman’s game is his accuracy shooting. It seems that every time he fires a puck on net it is actually on net. Of course he’s been dinging a few posts as well, but at least they’re not missing by 6 feet.

There were some frustrating aspects of the game on Thursday. Chiefly the bad clearing attempts in the last three minutes of the game. Paul Ranger was the main culprit as it was his clearing attempt off the boards that was kept in by New Jersey and led to the game tying goal with less than a second to go. There were also moments in the game when the Bolts seemed to ease off going after pucks in the corners or in the neutral zone.

Both of those tendencies, the bad clearing and lazy attitudes toward loose pucks, were nauseatingly familiar to anyone who watched the team last year. The good news is that it was the exception rather than the rule. For most of the game the Bolts played with energy and passion, which as a fan is all I can ask for.

Well I could ask for a goal in a shootout every once in a while. The loss to New Jersey was the second shootout loss in a row. And for the second shootout the Lightning failed to put a puck in the net. Four different skaters have attempted shots this season (Lecavalier, Stamkos, Marty St Louis and Alex Tanguay) and all four have either missed or hit the post.

That continues a trend from last season. In that dismal season that is best forgotten they only found the back of the net 11 times out of 45 chances. There is a lot of criticism of Mike Smith in the blog-o-spheres, but it’s got to be hard for him knowing that he can only give up one shootout goal at best in hopes for the win. He does have to do better than one save in five chances, but it would be nice if his shooters spotted him one or two.

Why they’ve struggled is a mystery. They have players with a ton of individual talent so one would think that scoring one on one goals would come easy. Somehow, they haven’t been able to translate that talent into success. It seems to be a regular bit of practice and I remember Coach Tocchet saying last year that he wouldn’t have a set shootout lineup, rather going with players that had success in practice.

The good news for the Lightning is that after three games they are only three points behind the division leading Capitals. A win on Saturday would jump them right back in the race and everyone from the players, to the owners to the fans can relax a bit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grumble, grrrr, SERENITY NOW!!!! There will be peace in little yellow envelopes

I’m going to spare you another hockey column, especially since the Lightning just managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Who gives up goals with less than a second to go? The Lightning. Who can’t score in a shoot-out? The Lightning. Take a deep breath………ok it’s all good. Move on to the next game. They’re just saving their first win for a game I’ll be attending. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

So as I was saying, how about a non-hockey post. Let’s go over some recent acquisitions I’ve received through the mail. In return for some football cards (plenty of good teams still available!) some kind readers have sent cards in return. So let’s crack open a couple of wonderful yellow, padded envelopes!!!

Envelope number one traveled all the way from Norman, OK. Jeremy from the awesomely titled No one's going to read this blog sent some cards from random cards:

Some 2009 Topps to help complete the collection

Some assorted O’s and Ray’s cards including the awesome Kellog’s Jim Palmer Sportflics that has been appearing on quite a few blogs lately.

When I got involved in the online card swapping I didn’t realize how many O’s fans were already out there, and the fact that they are some of the most prolific traders out there. I appreciate anyone who can dig up some cards from Birdland. Thanks Jeremy!

Package number two came from even farther away. Everyone’s favorite Canadian - Captain Canuck!

I found some leftover Cowboys cards and a few hockey cards that I hope he needed and in return….

A sweet Carl Crawford Bowman parallel numbered 178/500.

As always with the Captain He also sent along some wax packs. Here are a couple of the highlights.

Thanks, Captain!

I’ll be back tomorrow with more Lightning news. I really need a night’s sleep before delving further into Thursday nights game. Believe it or not there are some positives to their third loss of the season!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A new Feature on the Wasteland! It's Weekly Round Up Time!!!1

There aren't many reoccuring themes on this webpage. Mostly, because I think of what I want to write about 3 minutes before I start writing it. Well, time to try something new.

For the hockey season I'm going to be posting a column every Monday tracking the Lightning's progress through the season. Why Monday? Because it gives me something to do during Monday Night Football. So without further wasting of time....

The Weekly Roundup Week One

Weekly Record: 0-1
Overall Record: 0-1
Wasteland +/- : -3

Key Injuries: Kurtis Forster. The point man on the second power play unit is out for 5-7 days with a lower back injury. It looks like David Hale will be the first choice to replace him for the upcoming games. Victor Hedman might see some time on the power play.

Highlight: Not many to choose from since they only suited up once and skated to a 6-3 loss. However, I think the honor should go to young Mr. Hedman’s first NHL point. In the second period against Atlanta he fired a nice low shot towards the net that was deflected in by Marty St Louis.

Despite being a minus 2 for the game Hedman looked comfortable on the ice all game long. He logged 26:27 in ice time (8th in the league already!) and used his size to shield off the defenders several times.

Disappointed By: Mike Smith. A couple of the goals were not his fault, but still in the end he gave up six. The two late goals killed the comeback. The Bolts will need him to step up to get to the promised land.

Surprised By: Vincent Lecavalier. He didn’t score a goal and had a couple of passes bounce off his stick. However, he played like he was healthy once again. He used his body to shield defenders from the puck, he danced through the neutral zone and he zipped passes around the ice.

