Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random Musings: Building Something

Nothing is more fun than being a fan of an overachieving team not expected to do much. A team that is fun to watch, surprises the national media, and sticks around much longer than just about anyone expected. A team that has some surprise stories of players not expected to contribute as much as they have contributed.  A team that has been a downtrodden franchise whose glory years were a long time ago.  But, I am not talking about the New York Jets.  I am talking, of course, about the New York Islanders.  

The Jets are another example of this and having two overachieving teams in the same town during the same year do not happen often.  The story of the Jets is well-heralded, reaching the AFC conference title game when just about everyone expected them not to qualify for the playoffs.  The Islanders started 2010 almost as hot as the Jets, starting the calendar year 6-1, and they are right in the thick of a playoff race that involves just about everyone.  Sound familiar?

Between Weeks 12 and 17 of the NFL season, the Jets were tied in the standings with at least three other teams.  Their low point was after Week 11, when the Jets were 4-6 and tied for 11th place in the 16-team AFC with Tennessee.  If you divide the games evenly across the NHL season, the Islanders would be at the same spot in their schedule after 53 games.  In the Islanders’ 53rd game, they were crushed by the Washington Capitals, 7-2, to fall to 23-22-8.  The 54 points were good for 12th place in the East out of 15 teams, but only one point behind sixth-place Philadelphia and the seventh-place New York Rangers.

After the Jets season, those that wear the uniform and the most positive fans said they saw this coming and they knew all along they would shock the world.  I am sure the Islanders and the most positive Islanders fans feel the Islanders will shock the world and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They have a long way to go, but no longer than the Jets.  Two more teams make the playoffs in the NHL than in the NFL.  The Islanders will have two built-in bye weeks in February, as only one player, Mark Streit, will be participating in the Olympics.  Streit’s Swiss team is not expected to medal, so he will still probably have a week off.  The Islanders will have time to practice and time to re-focus on the last six weeks of the season.

The playoffs were not necessarily in the plans for the Islanders this season.  They are building from within and a prized rookie, John Tavares, and the young nucleus, including Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, are learning on the job.  This leads to surprising victories and demoralizing losses and the Islanders have had their share of both this season.  These types of teams are reliant on how quickly they learn from their mistakes.  The Islanders have proved resilient, but still have issues with back-to-back games and taking care of business against teams they should beat.  But, according to most pundits, the Islanders were supposed to be at the bottom of the standings with no teams they “should” beat.

No matter what they do this season, it is clear the Islanders, like the Jets, are building something.  Besides their roster, their coach and general manager are on the same page.  Their owner, Charles Wang, is still committed to keep the team on Long Island.  (What is going on with that, anyway?)  Their roster almost fits Coach Scott Gordon’s system.  There is still some players that do not and most of them were holdovers from Ted Nolan’s time as head coach.  The future looks brighter than it did two years ago.  It looks brighter than any time since 2002-03, the season after a narrow playoff loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.  In that 2002 playoff appearance, there was a lot of hope for Islander fans that their first appearance in the playoffs in eight years would be the start of a return to prosperity for the franchise.  

That hope waned in 2003 and 2004, losing in the first round and, after the lockout, the Islanders have been inconsistent and slow to adapt to the new NHL.  Consistently, the Islanders were among the teams shorthanded most often.  But, over the last couple of years, the Islanders have gotten younger.  They have instituted a system they can believe in and, after a lot of growing pains last year and some more this year, they will be in good position to have success in the new NHL.

New York is not a likely landing spot for overachieving teams.  The hype in this city makes it impossible to sneak up on anyone.  But, the Jets and Islanders are decidedly second-fiddle teams in a crowded New York market.  The money available to teams to spend in this town is unparalleled.  But, football and hockey have a playing field that is more even than ever with a salary cap.  Just look at the Super Bowl this year, where small markets like Indianapolis and New Orleans are the top teams in the league.  Edmonton was in the Stanley Cup Finals just four years ago.  New York does not have the advantage it used to have, but over the years, not to many underdogs have called New York home.

The Jets moved from 11th place after Week 12 to ninth the next week, seventh the following week, and into playoff position after Week 14.  In fact, there was enough time for the Jets to lose, fall out of playoff position, and still finish fifth when the season came to a close.  There is still plenty of time for the underachieving Islanders.  Plenty of time to sneak up on everyone and plenty to come out of nowhere to qualify for the playoffs and make some noise once they get there.  When you are building something, the sky really is the limit until the rest of the world catches up with you.

Sports With The StatMan #43: Show Notes

The run is over.  The Jets lost out on getting to their first Super Bowl in 41 years at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.  Still, for the Jets, a 7-2 in their final nine games, including 2-1 in the playoffs is more than just about anyone expected.  Our attention will turn to hockey and baseball, but not before giving the Jets their due.

Before we get to the timeline, take a look at last week’s Random Musings sports column, “House Money”.

