Again, Luongo, again

Against the LA Kings, Roberto Luongo returned to the site of the end of his career as the starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks and showed exactly why he has frustrated fans for years. 

After what may have been one of the best keeper performances of the season – and keep in mind, Luongo was brilliant in this hockey game – the Canucks gave up another goal and ended up losing in a shootout.  History fascinates us because unless we learn from it we are endlessly doomed to repeat it.  Watching Luongo on Monday brought all of that back to me, his flopping and his brilliance were on display.  And then the Canucks gave up the goal with less than a minute left and there was no chance they were going to win. 

Does the blame rest with Luongo? 

Not necessarily: you can see he was screened; you can argue the Canucks played back with the lead; second / third line scoring has been insignificant this year for the Canucks and has been a problem in years past. 

Yet the question and frame I pose is this one: how secure is any lead for the Canucks?  In the Luongo era how many 3-1, or 2-1 or 1-0 or 3-2 leads have the Canucks given up?  You can look at the stats or you can rack your memory and discover that Canucks fans often state things like “Three to one leads are the worst leads to have.”

We, as Canucks fans, have had to put up with a lot of losing seasons.  We have had to put up with a lot of losing.  Time and again there has been astounding disappointment.  Twice we have lost winnable game sevens.  Twice we have given away the Stanley Cup. 

Could the problem rest with the Canucks system?  Has the problem been with the coaching and the Canucks lack of attack when they have the lead?  Have we lacked the ability to successfully defend?  At times our blueline has appeared shaky, however…

One of the major reasons the Canucks made the swap to Schneider is not due to Luongo’s inability to be a star keeper – it is because of his inability to be our star keeper.  Luongo and the Canucks have gone as far as they possibly can together and we both deserve that chance for a fresh start.  Since we lost Game 7 two seasons ago things have never been the same and there has always been a wariness between the fans and the tender.  Schneider may not be an elite goalie on the same level but he gives the fans the ability to relax a bit more in the final moments of tight games because we will not automatically go to a pessimistic place; sure we are going to give up a lead. 

So thanks, Robbie Luo, you deserve a fresh start. 

And so do we, the fans. 

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It is a Super Bowl

This week, two brothers face off in what everyone is calling the Har-Bowl and the biggest game of the year.  Only one Harbaugh will end up raising the Lombardi trophy; the other forced to watch the person closest to him celebrate whilst tasting his own defeat. 

The key to the whole game rests squarely on the shoulders of these two men, and on those of two other men: Colin Kaepernick and Ray Lewis.  Lewis has his team playing like one destined to overcome whatever obstacle has been thrown their way in order to win – take their ridiculous comeback against Denver, or how they hung in against the Pats.  The soon to be retired linebacker has been playing like a man on a mission, and he is desperate to go out a champion.

Kaepernick has added a dimension to the 49ers offense that has been missing since the days of Steve Young or even, gasp, Joe Montana.    The kid has a laser arm, the legs of Mike Vick and the football smarts needed to succeed. 

Two factors sway the game for me:

1) The Ravens D is getting by on reputation alone – A long time ago the Ravens had the most feared crew in the league.  They were one of the all-time greatest units in the history of the NFL.  Now, they are older (way, way older) and getting by on guile and the past. 

2) Frisco is a different team – When the Ravens and 9ers played on Thanksgiving, it was all about defense and conservative game planning.  In 2013, this is a different situation with Kaepernick and Flacco playing to win. 

Kaepernick sways this one, he is a transcendent talent in the midst of one of those incredible seasons that come along for a quarterback once every ten years or so.  He wins this game for the 9ers and with the defense he has behind him we could be looking at the next dynasty in the NFL. 

Yes, I am going there already.

49ers 24 – Ravens 17

We’re Back!

In 2012 the San Francisco 49ers ended their season in the NFC Title game in the most brutal of ways: thanks to two punt return fumbles by Kyle Williams, the team ended up giving away a chance to win.  The rest of the story was even worse as Eli Manning and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots (again in brutal fashion for the 2nd straight time). 

This year the Niners seemed tougher and more determined than ever to make it to the games biggest stage.  Around midseason they addressed one of their biggest offensive challenges – the play of Alex Smith, who while good lacked the explosive ability to make big plays down the field.  By bringing in Colin Kaepernick the team now had one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, a guy with the ability to genuinely excite people and to make incredible plays.  The difference between Smith and Kaepernick is astounding – Smith always seemed concerned with making a bad play under the new Niners regime and thus rarely threw long; Kaepernick seems to revel in it and uses his cannon arm to terrify defenses. 

