Tuesdays With Stoosh: 12.14


Because there’s really nothing to complain about right now, I give you several thoughts, dudes…
= Is it a bad thing that I’m a thousand times more excited for this Pens-Caps Alumni game than I am the actual Winter Classic?  Yes?  No?  
You are, too?  OK, cool.
= So what took the NHL so long to figure out that this is Alumni Game is an awesome idea?  How was this not done before in conjunction with a Winter Classic?  Or an All-Star Game?  Or just for the hell of it?
How did the NHL miss on this until now?  Is there another group of sports fans who show more appreciation for days gone by than hockey fans?  We still speak of past players as fondly as the current players, unless you’re Rico Fata.  Look around a Pens crowd and you’ll see just as many Lemieux, Francis and Jagr jerseys as you see Crosby, Malkin and Staal ones.  Hockey fans pined so much for classic jerseys to become available that it spawned the creation of the NHL Vintage jerseys.  They have an entire clothing line manufactured by a brand called “Old Time Hockey”, and there’s also a line dedicated solely to the Original Six.  We still play NHL ’94.  The NHL actively sell merchandise featuring old logos…hell, they sell merchandise featuring teams that no longer even exist.
Weren’t you watching the looks on faces in the crowd last year in the Bell Centre when all those Habs legends came out and took warm-ups?  We love old stuff.  We love old players.  No-brainer.  Keep doing stuff like this.
= And hey, how’s that for a kick in the nuts, Whalers/Jets/Nords fans?  Bettman couldn’t justify keeping your teams around because your markets weren’t good enough for his US television empire, but he’ll gladly keep selling swag with your team’s logos.  Ouch, man.  Ouch.
= Back to the alumni game.  From the day this was announced last week, this generated a much more genuine buzz among Pens fans than any other WC-related announcement to date.  Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Alumni games used to be part of the All-Star Game festivities at one point.  Even if they weren’t, why not make them a part of some sort of event going forward?  Dump some of the stupid skills events at the All-Star Game for an alumni game.
= This, of course, begs the bigger question: What kind of asstastic market research was behind the NHL’s decision to limit tickets to this Caps-Pens Alumni Game to 10,000 people?  You’re playing this in a stadium that can seat 65,000+ people.  You’re putting names on the ice like Francis, Trottier, and…oh yeah, LEMIEUX.  IN PITTSBURGH.  You could’ve sold tickets for fifty bucks a piece and people would’ve gladly handed it over, even if they were stuck in the last row of Heinz in those endzone seats just to see Lemieux skate out and take warm-ups.  I know *I* would’ve.
How do they misfire on something like this?  How do you not allow at least 20,000 or 30,000 seats for a game like this?  This alumni game is going to be great stuff, and sticking it in front of just 10,000 people in that stadium is going to make it look like the fourth quarter of a Steelers-Patriots playoff game.
= Or a Thrashers crowd.  Take your pick.
= And none of this is to say that I’m not excited for the Winter Classic.  I am.  Sort of.  I guess. OK, so if the weather stays the way it’s been, it’ll make for one hell of a nice setting and it’ll be great.  At least until the NBC announcers open their mouths, and that’s going to be the worst thing about this Winter Classic thing.  This thing is going to be a 150-minute assault that will alternate between the NHL’s biggest OvieSidgasm to date, and Edzo, Pierre and Milbury attempting to wax poetic about pond hockey and trying to convince us that every player on the ice had never seen an ice rink with a roof until they got to the NHL.  I’m not even sure Doc Emrick can save this.
= Look, I hate to get down on this whole Winter Classic thing. Seven or eight years ago, Pittsburgh isn’t even a blip on the NHL’s radar for an event like this. It’s a week-long thing and there’s going to be a lot of awesome stuff built around the event, including the RMU-RIT and WBS-Hershey games at Consol on the 30th.  They’re going to have a public skating rink set up adjacent to Heinz Field.  Lots of stuff is going to be happening around this, so kudos and thanks to the Pens, the NHL, the folks at RMU and Wilkes-Barre and whoever else was instrumental in setting this stuff up.
= And I understand all the reasons why the NHL wants to do this or even has to do this.  It’s marketing and corporate dollars and it’s abundantly clear when you look around any of these new arenas or stadiums that those dollars keep teams and leagues operating.  The criticism comes because this is the fourth Winter Classic and Pittsburgh’s second, so practically every non-Pens fan (and even some Pens fans) thinks it shows blatant favoritism by the league.  And they’re right.  This is Year Six of the Crosby-Ovechkin Era of the NHL, and this rivalry angle has been beaten more times than the Caps defense.  We’re tired of it.  Caps fans are probably tired of it.  Fans of other teams are tired of it.  It’s no different than Manning-Brady in the NFL or Yankees-Red Sox in baseball.
