Weekly sports links

Lots of links this week, so let’s just get right to it…
  • Somebody actually did a study on this. In related news, the sky is blue, dogs are great pets and pizza is good. I could’ve told you those results in 30 seconds without any studying necessary.
  • Congrats to Kevin Love for being named to the all-NBA second team.
  • Whoever is behind the Social Media for the LA Kings is a genius.
  • Joe Posnanski debunked the myth that the last three outs of the game are the “three toughest outs” in baseball.
  • Rich Thompson, I’m rooting for ya.
  • Owned.
  • Wanetta Gibson, I hope you enjoy Hell.
  • I’d like to thank The Sports Blitz for syndicating my blog and getting my writing out to even more viewers. Check them out, they have a lot of interesting blog posts daily.
  • Ted Kacyznski, still crazy.
  • Perfect, I was hoping to workout and charge my phone at the same time.

Read more links here…

Los Angeles Kings win 1st ever Stanley Cup

To think some started to say this was becoming a series. The Los Angeles Kings put to rest any notion of a collapse with a 6-1 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to claim the franchise’s 1st every Stanley Cup. And they did so in convincing fashion, with a 16-4 overall record, including an insane 10-1 record away from Staples Center. Much has been said and written about the stars and role players who made this Championship possible, but four player’s stars were either born or intensified this postseason. Leading the way, as he has all year, was Conn Smythe winning goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick has been sensational all playoffs, but few realize he was historically sensational as the ultra-athletic American’s GAA of 1.41 is the best for a 16 win Cup Champion.  Center Anze Kopitar, previous thought of as a rising star in the league, and Winger Dustin Brown, the gritty leader of the team, ended the playoffs tied for the leader in every major offensive category (each finished with 8 Goals and 12 Assists), solidly placing them among the NHL’s elite. Also solidifying himself in the upper echelon of the sport was smooth puck handler Drew Doughty. Doughty led the Kings in ice time and in points among defenseman while playing a perfectly balanced offense and defensive postseason run.   (On a side note, the Devils also had a star born, as clutch rookie Adam Henrique looks poised to become a perennial All Star).

The story of the 2012 LA Kings does not end though with Quick, Brown, Kopitar, and Doughty. Let’s not forget, Head Coach Darryl Sutter was a midseason hire. The no-nonsense aggressive coach was exactly what the King’s needed and his impact cannot be ignored in helping the Kings become the 1st ever 8th seed to win the Cup. In addition, just this past offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers, as starved as anyone for a Cup, decided that the core of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter could not win a Championship. Less than a year later, as members of the Kings, Mike Richards finished behind only Kopitar and Brown in assists for the playoffs and Jeff Carter scored 2 goals, including the winner, in the deciding Game 6. And as a symbol of their journey from Scapegoats on Broad Street to Cup Champs in Tinsel town, Richards handed the Cup to his good friend Carter in the post game celebration. And no discussion of the Cup Celebration can be had without discussing the order of the Cup handoff, a longtime tradition that speaks to the respect teammates have for each other. After Brown became the 2nd American to lift the Cup as Captain, he handed the Cup off to defenseman Willie Mitchell, who then handed it to Simon Gagne (another Flyer). Why were they first? Mitchell and Gagne were the two Kings who had played the longest without a Championship. Rounding out the first five to skate with the Cup were Assistant Captains Kopitar and defenseman Matt Greene, speaking volumes of the importance of leadership to a Championship. And while many might have tuned out after a while, the moment of the evening might have been when longtime King and current executive with the team Luc Robitaille finally lifted the Cup before the city of Los Angeles.