00:00-10:30 – Open: Jets drive ends as Colts go to the Super Bowl XLIV
10:30-14:00 – Show Information
14:00-22:00 – Breaking down the AFC Championship Game (Jets-Colts)
22:00-26:00 – Possible Super Bowl opponents for the Colts, Vikings-Saints update
26:00-31:00 – More Jets-Colts talk
31:00-40:00 – Rex Ryan’s effect on the Jets, House Money debate, the Jets future, wrapping up Jets-Colts talk
40:00-41:30 – NFC Championship Game notes and update
41:30-46:00 – StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Pro First and Second Teams, All-Local Team, All-Fantasy Playoff Team
46:00-48:00 – NFL: Around the League
48:00-55:00 – NHL: Week in Local Matchups – Devils-Islanders two game set
55:00-58:00 – Rangers-Flyers: Old-Time Hockey
58:00-60:00 – NHL Standings: East is bunched up and Flyers are hot
60:00-70:00 – Week In Review: Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Bruins, Flyers
70:00-74:30 – NHL: Around the League – West standings, Northwest Division, Ducks are hot at home
74:30-78:00 – Close: Upcoming Schedule, Next Week’s Show Preview

Main Points
00:00-10:30 – Open: Jets drive ends as Colts go to the Super Bowl XLIV
The Indianapolis Colts punched their ticket for Super Bowl XLIV.  The Jets drought goes on for another year.  It has now been 41 years since the Jets last went to the Super Bowl.  Only the Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl before the Jets did, as they won the first two.  Their long-standing Super Bowl drought was only 29 years.

The Jets came far from 4-6.  The only loss they had from Week 12 until today was the 10-7 loss to Atlanta.  They had won 5 in a row on the road, but could not push it to six in a row.  The first half of football was great for the Jets, but the second half was forgettable.  Mark Sanchez was not the problem in the game for the Jets.  The problem was the defense.  Peyton Manning picked apart the Jet defense in the second half and that was the difference in the game.  Manning was able to find his receivers and the guys who he targeted were the young kids, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.  Sanchez was able to find Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards.  The running game was disappointing because of the injury to Shonn Greene and the Colts defense.

There were several signs that things were starting to turn in the game.  One was Austin Collie’s 16-yard touchdown reception with 2 minutes left in the half to get to 17-13 before the half.  The second sign was Shonn Greene’s injury early in the 3rd quarter.  He sustained a rib injury and did not return.  The final sign was the decision to try for a 52-yard field goal by Jay Feely in the third quarter.  A 52-yarder is tough to make, but it was the decision that was the problem.  They played for three points instead of going for it or pooch punting and playing the game of field position.  The Colts had a short field (58 yards) and that led to Pierre Garcon’s 4-yard touchdown catch from Manning, which put the Colts up, 20-17.  The Jets were never heard from again.

In the first half, Manning was 11 of 18 for 218 yards, but Manning was 3 of 4 for 80 yards in the last drive of the half which resulted in the Collie score.  But, if you take out the last drive, Manning was only 8 of 14 for 138 yards, which is pedestrian for Manning’s standards.  Sanchez was 5 of 7 for 124 yards and two touchdown throws.  Brad Smith ran an option and threw a 45-yard completion to Jerricho Cotchery.

Manning was on the sidelines working with offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who proved a good sounding board for Manning in trying to figure out the Jet defense.  Manning was sacked twice early and he was only sacked 10 times this year.  At 17-6 down, those three events – the Collie TD, the Greene injury, and the Feely missed FG, which led to the Colts next touchdown drive – decided the game.

10:30-14:00 – Show Information
We will be transitioning soon to hockey and baseball.  Next week, there is no football, though there is the Pro Bowl.  We will preview the Super Bowl next week.  In two weeks, the show will either be on Saturday night or Sunday morning (check the Show Page for schedules).  After the big game, we will devote the show to hockey and we will start previewing the 2010 baseball season, taking a division a week between mid-February to the end of March.

Upcoming “Sports With The StatMan” Shows
January 31st: NFL: Conference Championship Wrap, Super Bowl Preview
February 7th: NFL: Super Bowl Predictions
February 14th: NHL: Olympic Preview, NFL: Season In Review
February 19th (Friday): NHL: Olympic Coverage, MLB: AL West Preview
February 28th: NHL: Olympic Wrap, MLB: NL West Preview

14:00-22:00 – Breaking down the AFC Championship Game (Jets-Colts)
The Jets were pretty good on 3rd down conversions (6-for-14), including some long ones (Cotchery sideline catch, Keller TD catch).  Sanchez was able to find Cotchery for some clutch catches (6 catches, 102 yards) and Edwards (2 catches, 100 yards) had the long score.  Thomas Jones was the leading rusher (16 rushes, 42 yards) because Shonn Greene was hurt (10 rushes, 41 yards).

The Colts rushed for 101 yards and the Jets only rushed for 86 yards.  Peyton Manning threw for 377 yards and found his third- and fourth-best receivers.  Pierre Garcon had an AFC Championship Game-record 11 catches for 151 yards and Austin Collie caught seven balls for 123, including 80 yards on the late first half drive.  Each had a touchdown catch.  Collie had the one to get the Colts close and Garcon had the one to put the Colts ahead for good.  Dallas Clark had the big score late to put the Colts up by two scores.

Sanchez was not sacked and threw one interception when the Jets were scrambling late, down by 13 points.  The Jets did not fumble, so turnovers were not an issue.  The Colts did fumble and the Jets recovered the drop by Joseph Addai and had the 14-6 lead, having to settle for a field goal.  A touchdown there or a stop on the Colts at the end of the first half would have given the Jets either at least an 11-point lead going into the half and things would have been different.

