Wednesday, Snowy Wednesday

Remember when it snowed on Wednesday?

Oh that’s right, you probably don’t, because it didn’t.

Unless you happened to be in Edmonton with the Whitecaps and their travelling horde of fans.

Vancouver was in the Alberta capital for the first leg of their Canadian Championship series against FC Edmonton, but then this happened:

Clarke Field is green sometimes. The rest of the time it looks like this. Photo from Whitecaps FC.
Clarke Field is green sometimes. The rest of the time it looks like this. Photo from Whitecaps FC.

On May 6th. Months after winter has supposedly ended. That.

Continue reading Wednesday, Snowy Wednesday

Round two: PITH predictions

We at Pucked in the Head don’t hang our heads in shame and tears just because the Vancouver Canucks had their behinds handed to them by the low-down, dirty, rotten, head-shottin’, potshottin’, ball-droppin’ Flames. Nay, we hold our heads high and own our team’s decades-long failure to bring a Cup to the west coast. At least we’re not the bloody Leafs, right?

And so, we put our heads together and prognosticate the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for your scoffing pleasure.

New York Rangers vs Washington Capitals
Jason:
Kudos to the Capitals for skirting past the New York Islanders, but even with Alex Ovechkin honouring defensive assignments they won’t have enough to get past the Vigneault-led Blueshirts. Lundqvist outsaves Braden Holtby in a series whose brevity belies hard-fought games. Rangers in five.

Chris: If there’s anything to indicate that Washington can take New York in a best-of-seven, I haven’t seen it. The Rangers steamrolled Pittsburgh and then took the weekend off while the Islanders gave the Caps all they could handle. (That’s right: Eleven shots on goal is about all the Capitals could handle.) Ovechkin may be the best player in this series, but New York is deeper, and Alain Vigneault shouldn’t even need a full pack of lozenges to out-coach Barry Trotz. Rangers in five.

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris: 
Should be a barn-burner. The Lightning netted a whopping 41 more goals than the Habs during the regular season, but Montreal’s defence was much stronger. On recent form, my money goes to Tampa. They dispatched Detroit without a single goal from Steven Stamkos, and you can only hold that man off the score sheet for so long. Meanwhile, the Canadiens were lucky to get past Ottawa in a game six where a referee’s untimely whistle cost the Sens a tying goal in a contest they dominated. Lightning in seven.

Jason: Kudos to the Bolts for getting past the ageing wreck of a Red Wings team that barely made the post-season. I mean, the Wings have only been mired in a Mike Babcock will-he-or-won’t-he story all year long, and got to Game Seven on the strength of a handful of nobodies ruddering a ship full of greybeards. The Habs, on the other hand, have been the class of the East for a couple of seasons, boast perennial candidates for the Norris and Vezina trophies, and ride the winds of the most powerfully emotional fan support in North American sport. Individually, what’s not to love about seeing PK Subban flatten Steven Stamkos? These guys have been playing hockey against each other for twenty years already, and damned if it ain’t more fun every year. Canadiens in six.

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
Jason: 
Do we really have to talk about this? Where the Canucks and Flames both exceeded expectations by just making the dance in the first place, the Ducks have been promising a deep run for years. Getzlaf, Kesler, Perry, Beauchemin, Fowler… This roster is deeper than any of the wrinkles walking into Botox clinics around the Honda Center. The Flames are hard-working, sure, but they’re just a bunch of Grade Eight boys hanging about in the corner, ogling the good looking seniors across the gymnasium floor. Ducks in two and a half.

Chris: Seeing the Flames in the second round is enough to make me want to vomit like I’d just eaten undercooked fowl. Undercooked, by the way, is exactly what I expect these particular fowl to be at the end of the Pacific Division Final. The Flames are a terrible possession team, and their luck won’t get them close enough to roast the Ducks. The Saddledome crowd helps Hiller steal one from his old team, but Ducks in five.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild
Chris: 
Devan Dubnyk has been outstanding, but I’m not convinced he can hold off the Hawks’ firepower. Both teams have high-end defencemen that can do a number on the opposition’s top line, but the Wild lack the offensive depth that Chicago has in spades. One ray of hope for Minnesota: Corey Crawford is in net, and Chicago conceded 21 goals to a similarly dubious offensive team in Nashville. The goaltending disparity will keep the series interesting, but Chicago outscores its problems. Hawks in six.