Against Atlanta, the Niners again started slow and watched the Falcons grab another big first half lead.  They never panicked, just calmly got back into the game and watched their defense step it up and contain the Falcons recievers for the remainder of the contest.  Lost in the shuffle and victory celebration is the fact that the Falcons offense was really, really bad in the second half.  They scored just a field goal and gave up a huge lead.  Not really what you need if you expect to make it all the way. 

Even with the game on the line, the 49ers just played their game and they played it extremely well.  Kaepernick did not have to give them outrageous offensive numbers, he just had to lead them down the field and into the end zone four times…and he did.  Once again, for the third consecutive year the Falcons end up with nothing to show for a first or second place finish.  The Niners however, look like they are ready to go and ready to play anyone.  With Kaepernick they fear no one, and inspire quite a lot of dread in other teams. 

Now they get to show their stuff on Super Bowl Sunday.  The last time the team made such a splash in the playoffs?  1994 when they absolutely smoked the Chargers in the big game.  Their QB at the time was a young man named Steve Young who was changing the game with his running and throwing abilities; the parallels to this year are evident. 

Hopefully the result will also be the same. 

Hockey Returns!

With the end of the inglorious lockout behind us (the thing lasted nearly as long as the entire NFL season) it is time to celebrate the return of the NHL.  In a few short weeks the frenetic pace, sloppy play, injury plagued and shortened season may make us forget why we fought so hard for the game we love.

1. The talent – We live in one of the most talent rich eras in NHL history.  Each team has a solid leader or player to build around (unless you are Columbus) and the top level players include some who will go down as all-time greats.  We are entering the primes of the incomparable Sidney Crosby, the incredible Jonathan Toews, the enigmatic Alex Ovechkin, the soaring Steven Stamkos, the rascal Claude Giroux etc.  Bottom line: enjoy these players because they are (and will continue to ) do amazing things.  While you are at it, also check out the incredible goaltenders (like Cory Schneider!) currently playing – and the swan song of the greatest ever: Martin Brodeur. 

2. Hungry for the Cup – A lot of teams desperately need to win the Stanley Cup, and they desperately need to win the Stanley Cup right now.  Aging core veterans are the way many teams are built and the title window is rapidly closing (for teams like Vancouver).  In the next few years several vets will simply be too old and lose their final chance to drink from Hockey’s holy grail (Vancouver) or they will get priced out by a lowered salary cap (Vancouver).  In any event Vancouver needs to win the Cup this year.  It worked for LeBron in Miami after the NBA Lockout so I will simply assume Vancouver will win this year. 

3. Spectacular Flops – At some point this season a team who is supposed to contend for a title will fall apart.  I can only hope it is one of the following: Chicago Blackhawks, LA Kings, Boston Bruins or any team from Alberta.  Who am I kidding?  It is going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs and this makes me very happy. 

4. Teemu Selanne’s last stand – Who can pass up the chance to see one of the most remarkable players in hockey history skate one final lap?  The amazingly consistent Selanne (his point totals / goals have been virtually the same for twelve years) is one of the fifteen best players in the history of the game.  Come out to cheer on one of the classiest guys ever.

5. To Recap – Again, how can you miss out on the chance to see Vancouver win the Cup, Sidney Crosby dominate, Selanne take one last shot and to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs fall apart spectacularly?  Ladies and gents, the best game in Canada is back! 

About time. 

The Wildest Cards

The NFL Divisional Weekend is wrapping up and has already featured one of the most intense games (and sloppy!) in playoff history.  Two favorites have fallen and a few players have made their bones.  Here is what went down:

