Saturday, December 7, 2013
Can we just fast forward to another Eastern Conference Finals between the Bruins and Penguins? You know it's going to come down to that again, right? Oh well, I guess we'll have to let tonight's chock-filled game tide us over until then since it was the third and final installment of the regular season meetings (B's won 2 of 3). Boston (19-8-2) beat Pittsburgh (20-10-1) 3-2 thanks to two goals in the final 1:29 but all anyone could talk about was Shawn Thornton knocking out Brooks Orpik.
It all started in the first period when Orpik went high on Loui Eriksson, a hit that wasn't deemed penalty worthy yet resulted a second concussion this season for the Swede. Later in the frame, Brad Marchand was tripped by Sidney Crosby and scummy James Neal happened to skate by him and knee Marchand in the head. Don't worry though, Neal said after the game that it was an accident. The next part was especially ugly as Thornton went after Orpik and punched him when he was on the ice and thus couldn't really defend himself. Orpik was knocked out cold and had to be carted off on a stretcher. The good news there is that he's flying back to Pittsburgh with his teammates after a trip to the hospital.
Thornton will be suspended, possibly for six games or more since he has an in-person (never a good sign) meeting with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Neal has a phone meeting which means he could get a game or two (keep in mind he's a repeat offender while Thornton has never actually been suspended).
Oh yes, there was a hockey game too. Chris Kunitz was credited with a power play goal (it is the giving season) which was actually an intended pass that bounced in the net off Zdeno Chara's skate at 6:33 of the first period. Reilly Smith answered at 10:13 with his sixth goal of the season as Patrice Bergeron stole the puck and fed him for a slap shot that Marc-Andre Fleury (18 saves) had no chance to stop.
Speaking of that dirtbag Neal, he can certainly score goals on top of all his bush league tactics. He got another fluky power play goal when he popped out of the penalty box and found a hole in Tuukka Rask's (28 saves) pads at 13:13.
Boston looked out of it but then that's when they usually respond, especially at the Garden. David Krejci tied it at two at 18:31 of the third period with his fifth goal of the season after Rask had been pulled for an extra skater. Zdeno Chara was screening Rask while Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla had the assists. 1:16 later (with 13 seconds left in regulation) captain Zdeno Chara took a pretty pass from Smith and put a snap shot in the corner. Marchand had the second assist on Chara's seventh goal of the season.
With all this craziness, the B's had to hop on a flight for Toronto since they are playing the Maple Leafs (16-11-3) tomorrow night (7, NESN). I think Rask will sit although maybe with Eriksson, Thornton and Chris Kelly (lower body injury that nobody saw) all out, Bruins head coach Claude Julien elects to go with his stability. We shall see, everyone get some sleep.
12/8: The hits keep coming, Kelly has a broken right fibula from Pascal Dupuis' slash. He was placed on long-term IR and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks (this happened last season too). Adam McQuaid also went on IR so forwards Matt Fraser and Ryan Spooner were called up from Providence and will be in the lineup tonight in Toronto. Keep in mind Boychuk is out indefinitely, the Bruins say a week but I'll believe it when I see it with his back injury that looked pretty serious.
I hadn't really thought of this but besides David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli might have edged his way up to the top three of my personal rankings of favorite current Red Sox. Sure he strikes out too much but it's hard to argue with his clutch ability especially in the postseason. Coming off a World Series title in his first season in Boston, I felt like the Red Sox had to bring him back no questions asked.
Apparently Red Sox GM Ben Cherington agreed too as tonight Boston signed Napoli to a two-year deal worth $32 million. Coming on the same day that the Mariners threw a ridiculous amount of money and 10 years at Robinson Cano while the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year contract that won't expire until he's 40, this seemed actually reasonable (a mostly foreign concept in MLB these days).
Last season Napoli appeared in 139 games, hitting 23 homers, 92 RBIs (career-high), 38 doubles and he scored 79 runs with a .259 batting average, .360 OBP and .482 SLG. I'm still not convinced their quack medical staff didn't make up the shady thing about Napoli's hips having a degenerative condition. Huh? In 15 playoff games, he hit .217, .357 OBP and .482 SLG with two homers, seven RBIs, four doubles and five runs. Oh and he was perfectly serviceable at first base all season which is much more than we expected.
He struggled for most of October but true to his reputation, he stepped up when Boston needed him most-namely his homers in the ALCS vs. Detroit, both came in one-run wins. At 32, he's in basically the prime of his slugging career and he obviously loves the city (he still has that long, shaggy beard). He's a winner and very entertaining, two traits that are hard to find in MLB or in baseball players in general.