Jason: The Chicago Blackhawks have somehow flown under most people’s radars this season. Jeez Louise, people, this team is full of all-Stars, Olympians and beauties who fuckin’ work their nuts off, and has won two of the past five Stanley Cups. As for the Wild, Thomas Vanek has been promising to do something important in the playoffs for years, but hasn’t helped a team win anything since the 2003 Golden Gophers took the NCAA championship. Maybe it’s unfair to saddle the guy with his teams’ lack of success, but damnation, does this guy ever know how to pull a disappearing act in the post-season. Ryan Suter can’t do everything, man. Hawks in five.

Baseball’s back

Baseball’s back — all right! It’s that time of year when all the other sports goings-on take a break, and we relish the crack of the bat, peanuts, and beer…mmm…beer. But I digress.

[Editor’s note: For those NOT wearing baseball-coloured glasses, of course, it’s playoff time in the NBA and NHL, ramp up time for the Women’s World Cup, and right in the middle of the bloody season for MLS. *evil eye to John* But I digress.]

When last we left our heroes, Spring Training was still in progress. Since then, the Mariners started the season with a great series at home against the Angels… and then delivered a very disappointing road trip featuring some surprising (and painful) implosions on the part of the starting pitching rotation. This was… not expected.

Fortunately the Ms arrived home and put King Felix on the mound to turn things around. The King was as good as gold, fanning 12 and stopping a four-game losing streak.

The Mariners' Nelson Cruz, celebrating his walkoff single against the Rangers April 19th.
The Mariners’ Nelson Cruz, celebrating his walkoff single against the Rangers April 19th.

Continue reading Baseball’s back

Episode 61: Round One Chatter

After unanimously anointing the Vancouver Canucks as round two participants in the last podcast — thereby sending the Calgary Flames into the wasteland of central Alberta golf courses — Russell and Jason break down the seven remaining series.

• Shoddy math
• Next World by the Orchid Highway
• Arbuthnit? Arbuthnet? Arbuth… Russell, anyway
• The Seven Deadly Sins
• Montreal Canadiens versus Ottawa Senators
• A little playoff trivia fo’ ya
• New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals
• Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings
• New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
• Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks
• Jason & Russell make it interesting
• Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets
• St Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild
• Bonus fantasy Anaheim vs Minny, StL vs Jets content
• Russell stopped listening a while ago
• William Tell Overture by Russell ArbuthNOT
• William Tell Overture by random symphony orchestra
• Thanks for listening

Don't like our choices? Fill out this bad boy your bad self!
Don’t like our choices? Fill out this bad boy your bad self!

Episode 60 – Canucks vs Flames

It’s playoff time, so we put on our tin foil hats and go a-prognosticatin’. This episode is just Vancouver versus Calgary. We predict a Canucks win. What a shocker.

• Intro
• Raunchy Harmonica by Harpdog Brown
• Compound nouns
• Are you trapped in your car?
• Cream cheese
• Canucks v Flames
• Shaming Russell Arbuthnot
• The Conjugation of Radim Vrbata
• Thar be decent hockey in this here league, arrr
• Canucks favoured
• How can the Flames not miss Giordano?
• Get yer statstats out
• Official predictions
• Challenge extended
• No Money in the Till by Harpdog Brown

Dan Hamhuis and Eddie Lack watch on as the Calgary Flames steal game one. Jeff Vinnick photo cribbed from the interweb.
Dan Hamhuis and Eddie Lack watch on as the Calgary Flames steal game one. Jeff Vinnick photo cribbed from the interweb.

TFC is still a bloody big mess

File this under B for BWA HA HA.

Toronto FC has not been a good club over their short stint in MLS. Jermain Defoe was a bloody big bust, and Michael Bradley has delivered more sketchy challenges with cleats up than highlight forays up the field.

The team is reviled around MLS circles. Like most everything in Hogtown, TFC steeps in unfounded confidence — their lack of humility in never having made the post-season is only matched by a complete dearth of on-field results. They’ve got just one win on the season, a lucky opening day win against our own Vancouver Whitecaps that was somewhat marred by Jozy Altidore’s smarmy taunting of the Southsiders (and a certain now-famous bird-flipping photograph that circled the globe).

During last night’s loss to Dallas FC, with the scoreline showing 3-0 against, Michael Bradley took down a Dallas midfielder with a vicious challenge for a yellow card.

Perhaps not surprisingly, responses didn’t come from TFC fans defending their bald, ET-nogginned captain, but rather from other soccer fans who wanted to dig the blade in deeper than that.

