Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 12, 2017

So, with Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup last night, I went a respectable 10 – 5 this year. Home ice advantage also went a respectable 9 – 6. What’s most interesting about that, though, is that that’s exactly the same as what happened last year.

Anyway, that’s it for hockey until October, other than, well, the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency, etc, etc.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 29, 2017

So, in this round, I went 2 – 0, leaving me at 10 – 4. And the “home ice advantage” track went 1 – 1, leaving that at 8 – 6.

So, all that’s left are the Stanley Cup Finals:

Nashville vs Pittsburgh: Nashville has been playing incredibly well, behind great goaltending by Pekka Rinne and great play by their defense corps. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is banged up and hasn’t been able to deal with the teams they’ve faced as handily. However, they do have a lot of experience with the finals and a number of really, really good players, and they are the defending champs. So this is a close one, but I’m going to go with … Nashville. Yes, their forwards are banged up, but they’ve been relatively handily beating far better teams than them the entire playoffs, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do that again.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Nashville vs Pittsburgh Incorrect

Overall Record: 10 – 5
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 9 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

May 11, 2017

So, in this round, I went 3 – 1, leaving me at 8- 4 over the first two rounds. This means that I’m guaranteed to finish no worse than 8 – 7 this year, which means that I’ll at least do as good as a coin flip. And the “home ice advantage” track went 2 – 2, leaving that at 7 – 5.

So, then, the conference finals:

Eastern Conference:

Ottawa vs Pittsburgh: Ottawa was the only team that I got wrong last round, which was okay since I wanted them to win that series anyway. They’ve also been surprising the entire time, and are incredibly resilient. You just can’t kill this team, no matter how hard you try. On the other hand, Pittsburgh is a little banged up and almost blew a 3 – 1 series lead. However, Ottawa really hasn’t faced a team like this so far, and Pittsburgh has at least arguably beaten two far better teams that the teams that Ottawa faced this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ottawa managed to pull it off, but this one is probably too much for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Anaheim: Anaheim finally managed to win a Game 7, which has to give them a huge boost. But John Gibson has struggled at times, while Rinne has been on fire. I don’t think that Anaheim is, overall, that much better a team than Nashville that they can pull it off if that continues. So I’ll have to go with Nashville here.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh  vs Ottawa Correct

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Nashville Correct

Overall Record:  10 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  8 – 6

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 26, 2017

So, in the first round I went 5 – 3. And while I now always compare my results to what you’d get if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage, that was kinda pointless this time around because I happened to choose all the teams that had home ice advantage myself, and so the teams with home ice advantage also went 5 – 3. Let’s see if we can get some separation in this round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh: While young teams have been far tougher than anyone expected the entire year, Washington did not look all that great in the first round against the Leafs, while Pittsburgh did pretty well against Columbus. While Washington is a strong enough team to at some point make it past their playoff struggles and make a run all the way, I’m not sure that having to go through the defending champions in this round is going to do that for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Ottawa vs Rangers: Ottawa has a good team and there are a lot of reasons to want them to win. I do think that in terms of skaters they can keep up with the Rangers. That means that the deciding factor will probably be goaltending. And while Anderson is a good goaltender and can certainly steal a series, it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially when he just got done outduelling Carey Price.

That being said, I did that once before when Ottawa played New Jersey and I couldn’t bet against Brodeur, and the Senators won that one. Still, for predictions I’m going to have to go with the better bet in goal.

Prediction: Rangers

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Nashville: Jake Allen played brilliantly in the first round, but again he was left at home at one point in the regular season because he was struggling and inconsistent. It’s not a sure thing that he’ll be able to keep that up. On the other hand, Nashville swept the best team in the conference. Nashville seems to have the edge here.

Prediction: Nashville

Anaheim vs Edmonton: You never want to bet against the young, up-and-coming team that has been surprising everyone all year. But Anaheim is not San Jose, and they are a much healthier and better team. The Oilers are likely to be in tougher in this series than in the last one.

Prediction: Anaheim

Summary

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh  Correct
Ottawa vs Rangers Incorrect

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Nashville  Correct
Anaheim vs Edmonton Correct

Overall Record:  8 – 4
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  7 – 5

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 11, 2017

It’s that time again! Time for me to look at teams that I haven’t watched at all this season and try to figure out which of them is going to advance in the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto: This is the year to be scared of overperforming young teams, starting from the World Cup of Hockey with Team North America and continuing through the season with young teams like Toronto and the Edmonton Oilers that did far better than anyone expected them to given where they were in their development. The problem for the Leafs is that they didn’t manage to get a point on Sunday and so have to face Washington, and Washington is certainly a harder opponent than the Senators would be, and I think is a really bad opponent for the Leafs. All season long, the Leafs have had a hard time keeping a lead, as evidenced by blowing a 2 – 0 lead on Sunday. Not being able to hold a lead is not what you want going up against Washington. But the Leafs might be able to cover up their relatively weak defense by playing run and gun, and they have the young talent to do that … but Washington has more than enough firepower to play run and gun with any team and have a pretty good shot at coming out ahead. So I think Washington takes this one.