Alas, no wrap up of a Championship is complete without taking a look at the agony of defeat. Midway through the 1st period, Steve Bernier, member of the valuable Devil’s 4th line, was given a 5 minute Major Penalty and Game Misconduct when he ran defenseman Rob Scuderi in the back behind the King’s net. On the ensuing 5 minute power play, Brown, Carter, and Trevor Lewis all scored, sending the Staples Center into bedlam and essentially ending any chance of a historic comeback to force a Game 7 in Newark. While Bernier’s hit was clearly illegal, one cannot help but feel for the AHL call up who has joined the likes of Marty McSorely and Esa Tikkanen in NHL playoff lore misery. When Bernier raced towards the boards, Scuderi was in fact on his forehand. Had he stayed like that, Bernier likely would have only been called for a minor penalty (or even none at all). But at the last second Scuderi turned and it became a hit from behind. Now, some have blamed the play on Scuderi, but the fact remains that Bernier is responsible for his own actions. But when it comes down to it, Bernier was doing what he was supposed to do, playing at 110% effort in a game his team had to have. A split second changed that effort from positive to detrimental. Bernier’s hit did not lose the Devils the chance to win the Cup, but it sure did not help, and just under 2 hours later, Dustin Brown was lifting the Stanley Cup.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

Devils extend the finals, low ratings, and an uncertain future

Adam HenriqueIf there has been one flaw for the L.A. Kings this post season it has been closing out series at home, which thus far has always been Game 4. Last night proved to be the same as the Kings fell 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils before a crazy Staples Center crowd allowing the series to shift back to Newark. The first two periods were a defensive slugfest culminating in a wild 3rd with the first markers being scored just over a minute apart. Late in the period clutch rookie Adam Henrique scored another huge goal to win the game and Ilya Kovalchuk finally got on the board with an empty net goal. In all likelihood this is just a bump in the road for the suddenly mighty Kings, but the Devils victory added some much-needed drama to the Finals.

And the way things are going, everyone outside of LA will likely be rooting for the Devils Saturday night. A New Jersey win officially makes this a series and will hopefully help the low viewership numbers thus far. Game 1 and 2, both of which were overtime thrillers, drew 25% and 12% lower than last years Finals. And with a 2-0 series lead, Game 3 saw a 37% drop from last year and was beat soundly by the NBA Conference Finals (and narrowly edged out by Cupcake Wars on the Food Network).  This is particularly troubling for NHL Executives since it could be argued that the two biggest sports markets in the nation are in the Finals as the Newark area is included as a part of the New York market. And all signs had been pointing to a historic year for the NHL Playoffs.  For the first time the NBC Networks were set to broadcast every game and opening round games, such as Game 6 between the Capitals and Bruins, were drawing record numbers. Such a precipitous fall is surprising and might speak to the overall popularity of the League, which many thought was on the rise.

There are a lot of possible reasons for the low viewership. One could simply be the lack of a marquee team or player. The Kings are not a traditional hockey market and despite their new goal scoring style, the Devils are still thought to be a boring trapping team by most. There also are not a lot of compelling individual storylines for the casual fans. Alex Ovechkin is not looking for his 1st Cup, Sidney Crosby is not overcoming his injuries to win again, and beloved vets like Daniel Alfredsson, Jarome Iginla, or Shane Doan are not seeking their 1st Cup. Another issue is that many of the games, including Game 4, are not being shown on NBC, but rather their cable station NBC Sports, limiting potential viewers. While it is nice that NBC gives hockey the top shelf treatment, numbers would be higher if the games were on traditional sports powerhouses like ABC or FOX or even the cable king ESPN. Another possible issue is other options for sports fans, as the NBA Playoffs are in full swing now. So, while it was believed the NHL was officially back following the lockout, the numbers for the showcase event seem to tell a different story.

The NHL needed a strong finals this year as the collective bargaining agreement is up. There is a lot to be discussed before any deal is signed, such as contract lengths, hits to the heads, supplemental discipline, and what the new cap will be. There is even discussion of the potential of another lockout, with former player and NHLPA representative Trevor Linden going as far as saying to prepare for a lockout.. One has to wonder what kind of impact the low ratings will have at the negotiating table. The hope would be that the owners would feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done, because they would have to question whether the league survives another lockout.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Bliz and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

LA Kings Postseason Run

Avid LA Kings fans have been waiting nearly 20 years for the chance to see their team compete for the Stanley Cup. The crowd is also taking notice of an incredible playoff run that started in Vancouver and eventually led to the sweeping of the St. Louis Blues. And now the Phoenix Coyotes can’t seem to find an answer as they’ve spent a lot of time on their heels. The Kings have proven to the rest of the hockey world that they’re no joke.