The Jets scored in three possessions in the second quarter, totaling all 17 of their points for the game.  I am surprised the Jets did not use Brad Smith more.  The Colts defense was on their heels with Smith ran the option and threw a 45-yard pass to Cotchery to the Colts’ 12.  You had the feeling at that point, and after the Addai fumble, that the Jets really had the momentum.

22:00-26:00 – Possible Super Bowl opponents for the Colts, Vikings-Saints update
If the Colts play the Saints, it would be a homecoming of sorts for Peyton Manning.  If you identified one player or one sports figure for a town, it would be Archie Manning for the New Orleans Saints.  Manning grew up in the New Orleans area.  If the Colts play the Vikings, the Colts would face Brett Favre, the 40-year-old quarterback, who might be playing his last game.  Favre has combined a level of skill at an advanced age that no one has ever done before.  He is still passing the ball with abandon, but not reckless abandon because he has been smart with the football.

26:00-31:00 – More Jets-Colts talk
No rookie quarterback has ever reached the Super Bowl.  Sanchez is one of four quarterbacks, joining Shaun King (1999), Ben Roethlisberger (2004), and Joe Flacco (2008) with that distinction.  The Colts defense was good against the run, holding the Ravens to 87 yards last week and the Jets to 86 yards this week.  The Jets are a team that averages about 170 rushing yards a game.  Can we finally say that the run defense is more than just Bob Sanders?

The Saints run the ball better than you think.  No matter who the Colts face, they will be facing an elite quarterback who can find his receivers downfield.  Brett Favre has Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin.  Drew Brees has Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson.  The Colts’ running game does not instill confidence.  Even though Addai rushed for 80 yards, he lost a fumble.  Donald Brown was banged up earlier in the season and was not impressive.  But, with the Colts passing attack, do you really need a running game?

31:00-40:00 – Rex Ryan’s effect on the Jets, House Money debate, the Jets future, wrapping up Jets-Colts talk
Rex Ryan not only got his team psyched and got them to accept the challenge, he also got the fans into it.  Sports radio hosts do not like that kind of a talk from a coach who has never won anything.  But, if Ryan was reserved, like an Eric Mangini, and did not have that bravado, do you honestly think they would have done as well?

Ryan brought out the fun side of football for the Jets and they showed it from Thanksgiving until this week, finishing the season 7-2.  The debate goes on about house money (see the Random Musings sports column from last week).  How can Jet fans go from playing with house money in making the playoffs and beating Cincinnati to, after defeating San Diego, having to win against the Colts to validate their season?  It is a bit of a loser’s mentality for a team to say they do not know when they will get to the conference championship game or the Super Bowl again.

I predicted the Jets would be able to use the lessons they learned this year and apply them next year.  But, they learned so many more lessons than I ever expected.  They learned the rookie lessons that I thought they would, but they also learned playoff lessons and adversity lessons for the offense and the quarterback.  The Jets have as good a chance as any team to win the AFC East next year.  That is how much they have learned and how far they have come this year.

To a man, Ryan is beloved by his team.  He brings the ideals of his father, Buddy Ryan, but none of his abrasiveness.  Players that would otherwise not be out there on the field playing hard for their coach.  Jim Leonhard, Shaun Ellis, and David Harris are just a few examples.

After the game, Peyton Manning mentioned how the team was humble and kept their mouths shut.  I wonder if that was a shot against the Jets.  It might also have been frustration to his front office for not trying for perfection and how the Week 16 game still may still stick in his craw.

40:00-41:30 – NFC Championship Game notes and update
The Vikings and Saints matchup is the fifth matchup that involves the top two scoring teams in the NFL.  The winner will have a chance to win its first Super Bowl in their franchise history.  The Vikings are 4-4 in conference championship games and lost in all four Super Bowl appearances in the Bud Grant-Frank Tarkenton-Purple People Eater days.  Favre had a touchdown in a record 19 straight playoff games entering the game.

41:30-46:00 – StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Pro First and Second Teams, All-Local Team, All-Fantasy Playoff Team
StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Pro Teams
1st Team
QB: Aaron Rodgers GBY
RB: Chris Johnson TEN, Maurice Jones-Drew JAX
WR: Miles Austin DAL, Andre Johnson HOU
FLEX (RB/WR): RB Adrian Peterson MIN
TE: Dallas Clark IND
K: David Akers PHL
D/ST: Philadelphia Eagles PHL

2nd Team
QB: Drew Brees NO
RB: Ray Rice BAL, Frank Gore SFO
WR: DeSean Jackson PHL, Randy Moss NE
FLEX (RB/WR): RB Thomas Jones NYJ
TE: Vernon Davis SFO
K: Nate Kaeding SDG
D/ST: Green Bay Packers GBY

StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Local Team (overall rankings by position in parentheses)
QB: Tom Brady NE (#3 among QB)
RB: Thomas Jones NYJ (#6), Brandon Jacobs NYG (T-#27)
WR: DeSean Jackson PHL (#3), Randy Moss NE (#4)
FLEX (RB/WR): WR Wes Welker NE (#12 among WR)
TE: Brent Celek PHL (#4)
K: David Akers PHL (#1)
D/ST: Philadelphia Eagles PHL (#1)

StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Fantasy Playoff Team (Weeks 15-17 stats in parentheses)
QB: Aaron Rodgers GBY (83 pts, 59-97-855-5-0, 106.7, 6 rush-33, 2 rush TD)
RB: Jerome Harrison CLE (88 pts, 106 rush-561, 5 TD, 4 rec-32, 1 FL)
RB: Jamaal Charles KCY (77 pts, 74 rush-515, 3 TD, 6 rec-41)
WR: Mike Wallace PIT (47 pts, 7-226, 3 TD)
WR: Roddy White ATL (42 pts, 18-238, 3 TD)
FLEX (RB/WR): RB Jonathan Stewart CAR (72 pts, 69 rush-440, 3 TD, 4 rec-30, 1 rec TD)
TE: Brent Celek PHL (53 pts, 15-290, 1 TD)
K: Jeff Reed PIT (43 pts, 9-for-9 FG, 9-for-9 XP)
D/ST: tie, Cowboys DAL (38 pts, 2 INT, 11 sacks, 3 FR, 17 PA)
D/ST: tie, Jets NYJ (38 pts, 2 INT, 5 sacks, 3 FR, 2 TD, 25 PA)
MVP: Jamaal Charles KCY – 39 points in Week 17)

StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Surprise Team
QB Matt Schaub HOU
RB Ray Rice BAL
RB Jamaal Charles KCY
WR Miles Austin DAL
WR Sidney Rice MIN
FLEX Steve Smith NYG
TE Brent Celek PHL
K Jay Feely NYJ
D/ST Saints NO

StatMan’s 1st Annual All-Disappointment Team
QB Carson Palmer CIN
RB Matt Forte CHI
RB LaDainian Tomlinson SDG
WR Dwayne Bowe KCY
WR Roy Williams DAL
FLEX Marshawn Lynch BUF
TE John Carlson SEA
K Shayne Graham CIN
D/ST Bears CHI

46:00-48:00 – NFL: Around the League
Chan Gailey was named as head coach of the Buffalo Bills.  That has to be a setback for the Bills, as a couple of candidates did not want the job in Bill Cowher and Brian Schottenheimer.  Brian Billick was a little miffed he was not offered the job.  Whoever the coach was, though, they probably will not have Terrell Owens at his disposal.  I do not see Owens re-signing in Buffalo.

48:00-55:00 – NHL: Week in Local Matchups – Devils-Islanders two game set
The Devils and Islanders played twice at the Nassau Coliseum and the games were very different.  The Devils looked disinterested in the Monday matinee and they had the upper-hand on Saturday night.  The Islanders outshot the Devils on Monday, 46-20, and most of the Devils shots were around the perimeter.  Rick DiPietro was not really tested all that much on his rehabbed hips and knees and earned the shutout, 4-0.  Martin Brodeur was pulled after two periods and played video games in the locker room in the final period.

The Devils were in a bad way and played the back end of back-to-backs on Saturday night.  But, the Devils persevered on Saturday night against a more rested Islander team, 4-2, by carrying the play in the third period.  The Devils outshot the Islanders 13-5 in the first, were outshot 14-1, and blitzed the Isles in shots in the third period, 14-3.  The only shot for the Devils in the second was an own goal by Freddy Meyer.  Islander-killer Zach Parise had two goals, including the empty-netter.  After losing 4 of his last 5 against the Islanders, and with Brodeur’s grueling playing schedule, ex-Islander Yann Danis was going to start on Saturday night, but he had flu-like symptoms and Brodeur started anyway.  Brodeur may have figured this batch of Islanders out on Saturday night.

Every time Parise scores against the Islanders, Islander fans think about what could have been if the Islanders picked Parise instead of Robert Nilsson.  Maybe they would not have had to make the move for Ryan Smyth if they had Parise in 2007.  Maybe they would have supplemented their team in a different way and maybe that player would be a part of the Islanders nucleus today.

55:00-58:00 – Rangers-Flyers: Old-Time Hockey
The game became a punch-up, as Daniel Carcillo and Marian Gaborik engaged in a surprising bout.  Reading the Ranger account via Twitter on Thursday night, the word was that Carcillo “jumped” Gaborik and pummeled him, but when I saw the replay, Gaborik was the first to drop the gloves.  The other Rangers on the ice should not have let the Carcillo-Gaborik situation get to that point without someone else stepping in and taking on Carcillo.  In the old days, everyone would have paired up and the benches probably would have emptied.  But, even in today’s game, Dan Girardi was right there and should have stepped in.  He did nothing about it.  There were three other fights in the game, including two by Sean Avery later in that second period, but too little, too late to send that message that putting your hands on Gaborik will not be tolerated.  Ray Emery had the shutout in that 2-0 win. 

They still have three games against each other this year in the final month of the season, including twice in the final weekend of the year:
-         Sunday, March 14th at Madison Square Garden
-         Friday, April 9th at Madison Square Garden
-         Sunday, April 11th at Wachovia Center

Ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendars.