Prediction: Washington.

Montreal vs Rangers: It was almost the case that the team with home ice advantage in this series had less points during the season, but some wins by Montreal and the Rangers struggling a bit meant that things worked out. This one will probably come down to goaltending. If Weber is healthy and Price plays well, Lundqvist will have to stand out for the Rangers to have any chance here, and Lundqvist has been inconsistent this entire season. If both goalies play at the top of their game, this could be a long series, and home ice advantage is a boon in long series.

Prediction: Montreal

Pittsburgh vs Columbus: Columbus had a great season, and in fact had a far better season than anyone expected them to. They’re certainly capable of an upset here. But the Penguins are still a very strong team, are playing better than Columbus right now, and have two capable goaltenders who have proven that they can win in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is just too high a mountain for Columbus to climb this year.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Ottawa vs Boston: These teams are so close that you almost might as well flip a coin to decide who’s going to win. The health of Erik Karlsson is key to the success of the Senators here, but all of the rumblings are that his being out for the last few games of the season was more precautionary than necessary. Ottawa has two relatively reliable goaltenders, but I don’t expect either of them to steal a series, while Rask is more capable of that, but hasn’t had his best year. The key to this series, though, is that Ottawa has faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, with injuries and Anderson leaving the team for long stretches because of his wife’s cancer treatments. You can’t underestimate how important knowing that you can battle through tough circumstances is in the playoffs, as it makes your team hard to demoralize. When bad things happen — and they always do — Ottawa will not think “Oh no!” but instead think “Well, here we go again”, and soldier on. This is going to be a close series, but I give Ottawa the nod here.

Prediction: Ottawa.

Western Conference:

Chicago vs Nashville: There’s not much to say here. Nashville is a better team than you might think, but Chicago still has the team that they’ve won Cups with, for the most part. This one should go to Chicago.

Prediction: Chicago

Anaheim vs Calgary: Calgary had a bit of and up and down season but again performed better than a lot of people expected them to. Elliot struggled at the start but I think has come around a bit and at least settled in to being mostly reliable. But Anaheim has more experience and a better team, and so will likely win this series.

Prediction: Anaheim

Minnesota vs St. Louis: The Blues thought that they weren’t going to get very far this season, and so traded away some players in preparation for next season and the expansion draft. And then they made it into the playoffs. Oops. That being said, Jake Allen has been inconsistent and Minnesota has a pretty decent team. While St. Louis could certainly pull off an upset, I’ll have to give this one to Minnesota.

Prediction: Minnesota

Edmonton vs San Jose: Edmonton is another one of those young teams that are overperforming. Their defense is a bit inexperienced, which goes along with, well, most of the team. That being said, adding Milan Lucic who has lots of playoff experience ought to help settle them down, and talent wise they’re pretty strong. This is likely to be a close series, but I expect that even if San Jose manages to shut down Connor McDavid Lucic will help that second line fill in the gap, and having a productive second line is key to winning playoff series.

Prediction: Edmonton

Summary

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto Correct
Montreal vs Rangers Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Columbus Correct
Ottawa vs Boston Correct

Western Conference

Chicago vs Nashville Incorrect
Anaheim vs Calgary Correct
Minnesota vs St. Louis Incorrect
Edmonton vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  5 – 3

Team Canada Wins Women’s Worlds in Curling

March 27, 2017

So, early Sunday morning, Rachel Homan’s Team Canada beat Russia 8-3 to win the Women’s World Championships in curling.

Due to the time difference between Canada and China, I didn’t get to watch much of the tournament, and so won’t comment on it too much. But it is interesting to note that Homan’s team was the first team to go “perfect” through the event, as they didn’t lose a game the entire time. So congratulations to them for winning and for winning so handily.

We need more philosophy …

March 9, 2017

So, I was reading this article on the NHL GMs meeting, and one of the discussion points made me almost literally face palm, and then realize that we really need to find a way to teach people basic reasoning. Either that, or get them thinking about why things were brought in in the first place before assessing whether something fits or not.

