The Best Defenceman in the NHL

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

Since the retirement of the incredible Niklas Lidstrom, there has been a vacancy in the National Hockey League in the position of the best defenceman. There are a ton of worthy candidates, and many of them have staked their claim with awards, acclaim, and defining moments.

Keith, Chara, Weber, Pietrangelo, Subban, Karlsson. All are excellent. But the NHL has a new best D-man, and he is showing it in these 2014 playoffs.

Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings.

doughty2Four years ago, I was taken by the incredible presence that Doughty came up with during the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just a kid (20 years old), he looked like he belonged among the very best that the world had to offer. Despite his young age, he already has a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt, a Stanley Cup, and two Olympic Gold medals. One can only assume that there will be more of these in his future.

During the current playoff run that the Kings are enjoying (but are in danger of ending, after their game 6 loss to Chicago), Doughty has shown time and again why he is nudging himself ahead of the rest when it comes to being the best. He plays incredible minutes on a strong team (around 27 minutes per game), against the toughest opposition that teams have been able to throw against him (the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks). He has been an stalwart in his own end, but is also contributing offensively, to the tune of 16 points in 20 games. Pretty impressive for a forward in the tight Western conference, let alone a guy who plays the point. Nine of his points have come on the powerplay that he quarterbacks, and he has amassed 50 shots over those 20 games. He is all over the place, and his offense has never taken away from his important play in his own end.

Doughty has the ability to do everything, in all three zones. He also has size, at 6’1″ and 213 pounds, so he isn’t simply a finesse player, either. He can be tough on you.

In a league where goalies are always considered to be the playoff heroes, if the Kings win the Cup again, it would be tough to overlook his contributions when it comes to the Conn Smythe voting.

Drew Doughty is emerging from the pack of young D that are taking the league by storm, and he has shown himself to be the best that the league has to offer. Look for him to pile up more awards as his career moves forward. Scary to think that he is only 24, and he has not yet reached his prime. This is a kid that will be among the best for the next 10 years.

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Rangers to the Finals

Rangers to the Finals

After 20 years, the New York Rangers will be back in the Stanley Cup Finals, with a chance to win it all since their legendary run in 1994. They dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six games, with a 1-0 victory on Thursday night, cementing their berth in the final round of the NHL playoffs.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings semi-final, and they will be decided underdogs with whichever team they will be facing for the holy grail of hockey.

For the majority of the series, the Rangers seemed to be in control, and with the damaging loss of the red-hot Carey Price, the Habs were doomed from the moment of his injury. The main slip by the Rangers was a 7-4 loss in Game 5, as they looked like a team that knew they had more than one shot to close out the series.

New York is a deep team, and they will be competitive in the finals. They are getting production from all over their lineup, and the standard great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. As usual, he will play a major role in determining the fate of his team in the next round.

The MVP of the series must be Dustin Tokarski, the third string netminder for Montreal that was thrust into an impossible situation with the injury to Price. With fewer than a dozen NHL games under his belt, Tokarski jumped up the depth chart over regular season backup Peter Budaj, and did an admirable job of keeping the Habs in the series. He has definitely cemented himself as a solid #2 for next season. If he had managed to win this series, he would have quickly become a legend in Montreal. He was facing a team that was hot and on a roll, and he did a great job in leading his team to two wins. He should be commended for his determination and prowess in this series.

Dustin TokarskiI’m personally pleased that the Rangers have made it to the final, as they were my pre-season pick to make it to the finals. Looks like I can pretend to be reasonably smart when guessing NHL games for a little while.

Best of luck to New York, where it will be an incredible party if the Blueshirts are able to bring back the Cup to the Big Apple.

The Stanley Cup Finals will begin on Wednesday.

From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (TV Review)

From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (TV Review)

Netflix has been pretty consistent in delivering original TV series that are well worth our attention. Shows like Orange is the New Black, and House of Cards have been excellent examples of what the streaming company is able to do with television. Provide viewers with fresh, original series, while giving it to us one entire season at a time, so that we can devour it as quickly as we choose.

The latest effort from Netflix is a little different, in that episodes were released on a weekly basis, so someone would have to wait each week if they began the series at the very beginning. The newest series is a TV adaptation of the Robert Rodriguez cult movie, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, which originally starred George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, and Salma Hayek, among others. The basic film plot revolved around a pair of criminals who kidnap a family in order to get across the border to Mexico. Once there, they stop at a bar which turns out to be a haunt for vampires. Fighting ensues.

duskAs for the TV show, the plot (to the point in the series I have reached, at least) is fairly consistent with the movie. However, it is much more detailed, as it has taken several episodes for the brothers to even get to the border. This has allowed for more in-depth character and plot development, which is an added benefit that the time a TV series has to offer.