58:00-60:00 – NHL Standings: East is bunched up and Flyers are hot
The Flyers are playing fantastic right now, scoring first in 15 of 16 as of Sunday after losing on national TV to Pittsburgh, 2-1.  They are playing much better at home and the Flyers are the main beneficiary in the standings of the bunched-up Eastern Conference.  The Flyers stand sixth in the conference at the tip of the iceberg that holds the teams between 6th and 13th place.  The Flyers are tied in points with the Rangers with 55 and one ahead of the Islanders, who have 54 points.  Only three points separate all eight teams and only three of those slots are playoff spots right now.  One point separates sixth from tenth place.  Everyone except Toronto and Carolina are in play in the East.  With less than 30 games left, a lot still has to be sorted out in the East.

60:00-70:00 – Week In Review: Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Bruins
The Bruins and Islanders both have 54 points and are just south of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.  Boston has a game in hand on the Islanders and stands in ninth place while the Islanders are 10th.  The Flyers and Rangers have playoff spots at the moment, with the Flyers and Rangers next to each other at sixth and seventh in the East, respectively.  The Devils are fighting with Washington at the top of the conference and lead the Atlantic and have asserted themselves as an East power, a strong second in the conference to Washington, stronger than Pittsburgh and anyone the Northeast Division can offer up.

The Islanders had a six-game home winning streak that was snapped on Saturday night against New Jersey.  During that streak, it was shutout or shootout, winning four games in the shootout and two games in a shutout.  Scott Gordon said the Islanders played on Saturday as a team “trying not to lose”.  Great assessment and bewildering, considering the Islanders have played so well at home and against the Devils lately.

The Rangers are very hot-and-cold right now, going through long scoring droughts and frustrating the home fans.  But, out of nowhere comes a 8-2 thrashing of Tampa Bay at the Garden that addresses both issues: secondary scoring and play at home.  After a 14-goal barrage in two games against Montreal and Tampa Bay, they have not scored since the Carcillo-Gaborik fight, losing 2-0 to Philadelphia and 6-0 to Montreal.  In their last seven, the Rangers have scored 15 goals, which means they scored one goal in the five games surrounding their 14-goal spurt.  The interesting exchange between Coach John Tortorella and New York Post reporter Larry Brooks will be something to keep tabs on.

The Devils finished the past week 2-2 and ended it a lot better than how they started it.  The Devils are three points behind Washington for tops in the conference and have traded on their early season success, especially on the road.  Washington is on fire, 9-1 in their last 10 games.

The Bruins have had some serious scoring issues and were contending for the top spot in the Northeast Division a few weeks ago.  But, since then, Buffalo has caught fire and the Bruins are 2-7-1 in their last 10, falling on hard times.  In their three-game homestand that followed a three-game West Coast trip, they lost twice to Ottawa and was beaten by the lowly Columbus.  They also lost on Sunday to Carolina and have been outscored 15-5 in their last four games, which are all losses.  Boston needs to figure it out and fast.  If the Bruins figure it out, they are still right in the middle of the playoff hunt, so they could get back what they have lost.

The Flyers have not had much time to practice since new coach, Peter Laviolette, took over with the condensed schedule this year.  So, they have had to adapt to the new coaching philosophy on the fly.  The learning curve is finished and they are hot.

70:00-74:30 – NHL: Around the League – West standings, Northwest Division, Ducks are hot at home
In the West, three points separate sixth through ninth in the conference and they are playing each other.  #9 Detroit hosted #6 Los Angeles, who are higher than them in the standings and the Kings won, 3-2.  Anze Kopitar put in his 20th of the season in that game and the Kings may be for real.  The Red Wings have fallen a bit and Jimmy Howard allowed three third period goals in that game.

What is going on in Calgary?  The Dion Phaneuf trade rumors are all over the place and Jarome Iginla has not been able to put it together, as the Flames have lost five straight.  Brent Sutter is not having a great run right now in his first season as Flames head coach.  Calgary is eighth in the West, but they have moved to the side in the division because Vancouver and Colorado are hot at the moment.  Colorado has not backed down in the division, tied in points with Vancouver for first place at 64 points.  Colorado has won five in a row and Vancouver has four straight wins after cruising against top dog Chicago, 5-1.  The Sedin twins are scoring at a solid rate and playing on the same line is Alexander Burrows, who has made headlines for his play instead of his finger-pointing at referee Stephane Auger.

Anaheim has won eight straight at home and the Ducks are making their run.  They are 11th in the West, but only three points behind Calgary to get in the mix.  The goaltending situation in Anaheim may have sorted itself out with Jonas Hiller taking over the top spot and Jean-Sebastien Giguere finding the bench.  Giguere is available on the market, as well as Martin Biron of the Islanders and Marty Turco of the Stars.  The Flyers did need a goaltender while Ray Emery was hurt, but the emergence of Michael Leighton give the Flyers a solid backup.

Since the trading deadline is a couple of days after play resumes after the Olympic Break, so we may see some moves before the break on February 14th.

74:30-78:00 – Close: Next Week’s Show Preview, Upcoming Schedule
Next Week
Next Sunday night (January 31st), on Sports With The StatMan (#44), the Super Bowl combatants have been decided and we will have a Super Bowl Preview.  We will also talk more hockey, as the Islanders and Flyers lock up in Philly.  Also, where do the Mets go from here?  We’ll talk about it all and more on Sports With The StatMan.

