Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

-- Penguins prepare for biggest game yet, again.

-- Panthers have gone the distance. For them.

-- Pirates two weeks from putting up or shutting up.

-- Broadcast reminder.

---Raising the Stakes. Again.---

They do it to themselves.

In one of the tightest conference-wide playoff races in recent memory, the Penguins have proven themselves to be swimmers, rather than sinkers. Michel Therrien has the hammerlock on Coach of the Year. Sidney Crosby is closing in on the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer and has got to be the favorite for the Hart Trophy after the insane goal he scored against Montreal Friday night.

Jordan Staal is making his own case for the Calder Trophy after setting the rookie record for shorthanded goals in a season, recording a hat trick, and just being an out-and-out stud. That Evgeni Malkin guy's not bad either.

What has all of this done? Simply makes it a case of raising the stakes of each game played. And tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators has eclipsed every other game so far as being "the biggest of the year".

If only the New Jersey Devils hadn't been embarrassed at home by Carolina and had extended their division lead. If only Philadelphia hadn't conspired to continue to screw the Penguins and allow Ottawa to win last night and retake 4th place in the conference.

Now, the Penguins have the chance to have some cake and eat it, too, if they can manage to extend their winning streak to 5 games.

With a win: The Penguins close to within 2 points of the Atlantic Division lead. They leapfrog Ottawa for the 4th spot in the conference and have a game in hand. They won't have time to enjoy it, as they have to go to the Big Apple for a Monday night showdown with the Rangers.

With a loss: The Penguins trail Ottawa by at least 2 points (if overtime), and possibly by 3. With one game in hand, they'll need to win another that Ottawa loses to re-catch them.


This is what hockey is all about.

---Expectations Fulfilled---

There are some people who don't understand how I can be a fan of a team when my expectations are not as high as a die-hard's. My realistic/borderline-pessimistic outlook makes me fairweather, somehow.

In none of the several brackets I filled out this year did I have the Pittsburgh Panthers advancing beyond the Sweet 16. In a couple of cases, I had them bowing out in the 2nd round, which, they nearly did.

Now, a game that Panther fans have wanted to see for years has finally been set up. Ben Howland, the teacher, takes on his acclaimed pupil, Jamie Dixon. For this reason alone, I will be watching/listening with great interest.

For about 10 minutes.

Pitt had big leads against "smaller" programs, but in both cases, the "smaller" programs have rallied to tie the game.

UCLA is not a "smaller" program.

In the 2nd round game against VCU, Pitt shot 54.4%. That is a winning shooting percentage for just about any team. Sixteen turnovers and hitting just better than half of their free-throws (two of the misses coming at the end of regulation that wuold have made overtime unnecessary) allowed the Cinderella would-be an extended season.

UCLA was able to quell a rally by Indiana last night by coming up with some key turnovers late in the game. Pitt's tendency to turn the ball over vs. UCLA's tight defense is a poor combination for the Panthers. And it's a given that Pitt will need to take advantage of every trip to the foul line. We know that perfection at the foul line doesn't happen, but it's going to have to be close for the Panthers to even be thinking about an upset.

I expect the Bruins to win by 10 or 12 (pending some kind of bizarre injury during practice this week), but it'll be nice to see Pitt play at least one perennial power this year, since VCU denied a much-anticipated match-up with the Duke Blue Devils.

As I've said before, it's only underachieving if you lose to a lower seed. Pitt players and fans alike can now be proud of this team's season.


And one other NCAA note: Am I the only one who doesn't see the "depth" of the North Carolina team? Of course they have some depth or they wouldn't be a one-seed, but last night was a 2.5 man show (Hansbrough, Lawson, and, at the end Terry), and Michigan State was the victim of some shady officiating while they were in the see-saw battle with the 'Heels during the middle stretch of the 2nd half. Not that North Carolina wouldn't have eked out a win anyway, but I saw some not-so-clean blocks by North Carolina that weren't called, and some better-looking blocks (that may have still been fouls) called against MSU. Regardless, the goat of that game was the MSU defense. North Carolina shot an almost inhuman 65%.

