There's too much to pay attention to when you're a sports fan.
Right now, you got the start of the NBA, the middle of the college football season, the ever-ubiquitous NFL, and, of course, the NHL. While the NHL just began its season three weeks ago, it has been worth paying attention to.
Why has the NHL been worth your attention? Well, this season has had just enough surprises to balance out the expected monotony of good and bad teams. The surprises range from the struggles of reigning Vezina winner Tuukka Rask, Rick Nash looking like Rick Nash again, and two unlikely teams (Montreal and Nashville) dominating the league.
For goaltender Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, the start to his season has been a mess. His current numbers, a .880 save percentage and a 2.91 goals against average, are ugly. He even had the misfortune of getting pulled against the Bruins' rival, the Montreal Canadiens, after giving up five goals and getting tormented by a fan's laser pointer.
So, clearly, it's been a rough season so far for Rask. However, there's still hope for him. Thanks to a capable backup in Niklas Svedberg and an improving Bruins defense, Rask will be able to get rest and face fewer good shots.
After two seasons of disappointment with the New York Rangers, Rick Nash is finally becoming Rick Nash again. Right now, he's leading the league in goals with eight goals on team that has won its last three games.
Rick Nash figures to be a huge factor for the Rangers this year, especially with star center Derek Stepan being out a few more weeks with a broken jaw and veteran defenseman Dan Boyle losing a month with a broken hand. For Nash, however, he has a chance to step up his leadership, score goals, and put his name into MVP consideration.
The biggest question for the Montreal Canadiens and the Nashville Predators is whether or not they can keep it up. For the Canadiens, they're at the top of the Eastern Conference with 12 points through seven games. They haven't dominated these early games (they only have a plus-one goal differential), but they have won close games when needed to, with two shootout wins and a thorough 6-4 beating of their rival, the Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens won't be able to keep up this pace of winning through the season, but they have the firepower and late-game heroics to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The Canadiens were supposed to be at least somewhat decent entering the season. That's what makes the Nashville Predators such a surprise so far this year. Currently, they're tied with the Anaheim Ducks with 10 points in the Western Conference and they've yet to lose a game.
It's quite impressive for a team that fired its longtime head coach Barry Trotz after missing the playoffs last season. However, they still have all-star defenseman Shea Weber and a potential Vezina winner in Pekka Rinne. Thanks to those two pieces, the success of the Predators can last, but in a tough Western Conference, we will just have to see.
Just as Nostradamus prophesied the end of times (with the help of misinterpretations and mistranslations by us), I will skillfully predict the end times of the NHL.
No, just kidding. After covering five NHL veterans who will make a big impact with their new teams last week, my NHL season preview will wrap up today with predictions on the award winners of this upcoming season.
Calder Trophy: Jonathan Drouin, left winger, Tampa Bay Lightning
Coming into this season, Drouin possesses both hype and a proven track record. While playing with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year, he scored 29 goals and 79 assists, while proving himself to be an offensive threat. This year, he'll have to prove himself to be capable of producing at the NHL level. I think he'll be able to do that next to All-Star center Steven Stamkos on the first line.
Selke Award: Patrice Bergeron, center, Boston Bruins
Bergeron winning another Selke would be no surprise. This award, given to the best two-way forward in the NHL, was won by Bergeron last year. He posted 30 goals and 32 assists while having the best overall season of his career. On a team where some of last season's offensive production was not replaced, Bergeron will have to bear the brunt of the goal scoring. Thanks to this, I foresee him having an even better season than last year with a full-season of Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith on his line.
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, center, Pittsburgh Penguins
Despite being regarded as the best player in the league, Crosby has only won two Hart trophies (the NHL's MVP award) through nine NHL seasons. His health has hampered him at times, but his production has not suffered a decline. Last year, he finished with 36 goals and 68 assists, leading the league in both assists and points scored. Crosby's performance and team record (51-24-7) were good enough for Crosby to win his second Hart trophy last year. I think he'll be able to win another this year thanks to good health, continued production at the highest level, and more responsibility as the leading scorer on the Penguins.
Vezina Trophy: Carey Price, goaltender, Montreal Canadiens
Along with defenseman P.K. Subban, Carey Price was integral to the Canadiens (and the Canadians in the Olympics) success last season. He had his best statistical season last year with a .927 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average. While I don't think he'll surpass those numbers, thanks to continued high production on a great team, he'll get more recognition as a top goaltender.
Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, defenseman, Los Angeles Kings
Through Doughty's six NHL seasons, he has four top-10 finishes for the Norris Trophy. But this year, I'm predicting he'll finally get over the hump and win the trophy for himself. Last season, Doughty's performance as an offensive-minded defenseman was integral to the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup win. He held his own and proved that defensemen don't need gaudy offensive statistics to be hugely effective for their team. Thanks to Doughty's incredible 2014 performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, he'll have the momentum necessary to be recognized as the top defenseman in the NHL.
Stanley Cup: Boston Bruins
Last season, the Bruins were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. For the winners of the President's Trophy (the NHL's best regular season team), being knocked out of the playoffs so early was a disappointment. Due to salary cap constraints, the Bruins were unable to retain right winger Jarome Iginla and were forced to trade defenseman Johnny Boychuk this off-season. However, I think the Bruins will come back strong this year thanks to their Holy Trinity (center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Zdeno Chara, and goaltender Tuukka Rask) and a weak Eastern Conference.
October, to most people, means changing leaves, reasonable, non-face melting temperatures, and pumpkin spiced everything.
To hockey fans, though, October is the month when hockey begins and the world rights itself again. Since there's less than a week left until the start of the regular season, I will be doing a two-part preview.
Today's part is “Same Faces, New Places.” Many players have been around the league for years and are still searching for their first Cup. They have All-Star resumes, with trophies galore, but they've yet to drink from the Holy Grail of sports. Here are five Stanley Cup-less stars who switched teams this off-season:
Thomas Vanek, Left Wing, Old Team: Montreal Canadiens, New Team: Minnesota Wild
After starting last season with the Buffalo Sabres, Vanek was traded to the New York Islanders and again traded to the Canadiens at the trade deadline. Despite playing for three different teams last year, the 30-year-old Vanek was able to put together a solid, All-Star level season (27 goals, 41 assists, 68 points) thanks to his superior goal scoring ability and ability to destroy the Boston Bruins both during the regular season and playoffs (5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points). In Minnesota this season, on a three-year, $19.5 million he joins fellow All-Stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on one the most top-heavy teams in the league. While he's not expected to be the sole offensive producer (that's Zach Parise's job), he is expected to stabilize and strengthen the second line of a team that lacks depth.
Jarome Iginla, Right Wing, Old Team: Boston Bruins, New Team: Colorado Avalanche
As a 37-year-old veteran, Iginla had a remarkable season last year scoring 30 goals (his 12th 30 goal season) and notching 31 assists. He was a natural fit with the Bruins while playing alongside strongman winger Milan Lucic and playmaker David Krejci. If not for severe cap constraints, he would have stayed with Boston another year. Instead, he signed a three-year $16 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche, a team looking to build on last year's unexpected playoff success. He's currently projected to be on the first line with 23-year-old center Matt Duchene and 21-year-old Gabriel Landeskog, two guys he's old enough to have fathered. He will definitely be expected to bring a veteran, future Hall of Famer presence to the team as they progress this season and beyond.
Jason Spezza, Center, Old Team: Ottawa Senators, New Team: Dallas Stars
31-year-old playmaker, Jason Spezza has been a metronome in Ottawa for the past 11 seasons. He has posted nine 50 plus point seasons, made four All-Star teams, and guided the Senators to eight playoff appearances. So, it was somewhat of a surprise when Spezza told the Ottawa Senators he wanted to be traded to the Dallas Stars this off-season. Now that Spezza is in Dallas, he hopes to be a strong, second-line centerman where he can show off his offensive skills and great passing ability with his former Senator teammate, winger Ales Hemsky. However, his biggest impact will be on the powerplay, where he will be playing on the top unit with fellow playmakers Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
Ryan Miller, Goaltender, Old Team: St. Louis Blues, New Team: Vancouver Canucks
The 34-year-old Ryan Miller is a Vezina award winning goaltender. That being said, last season could not have been what he expected. After ten seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, who were hoping that they acquired a game changing goaltender. Unfortunately for them, Miller posted just average numbers with the Blues (.903 SV % and a 2.47 GAA) which led to a first round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. After signing a three-year $18 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks, he hopes that this season will be different. And after the Roberto Loungo catastrophe in Vancouver last season, the Canucks are this season will be different as well. Miller is anticipated to be the franchise goaltender in Vancouver for this season and the future as the Canucks are rebuilding around an already capable core.
Ryan Kesler, Center, Old Team: Vancouver Canucks, New Team: Anaheim Ducks
Known for his ability as a two-way forward, Kesler's move to Anaheim from Vancouver was my favorite off-season decision. After a somewhat disappointing season with the Canucks (25 goals, 18 assists, 43 points), Kesler was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. With this move, the Ducks added a Selke award-winning center to an already stacked position group allowing them to compete with Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis. For Kesler, playing with the Ducks gives him a chance to play with two physical, young wingers, Jakob Silfverberg and Matt Beleskey, who complement his playing style, on a team that is competing for a Stanley Cup right now.