Upcoming Schedule
• Wednesday: “Random Musings” Sports Column (blog)
• Sunday: Sports With The StatMan: Fantasy Hockey Edition – Week 18 (blog)
• Sunday, 8-9pm ET: Sports With The StatMan: No. 44 (live show)

* All blogs will be available on our “secondary” blog, which is called “Random Musings from the StatMan” ( You can listen to the show live at our show page ( or download the podcast, which is normally available 15 minutes after the show, either from the show page or from iTunes (search: Sports With The StatMan).

Here are the ways to follow along and get in touch with the show:
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Send your pro or fantasy questions or comments on the Show Page or the “Random Musings” blog, or you can send me a tweet. I’ll be sure to get back to you. Also, check the show page for times and schedules of our one-hour show and our last blog entries, such as our Fantasy Hockey Edition and our Random Musings weekly sports column.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sports With The StatMan: Fantasy Hockey Edition - Week 17

How tight is the Eastern Conference playoff race? Philadelphia, the Rangers, and Montreal all have 55 points and are seeded #6 through #8. Boston and the Islanders are one point back and hold the ninth and tenth spots, respectively. Florida, Atlanta, and Tampa are all within two or three points of a playoff spot. With about 30 games left, there is plenty of hockey to be played, but the race cannot possibly get tighter.

Here is the review of last week and a preview of the week to come:

WEEK 16 REVIEW (Games of 1/17-1/23/2010)
- 1st Star: Jeff Carter PHL – 31 points (5-2-7 in 4 games, +4, 2 PIM, 1 PPG)
- 2nd Star: Alex Ovechkin WSH – 30 points (4-4-8 in 4 games, +4, 1 PPG)
- 3rd Star: Joe Pavelski SJS – 29.5 points (3-5-8 in 4 games, +4)

Local Forwards
- 1st Star: Jeff Carter PHL – 31 points (#1 Forward overall)
- 2nd Star: Brandon Dubinsky NYR – 20.5 points (#17 F overall, 3-2-5 in 4 games, +4, 9 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 SHG)
- 3rd Star: Ryan Callahan NYR – 19 points (#20 F overall, 2-3-5 in 4 games, +3, 1 PPG)

- 1st Star: Rob Blake SJS – 30.5 points (2-3-5 in 4 games, +4, 2 PIM, 1 PPG)
- 2nd Star: Chris Pronger PHL – 27.5 points (2-3-5 in 4 games, +2, 2 PIM, 2 PPG)
- 3rd Star: Dan Boyle SJS – 24.5 points (1-4-5 in 2 games, +2, 6 PIM)

Local Defensemen
- 1st Star: Chris Pronger PHL – 27.5 points (#2 Defenseman overall)
- 2nd Star: Kimmo Timonen PHL – 21 points (#7 D overall, 0-3-3 in 4 games, +4)
- 3rd Star: Jack Hillen NYI – 19 points (Tied-#8 D overall, 1-3-4 in 4 games, +1, 1 PPG)

- 1st Star: Tomas Vokoun FLA – 39.4 points (2-1-1 in 4 games, 2 shutouts, 0.49 GAA, .985 SvPct)
- 2nd Star: Evgeni Nabokov SJS – 31.2 points (4-0-0 in 4 games, 1.25 GAA,.960 SvPct)
- 3rd Star: Brian Elliott OTT – 29 points (4-0-0 in 4 games, 1.25 GAA, .957 SvPct)

Local Goaltenders
- 1st Star: Ray Emery PHL – 25.8 points (#5 G overall, 3-1-0 in 4 games, 1 shutout, 2.51 GAA, .908 SvPct)
- 2nd Star: Martin Brodeur NJD – 17.2 points (Tied-#10 G overall, 2-2-0 in 4 games, 1 shutout, 2.47 GAA, .910 SvPct)
- 3rd Star: Rick DiPietro NYI – 12.8 points (#11 G overall, 1-1-0 in 2 games, 1 shutout, 1.50 GAA, .936 SvPct)

Special Teams
- Best in League: Washington Capitals +17 (6-14 PP, 17-19 PK, 1 SHG, 0 SHGA)
- Best among locals: New Jersey Devils +7 (Tied-#3 ST overall, 1-7 PP, 11-14 PK, 1 SHG, 0 SHGA)

WEEK 17 PREVIEW (Games of 1/24-1/30/2010)
5-Game Weeks:
- Sunday-to-Saturday scoring period: None
- Monday-to-Sunday scoring period: Calgary

4-Game Weeks:
- Sunday-to-Saturday scoring period: Carolina, Calgary, St. Louis
- Monday-to-Sunday scoring period: Anaheim, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, Los Angeles, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington

2-Game Weeks:
- Sunday-to-Saturday scoring period: Florida, San Jose, Tampa Bay
- Monday-to-Sunday scoring period: Boston, San Jose

Local Matchups:
- Islanders at Flyers (Saturday)