---A Winning Attitude---

"Welcome to Hell."

Pittsburgh hearsay tells that those were words that former catcher Jason Kendall used to use to greet people new to the Pirate fold.

The talent pool was never really that deep when Kendall played for the black and gold; that's a virtual given. Something like that, can only have an instant negative impact. You don't hear about those kinds of things in smaller clubhouses. Florida Marlins star pitcher Dontrelle Willis could have easily said that to new teammates during the first third of Florida's season, that actually had some moments where the national spotlight was on them as they made a furious rally to challenge for the National League's Wild Card slot last year.

It could be successfully argued that the Marlins run was due to some good young pitchers (again, something Pittsburgh never had), Miguel Cabrera and a couple of surprising young rookies in Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, but last year's Florida squad was one that started off with unproven Major League talent that never lost their confidence. They made a surge. They made teams look at them seriously. They gave themselves a shot of a winning attitude.

Adam LaRoche may be the man who can inject the Pirate team with the "keep your heads up" approach when the team inevitably hits a stretch where they lose a few in a row.

In an interview with WMBS's sports talk show host (and Duquesne Dukes basketball color guy) George Von Benko, LaRoche said that the positive attitude, the genuine believe that you can win everyday, is the first important step in making that real. Wanting to finish .500 is only slighting yourself. You have to be aiming for the playoffs from Day 1. He said something to the effect of, "You might not make it, but if you don't set those goals, you're only doing yourself a disservice."

I feel he validated that further by saying, first, that he believes there is a boatload of talent on the team that could really click together. But, he would not say how well he thought the team was going to do this year. Instead, he said to ask him in a couple of months. He said the first month will reveal where their holes are, what their strengths are, and where they stand as a unit.

Some might see that as some kind of a cop-out answer, but it's the best one I could have ever come up. Giving a record like 93 wins would have drawn disdain from even the most pure of fans. Giving something like 85 wins would have been something fans would have scoffed at, perhaps thinking that it wouldn't be enough to win a division and then think, "where's this positive attitude?" And, of course, anything less would have opened up the door for people to call him a hypocrite.

There aren't a lot of people on the team who have been in Pittsburgh long enough to have become completely jaded, either. Jack Wilson seems to be the elder statesman, and he continues to work hard to improve his game. I don't think his attitude is in question. Nor is another long-time Pirate's, Salomon Torres. The starting pitchers are all young and feel they have a bit of something to prove. LaRoche is obviously new to the club, along with Xavier Nady. Chris Duffy and Jose Bautista want to make their respective marks. Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay don't have the all-hope-is-lost-on-Opening-Day attitude, either.

There is no evident clubhouse cancer. No one is kicking any laundry carts. Some players who were considered out of shape have shown up with the intention of rectifying their shortcomings the previous season. Both Jose Castillo and much-maligned backup catcher Humberto Cota have slimmed up considerably.

Since bobbleheads, fireworks, and clever marketing can't turn the team on the field around, and a higher payroll is just a pipe dream, perhaps positive clubhouse chemistry will be what keeps this team out of this history books.

You know what I'm talking about.

---Next Broadcast---

I used to visit Mondesi's House with regularity and put what were later dubbed as "shameless plugs" in the comment section (Mondesi himself didn't call them that).

If that's what they were, I hope I've outgrown that. Putting shameless plugs on other people's websites. I'll just do it here.

"Steeltown Sports: Live!" returns for a half-hour broadcast (more like 25 minutes...21 with the likely commercial break) this Saturday, March 24, from noon until 12:30PM.

Scheduled guest is Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone, Andy van Slyke?

We'll talk Pirates baseball (10 days from Opening Day), who we expect to make an impact, who we expect to suck up space, where we expect them to finish, and maybe if a winning attitude has any measurable impact on a team like the Pirates.