Even though they barely landed the final slot in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, they’ve managed to knock off the two top-seeded teams while matching an NHL record for playoff road wins. Confidence and chemistry mixed with talent and true grit didn’t simply happen overnight; a long season filled with bumps and bruises, a coaching change, and the inability to put pucks through the net consistently raised a lot of questions throughout the season. On the flip-side, recent reviews from analysts and fans alike can now agree that the Kings are legitimate contenders.

A total team effort on offense and defense includes the outstanding play of Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dwight King, Slava Voynov, Mike Richards, Jordan Nolan, and the rest of the squad bearing down and coming together as a unit. The puzzle pieces are finally fitting into place, and it took the stellar net-minding abilities of Jonathan Quick all season long to get them deep into the playoffs.

The late additions of Carter, King, and Nolan have given the Kings a great deal of size and depth to complete their four-line rotation. Coach Daryl Sutter seems to have pushed the right buttons at the right time to motivate his players by getting them to crash the net and swarm in on defense.

The staff at HockeyMonkey is trying to keep pace with the Los Angeles Kings as their merchandise is skating off the shelves: sticks, gloves, blades, helmets, and Los Angeles Kings jerseys are in high demand as the finals approach. With a reputation for being the best online hockey equipment store, rave reviews from repeat customers are a testament to their dedication. They also offer coupons on their already everyday low prices, and now is the time to take advantage of these offers. Much like the Los Angeles Kings, they’re willing to go the distance.

10 things to know about the 2012 Stanley Cup

Mike Richards KingsFew predicted the 2012 Stanley Cup Final would feature the oldest team in the league, the 6th seeded New Jersey Devils, or the offensively inept 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings. But that is what we have when the puck drops in Newark, Wednesday Night to kick off the 85th Stanley Cup Finals.

Here are 10 things to know about this years match-up, ending with MVP and Champion Predictions.

1. An Unlikely Final: In the history of the Stanley Cup Finals, only one 8th seed has ever made the Finals, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, and they lost. In fact, no team seeded lower than 5th had ever won the Cup. That trend will be broken this year. And to highlight how unlikely this match up is even more, Vegas oddsmakers had the Kings and Devils each at 40-1 to win the Cup. But here we are.

2. Road to the Finals: The Devils needed 7 games to dispatch the feisty Panthers and did so in overtime. They then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers in 6 games. They were the lower seed in every matchup, yet will host the 8th seeded Kings. The Kings meanwhile had seed wise the hardest possible route to the Finals, needing to beat the top seeded Canucks, then the 2nd seeded Blues and finally the 3rd seeded Coyotes. And they did not let any series go more than 5 games.

3. Top Guns: To win the Cup your best players need to be at their best. Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in the Regular Season and is leading the way in the Playoffs with 18 points. Zach Parise and Adam Henrique also have produced like they did in the Regular Season, with Henrique scoring 2 overtime series winning goals. Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Dustin Brown led the ways for the Kings throughout the season and have been the top producers in their Cinderella Run as well.

4. Unlikely Heroes: While the Kings and Devils have both been led by their Top Guns, no run can be accomplished without some Grinders chipping in. The Devils have been led lately by their impressive 4th line of Ryan Carter-Brian Gionta-Steve Bernier. Carter and Gionta both scored in the deciding Game 6 v the Rangers and have played big minutes of late for a 4th line. The Kings have seen players such as Dwight King double their regular season goal total in only 14 game. The Kings PK has also been the best in the playoffs thanks in large part to the play of little known players like Willie Mitchell and Trevor Lewis.