Last Week (Start vs. Sit)
- Forwards: Tomas Fleischmann WSH (1-3-4 in 4 games, 4 PIM) vs. Jarome Iginla CGY (0-2-2 in 3 games, -1) (W, Fleischmann 10.5, Iginla 3.5)
- Defensemen: Joni Pitkanen CAR (0-1-1 in 3 games, -3, 6 PIM) vs. Sheldon Souray EDM (1-0-1 in 3 games, +1, 2 PIM) (L, Souray 5.0, Pitkanen (-4.5))
- Goaltending: Chris Mason STL (0-2-1 in 3 games, 3.28 GAA, .897 SvPct) vs. Jonathan Quick LAK (2-1-0 in 3 games, 3.24 GAA, .884 SvPct) (L, Quick 10.6, Mason 3.0)

Season: 6-3 (1-2 this week)

- Start: Alex Burrows VAN – Playing alongside the Sedin twins is helping his numbers. He has six goals in his last six games (6-3-9), finishing Sedin passes. The Canucks have two home games against Buffalo and St. Louis before traveling to Toronto on Saturday.
- Sit: Ilya Kovalchuk ATL – Will the trade talks heat up over the next week? Kovy is scoreless over his last two games and faces two hot teams (vs ANA, at PHL) and one surprising team (at NSH).

- Start: Jack Hillen NYI – Hillen has taken on a larger role on the Islanders blue line and is responsible in his own end while chipping in on the offensive side. The schedule has a “donut” week, starting and ending tough (vs WSH, at PHL) with a hole in the middle (at CAR).
- Sit: Andy Greene NJD – Greene is coming back slowly from injury, so it is not quite time to get him back into your lineup. Keep him on the bench as the Devils have a three-game swing against the Northeast Division (at OTT, at BUF, vs TOR).

- Start: Miikka Kiprusoff CGY – He has a four-game winning streak, and Calgary is suddenly on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoffs, but he should get well against four struggling teams (vs STL, at DAL, at PHX, vs EDM).
- Sit: Cristobal Huet CHI – Huet has been struggling a bit and the Blackhawks have another game against San Jose this week, who is now #1 in the West, on Chicago’s three-game road trip (at EDM, at SJS, at CAR).


Look for the Show Notes on Tuesday and our "Random Musings" sports column on Wednesday.

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Sports With The StatMan: Fantasy Football Edition - Conference Championship Weekend

Three teams with bye weeks are among the four teams left, so the rest has done the Colts, Saints, and Vikings some good. The upstart Jets are still alive and will face the only team left in the playoffs that has gone all the way in the last few years. The Colts and Saints were both undefeated very deep into the season and while the Saints tried for the perfect season and lost, the Colts stopped their perfect season voluntarily. What’s more is the Colts stopped that perfect season at home against the Jets. Now, the Colts can have their revenge. Or, the Jets can try to prove their win in Indianapolis was justified.

Before we get to our predictions and Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em for the Conference Championship Round, let’s recap the Divisional Playoff Round:

Divisional Playoff Round Top Fantasy Performers
1. Brett Favre MIN – 41 points (15-for-24, 234 yards, 4 TD (47,16,45,11), 0 INT)
2. Drew Brees NO – 29 points (23-for-32, 247 yards, 3 TD (17,44,2), 0 INT, 3 rushes for -3 yards)
3. Philip Rivers SDG – 19 points (27-for-40, 298 yards, 1 TD (13), 2 INT, 3 rushes for 4 yards)

Running Back
1. Shonn Greene NYJ – 22 points (23 rushes for 128 yards, 1 TD (53), 1 catch for 4 yards)
T2. Reggie Bush NO – 20 points (5 rushes for 84 yards, 1 TD (46), 4 catches for 24 yards)
T2. Tim Hightower ARZ – 20 points (6 rushes for 87 yards, 1 TD (70), 3 catches for 27 yards)

Wide Receiver
1. Sidney Rice MIN – 40 points (6 catches for 141 yards, 3 TD (47,16,45))
2. Devery Henderson NO – 18 points (4 catches for 80 yards, 1 TD (44))
3. Marques Colston NO – 12 points (6 catches for 83 yards, 1 TD (2))

Tight End
1. Jason Witten DAL – 19 points (10 catches for 98 yards)
2. Antonio Gates SDG – 17 points (8 catches for 93 yards)
T3. Dallas Clark IND – 12 points (7 catches for 59 yards)
T3. Jeremy Shockey NO – 12 points (3 catches for 36 yards, TD (17))

T1. Garrett Hartley NO – 11 points (1-for-1 in field goals (43), 6-for-6 in extra points)
T1. Matt Stover IND – 11 points (2-for-2 in field goals (44,33), 2-for-2 in extra points)
3. Ryan Longwell MIN – 10 points (2-for-2 in field goals (23,28), 4-for-4 in extra points)

Defense/Special Team
1. Vikings MIN – 16 points (1 INT, 6 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 points allowed)
2. Saints NO – 14 points (1 INT, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, punt return TD (83), 14 points allowed)
3. Colts IND – 12 points (2 INT, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 points allowed)

Sunday 3:00pm – N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-7.5)
Sunday 6:40pm – Minnesota at New Orleans (-3.5)

Conference Championship Picks:
NYJ-IND: Colts win, but Jets (+7.5) cover
The Jets have won by 10 over the Bengals and by a field goal over San Diego. There will be enough Jet fans in Indianapolis so that the crowd noise will not be a huge factor. The Jets have won already won close in a hostile environment in the playoffs, but Indianapolis has seven fourth-quarter comebacks this year. Indianapolis may have the best quarterback in NFL history, one of the best tight ends in the game, one of the best wide receivers in the game, and an underrated defense that gets at the quarterback and may have figured out how not to let the run beat them. The pass rush from the ends for the Colts makes their defense go.