Pat has been getting increasingly "grumpy" insofar as his expectations regarding a team with Dave Littlefield as its General Manager.

---Chicks Dig Me---

Better still, chicks who are Pittsburgh fans dig me!

Seriously, thanks to Karri and Tiffany for gracing my site with their cyber-presences and comments.


I feel obligated to apologize for lack of humorous content most of the time. When I go out of my and try to be funny, it doesn't work. I did improv for about 6 months in Chicago with the now-defunct "Low Sodium Entertainment" in late 1999 until mid-2000. I was never really that good at it. I can count my "brilliant" moments that had an audience rolling in the aisles on one hand.

When something humorous comes along, I'll use it. It's not my M.O. to purposely find things to make fun of. I try to remain as respectful of fans and athletes alike, unless they do something very disrespectful themselves. This attitude was born in me when I listened to certain sports talk personalities in the area.

When I started into this whole blogging/podcasting/broadcasting thing, I wanted to counter that and see how much of an audience there could be for sports talk without adolescent humor, name-calling, and especially the razzing of other teams and their fans that goes beyond good-natured and becomes personal. Be critical of those who don't come through, especially due to what I perceive as a lack of effort, praise those who I feel are at least showing strong effort, even if they fall a little short, and just simply root for our Western Pennsylvania teams.

Oh, and simultaneously keep it interesting.

There are plenty of other venues to get the stuff that I'm not a personally a fan of.


Anonymous tiffany said...

"Jordan Staal is making his own case for the Calder Trophy after setting the rookie record for shorthanded goals in a season, recording a hat trick, and just being an out-and-out stud."

I really like that line.... "_"

....and you gave us a shoutout!!!! Even though you didn't have to do that, I was so psyched when I read it. "Chicks dig me." Hahaha.....SO cute.

3/20/2007 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike…I like your “Raising the Stakes. Again.” discussion about the Pens. I totally agree that Sid will get the Art Ross and the Hart , ah…maybe Malkin over Staal for the Calder (Staal may have had a shot if he had a little more ice time at the beginning of the year), and Michel Therrien truly deserves coach of the year. He’s taken this young team hopefully to the playoffs and who knows…Stanley cup? I believe! What do you think of Gonchar’s huge defensive/offensive role? The whole team is amazing! You can say something really good about each player. (You can probably tell I’m a crazy Pens fan.)

…What a game on Sunday against Ottawa…Talbot, Crosby, Whitney goals…Ruutu in the shootout!!! Hahaha…whatever works!

…Sad game on Monday in NY…Thibault so deserved to get that win…they had to be exhausted… Therrien kept reminding the announcers for VS that the Pens have played 5 games in 7 days. They need rest for the Islanders.

Oh, wow…“thanks to Karri and Tiffany for gracing my site with their cyber-presences and comments.”…you’re welcome! I agree with Tiff…”Chicks dig me”…hahahaha.

Keep up the great Pittsburgh sports talk! I like the site.


3/20/2007 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

My roommate showed me this website and I've been reading your posts. Nice job. I like the fact that you cover all sports in the Pgh area. I happen to be a Steelers and Pirates fan, but a Pens fan the most like Karri and Tiffany.

I heard you first on ThePensblog when you had a couple of the guys on about the new arena. I can't get the am radio signal on my stereo. I guess I live too far away from Uniontown. Its nice to get your thoughts on sports though from this website. Keep up the good work.

BTW, I guess I'm another chick who digs you. ;)

3/21/2007 5:53 PM  
Anonymous ♥tiffany♥ said...

The list just keeps going..... ;)

I go to ThePensblog too! So, maybe we'd be considered "Pensbloggers" & "Steeltown Mike Chicks." LOL.....

3/21/2007 10:18 PM  
Anonymous karri said...

Wow Mike, you're up to three chicks! When will your next post be? After Saturday's broadcast? Have a good one!

3/21/2007 11:21 PM  
Anonymous ♥tiffany♥ said...

You player..... "ٮ"

3/21/2007 11:29 PM  

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