Blogging for Blogging's Sake
And wouldn't you know it, it's for the 2nd week in a row. Vinnie Iyer of TheSportingNews has them winning by ten. Six out of the eight ESPN experts (minus Eric Allen and Joe Theismann) are picking them. My buddy Dutch from SmartMoniesClub.com said on a WMBS broadcast yesterday that the Steelers are going to roll, citing that the Steelers can stop the run and the Falcons can't pass.
And I can't disagree. Atlanta is just as banged up on defense as the Steelers. And that banged up Steeler "D" kept Larry Johnson from busting anything major in the midst of a much better passing offense. The only thing that worries me is that Kendall Simmons will start the game and Big Ben will see less time if the Falcons can draw up some creative blitzing packages to exploit Simmons' presence.
Otherwise, contain the 3-headed monster that is Vick/Dunn/Norwood and no special teams gaffes, and the game should be won handily by the black and gold. Of course, if the Falcons score, I hope it's only Dunn, because he's on my fantasy team, and I'm playing Raul Mondesi's team this week...
Looking back to last year, the Penguins didn't get their first win of the season until game #10. They go into game #7 tonight with 3 wins already in the books. Evgeni Malkin enters game #3 with 3 points (2G, 1A). This situation can only make the Penguins better. They still need to play more hockey outside of their own zone. They've only outshot the competition once this year (in the 2-1 loss to the Devils) because, like Penguin teams of the past, they seem content to cycle the puck and try to create the perfect shot.
Sometimes, you just have to throw the puck at the net, and sometimes good things happen. Maybe a fluky goal, maybe a fortuitous rebound. But they cycle so much sometimes, that the other team can intercept a pass and clear out of the zone or come back with a 3-on-2.
Columbus is a team that hasn't scored much in its 5 games (14GF, 2.8 avg), but it also hasn't allowed a huge amount (17GA, 3.4 avg). The Pens, through 6, have scored 16 (2.67 avg) and allowed 17 (2.83 avg). Where these teams are the most similar, is that each has only had the advantage in face-offs won only once (PIT against Carolina...a game in which they were routed 5-1, oddly enough, COL in their season opener against Vancouver, where they lost 3-2 in OT).
Marc-Andre Fleury is playing well, for the most part, considering the number of shots he's been seeing come his way. Of the 17 goals allowed, 15 are with MAF in net. If my calculations are correct, Fleury has seen 199 shots and allowed 15 behind him. That 199 shots is sixth most in the league, but the 5 ahead of him have all played 7 games (221 being tops right now).
And that magic stat (Shots On Goal differential) that I referenced in my last post paints a picture of a team that's gotten breaks early, especially by better-than-average play in goal overall). Pens differential is now worst in the league at -9.5 on the average. Considering that they outshot New Jersey by four and were only one shot on goal behind the New York Islanders over their last two games, that number may actually continue to shrink to an acceptable deviation.
Quick hit: Evgeni Malkin has scored 2 goals, one in each of his first two games (most people know this). These goals have come on 4 total shots. Colby Armstrong does not yet have a goal and has 14 SOG. And Sid the Kid has 2 goals on 19 shots. I am very anxious to see what happens once all three of these guys get untracked at the same time.
I'll admit, while listening to the 9th inning of NLCS Game 7 in the car, I nearly made myself deaf with my cheers when Yadier Molina went yard. Yes, I was pulling for St. Louis (mainly because my girlfriend is from near Springfield, IL, and I converted her into a Steelers fan, and in a smaller way because the Redbirds were my preseason pick to win it all). I also realize that the Mets probably would have won in 6 or so if El Duque and Pedro Martinez had been healthy.
Well, what's done is done. The Cardinals play their third series in a row where home field advantage does not belong to them, and they are heavy underdogs for the third straight series (Detroit enters as the favorite at -220, less than 1-to-2...5-to-11 if you want to be race-track specific. St. Louis is at +180...not quite 2-to-1).
It seems as though everyone's got Detroit in 4, maybe 5, because of their season low team ERA of 3.84, .7 runs-per-game better than St. Louis' 4.54. (Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates' team ERA was 4.52?)
St. Louis' post-season experience the past 2 years gives them an intangible edge that draws them almost close-to-even with a team that finished 12 games better than them and holds a statistical advantage in just about every split and situation you can conceive. Oh, yeah, and Detroit swept St. Louis in a 3-game interleague series at Comerica Park in June. Oh, and the American League owns the National League.
St. Louis' pitching gamble begins in Game 1, where shaky Anthony Reyes takes on a rested Tigers line-up in an atmosphere that will be beyond anything the young man has ever seen. He'll be facing fellow rookie Justin Verlander, who may also be dealing with a case of nerves. We'll see who blinks first. Jeff Weaver for the Cards has been more than serviceable since some adjustments were made to his delivery from his days in Anaheim, but Kenny Rogers has been absolutely lights out.
Final word: the longer the series goes, the more it will favor St. Louis.
I said the Cards would beat the Yankees. While it's not the Yankees, they wear pinstripes, too. Gut says Cards in 6. Why the hell not?
One good thing will come out of this, regardless of who wins: we won't have to see A.J. Pierzynski's "O-face" on anymore mainstream World Series Champion photos.