For the Jets to win, they will need to keep from turning the ball over, run the ball effectively, and pressure Manning and hope he gets happy feet. Darrelle Revis has to neutralize Reggie Wayne and the rest of the defense has to make it tough to get the ball to Dallas Clark. There will be a big defensive takeaway by the Jets if there is an upset. I see how it can happen, but most of the weapons are in the Colts’ favor. But, that hasn’t stopped the Jets before. It didn’t 41 years ago.

MIN-NO: Saints win and cover (-3.5)
Speaking of weapons, this game is a call to arms. Both teams have devastating playmakers. The Saints have the new and improved Reggie Bush and their receiving corps who can run after the catch, led by Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Devery Henderson. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and Sidney Rice. Both quarterbacks are among the elite and Drew Brees can join the elite with two more wins this year. Brett Favre is already there and if this is his swan song, he will be remembered as one of the two or three greatest of all time.

For the Vikings to win, they have to shake their road blues. They will have to cover the Saint receivers well. They will have to shrink the pocket for Brees and force the Saints to lean on their running game because defending the run is the Vikings defensive strength. Harvin has to come up big in the receiving and the return games. Everyone is waiting for Favre to start throwing interceptions and Darren Sharper will be the X-factor in the Saints defensive backfield. Keep the ball away from Sharper and the passing game can thrive for the Vikings.

Start 'Em/Sit 'Em
QB: Drew Brees NO (start) vs. Peyton Manning IND (sit)
Both quarterbacks have their crowds behind them. But, Brees has more weapons and Manning is facing a better pass defense. Also, Manning has not had to put up fantastic numbers in order to get his team to advance in the playoffs.

RB: Shonn Greene NYJ (start) vs. Reggie Bush NO (sit)
The flavors of the month are squaring off here. Greene has a better chance to keep their train moving. I’ll admit, I drank the Jet Kool-Aid on Greene, but he has protected the ball while spelling Thomas Jones and making plays for big gains. Bush’s best chance to change the game for the Saints is through the return game, which does not count in our fantasy scoring. If your league counts return yardage and scoring, sit any other Saint running back.

WR: Devery Henderson NO (start) vs. Reggie Wayne IND (sit)
Pick a receiver, any receiver, for the Saints. Meachem had a good end to the season. Colston is their star. I’ll take a chance that Henderson will be about to duplicate his performance as the second-best receiver in the playoffs this week and find the end zone again. Wayne draws Darrelle Revis, who brings the great resume. We picked the top receiver on Revis’s Jet team as the “sit” last week, but Revis was not on him very much and, consequently, Vincent Jackson hauled in seven catches for 111 yards. Revis has not allowed a 100-yard receiver that he has blanketed all game.

Last Week’s Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em Results (0-3)
QB: Tony Romo DAL (start) vs. Kurt Warner ARZ (sit) – (L, Warner 6, Romo 3)
RB: Willis McGahee BAL (start) vs. LaDainian Tomlinson SDG (sit) – (L, Tomlinson 2, McGahee 0)
WR: Robert Meachem NO (start) vs. Vincent Jackson SDG (sit) – (L, Jackson 11, Meachem 0)

Playoff Team Rankings – Conference Championship Round
1. Manning IND, 2. Brees NO, 3. Favre MIN, 4. Sanchez NYJ

1. Jones/Greene NYJ, 2. Peterson/Taylor MIN, 3. Bell/Thomas/Bush NO, 4. Addai/Brown IND

Receiving (WR/WR/TE)
1. Wayne/Garcon/Clark IND, 2. Colston/Meachem/Shockey NO, 3. Rice/Harvin/Shiancoe MIN, 4. Cotchery/Edwards/Keller NYJ

1. Longwell MIN, 2. Feely NYJ, 3. Stover IND, 4. Hartley NO

1. Payton NO, 2. Ryan NYJ, 3. Childress MIN, 4. Caldwell IND

Defense/Special Teams
1. NYJ, 2. MIN, 3. NO, 4. IND

Total Rankings
1. MIN (13), 2. NYJ (14), 3. NO (16), 4. IND (17)

Playoff Pick Standings
Straight Up: 5-3, NO (W), IND (W), MIN (W), SDG (L)
Against The Spread: 5-3, ARZ (L), IND (W), MIN (W), NYJ (W)
Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em: 2-4 (Starts: 23 points, Sits: 28 points)

We will break down each of the four Divisional Championship matchups on Sports With The StatMan (#43) this Sunday night, January 24th. Join us at our new time, 8-9pm Eastern. We will break down the Jets-Colts AFC Championship Game and talk about the Vikings-Saints NFC Championship Game, which will be in-progress. There are no a lot of free agents left in baseball. We’ll look at the slim pickings left for the Mets and the ultimatum made to one free agent by the Yankees. In hockey, we’ll break down the Devils-Islanders two-game set this week and Marian Gaborik dropping the gloves for the Rangers.

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