It involves the recently instituted rule where if you ice the puck, you don’t get to change lines during the stoppage of play. However, some coaches, at key times in the game, would use their one timeout per game — which is also required if they want a video review — to rest their players. The NHL is tweaking the rule:

The other would see coaches lose the ability to call a timeout and rest players following an icing.

“I’ve sort of been thinking that way all along: Why do you not allow a change after an icing, but then you’re allowed to take a timeout?” said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Seriously?!?

Okay, let’s go back to why the rule was instituted in the first place. The issue was that if a team was under huge pressure in their own end and particularly when they had a line that had been out for quite a while, simply icing the puck was seen as a good way to relieve the pressure. Sure, you ended up with a face-off in your own zone, but that’s a small price to pay if the other team was buzzing around your goal. It would also let you change lines and so if that line was either tired or a very poor match-up against the line they had out there, that was an advantage as well. And the ability to change lines meant that even the face-off might not be the big a deal because you could put your best face-off player out there and were more likely to win it. Thus, this encouraged players to break up such pressure by simply dumping it out; the worst that could happen was an icing, which wasn’t that bad.

So, the NHL decided to make there be consequences for icing the puck, and the consequence they chose was that you couldn’t change lines if you iced the puck. This means that the line you had out there had to stay on. Sure, icing the puck is still better than simply letting the other team buzz around your offensive zone, but not being able to change means that a tired line has to stay out there, and the other team — whether the home or away team — effectively gets to create the best match-up against the line you have out there. So you don’t want to ice the puck unless a) you don’t care about any of that or b) you’re desperate, which then would reduce the number of times teams ice the puck to get out of trouble.

So, keep in mind that the purpose of doing this was to discourage teams from simply dumping the puck out to relieve pressure. Now, remembering that teams only get one timeout per game, ask yourself if not allowing the coach to call a timeout if their team has iced the puck is actually going to be strong discouragement from their icing the puck. To answer this, we have to ask if having the ability to call a timeout in those situations would be a significant incentive to adopt an overall strategy of “If we’re under pressure and tired, dump the puck out and if we get an icing we can just call a timeout”. Well, since you only get to do it once per game, you’re certainly not going to adopt that as a strategy. You might consciously do it once if you were in really, really bad shape, but that’s it. But then we have to consider what doing that will cost you. Teams now use timeouts for a) video reviews, as mentioned above, b) settling down the entire team if the other team is at risk of running away with the game and thus breaking the momentum of the other team and c) resting your key players and drawing up a play if, late in the game, you find yourself down by a goal with the goaltender pulled. Are you going to risk not being able to do that just to avoid leaving a tired line on the ice after an icing? Well, not as a regular strategy. So, then, the only time a coach would do this is if they feel that this is a critical part of the game and that they really need to rest those players, and thus that the game might well turn on this situation. Which is the sort of strategy decisions that we want coaches making. If they feel — rightly or wrongly — that the game might well turn on this post-icing face-off, then why would we stop them from doing that? What does it add to the game to do that? Again, they aren’t going to adopt this as a general strategy because they don’t get enough timeouts to spend them recklessly and timeouts are needed for other things as well that might also be game changing.

So, with all due respect to the quoted GM, it doesn’t make sense to not allow a timeout there, because taking the timeout doesn’t clash with the purpose of the rule in the first place, and the change will in no way help to achieve the intent of the rule. While some may see taking the timeout as a way to “cheat” the rule, the rule wasn’t made to deal with one specific case that might come up in a game, but to deal with that being used as a general strategy. Taking the timeout there can’t be a general strategy and will never making icing the puck a general strategy. Thus, the rule change is ill-advised and poorly reasoned.

Scotties Tournament of Hearts

February 28, 2017

Those of you who read my blog and who watch curling — well, there could be someone who does that [grin] — might have been wondering why after commenting a lot on women’s curling I’ve made no mention at all of the Scott Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian Women’s Championships. Well, the reason is that I pretty much spent the week watching it — I only managed to watch Sunday’s final yesterday afternoon — and that distracted me from commenting on it … which I’m going to rectify today.

One of the first things to note — which, I suppose, I have to expect from such a tournament — is that despite my watching the Grand Slam of Curling the entire season I didn’t recognize most of the names there. Obviously, I knew Rachel Homan, but other than Michelle Englot most of the others I hadn’t seem during the season. Val Sweeting didn’t make it out of Alberta, and Jennifer Jones didn’t make it out of Manitoba. I knew the replacement Alberta team, but that was only from Scotties past, as it was Shannon Kleibrink skipping with Heather Nedohin (whom I first saw under her maiden name of Godberson) taking over as skip due to Kleibrink’s back problems. Now, the Grand Slam also takes in a lot of world teams, so it’s not all Canadian teams and not all Canadian teams make it there, but I wonder if this is a common thing. I haven’t had cable long enough to really tell.