I'll drink to two more years of Napoli on the Red Sox.
You know things are going well for the Celtics when Kris Humphries comes out of mothballs and off the bench to score a season-high 18 points with seven rebounds as Boston (9-12 overall, 5-5 home) beat Denver (11-8 overall, 5-6 away) 106-98 tonight at TD Garden. They maintained their spot atop the woeful Atlantic Division where nobody is even close to .500. Woo!
The Celtics have beaten up on some really bad teams so far this season but haven't notched many wins against playoff-caliber opponents. Tonight qualifies as a solid victory since even if the Nuggets don't make the postseason in the far superior Western Conference, they are a good team.
Of course, it helps when the C's are spotted a 14-0 lead right off the bat. Boston led from start to finish, by as much as 27 (42-15 early second quarter) and as little as three (76-73 late third quarter). Jordan Crawford (game-high 22 points, 8 assists) is playing the best basketball of his strange career. Avery Bradley had 18 points as well, Jeff Green scored 15 and Brandon Bass added 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Ty Lawson paced Denver with 20 points. J.J. Hickson had 17 points and seven rebounds, Randy Foye scored 12 points while former Celtic Nate Robinson (11 points), 90-year-old Andre Miller (10 points) and Timofey (that's really how it's spelled) Mozgov (10 points, 6 rebounds) all had double-figures off the bench.
In their best quarter of the season, Boston outscored Denver 39-14 in the first which was enough to carry them to another improbable victory. The Nuggets outscored the Celts 83-67 in the final three quarters.
The C's shot 7.6% better from the field (51.8-44.2), they dished out 14 more assists (25-11) and had five less turnovers (14-9) than the Nuggets.
Boston gets its first up close look at the car crashes better known as the Knicks (5-13, 4th in Atlantic Division) and Nets (5-14, 5th in Atlantic Division) over the next few days. They are in New York on Sunday afternoon (12, CSN)-that should get monster ratings going up against the NFL-and then they are in Brooklyn on Tuesday (7:30, CSN).
Aside from the fact that Bill Belichick was head coach of the Browns roughly 50 years ago, I can't think of a much more boring NFL team than Cleveland (4-8). It would have been fun if Brian Hoyer-New England's (9-3) former backup quarterback-was starting for the Browns on Sunday (1, CBS) but his season ended early with a torn ACL.
Today the injury reports for this sure to be instant classic were released. Right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle) and wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) were both ruled out for the Patriots while quarterback Brandon Weeden (concussion) is out for the Browns hence why journeyman Jason Campbell was named the starter.
10 Patriots are questionable: Kyle Arrington (groin), Marquice Cole (shin), Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Steve Gregory (finger), Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring), Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), Brandon Spikes (knee), Will Svitek (ankle), Aqib Talib (hip) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip).
Three Browns are questionable: linebacker Tank Carder (shoulder), tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) and linebacker Craig Robertson (knee).
After so many close games this season, it would be nice if New England had a good old-fashioned season's beating to hand to the hapless Browns. We know Cleveland isn't going to win at Gillette Stadium with Campbell so there is no need to waste any of our time.
Check back here on Sunday for the rest of the inactives.
UPDATE 12/8: Patriots inactives are Steve Beauharnais, Jake Bequette, Brandon Bolden, Cannon, Dobson, Hoomanawanui and Thompkins. The Browns inactives are WR Josh Cooper, OL Reid Fragel, OL Garrett Gilkey, TE Keavon Milton, QB Alex Tanney, OL Martin Wallace and Weeden.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Normally I would rip the Canadiens and their lame fans to shreds but I lack the venom tonight after watching the Bruins lose 2-1 at the Bell Centre and defenseman Johnny Boychuk get wheeled off on a stretcher with some sort of serious injury (back?) early in the first period. The good news about that is he flew back with the team so their doctors can check him out.
Montreal earned the win and they are now in first place in the Atlantic Division. Granted, the Habs have played two more games than the Bruins but only have one additional point to show for it. Oh well, let's not get the facts caught up in a Stanley Cup parade scheduled for Montreal in December. What's that, they play three more times this season?
The weird part is that Boston dominated in the first period (outshooting Montreal 10-3) and the third period (16-6) but only had one goal to show for it. Conversely, the Canadiens basically saved up all their limited energy for the second period (outshooting Boston 18-7) and it paid off. The Canadiens (18-9-3) scored both of their goals in the frame as they won their second game in two nights to improve to 8-0-1 in their last nine games.