And can I just say that Paul S-H is one of my favourite soccer commentators on the mighty Twitter?

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to share a brilliant entry to Toronto’s Banner Challenge. The team asked fans to submit designs for an internet banner; they chose the best ones, tweeted them from their official account, and hosted them on their bloody big website. On April 13, they tweeted this:

Submitted by a Columbus supporter, this banner ad was tweeted by TFC's official account. Apparently they can't read columnar text.
Submitted by a Columbus supporter, this banner ad was tweeted by TFC’s official account. Apparently they can’t read columnar text.

Looks great, right? Yep. Until you read the leftmost letters from top to bottom. Turns out a Columbus Crew supporter pulled one over on the TFC marketing chumps, and got them to broadcast their suckitude all over the bloody big internet.

Now where is that B file…

The Playoff Beard Diary: Day 3 – Self-congratulation amidst the self-flagellation

Pucked in the Head is proud to welcome Richard Davalos (@QuakesFan84) and his Playoff Beard Diary. For those growing facial hair, we salute you!

When it comes to watching Canucks playoff hockey, there is no difference between self-congratulation and self-flagellation. The first five minutes of the game are all “whoo GO CANUCKS GO!” and the final five minutes are “I’m not sure how much of this I can take,” *Calgary scores*, “Why do I put myself through this?”

It’s good to be watching playoff hockey and experiencing impotent frustration again. Feelings of wanting to be alone for a while after a loss, where would I be without you? Happier? Ehhh, happiness is overrated.

Regarding Game 1 – I would like to point out one thing from my Canucks-Flames series preview.

The team that makes the least number of defensive mistakes will win this series.

Yell at Luca Sbisa all you want, it’s completely off base. Yannick Weber was the one who decided that the best way to clear the puck from the defensive zone was up the middle, hanging Sbisa out to dry defending a spontaneous 3-on-1. There’s even less for a fan to do in that situation, other than hope that Eddie Lack makes the save. Pick your poison, Canucks fans: defensive issues or goaltending issues. One is easier to fix, provided you don’t hand a major source of it a three-year deal with an AAV of $3.6 million.

Around the League

St. Louis does it again. Is there really any other team with a bigger case of the playoff yips the last ten years than the Blues? They are 8-18 in their last five playoff appearances (including this year) and they’ve been swept twice. For a team in its prime, St Loo is underachieving at a level that could see coach Hitchcock fired outright, or at the very least sitting squarely on a scaldingly hot seat. There’s the bad luck of running into a buzzsaw every year, and this is not that. With Kevin Shattenkirk presumably back at 100%, there’s no excuse.

No suspension for PK Subban after his hack at Mark Stone’s wrist, resulting in a microfracture and putting the Calder candidate’s availability for Game Two and beyond up in the air. I was satisfied with the original five-minute major given to Subban for the infraction, but was iffy on whether it deserved a game misconduct since it was not as hard of a slash as it could have been. Then again, that’s like saying, “getting shot once is not as bad as getting shot four or five times”. I wouldn’t want to take a hack to the wrist at any strength. If the NHL is serious about removing dirty play from the game, the five-and-a-game call for even potentially injurious hits need to be doled out regularly. Suspend the infraction, not the injury.

Any fears of Anaheim getting upset by Winnipeg should have greatly diminished after Game One. Anaheim was the faster, deeper, stronger team, and the Jets looked completely sluggish in the third period. It also doesn’t help that the Jets’ captain took out Ondrej Pavelec in the pregame skate, undoubtedly affecting the Czech goalie’s mindset in the opening minutes. Regardless, the final stanza of that game was all Anaheim, and Winnipeg was just holding on for dear life. A repeat performance in Game Two and the atmosphere back at MTS for Game Three won’t be sufficient to boost the shallow Jets back into the series.

Predictions

@ Montreal 4, Ottawa 2

@ Washington 3, NY Islanders 2

Chicago 2, Nashville 0

@ Vancouver 3, Calgary 1

Beard Update

65+ hours worth of growth right here. This is bad and I do feel bad.
65+ hours worth of growth right here. This is bad and I do feel bad.

The 2015 Playoff Beard Diary: Day 1 – The Boycott (Has Been) Over

Pucked in the Head is proud to welcome Richard Davalos (@QuakesFan84) and his Playoff Beard Diary. For those about to grow facial hair, we salute you!