Anyway, another interesting story that came out of it was the team from Nova Scotia. They had entered the provincial playdowns as essentially a warm up for the provincial Seniors playdowns … and ended up winning it. That was an entertaining story, but when they got off to a good start in, I think, winning their first game I started to wonder if this would be very bad for the women’s game. If a Seniors team could come in and be very successful against the best women’s teams, that didn’t say much for the development of the women’s game. Sure, experience matters, but surely physical ability — at least with sweeping — would have to matter, right? As it turns out, it ended up not being a problem because Nova Scotia only ended up winning one more game the entire tournament. But it could have been a bit embarrassing for women’s curling.

In the end, it ended up being a very young skip — Rachel Homan looking to be the youngest person to win three Canadian Championshps — versus the elder Englot at 53 (but she at least had a young team behind her). After Englot had been the only team that beat Homan throughout the tournament — and beat her once on Tour — it didn’t look that great for Homan, but she managed to squeak out a win in an extra end. I think the issue was that both Homan and Englot are very aggressive players, and so Englot wasn’t playing defense as much as Homan’s usual opponents were, so Homan didn’t have that advantage. Also, Englot was known for draws and draws are more offensive minded shots than hits are; hits tend to remove rocks and so work really well on defense. Well-placed draws, however, protect your current shots or give you the advantage, and most importantly leave rocks in play, which is important when you’re playing offense. So what we had were two offensively minded teams battling it out with each other but with Englot’s natural tendencies giving her a slight advantage. Homan saw hits that no one else would see, but hits aren’t always the best offensive tactics.

I also noted an interesting comment about Homan, which is that she played more like a men’s team. Which, I suppose, should bother me. However, what I noticed was that even though she does play the upweight shots, she usually doesn’t “blast”, which is throwing rocks really hard at frozen in rocks and hoping everything will go. She has to hit the rocks hard, but more importantly she has to hit them just right to make doubles and triples. So, she’s often making big hits to score points, but not often just blasting to get out of trouble like you see in the men’s game.

And on one final note, Amy Nixon played in what she says was her last Scotties game, thirding for Team Canada who ended up winning the bronze. She’s another player that I remember from my early days watching curling.

I won’t be able to watch much of the Women’s Worlds, and won’t watch the Briar, so there won’t be much more curling commentary until April.

Continental Cup …

January 16, 2017

So, the Continental Cup was on this weekend. This bonspiel is essentially curling’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf, where they take teams from North America and pit them against teams from the rest of the World in a number of different types of games, specifically team, skins and mixed doubles. North America won the event for the second year in a row, although they won it much more convincingly this year than last year.

Now, you’d think that this would be an event that interested me, but it didn’t. While in the past I found it easy to cheer for North America and against the World, this year I found that I didn’t care that much. Part of this was because the teams that represented North America — especially on the women’s side — were at least teams that I has no real opinion on (Chelsea Carey), didn’t know at all (Jamie Sinclair) or didn’t really like (Jennifer Jones). About the only team on the North America side that I might consider cheering for on occasion was Kevin Koe’s team … and at least part of that was his reaction to the mixed doubles which was a “Tell me what to do, and I’ll go out there and do it”. Thus, I didn’t really have any strong reason to cheer for North America, or pretty much any of the teams on either side.

So I didn’t really watch that much of it. But let me comment on a few things I noticed when I was watching.

The biggest thing is, of course, the mixed doubles, which I had never really watched before. I don’t think I like it. While a lot of that might come from the bad ice conditions and players who are not used to mixed doubles being forced to play it, I found that it relied far to much on mistakes to generate its offence. Yes, there were a lot of rocks in play and that led to big ends, but a lot of the time that only happened due to bad strategy or, more often, shots that missed. With more experienced players, either that will happen less or the lack of sweeping and a broom to aim at will keep the players struggling. Neither is good for the sport, as the former will return to a low scoring game with less strategy than a full team game, while the latter will essentially reduce the sport to a comedy of errors, and thus a sideshow when compared to curling. It may be fun, but so far it is not curling.