Not all of it works, however. The show does use an interesting time frame, as there are flashbacks and overlapping scenes in order to tell the complete story, often from the perspectives of multiple characters. There are some parts that don’t work too well, and some of the writing and acting is definitely questionable.

And some of it is simply awful.

Part of the point of the film version was to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the TV show tends to take itself too seriously.

One of the brothers, Richie, has visions of evil laying all around him. He sees the beastly, or demonic, side of people, and this leads him to murder. Many of his thoughts are guided by the beautiful Santanico Pandemonium (the role that was brought to life by Salma Hayek in the film- who can forget her famous introductory dance with the snake in the movie ?), as she wants to be found, or saved, or something (I haven’t got to that part yet).

dusk2The film was a campy adventure that was full of blood and gore, and the TV series has its moments of the same. It is definitely bloody, but it is missing the cheese of the original work. However, I have still found this to be a watchable series, and even though I pretty much know what is going to happen, it is a bit of a fun adventure on how we are getting there. Despite the many negatives of the series, it is not enough to ruin it for me. It is still something that I will complete, as I am nearing the end of the first season.

For fans of the movie, it is worth watching From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. It is different enough to keep you entertained, and provides enough new material if you wanted more from the film. And if you don’t take the whole thing too seriously, it can be a pretty fun ride.

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

What’s wrong with my beloved Boston Red Sox?

Coming off an improbably World Series victory last year, even the most feverish of fan had a tough time believing this group would be able to pull off the feat again. Because one of the key things about last season’s win was that it was improbable. Going from worst-to-first and erasing the stink of the Bobby Valentine era was something incredible, and they were a scrappy team that managed to get the big hits and clutch pitching exactly when they needed it.

Boston_Red_SoxThis season, after falling to 20-27 on the year, and last place in tough AL East, they are not getting the big hits when they need them most, and they seem to be falling behind early in games frequently. Not a good way to play the game. Despite some pretty bad numbers over the past month, I don’t think that the pitching is the real issue here. Sure, there are major question marks in their rotation: why can’t the team score runs when Jon Lester is pitching, or who knows what you are going to get when Jake Peavy is on the mound (answer: at least one home run against and a bunch of walks, it seems), what is wrong with Clay Buchholz this year (he is healthy, but not good), is John Lackey actually their best pitcher (nope, but sometimes he looks that way), and is Felix Doubrount actually good enough to be a No. 5 in the rotation?

This group is good on paper, but has been doing things that they didn’t last year. They are giving up early leads, walking too many batters, and giving up too many dingers. It is tough to play from behind all the time, especially when the hitting is struggling to push runs across the plate, as the Sox are this year. Being behind 2-0 is not a big deal. Being behind 2-0 seemingly every game is much more of a struggle.

Too many times this year, I will watch the Sox get runners on base, and then completely flounder. There are inning-ending double plays, weak fly balls, poor strikeouts, and they are all coming at the wrong time. There is nobody in the lineup at this point that is mashing, and nobody is there to get that key hit that can keep them in these games.

The 2014 Red Sox do not have a stellar offensive lineup, and the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be more stinging with every loss. But they aren’t getting him back, so they need to adapt. The Sox need to go back to being a patient team, working the pitchers, being patient at the plate, and taking their bases in any way that they can get them. Also, they are not a speedy team, which hurts, because with a stagnant offense like they have now, they need to try and manufacture some runs. Somehow, some way.

One of the many beautiful things about baseball is that the season is a marathon, and an 8 game losing streak does not eliminate them from the playoff chase. In fact, despite their recent slide, they are still only 6 games behind Toronto in the division.

But the time is now to get things going. Hoping for a miracle run will leave them with nothing but that empty hope. The Sox need to play with some urgency. 2013 is over. It was amazing, but it’s over, and they need to realize that to even have a sniff of a chance to play for the title again, they need to start making moves up the standings.

This team needs to start playing its heart out. And soon.

Red Sox Sign Stephen Drew (SS)

Red Sox Sign Stephen Drew (SS)

Not enough production out of the 3B position, and another injury to Will Middlebrooks has forced the Boston Red Sox to re-sign free agent Stephen Drew, he who turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer during the offseason. Drew will make a pro-rated $10M for the rest of the year.

New York Yankees v Boston Red SoxThe good news is that this allows rookie Xander Bogaerts to slide over to 3B, where he was successful during last year’s run to the World Series. Bogaerts wasn’t bad at SS, but he is still learning the position, and will probably still be considered the short stop of the future for the club. Bringing back Drew provides an upgrade at defense, as well as offensively, as the Sox need more than they were getting from Middlebrooks at the hot corner.