It’s NHL playoff time, and that means it’s playoff beard time!

Please grow this year. Please?
Welp. Here goes nothing. My last shave was at 9:45pm PDT on 14 April, 2015. Please grow this year. Please?

The playoff beard is the primary tradition come playoff time in the NHL for players, but over the last 15 years, the beard-growing has caught on with fans who now do not shave until their team is eliminated. The refusal to shave is a tradition started in the 1980s by the New York Islanders. Those unholy, talented bastards didn’t shave until they were eliminated or won the Stanley Cup, whichever came first. The only team since the Islanders to win the Cup without partaking in the superstitious tradition was the 1994 New York Rangers, who refused to participate in any tradition started by the rival Islanders. (Sorry, Canucks fans, but we can’t just pretend it didn’t happen.) I love this tradition beyond measure, because it’s an annual reminder that I cannot grow any sort of facial hair. Hair grows faster on my nipples than it does on my face. THIS IS A BAD AND EMBARRASSING THING AND YOU’RE WELCOME FOR THE VISUAL.

When I last wrote a Playoff Beard Diary way back in 2012, the Canucks got run out of their first round series in 5 games. NHL owners then decided that they couldn’t stop throwing money at players and locked them out. In retaliation, I boycotted the NHL for two full years; a #RallyBoycott, if you will. My #RallyBoycott clearly impacted the Canucks rather heavily and they did not win a single playoff game during the #RallyBoycott. First they were swept by the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ no-good San Jose Sharks, then they went and joined my protest — they refused to take part in the post-season last year at all!

Nothing of value was missed. Now that the #RallyBoycott is over, the Canucks are in the playoffs again! I guarantee they will win infinitely more playoff games this playoff run than they did in the entire time I refused to watch NHL “action”. Enough about my undeniable powers of witchcraft and sorcery, let’s get to the games.

Series Previews

(Side note: WTF is this new playoff format? I feel like the Denslow Cup Bracket is easier to explain. Could Calgary really get home ice in the second round despite being the overall 8th seed out west? This is the biggest bullshit of all bullshits.)

Eastern Conference

First Round

(M1) New York Rangers v. (WC2) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins scraped into the playoffs despite Crosby-Malkin-Fleury being the three biggest bums on the planet. I mean, seriously, Sidney, you let Jamie Behn beat you in a scoring race? What a chu. The Rangers went on a massive run to the Presidents’ Trophy despite losing Henrik Lundqvist for an extended period of time. Thank you, Alain Vigneault. AV is, like, the king of Presidents’ Trophies now. NBC has to be happy about this playoff matchup. Every game is guaranteed to receive top billing by the American TV rightsholder.

My heart says: Rangers in 5.
My head says: Rangers in 6.

(A1) Montreal Canadiens v. (WC1) Ottawa Senators
White Rock, BC native Andrew Hammond went from being a below-average AHL goalie to the second coming of Jacques fricking Plante. We’ll find out, I’m sure, that there’s some sort of red pill – blue pill scenario playing out here. Lawrence Fishburne, tell us true, now… Les Habitants are riding a Price that is very Right. (Editor’s note: GROAN.) Carey is far and away the best Canadian goaltender in the world right now. Rogers has to be happy that in the first year of their massive deal, they get five Canadian teams in the playoffs. Now about those terrible voiceovers for intros…

My heart says: Senators in 7
My head says: Canadiens in 6

(A2) Tampa Bay Lightning v. (A3) Detroit Red Wings
Tampa just could not keep pace with Montreal in the final two weeks of the season. The Red Wings keep their two-decade-plus streak of making the playoffs alive, but the margin of error is shrinking. The Lightning get a very favourable matchup in the first round with a depleted Detroit squad. Stevie Y won’t be quite so beloved in Motown if he keeps this up.

My heart says: Lightning in 4
My head says: Lightning in 5

(M2) Washington Capitals v. (M3) New York Islanders
The Islanders were once in position to win the Metropolitan Division, but proceeded to fart away that possibility and went so far as to lose home ice in the first round. (Editor’s note: So THAT’s what the smell at Nassau Coliseum was…) The Capitals ground out a number of wins on the back of the Great 8 and look to erase the memories of recent failures. This should be quite an entertaining matchup that’s heavy on the offense.

My heart says: Islanders in 6
My head says: Capitals in 7.