5. Similar Styles and Not Your Dad’s Devils: In many ways, the Kings and the Devils are almost identical teams in terms of style. Both teams feature an aggressive forecheck that leads to a very physical style. Look for this series to feature a lot of turnovers in the defensive zone and not a lot of fancy offense. Both teams also activate their defenseman well, as the statistics of Drew Doughty and Bryce Salvador show. Those who have not watched the Devils this year will be very surprised to see that Peter DeBoer has abandoned the conservative style of past runs to the Cup and that the Devils are now a very high scoring team, led by Kovalchuk and Parise. Look for the best matchup of the series to be the Kovalchuk line v the Mike Richards line and the defense pairing of Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell.

6. Movers and Shakers: Fans, experts, and even GM’s always want to trade the star when things are tough or the money is tight. The Devils and Kings chose to acquire those stars and they are the ones still playing. Three years ago the Devils made a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and then signed him to a lucrative contract extension with a big cap hit. Many questioned the move, but he is now the leading scorer for the team. The Kings this past summer moved multiple players and picks, including young stars like Brayden Schenn and Jack Johnson, to add former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the line up, adding a needed two-way center and scoring punch on the wing. Many could argue those three moves were the biggest in the salary cap era and you can bet each would do it again.

7. Captain America and Co.:  Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars is the only American born Captain to lift the Stanley Cup. That too will change this year as both Zach Parise and Dustin Brown are American born. Not only are they Captains, but they are among the top 3 in-goal scoring for their teams. While the Kings are mostly Canadian and the Devils are a mixed bag, Americans are making big contributions all over the ice. Goaltender Jonathan Quick and defenseman Rod Scuderi have been key to the defensive effort of the Kings and the Ryan Carter and Brian Gionta have both scored big from their 4th line spot for New Jersey.

8.  Quick v Broduer & the “No Names”: Jonathan Quick’s numbers and performance has been well chronicled thus far in the playoffs (see LA Kings-History Might (Will) Be Made) and if the Kings win could well win the Conn Smythe. The bigger story might be the play of his elder on the other end of the ice. Martin Broduer is suddenly 40 years old and is about to appear in his 200th NHL Playoff game, trailing only the great Patrick Roy. Brodeur seemed to be slipping over the past few seasons, but was sensation against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals and his 2.07 GAA and .923 S% is solid, despite being well off the pace of Quick. Brodeur no doubt has been helped by the famed “No Name” Devil defense that features few stars, but plenty of solid defenders looking to make an impact, led by the likes of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchekov.

9. Special Teams: The Special Teams battle will be an interesting story to watch in this series. The Devils have been very good on the power play in the playoffs as five of Kovalchuk’s seven goals have come man up. The Kings meanwhile have been the best penalty kill team in the playoffs and have even scored quite a few shorthanded. With the aggressiveness of the Kings 5 on 5 will mean the Devils will need to solve the Kings PK to have a chance to win the series. The Devils were the best penalty kill team in the regular season but have been less than stellar this postseason. Lucky for them, the King’s power play has been as bad as their penalty kill is good, operating at 8.1% effective, worst in the playoffs.

10. Kings in six: This series will not be as easy as other for the Kings, but ultimately the Kings will add a banner to the Staples Center to offset all the Lakers titles a bit. The difference in the series will be Quick. The Devils were held scoreless by Lundqvist twice in the ECF and really benefitted from Lundqvist being overworked late in the series. Quick and his defenders meanwhile are well rested and have been nearly unbeatable and the Kings aggressiveness and forecheck will help to negate the Devils attack. Look for Mike Richards to pay huge dividends in this series as he will be key in stopping Kovalchuk and Parise. The Devils on the other hand simply do not have a line or defense pairing that will be able to successfully shutdown Kopitar-Williams-Brown. Every game will be close, but the Devils will make more mistakes than the Kings. The Devils will win the series if they can win both in New Jersey to open the series as the Kings have not faced much adversity this postseason and could stumble.

