One of the things keeping me away from the computer and the internets lately has been NHL Centre Ice. I ordered it just before the start of the season (not knowing that there was a free preview for the first few weeks! ARG), and since then I’ve watched more hockey than throughout all of last year. Note the sarcasm.
Regardless of the lockout, I have watched a hell of a lot of hockey this season. I’d be just about getting sick of it now were the game not so drastically improved. I still hate the shootout — always had, since Lillehammer, always will — but everything else has been working out great. The removal of the red line along with the larger offensive zones, combined with less clutching and interference, opens up the game to a degree not seen since the early 90s. The free-wheeling era marked by the sudden influx of European players (thanks in part to the Soviet collapse) that ended with the sudden influx of European defensive strategies around 94-95. The emergence of a number of great goaltenders in that period (Brodeur, Hasek) didn’t help the offensive game much either.
It’s cyclical, though, and this year sees a lot of emerging and up and coming offensive players. With the new rules and an emphasis on a more open game, this should be a good omen for the NHL. For, maybe, five years. Then it’ll slow down again.
Anyway, some observations from watching Centre Ice.
- You can tell how big of a hockey market a place is by the commercials its local broadcaster shows. Lot of cars and beers? Big market. Lot of car dealers and beer distributors? Small market.
- Man, it is amazing how many attorney/legal help commercials are shown in the US. Especially in the Southern areas. I was watching a game broadcast from the Phoenix region, and like every third commercial was for a law firm. Wow. That’s mind-blowing.
- Today’s Calgary+Phoenix game was a good one. Despite the lack of wins, I think Gretzky’s coaching debut has been going well thus far — his team plays hard and competes every time.
- Despite being a joke for years, the Rangers are a good, *gasp* hard-working team again. One that is fun to watch. They’re not the greatest team in the league, but they have a lot of upside. I said this just before the start of the season (after seeing a preseason game), but I’ll say it again. I like the Rangers. It’s shocking after all the ridicule, but there you have it.
- Nashville has been off to a great, great start. There’s a good reason why I drafted their goalie, Tomas Vocoun, in the first round in the Sportsfilter hockey pool, and that reason was that I expected the team to do well. Yes. Eat that McGuire. Now if only my ProLine prognostications were a little more… accurate.
- Despite not having won a single game, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a fun, fun team to watch. They have the fire-power to take on any team (and Crosby has been living up to the hype so far), but they lack the finish to seal the deal. The biggest proof of this was their game against Philadelphia. They tied the game 5-5 after trailing 5-1 (!), their goalie made an amazing game saving stop at the end of regulation to keep it tied, and then they get two penalties and lose it, short handed, in overtime. No finish.
- Ottawa is tearing it up, but after two meetings, they have not proven that they can beat the Leafs at hockey. They can beat them at arbitrary shootouts, but not at hockey. If they meet in the playoffs (again), they won’t have the luxury of a shootout to settle it. hah!