The Bruins (18-8-2) hadn't played in a game since Saturday night which is an eternity in the NHL. Gregory Campbell opened the scoring at 17:35 of the first period thanks to a 2-on-1 with Milan Lucic. His second goal of the season was assisted by Lucic and Dennis Seidenberg (specifically his skate which he used to kick the puck to Looch).
Tomas Plekanec beat Tuukka Rask (25 saves) with a sharp angle shot at 9:16 of the second period. You don't see Rask give up many goals like that but credit to Plekanec who picked a corner, top shelf. He gets paid too you know. Josh Gorges and former BC Eagle star Brian Gionta had the assists. Shawn Thornton and former Ranger Brandon Prust dropped the gloves when it was 1-1 but the fight wasn't anything to write home about.
Just like there always seems to be drama when the B's visit Montreal, Max Pacioretty morphs into a Hall of Famer when he plays Boston. This evening that meant scoring the game-winner at 17:42 of the second period on a backhander through traffic. Raphael Diaz and Brendan Gallagher had the assists.
Sadly, we'll probably have to root for Pacioretty on Team USA at the Olympics which is no fun. Conversely, it should be fantastic to hate on Carey Price (32 saves) who is making a push to be Team Canada's starting goaltender.
Boston gets a breather on Friday but things don't get any easier as they host the Eastern Conference's top team-Pittsburgh (20-9-1, 1st in Metropolitan Division)-on Saturday night (7, NESN) then travel North of the border (again) to Toronto (7, NESN) on Sunday night. The B's and Penguins split their first two matchups this season with each winning on home ice, Boston most recently won 4-3 in OT on Nov. 25 when Torey Krug ended it with his first career overtime tally.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
In many ways, the offseason of MLB can be far more interesting than much of the predictable monotony of the tedious regular season. The Red Sox continued to tinker with their roster for 2014 as today they added reliever Edward Mujica, formerly of the NL champion Cardinals. The righty signed a two-year deal worth $9.5 million.
Fantasy baseball fans will know Mujica because he came out of nowhere last season to save 37 games for St. Louis (it's funny how that seems to have frequently there). Next season will be his ninth in MLB and fifth team (Indians, Padres, Marlins & Cardinals). He was an All-Star for the first time in 2013 and chugged along as the Cardinals' very solid closer until groin and shoulder injuries derailed his performance level in September. He only appeared in two playoff games for the Cardinals and didn't pitch in the World Series.
Still, at 29 Mujica has a chance to be a good reliever for many additional years. In 65 appearances last season, he was 2-1 with 2.78 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 64.2 innings. He struck out 46 and walked only five so he obviously has great control. Where he fits in Boston's bullpen, we won't know until the spring but you can never have too many good arms. Outside of Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow, the Red Sox have plenty of innings to fill from its bullpen if you believe that Brandon Workman will either be a starter or possibly traded. Welcome aboard Chief (his nickname).
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I'm done trying to make sense of what exactly the Celtics are trying to accomplish in what should be an unquestioned rebuilding season. Through reasons outside of their control, namely the Eastern Conference being a toxic dump with only two teams (2!) currently over .500-Heat and Pacers-they are in much better shape than we'd like to see. In fact, Boston (8-12 overall, 4-5 home) accomplished something tonight that believe it or not they never did last season: by beating Milwaukee (3-14 overall, 1-8 away) 108-100 at TD Garden, the Celts now lead the Atlantic Division all by themselves.
What the hell? They avenged two losses to the Bucks earlier this season by having all five starters score in double figures. Jordan Crawford had a game-high 25 points and five assists, Jeff Green notched 18 points, Brandon Bass put up 16 points and nine rebounds, Avery Bradley added 15 points (including an absurd shot from behind the backboard) and Jared Sullinger tossed in 12 points with eight rebounds. Things went so well for the C's that even Courtney Lee (11 points) looked like a solid player.
Milwaukee certainly knows how to tank, this is a team that started Ekpe Udoh (3 blocks), Khris Middleton (14 points) and John Henson (11 points, 5 rebounds) in the same lineup. Their best players at the moment are O.J. Mayo (19 points) and Brandon Knight (15 points, 6 assists) so good luck with that. Wait, they want to lose. Damn it!
Boston is off until Friday (7:30, CSN) when they host Denver (11-6, 3rd in Northwest Division).