The Kings will win both games in New Jersey, like they have all playoffs, and will drop Game 3 in LA before winning Game 4. The Devils will stave off elimination on home ice with a big goal in OT by David Clarkson in Game 5. But the Kings get it down on home ice with a 2-0 win with Jeff Carter scoring the winner and Dustin Brown icing the Cup with an empty net goal. Brown takes the Cup, Quick takes the Conn Smythe.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

2012 L.A. Kings: History Might (Will) Be Made

Mike Richards Kings 

“History will be made.”   The slogan for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs promises that every postseason something historical and it is often true. Wayne Gretzky on three different occasions scored more than 40 points in a playoff season (And Super Mario did it once). In 1990, John Druce scored 9 goals in a five game playoff series. The Devils (twice) and Flames each won 10 road playoff games in route to the Stanley Cup.  Pat Lafontaine. Keith Primeau and Petr Sykora ended marathon overtimes in dramatic style. And Patrick Kane, Brett Hull, Jason Arnott and little known Uwe Krupp have scored OT goals to win their team the Stanley Cup. The 2012 Stanley Cup Finals have been no different, but one major historical moment is left. For the 1st time in NHL history, an 8th seed, the Los Angeles Kings, have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. And you better believe they can do it.

 For the last few seasons the LA Kings have on the cusp of playoff success, yet always seem to come up short. While their recent history of playoff failure has not received the attention that teams like the San Jose Sharks or Washington Capitals have, the Kings have been underachievers. This year’s team at first looked no different. They were one of the lowest scoring regular season team and jumped in and out of the playoff picture many times. In fact, they needed wins down the stretch to make sure they made the dance. The only consistent thing all year has been Jonathan Quick, and it seemed at times he could not even save the Kings. So what changed? Key shake ups at key times.

 The Kings of recent years have always been a talented group but a group with holes, mainly at center and wing.  The most successful teams in the NHL the last few seasons have followed a very similar model up front; three well-rounded centers. The Kings had one offensive center (Kopitar) and one defensive center (Jarret Stoll), but had a hole on the 2nd line. To fill the hole, the Kings added former Flyers Captain Mike Richards in an offseason blockbuster that moved popular forward Wayne Simmonds and rising star Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia. Richards is one of the most well-balanced centers in hockey and solidified the all important 2C spot that seem to plague so many teams in hockey. But, for most of the season, the offense struggled as Richards suffered injuries and line combination did not work. And when a team with high aspirations struggles, the next change is normally the coach. Enter Darryl Sutter.

Darryl Sutter, who had not coached for five seasons, brought instant change to the Kings. Former coach Terry Murray was known for his conservative manner and style of play, which worked for the Kings during their rebuild. But the message began to fall on deaf ears. Sutter on the other hand plays a very aggressive style focusing on fore checking and back checking, physicality, and discipline. Sutter himself is also known as a straight shooter who tells it like it is. The Kings responded to this change and began to climb the ladder out West, but were still in a race for 8th.  So, the Kings were then willing to move a major contributor at a deep position, Jack Johnson, to the Columbus Blue Jackets to reunite Richards with friend and line mate Jeff Carter to solidify a long-standing hole on the wing.

The result has been two balanced scoring lines (Williams-Kopitar-Brown and Carter- Richards-King) that have paid dividends for the Kings in April and May. And like any successful playoff run, role players need to step up and they have for LA. For example, rookie Dwight King has equaled his regular season goal total (in 27 games) with 5 goals, 2 of which were game winners, and Trevor Lewis has been an integral part of the impressive penalty kill. Even former Oiler scapegoat Dustin Penner has stepped up, scoring the OT winner to send the Kings to the Finals. Combine this with the perfectly balanced defensive corps of Drew Doughty/ Rob Scuderi/ Willie Mitchell/ Slava Voyno/ Matt Greene/ Alec Martinez and the stellar goaltending that has existed all season and the Kings have built an unstoppable juggernaut over the last 14 games.