But I’ll give the league this much.  The last time the Pens were involved was the first one, and the whole thing was regarded as a joke until people watched the NHL Network broadcasts of the team practices and realized how awesome it looked.  When gameday with graced with a standard Buffalo snowfall, the result was a picture-postcard setting that probably surpassed anything the NHL expected when the idea crossed their minds.  Before the buzz for the event could even reach full volume, this Pens-Caps matchup was already being discussed.  So they decided to milk it for two years, get some other marquee/larger-market teams involved, and then get their Pens-Caps dream matchup once the memories of Crosby beating Miller in the shootout were a little less fresh.
= The question the league will have to answer after this year regarding the WC is where to take it from here.  They can’t play Crosby vs. Ovechkin EVERY year (right?).  One would have to think the Rangers are involved in the next one somehow – probably at the new Yankees or Giants Stadium.  It’d be nice to bring Minnesota into the loop, considering it’s pretty much the closest thing the US has to Canada in terms of hockey being engrained into the culture, and no other state has weather tailor-made for an outdoor game like Minnesota.  I’d say they’d get some of the Canadian cities involved but when it comes to US broadcasts, the league seems to pretend the Canadian teams don’t exist.
= I know the last thing this Pens team seems to be focused on are the individual awards, but that doesn’t mean the fans can’t be.  So that being said, this is the first time I’ve seen the mainstream media mention the words “Kris Letang” and “Norris Trophy” in the same sentence.
Yes, there’s a long way to go, but it says something about how well the kid is playing when this kind of stuff is getting noticed.
= Pens are in Philly tonight and then back home to play the Rangers tomorrow.  After that, they don’t play against until next Monday night.  That should help the injury timetable for guys like Malkin, Staal and (yes, even) Comrie immensely. 
= Through his first eight games this year, Marc-Andre Fleury posted a GAA of 3.59 GAA. His save percentage was .853 and he gave up 25 goals.
In the 14 games since – starting with the win over Tampa on Nov. 12 – Fleury's GAA is 1.71, his save percentage is .940 and he's allowed just 24 goals.  He’s been helped by the team in front of him, of course, but those are still some unbelievable numbers.
= Something to watch: Flyers rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has never played more than 35 games in a season.  He’s already played 22 this year.  He’s playing some pretty solid goaltending right now, but he may hit a wall at some point.
= There’s a Pelle Lindbergh comment there somewhere, but I’ll let that go.
= Wonder if Dan Ellis would be incessantly bitching about Linus Omark’s shootout goal if he had stopped the damn shot.
= Real #DanEllisProblems – the fact that he was beaten by what was mostly a run-of-the-mill wrist shot, especially one that came a good two or three seconds AFTER the spin move.
= Going to be really interesting to see what happens in Washington if things don’t get improve.  Atlanta has closed to within two points of the Caps for the Southeast Division lead, and Tampa is just three points back.  It says something for their top-end talent that they’ve still got the third-highest point total in the East.  But when you watch them play, they look like a team whose players just met each other for the first time an hour before opening faceoff.
You watch the Caps and it’s the same problems that have plagued them since 2008-09.  They’re sloppy in their coverages.  They don’t play both ends of the ice.  Their forwards aren’t interested in playing defense, and neither are a few too many of their defensemen.  They acquired Scott Hannan to shore up their defense, but didn’t realize he moves about as well as Hal Gill.  The major problem with that is that Hal Gill can get away with moving like Hal Gill because he’s 6’7” and uses a hockey stick that’s six feet long.  Scott Hannan is 6’1”.
Rumors have been circulating about a coaching change and as always, the Bylsma example gets cited.  “Well, look what the Pens did when they made a coaching change.”  Yep.  And look who the Pens had on their roster.  What about Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green makes anyone think those guys have the fortitude to work hard night in and night out to win games?  People realize the Caps are a Sergei Fedorov goal away in 2008-09 from never making it beyond the first round of the playoffs, right?
And how is a coaching change going to help when the everyone in that locker room knows the owner is constantly pulling the rug out from under the coach?  How would Ovechkin and Semin respond to a coach who all of a sudden demands more accountability on the ice when they’ve never been held to any sort of standard before?