—If the running game is more effective and is able to spark an otherwise inexperienced offense. The running backs, senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray, will need to rush for more than a combined 75 yards if the Longhorns want to pull off the upset.
—If the offensive line improves over last week’s performance. Brown and Gray won’t be able to run the ball if the offensive line doesn’t improve from last Saturday’s beatdown, a tough task against the Bruins’ stout defensive line. If the offensive line finds a way to open up running lanes for the running backs, Texas has a puncher’s chance.
—If Shawn Watson, play-caller and quarterbacks coach, opens up the playbook for sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. The offense will need to be opened up and Swoopes will have to be throw the deep ball. Texas will need an offensive spark to shock the Bruins, which could come off of a Swoopes deep pass.
—If the defense can sustain its first-half performance against BYU for the entire contest. Defensively, Texas needs to come out with the same fervor it had during the first 30 minutes. The defense has the ability to keep the Longhorns in a game as long as it is fresh.
—If the offense can sustain drives and give the defense a chance to rest on the sidelines.
—If the offensive line continues to struggle, which can lead to a poor running attack. The Longhorns rely on a good running game and without one Saturday, they won’t have a chance.
—If Texas can’t hold onto the ball. If the Longhorns continue to struggle with ball security and turn the ball over, UCLA will win.
—If the defense isn’t able to stay fresh against the Bruins. UCLA’s offensive attack moves quickly and plays with a lot of tempo, so the Bruins will be able to take over the game, as BYU did, if Texas’ offense can’t sustain drives.
“We are Boston. We are Strong.” Those were the words projected on the center ice screen during the emotional pregame ceremony in Boston Wednesday night.
It was an emotional night in the city as the Boston Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres in what was the first professional sports game in the city since the tragic events occurred at the Boston Marathon last Monday.
Although the Bruins lost the game in a shootout, they gained a point which clinched them a playoff berth as they are now tied with Montreal atop the Northeast Division.
The night was more than just a hockey game, however. It was a tribute to all of those affected by the events on “Marathon Monday”.
The night started with a moment of silence and then tribute video of the Boston Marathon. Tears came when Boston favorite Rene Rancourt, who was singing the National Anthem, let the audience take over singing and all 17,565 in attendance loudly sang the Star-Spangled Banner followed by a U.S.A. chant.
At the end of the game, both teams met at center ice with sticks raised in a salute to the crowd in Boston.
Instead of remembering a somewhat disappointing overtime loss for the Bruins, the city of Boston will remember the game for its inspiration and devotion.
Texas fans have been getting used to easy ball games brought to them by record-setting play by the 13th ranked Longhorns. But this weekend, they saw a different side of the Texas defense in the two games the Longhorns played in the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.
Junior pitchers Kim Bruins and Blaire Luna fought through difficult weather and came out with a pair of wins.
Bruins started against Pittsburgh Friday. Due to a thunderstorm in the area, that game was delayed until Saturday afternoon. On Friday, Bruins had a successful night by holding the Panthers to no hits while striking out two. Backed by a strong showing from the Texas offense, the Longhorns led 6-0 at the top of the third, when the game was called due to rain.
On Saturday, the Longhorns had to rely more on Bruins' arm when the Panthers struck with a two-run home run in the top of the fourth. But Bruins regrouped and continued to shut down Pittsburgh's offense before rain ended the game. Bruins pitched a total of five innings with three strike outs while only giving up two runs on two hits.
“[Bruins] did a great job. I am sure she is disappointed, she probably left the ball a little over the plate and hitters at this level are good,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. “That is one thing she does so well. She competes ... She came back and went right back at them.”
The 7-2 win against the Panthers marks the Bruins' second win of the season. Her overall record is now 2-0 with a season ERA of 1.40.
Luna got the nod to start on Sunday against Tennessee. Luna entered the weekend with a 3-0 record and had yet to allow a run. The All-American has had an easy time against opponents this season with only five hits and 30 strike outs. However, against a talented Tennessee team, Luna struggled a bit, but came up solid when it mattered.
In the top of the fifth, the Volunteers took advantage of some mistakes by Luna and came up with two hits and one run. Overall, Luna gave up six hits, one more than she had in all her previous games combined, and two runs while compiling 13 strike outs. In addition, Luna pitched a full nine innings, two more than a regulation softball game and four more than the Longhorns have been used to all season, having run-ruled many of their previous opponents.