Western Conference

First Round

(P1) Anaheim Ducks v. (WC2) Winnipeg Jets
Anaheim continues to overcome barely-existent shortfalls in net and has top billing in the West for as long as they’re alive. Winnipeg is also overcoming goaltending issues and they have shown they can win without major names in the lineup, be it from injury or suspension. Please, #SoCalSucks, come true this year.

My heart says: Jets in 6
My head says: Ducks in 5

(C1) St. Louis Blues v. (WC1) Minnesota Wild
The Blues won the division nobody wanted, powering through a weak spot in early March and overtaking Nashville in the final week. Minnesota has been absolutely lights-out since acquiring Devan Dubnyk, riding him hard to their own once-unlikely playoff spot. (Editor’s note: Heh heh. #HockeyPorn.) How much more does Dubnyk have left in him this season?

My heart says: Blues in 6
My head says: Wild in 7

(C2) Nashville Predators v. (C3) Chicago Blackhawks
Over the final ten weeks of the season, the Nashville Predators went from unstoppable juggernaut to invisible, milquetoast enigma. The Chicago Blackhawks were doing okay without an injured Patrick Kane for a while, then reality hit. Nashville and Chicago enter the playoffs on six- and four-game losing streaks, respectively. Someone has to win this series. (Editor’s note: Or DO they? The format this year is, like, weird, dude.)

My heart says: Predators in 6
My head says: Blackhawks in 5

 (P2) Vancouver Canucks v. (P3) Calgary Flames
The overall 8-seed Calgary Flames look to rekindle a rivalry that has been mostly dormant for the better part of a decade. The Vancouver Canucks appear to be worldbeaters one day, and the Worst. Team. Ever. the very next day. The team that makes the least number of defensive mistakes will win this series. Advantage: nobody.

My heart says: Canucks in 6
My head says: Canucks in 7

Premature 2nd round picks… and so on

East

Rangers over Capitals in 5
Lightning over Canadiens in 6

West

Ducks over Canucks in 6
Wild over Blackhawks in 7

East

Lightning over Rangers in 7

West

Wild over Ducks in 6

Stanley Cup Final

Tampa Bay over Minnesota in 7

Conn Smythe: Steven Stamkos

Gameday Predictions

@ Montreal 4, Ottawa 2
@ Washington 5, NY Islanders 3
Chicago 3, @ Nashville 1
@ Vancouver 2, Calgary 1

Whitecaps photo gallery

Whitecaps WednesdayThe Vancouver Whitecaps surprised just about everyone in MLS on Saturday, as they dominated — dominated — the LA Galaxy from opening kickoff to the final whistle. The official stats keepers only gave Vancouver 52% of possession, but let’s be clear: the Caps played freakin’ keepaway against the defending champs, and won handily. The 2-0 scoreline flatters L.A. More telling is the shot total: Vancouver generated 18 shots on the Galaxy net, and only allowed six the other way. If you only count balls on net, the Whitecaps were even more impressive, outshooting L.A. nine to one.

So far this season, the Caps have won ugly, they’ve won lucky, and on Saturday, they won impressively. Vancouver is now on an MLS franchise-high four-game win streak, with depth everywhere on the pitch. It looks like it’s going to be a fun season, y’all.

Next up it’s a midweek game against the Columbus Crew, Wednesday at 7pm at BC Place, followed by a road match in San Jose on Saturday.

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Episode 59 – The PatQuast

Pat Quinn, may he rest in peace, leaves a massive, Irish imprint upon our community, having changed the course of franchises at the professional, junior and minor levels of hockey in Vancouver. Russell and Jason discuss the big man and give him one last tip of the Pucked in the Head hat. I dig out some audio of an interview I was fortunate enough to conduct with Pat Quinn about a year before his passing. We also discuss the Canucks playoff race, in a timely, timely manner. So timely. Like, mayor of Crazy Town timeliness. Dude. Timely.

• Introduction
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Russell mails it in
• Linden, Bure, Odjick, this guy influenced a generation of Canucks
• Quinn’s hand in the Vancouver Giants
• Pat Quinn talks about Gordie Howe & Bobby Orr
• Pat Quinn memorial night at Rogers Arena
• Canucks down the stretch
• Time for a Change by the Orchid Highway
• We are professionals

A classy portrait picture of Pat Quinn, 1943–2014.
I was lucky enough to speak with Pat Quinn at Gordie Howe’s 85th birthday event, and he graciously stood for a few portrait photos as well. R.I.P. Pat Quinn — 1943–2014. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.