Saturday, January 21, 2012

#239: Fighting Opportunity

---SSL Broadcast #77---

The Penguins have fought their way back into a playoff spot after briefly being on the outside looking in.

Is it a coincidence that their recent string of wins is connected to their recent string of first period fights?.


There's some buzz (I hope there's not too much) that the Penguins current five-game winning streak and solid play for six is because the Pens have been getting their spark from fights.

In the six contests dating back to (and including) their 1-0 loss in Washington to the Capitals, the Penguins have been involved seven total fights, one in the first period of each game. Some want to argue that the Pens are getting a spark from the early game fisticuffs. They're just the ones who think that fighting is the heart and soul of hockey. But it isn't the heart and soul of winning hockey.

During their winning streak, the Pens have outshot their opponents by an average of 13.6 shots per game, raising their league-leading shots-on-goal-differential to a near-dominant +7.9. The team hasn't been outshot since December 20 against the Blackhawks (38-28).

The biggest difference has been the play of Marc-Andre Fleury over that span. Including the 1-0 loss to Washington, Fleury has posted a .928 save percentage (and his performances against Tampa Bay and especially Montreal weren't exactly sterling).

Fighting isn't ancillary to the Pens success in any way. It's a sideshow. A smoke screen for those who are drawn to the pugilistic side of the sport.

The team's faith in coach Dan Bylsma's puck-possession system and a superior effort from their netminder have shaped their success, and it will continue to keep them ahead of the pack despite all the injuries that have plagued the team.

On the most recent show:

- Steelers making headlines over the last 48 hours.

- Panthers need Woodall sooner rather than later (if they can't medical-redshirt him).

- Pirates avoid arbitration with all arbitration-eligible pitchers.

- Championship Sunday approacheth.

- As predicted, I went 1-3 on my NFL Playoff Picks (20-21-1 overall). This will likely come down to the Super Bowl. Again.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#238: Rivalry Aside

---SSL Broadcast #76---

I'm a little late in uploading this show. Apoligies.

However, it has allowed the NFL Divisional round of the playoffs to be completed, whereas if I would have uploaded this at my normal "Saturday at about 11AM" time, I wouldn't be able to put this little blurb together.

I have been seeing an inordinate about of Steeler fans hunkering down, getting ready to swallow their bile and root on the New England Patriots this coming weekend against the Baltimore Ravens.

Are you kidding me?

I am prepared to give you some reasons as to why Steeler fans should, in fact, be rooting on the Ravens this weekend.

1) History.

The sooner the New England Patriots are eliminated, the more comfortable fans of the 70's Steelers, especially, can rest more easily. One more Super Bowl win by quarterback Tom Brady, and he will equal the number of championships won by Steeler QB Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh-area native Joe Montana. Brady has no roots to this area. Worse, a Patriot win gives head coach Bill Belichick -his- fourth ring as a head coach, too, equaling only "The Emperor" Chuck Noll. This is not acceptable. Even if San Francisco would capture its 6th ring, tying Pittsburgh, that's a record that can be reclaimed in future seasons. Bradshaw will never play again. Noll will never coach again. Steeler fans need to root against New England winning the Super Bowl under any circumstance until Belichick and Brady are no longer in their organization.

2) AFC North Supremacy.

Yes, it hurts when a divisional opponent beats you twice in a season. That said, I have never understood the logic of using that as a reason to root against that team. Especially against a team that your own team defeated. A victory by the Ravens against the Patriots would justify the way the regular season fell out. It would be disappointing to watch Baltimore fold to New England as a Steeler fan, thinking, "Well, the Steelers beat the Patriots this year, why couldn't they?" And, also, it would keep the AFC North as the "king" of the conference...and put a bigger target on Baltimore's back next year.

3) Probable Good-Bye to Ray and Reed.

If the Baltimore Ravens advance, and then defeat either San Francisco or New York in Super Bowl XLVI, then maybe, just maybe, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, longtime thorns in the side of the Steelers, will take the opportunity to wade into the sunset. Granted, neither player is in the prime of his life (a healthy Haloti Ngata is Steeler public enemy #1 now), but those two would still be hard to replace. If the Ravens are vanquished Sunday, they might be convince to give it another season. Or two.

I'm not suggesting it's easy to pull for Baltimore. In fact, there's not a dog left in the entire playoffs left that I like. In this case, I am setting the rivalry aside and wishing them well in Foxboro on Sunday. It will only give me more reason to dislike them next fall.

On the most recent show:

- Steelers gameplan sound versus Denver. Execution of secondary...not so much.

- Pens due to heat up.

- Panthers football and basketball teams bottom out.

- Long-time Pirate joins division rival.

- Actually went 3-1 on my NFL Playoff Picks (19-18-1 overall).


Saturday, January 07, 2012

#237: Rolling the Dice

---SSL Broadcast #75---

Coaching hindsight is generally 20/20.  Sports fans inevitably believe they have this power in advance.

Case in point, last Sunday in Cleveland, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin goes off script a bit and elects to decline a holding penalty after a 3rd and 10 play for the Browns. They were in long field goal range, but with a trecherous lake wind reportedly "at their backs."

Cleveland ends up nailing the 49-yarder to trim Pittsburgh's lead to 13-9.

Conventional wisdom says that you back a team, any team, out of field goal range if you are able. But if so-called "conventional wisdom" dictated everything, teams wouldn't really need coaches.

The short: if Phil Dawson misses the kick, the Steelers start at their own 39 yard line. If they decline the penalty, there's a fair possibility that Cleveland makes that yardage back, anyway, perhaps more than enough for a first down allowing the drive to continue. Again, if the long field goal (which wasn't a gimme for anyone), Tomlin looks like a genius.

The hindsight experts will tell you that the assessed penalty would have resulted in a punt preserving a full touchdown lead. They'll omit that the punt could have pinned the Steelers inside the 10 (as easily as it could have rolled for a touchback) and perhaps resulted in a pick-6/fumble/safety.

The very short: Tomlin rolled the dice and lost.

If Steeler fans want to take issue with Tomlin, how about leaving defensive starters in for the final plays after the final score came down from Cincinnati that the game was no longer relavent.

Now that it's the playoffs, the opposition will be better, so rolling the dice on the road against anyone they face should not be an option unless the straits are dire. This week, Tomlin will need to heed "conventional wisdom," else the Steelers road trip will come to a premature end.

On today's show:

- Quick breakdown and picks for NFL's Wild Card Weekend.

- Fleury letting Pens down.

- Both Pitt Panthers teams' seasons may be over very soon.

- Deja vu. 1-1 again on my NFL Picks (16-17-1 overall for the regular season).