“She has really good stuff,” Clark said of Luna. “Dominating at this level is ... learning to put away hitters sooner. The biggest thing I am looking for is that consistent presence.”
Freshman running back Malcolm Brown (No. 28) follows Dominic Espinosa (No. 55) through the hole on one of his 22 carries. Brown finished with 110 yards and scored his first ever touchdown as a Longhorn.
The freshman had a number of firsts in Saturday’s game against UCLA. He started for the first time, he rushed for 100 yards for the first time and he scored his first career touchdown, crossing the goal line as one of his shoes went flying.
That, along with breakout performances from Case McCoy and D.J. Grant, was more than enough to give No. 24 Texas an impressive 49-20 victory over the Bruins.
Making his first start at quarterback, McCoy went 12-for-15 with 168 yards and two touchdowns, both to junior tight end Grant. Grant caught a third touchdown from Jaxon Shipley as well.
“Very few people thought we would be 3-0 with our non-conference schedule,” said head coach Mack Brown. “What we’ve got to do is to keep working because we’re not nearly as good as we can be.”
Brown had only two carries before halftime in the Longhorns’ first two wins over Rice and BYU but handled the larger workload well, rushing the ball 22 times and averaging five yards per carry, for a final total of 110 yards. Even more impressive was his 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Brown broke through the middle of the Texas offensive line and dragged multiple UCLA defenders into the end zone while leaving his right shoe behind.
“I knew he’d probably break 100 yards,” McCoy said. “Malcolm’s a great player for us. I think we all knew that coming in and we’re just glad that he’s stepping up and making plays like he is.”
The true freshman wasn’t a part of UCLA’s 34-12 victory over Texas last season, but many of his teammates were, although they insisted “revenge” was not in their vocabulary as they prepared for their rematch with the Bruins. Nonetheless, the memory of the 22-point defeat provided the motivation necessary to return the favor as a trio of first-quarter interceptions led to three Texas touchdowns and a 21-0 lead the team did not give up.
“This is a team that came out and dominated us last year so we wanted to make sure we gave this team a little bit of payback,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson, who tied two others with a game-high nine tackles.
McCoy didn’t take any snaps in the Longhorns’ loss to the Bruins a year ago but still had some troublesome memories lingering in the back of his head. His older brother and current Cleveland Browns signal-caller, Colt McCoy, played the final game of his illustrious Texas career at the Rose Bowl in the national title game two seasons ago. The two-time All-American suffered a stinger in the first quarter that knocked him out of the contest and the Longhorns fell to Alabama, 37-21. The younger McCoy, however, ensured that at least one member of his family would triumph in Pasadena.
“That was one of my goals, to come in here and get a win for [Colt],” McCoy said. “That was not a fun memory of mine the last time he was here.”
One of the best aspects of McCoy’s performance was his ability to avoid pressure in the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and make crisp throws in critical situations. He did it first on his 45-yard touchdown toss to Grant and again on a 25-yard strike to Mike Davis.
Texas needed all 25 of those yards to move the chains thanks to 5-foot-9, 175-pound Marquise Goodwin, the smallest player on the field, being flagged for a personal foul after leaving a hapless Andrew Abbott. The hit was the catalyst for a physical effort by a Texas team that out-muscled UCLA, something it failed to do last year.
“Marquise could play defense,” said junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. “It was a great hit.”
Texas got both hard hits and big-time catches from unlikely sources as Grant had the game of his life, scoring on half of his six catches. The Longhorns’ tight ends combined for two catches this season before coming to the Rose Bowl and no Texas pass catcher had more than two touchdown receptions last season, making Grant’s performance as remarkable as it was unexpected.
“If any team plays as hard as they did today, anyone can score three touchdowns,” Grant said. “Who’s it going to be this week? Who’s it going to be next week? Everybody’s going to have their moment.”
Shipley, who hooked up with Grant for his third touchdown, displayed his versatility again as he completed a pass for the second straight game, caught five passes and ran for 15 yards. The true freshman was one of many Longhorn rookies to play big roles this weekend and this season. Shipley, Brown, quarterback David Ash and running back Joe Bergeron are just a handful of first-year players making their mark.
“This is probably the biggest role any freshman class has played since we’ve been at Texas,” Brown, who’s in his fourteenth year as the Longhorns’ head coach, said. “I think one of the keys is that the older guys are helping the young guys. They’ve welcomed them and they know we need them to win the games.”
Texas goes into their bye week with a 3-0 record and will face Iowa State, who is also 3-0, on Oct. 1.
Maybe with the extra time between games, someone can get around to finding Brown some shoes that won’t fall off so easily.