What shocked me the most though was on a giveaway late in the first period. Skating out from behind his own net he lost control of the puck to an Atlanta player. Instead of giving up Vinny threw himself in front of the net to block the shot. It wasn’t necessary at Smith made the save in front of the crease, but to showing that kind of sacrifice might be an indication that he understands what the “C” on his chest means.

Playoff Confidence: 65% They outplayed Atlanta for large parts of the game. A couple of bounces their way and it might be a different story.

Pet Peeve of the Week: Announcers who use the word “a” before naming a player. As in, “If you have ‘a’ Brett Farve you know he likes to throw the ball deep”. C’mon, just say “if you have Brett Farve“, it’s not like there is more than one of him out there in the world.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Slightly Less Than World Famous Wasteland NHL Preason Preview

So while I was gone it appeared the National Hockey League got under way. Due to a lack of a inexpensive internet connection while I was in Chicago I wasn’t able to post a preseason preview before the season actually began. So on the eve of the Lightning starting with a 6-3 loss to the Thrashers I give to you my Preseason Prognostication for the NHL.

Let’s start with the Lightning. After another off-season where there was more press about the front office instead of the team on the ice it’s nice that they’re finally on the ice. General Manager Brian Lawton addressed the biggest need by totally overhauling the defense.

Four of the six starting defenseman were not with the team last year. The even better news is that they’re actually NHL-caliber blue liners. Victor Hedman, who picked up his first point on a second period assist, appears destined to be a rock on the Lightning’s defensive line for a long time to come.

They Bolts should post better numbers this season with their strengthen defense. Of course, as I started this article they gave up six goals in their season debut. It’s cool though, they’ll be better. Trust me!

Offensively, they have a true 1a and 1b pairing. The Lecavalier, Tanguay and Downie (for now) line is on the same talent level as the Stamkos, Malone and St Louis line. When they can roll those lines out for two to three minutes in a row the opposition is going to be on their heels. Anything, they get from the third and fourth line will be a bonus.

It will be interesting to see if Zenon Konopka gets into a fight in every single game this season. I would imagine 81 fights would be a record. Hopefully, he manages to win at least one of them. The job of defending the stars with their fists seems to fall with Konopka and Todd Fedoruk. They’re both willing pugilists, but not ones that will strike fear into other teams cheap shot artists.

Goaltending will go as far as Mike Smith’s head will. I mean that both physically and mentally. If his concussion problems are in the best he is definitely on his way to being an elite net minder. As talented as he is, he does get himself in trouble with his tendency to roam after the puck. He needs also to control the rebounds a bit better. His style, a mix of butterfly and Hasek-like aerobics, tends to leave him vulnerable to rebounds.

Overall, I see them finishing anywhere from 8th-10th in the Eastern Conference. With a playoff push and the foul stench that emanates from Raymond James Stadium I believe they’ll be the darlings of Tampa Bay this winter. By the way I love saying “winter” in Florida. Winter means three days of 40 degree weather and the sun dipping behind the clouds for more than 6 minutes.

Since I only spent six paragraphs on my season preview I figure I owe you some other random predictions.. As always I’ll review this after the season to see how I did.

Number 1:

The Penguins will not repeat as Stanley Cup champions (sorry Link). I have a feeling that the winners will come out of the west this year. For fun let’s say the San Jose Sharks get over their playoff woes and ride the wave to the Cup.

Bonus prediction regarding the Pens. Serious talk will circulate about Crosby or Malkin getting traded. It will replace the “Vinny Traded to Montreal” headlines in Canada.

Number 2:

Dany Heatley equals success in San Jose while Marion Hossa equals angry Blackhawk fans in Chicago. Heatley will thrive with Joe Thornton setting him up and playing without the pressure that comes with suiting up for a Canadian team.

Hossa’s injury is going to get him off to a rough start in Chicago and they’ll struggle to find chemistry in the clubhouse. His name will be bandied about come trade deadline time.

Number 3:

The Phoenix Coyotes off ice troubles will extend to their performance on the ice. They will be drafting first next June. The best that they can hope for is to settle the ownership situation. Hey maybe once Oren Koules buys out Len Barrie, then Barrie can get his investors together to buy the ‘Yotes. After all, he’s been approved once as an owner, there’s no reason he can’t be approved again, right?

Number 4:

James Wright doesn’t get sent back to juniors. I must say that I didn’t follow him too closely in training camp, but based on his performance in Game 1 I think he’s here to stay. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bolts put him on a plan similar to Stamkos’ last season where he gets the occasional game off to watch from the press box.

Number 5:

My plus/minus will be -15 this season. A little background:

When the Bolts won the Stanley Cup it seemed that every time I turned on the radio or TV the Lightning scored a goal. So after a couple of seasons I decided that maybe I should track the goals scored vs. goals given up. The rules are simple - any goal regardless of power play, penalty kill counts. Empty net goals count as well. The only goals that don’t count are shootout goals.

My record so far:

2007-08: -25
2008-09: -29
2009-10: -3 (not a great start)

There ya go. You’ve just seen what I’ve seen in my crystal ball.