Game 1: Ravens vs. Broncos

Two Word Analysis:  Blown Coverage

This game seemed to be in the bag for Denver and Peyton Manning, but, just as we thought it was over – Joe Flacco and the Ravens did exactly what they had done three other times during the game; they went deep.  Denver, after bizarrely running on three straight downs, put the game on their defense.  They were obviously in prevent coverage and there is no way the Ravens should have had any chance to get in the end zone (after all they had been burned twice already on deep passes) and yet…  Baltimore completed a hail mary with forty seconds left because of the single worst pass coverage I have ever seen in my life.  The Denver safety mistimed a jump for a pick and Jacoby Jones caught the Flacco pass and walked in to the endzone.  Forget the pick attempt and just remember that the Denver safety was not between Jones and the endzone but was in front of him.  It was easily the worst possible place the safety could have been.  The most surprising turn was still to come: instead of attempting to drive down the field and kick a field goal with the NFL MVP runner up and two timeouts…the Broncos simply took a knee.  Game over.  Overtime looms.  As the game got later and later the Broncos gameplan became slightly more conservative than the Amish (Was Peyton falling apart?) which eventually led to a pick and a loss.  Brutal end to Manning’s season and the perfect time for me to remind everyone again his lifetime playoff record is 9-11 and he is 1-2 in Super Bowl appearences. 

Game 2: Packers at Niners

Two Word Analysis: Colin Kaepernick!

Unreal performance by Colin Kaepernick.  There is really not much more to say about this one.  He rushed for more yards than any QB ever has and it all seemed vaguely effortless.  His throws were on target and his arm electric.  Jim Harbaugh looks less like a complete dick for benching Alex Smith and more like a genius.  As I wrote, Smith wins games, but Kaepernick wins Championships.  He is transcendent and he showed it last night. 

Game 3 Seahawks vs. Falcons

Two Word Analysis: Finally? Finally!

Yes, stop the presses: The Atlanta Falcons have actually won a playoff football game against a very good team (it is worth noting however that neither team who came into the playoff incredibly hot: the Broncos and Seahawks are playing to go to the Super Bowl) and will now host an incredibly meaningful game.  This one featured a furious comeback by the Seahawks after a dreadful first half, then a lead change and a furious comeback by the Falcons.  You have to give it up for the Falcons because truly no one believes in them and they went out and won a playoff game.  That said, as a Niners fan I would much rather play Atlanta than Seattle.

Game 4 Texans vs. Patriots

Two Word Analysis: Routine Drubbing

Ho hum the Patriots handed one of the best defenses in the league their butts again.  Oh well.  The major part of this game was Gronkowski injuring his arm again – the guy cannot stay healthy in the Playoffs.  Additionally: how happy is Brady that he does not have to face the Giants at any point?  As my brother said: “Have fun getting beaten by the Patriots in the Super Bowl”. 

Not sure but this just might be our year: Kaepernick feels a little like Kurt Warner and the Rams or Brady and the Pats. 

The Sports Oscars 2013

In the spirit of the 2013 Oscar nominations, it seemed right to celebrate the past year in sports by handing out nominations for the great performers and teams. 

Best Team (the “best picture”)

The Miami Heat

The LA Kings

Chelsea

Manchester City

New York Giants

(note: I am deliberately ignoring the San Fran Giants)

Best Performer – Male (Best Actor)

LeBron James

Tom Brady

Lionel Messi

Adrian Peterson

Miguel Cabrera

Mike Trout

Usain Bolt

Best Performer – Female (Best Actress)

Abby Wambach

Alex Morgan

Jessica Ennis

Pippa Middleton (kidding!)

Christine Sinclair

Best Supporting Performers

Hope Solo (Female)

Dwyane Wade (Male)

Best Story

Miami Heat win title

Giants beat Patriots again

Canada and the US play one of the best soccer games ever

Usain Bolt dominates the sprints

The NHL Playoffs conclude with an epic first Cup for the LA Kings

Chelsea completes a ridiculous Champions League Sequence (beating Barca etc) to capture the title

Please vote on your favorite moments of 2012!

 

 

 

 

Hello there, Hockey

Sometime in the next two weeks the NHL season will begin three and a half months late.  Unless you have been living underground for some time, then you probably know this came about due to a ridiculous series of events that culminated in an ugly, ugly 112ish day lockout.  

Now they are set to return, truly an 11th hour miracle, a hail Mary that managed to connect only because time had completely run out.  The session was on the brink of collapse and instead of making no money, everyone compromised and finally worked hard to get the deal done so we can watch an awful, post lockout season full of out of shape players, a ridiculous playoff fight and terrible injuries.

Do not believe me?  Look at what happened in the NBA post lockout, there were a ton of injuries and out of shape players and the season went rather bizarrely.  The teams that did the best were the ones who had already gelled such as Miami and OKC.  Will this hold true In the NHL?  Probably.  Teams like LA, Vancouver and Pittsburgh will be in the best shape to win.  the really important question is who will be the most out of shape player?