This will also lead to the inevitable demotion of Brock Holt, who I quite liked at third for the Sox. He has played well in his limited time with them this season, managing to do a little hitting, and playing some solid D. He plays baseball hard, which is what I love to see. But the Red Sox are not a developmental team, and changes needed to be made before they fall out of the race in the always tight AL East. Even with a losing record, they are hanging around, but they can’t hope for that for too long.

Overall, this is a good move for the Sox, and it should only be a couple of weeks before Drew is able to get back into major league action.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

The Confabulist (Book Review)

The Confabulist (Book Review)

While Steven Galloway’s new novel deserves a read based simply on the merits of his masterful The Cellist of Sarajevo, Galloway gives readers something new and exciting with his latest work. The Confabulist is the story of Harry Houdini, and the man that killed him. Twice.

Galloway interweaves several story lines into his book, focusing on his two central characters and the different eras in which they lived. The lives of Houdini and Martin Strauss only cross briefly, but it is a moment that changes everything. Everybody knows the story of Houdini dying a few days after being unexpectedly punched in the stomach, but Galloway offers us a version of the “true” story, what really happened leading up to those events, and what happened to Strauss, after the moment that changed his life forever.

gallowayStrauss tells the story at various points in his life, from the time leading up to his encounter with Houdini, to the hidden life he had to live after, to his world as an old man, years after the incident. He is struck with tinnitus, an affliction where his ears ring incessantly, driving other people insane. He also has some confusion about his own past, as he occasionally is unable to determine what really happened to him, and what was a dream. Galloway brilliantly weaves his theme of appearances versus reality into his narrative, and uses it effectively to provide the readers with tension and surprise, all the way to the last page of the book. Strauss is pulled into a world of intrigue, one that he does not understand, and he spends the majority of the novel as a confused man, unsure of what has happened to him, and of someone who has a past, but really has no future.

The story of Houdini is exquisitely done. The author has taken real events, and spun them into his tale. Houdini, as we know, was the world’s most famous magician, escape artist, and illusionist. In a time before mass media, he was able to truly become world famous, his feats discussed by regular people all across the world. In The Confabulist, we learn of Houdini’s secrets, his dedication to his craft, and his bad side: that of being a womanizer who took his wife for granted time and time again.

But he also led a secret life. As a person of his fame, he garnered attention as a potential spy for the government, and his meetings and associations with the Romanovs of Russia made him a person of intrigue. His powers could place him next to world leaders, and his magic could possess the power to influence those who were deemed in need of some influencing. This provides an exciting story line, and the inclusion of such real characters as the Czar and Rasputin makes Galloway’s work an exciting mix of truth and fiction.

Houdini also takes on a personal mission, against those he calls the Spiritualists, because he believes that they take advantage of the grief that people feel for those who have died. The Spiritualists are mediums, those who claim to be able to speak to the dead. After dabbling in this life himself, Houdini sees how terrible it is to make money off the grief of others, and he becomes obsessed with stopping them, even getting to the point where he tries to influence lawmakers in to creating a bill making it illegal to perform such acts in exchange for money. This is the only part of the novel that slows down a little bit, but it plays an integral part in the development of the plot.

confabThe Confabulist may not be as masterful a piece of literature as Cellist was, but it is a very exciting read, full of enough mystery and intrigue to keep you going until it is finished. At barely over 300 pages, it is a quick read as well, and Galloway’s simple, yet descriptive, prose lends to this readability. With such an interesting base story, this novel should appeal to readers of all types, as it need not be read only by people who were fascinated by Houdini. The story is much larger than that. It is a romance, a spy novel, a mystery, an action-packed thriller, an emotional journey, a novel of sickness. He blends genres so well, that it is difficult to picture this book not becoming a best seller. All of these things blend together so well, but the gift that Galloway possesses is that he doesn’t short change any of them. You don’t feel like you are ripped off any of the romantic side, because there is just the right amount, based on Strauss’ need to leave the love of his life, Clara, behind. Yet, at the same time, there is just enough of the other elements to leave you satisfied by the whole thing.

The ending of the book is also incredibly well constructed, as all of the stories are brought together, without leaving anything behind. Galloway does a great job of foreshadowing all of his events, to the point where you have expectations, but he veers away from predictability, and does it in a masterful manner.

The Confabulist is a great read, and I would highly recommend it. Even if you are not familiar with Galloway and his other work, this could be a great place to start. Surely, looking back on this year in literature, this novel could be seen as one of the books that most impeccably intertwines fun, adventure, and great story telling, all in one book.

By the end of the novel, you too will be wondering what is real, and what is fiction.

Get it. Read it. Enjoy.