Also, it generates a lot of its offence by restricting what can be hit when. This is not a good long term strategy, because players who want to play defensively will keep finding ways to do so despite the existing rules. For example, curling introduced the four rock rule where you can’t remove a guard with the first four stones. Almost immediately thereafter, teams developed the “tick shot”, which moves the guard out of the way without actually removing it, making the rule much less effective. In mixed doubles, since the men generally throw rocks 2, 3, and 4 (out of 5) I can see them letting the first four build up and then throwing really, really hard with runbacks and the like if they want to play defense … as happened in a few matches. In general, you want players to use their creativity to try to overcome the strategies the other players have adopted, not to overcome your rules.

Other points:

– Jennifer Jones is surprisingly awkward on the ice for someone who has curled for so long. This was made apparent on the few occasions when she had to sweep during the mixed doubles.

– I’m reminded about why the women’s game relies more on the soft weight shots than the men’s game does. It’s not that the men can’t make those shots, it’s that freezes and taps are less useful when the opponent will toss it as hard as they can and knock things out. In fact, at one point in the mixed doubles Kevin Koe saw a potential triple for the opposition, but even the commentators conceded that the woman player probably wouldn’t have the weight to make it.

At the hundredth Meridian …

January 9, 2017

So, this past weekend was the Meridian Canadian Open curling bonspiel. As usual, I watched as much of the women’s game as I could and very little of the men’s side.

At any rate, this tournament is a bit different from the normal Grand Slam of Curling events but, I am assured by the helpful commentators, is actually fairly standard for most non-Grand Slam and most non-Worlds/national final events. It’s a Triple Knockout format, where in order to make the playoffs you have to win three games and if you ever lose three games you’re out completely. So they start with a round and everyone who wins stays on the A side (livin’, lovin’) and the those who lose stay on the B-side. Those on the A-side then play each other and the losers drop to the B-side, and the B-siders play each other and the ones who lose move to the C-side. If you’re on the C-side you’re in trouble because a loss would, obviously, be your third loss and you’d thus be out of the tournament. Eventually, the ones who survive from all three sides are in the playoffs.

Val Sweeting and Silvana Tirinzoni came through the A-side with perfect 3 – 0 records. But the biggest news here was that after losing her first two games and despite winning an entire game 6 – 0 on steals (steal away the night) and never having the hammer, Rachel Homan missed the playoffs at a Grand Slam event for the first time ever, losing in a C final to Casey Scheidegger. This streak takes us back to 2009.

Which, I suppose, ends up possibly being even bigger news than Homan not making the playoffs, because this was Scheidegger’s first Grand Slam event, and after beating Homan she then went on to beat Jennifer Jones and then Val Sweeting to face off against Silvana Tirinzoni in the finals. Scheidegger beat her 5 – 4, with a steal in the final end after Tirinzoni’s draw to the four foot came up very short, in an end that most of the commentators said was Tirinzoni’s to lose after one of Scheidegger’s early guards ended up way too high and so couldn’t really be used to put much pressure on Tirinzoni. It was, however, enough to hide behind to force Tirinzoni to draw a turn that she wasn’t used to rather than hitting. Thus, the rookie team managed to pull off the upset.

Some other interesting notes:

1) Rachel Homan has been struggling lately, and whenever I watch her team there seems to be frustration setting in a lot. Obviously, they’re all very competitive but I’m wondering if the team dynamic is working as well as it used to, or if they always used to act that frustrated when things weren’t going well (generally, things have been going well for her so there’s not much opportunity to see what happens when they lose). They’re trying out some new things this season which is a good time to do so since if they work they’ll be well in place by the Olympic trials this December, but still they’ve been a bit off, even losing the Scotties qualifiers last season to Jen Hanna.

2) Val Sweeting continues to play amazingly well early in the events but come up short in the playoffs. She has won events before, but really needs a breakthrough soon, as she’s following up great round robins and early playoff rounds with not even making the finals.

3) Scheidegger should be full marks for the win, but she’s tended to win her games because of the mistakes the other team is making. Jones missed something like 5 of her last 6 shots to give Scheidegger the win, Sweeting struggled early in their game, and Tirinzoni had brutal numbers and, as noted above, missed the critical last shot to give Scheidegger the win. They’ve beaten big names before — they beat Eve Muirhead in another tournament to win that one — but a lot of it seems to come from mistakes from her opponents and not great curling on her part. The commentators noted that Scheidegger doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the five rock rule and prefers more open ends, and I wonder if that difference in style might be encouraging the other teams to press harder to try to get more rocks in play, leaving things open for mistakes.

4) Tirinzoni has made the finals in two straight events and lost both, and both were probably games that she should have won. You have to wonder when she’s going to finally stick one of those finals.

The Continental Cup is this week, and then we’re into qualifying for the Scotties and the Worlds.