So how good have the Kings been? They have only lost two games in the playoffs, and shockingly both have been on home ice, and have outscored their opponents almost 2:1 (41-22). They are by the numbers the highest scoring and best defensive team left in the playoffs and have been an impressive 91% effective on the penalty kill. They have also won 10 straight road playoff games dating to last season, which is an NHL record. Their captain Dustin Brown leads the playoffs in scoring (or will with one more point to pass the incredible Claude Giroux) and have five of the top seven in terms of plus-minus, led by the Brown, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar. And of course, it is impossible to ignore the goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who post the best GAA and save percentage of remaining goalies with 2 shutouts. And because of all these things and a dominating and punishing style of play instituted by Sutter, the Los Angeles Kings are the only the second 8th seed to make it to the Finals, joining the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. And with no disrespect to the Rangers and Devils, the Kings will do what the Oilers could not. They are not scared by the road, are gelling at the right time, their best players are playing at their best, including their goalie, and maybe most importantly are well rested. The Kings have made a lot of changes this year and taken some risk. But the risk will pay off when Dustin Brown lifts the Stanley Cup.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com.

NHL conference previews and MVP watch

Dustin BrownNow that we are down to the Final Four, lets take a look at which players are likely to take the Conn Smythe trophy home if their team lifts the Stanley Cup. Here are the front runners from each of the remaining teams, as well as a prediction for who will be playing for the right to be named the NHL’s best for 2012.

– Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

Jonathan Quick has been spectacular as well, but no one has been as valuable to the King’s Cinderella run than the Captain. Brown went into this playoff as maybe one of the most underrated players in hockey, but he certainly no longer is. He has 7 goals and 6 assists, good for 13 points in only 11 games and is a sparking +11. Brown has always been a tough player willing to do the dirty work to help his team and can score, but not like this. And not only is he scoring, he is scoring when it matters as 3 of his goals are game winners, best in the playoffs. On a team that had issues scoring in the regular season, Brown has been invaluable to the success of the LA Kings.

– David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils

The Devils have no clear favorite for the playoff MVP as their top guns all are pretty much equal in points and Broudeur has had a few dud games. Clarkson though is the type of grinder that thrives in the playoffs and has been important to the successful defensive performance that stopped the Flyers offensive assault. Clarkson has only scored twice, but both are GWG.

– Brad Richards, New York Rangers

It’s not often that a big off season signing earns his paycheck. It’s far less often that he deserves more, and give his performance so far Richards might. Richards was by far the best player in the Rangers second round victory over the Washington Capitals as his line was the only one to really get anything going versus the stout Capitals defense. He he also has lived up to his clutch reputation as he was involved in the 3 most important goals of the series. He set up Gaborik for the Game 3 triple OT winner, scored the miracle goal in Game 5 and scored the early goal in Game 7 that the Caps never recovered from. Lundqvist has been good, but Richards has been clutch.

– Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Others have been good for the Yotes, but none have been as valuable as the goalie Smith. Smith has faced the most shots in the playoffs thus far despite playing less games than Brodeur and Lundqvist and sports an impressive 1.85 GAA and .948 S%. He was virtually unbearable in the deciding game versus the Hawks and stated slow but finished strong against the Predators. Many could argue the Coyotes do not have the offense that the Hawks or Predators do, yet they are still playing. Chalk that up to Mike Smith.

Predictions for the Conference Finals:

Rangers in 7: The Rangers have not been unbeatable this playoffs and had to fight to get where they are. Nothing wrong with that, but an experienced Devils squad will give them some trouble. The no name defense with the Hall of Famer goalie have been great and the Rangers will have to fight to get back to the Finals for the 1st time since 1994. But the Rangers, led by Richards and Lundqvist, have put in the work to earn the big goals so far and expect that to continue versus a good, but not quite as talented, Devils team.  Expect another close series for the Blueshirts.

Kings in 6: When you’re on, you’re on, and the Kings are on. LA found their scoring touch at the right time and have been unstoppable. Many considered the Kings a Cup contender at the beginning of the year, but they could not score. Now they can. Look for the Kopitar/Brown/Williams line to continue to wreck havoc on the Yotes and for Quick to continue his Vezina like performance he has put on all year. The Coyotes will catch a break here and there and make this interesting as it is unlikely the Kings stay this hot, but look for an LA-NY Final.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com