Monthly Archives: November, 2006

QotD: Warning:

If you came with a warning label, what would it say?
Submitted by chris.

Important! Do not remove this tag under penalty of– Rrrrrrrip! OW! DAMMIT!

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Pens vs. Islanders: 28 Nov 2006

Ah, that's better. Sidney Crosby comes back from a sore groin, and immediately sets up Colby Armstrong for his first two goals of the season. Chris Thorburn got the game-winning goal by driving the net, picking up a pass from Jordan Staal behind the cage, catching Rick "15 Years?!" DiPietro off the post, and banking a pass off the back of DiPietro's leg and into the net. (And you thought Crosby or Malkin would get a goal that way first.)

More importantly, the Penguins bounced back from Saturday night's heart-breaker. I think the way they responded tonight indicates how much more mature and confident this year's squad is. Last year, that overtime loss to the Rangers probably would have triggered a long losing streak.

For Marc-Andre Fleury, it was a good birthday/bobblehead night. The Islanders steadily increased their pressure as the game went on, and Fleury was equal to the task, with a little help from his friends. In the third period, a Penguins defenseman Nils Ekman (finally saw the replay) cleared a puck that trickled through Fleury before it crossed the goal line.

Final score, Penguins 3, Islanders 2, successful attempts to start the wave: zero!

Three Stars:

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury (33 of 35)
  2. Colby Armstrong (2G)
  3. Sidney Crosby (2A)

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Pens vs. Rangers: 25 Nov 2006

Sergei Gonchar's 500th career point, 64 minutes and 57.8 seconds of hard work, and Martin Straka gets lucky.

Final score: Rangers 2, Pens 1 (OT), the clock read: 2.2.

Three Stars:

  1. Jaromir Jagr (1G, 1A)
  2. Evgeni Malkin (1G)
  3. Henrik Lundqvist (28 of 29)

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Pens vs. Bruins: 22 Nov 2006

In every hockey game, there are three teams on the ice: The home team, the visiting team, and the officials. Wednesday night, that was three sloppy teams on the ice.

At any given moment in the game, you could say that Team X was stinking the joint up. The only question was who and when.

Mark Recchi had his best game of the season so far. He opened the scoring with a classic sniper's goal, skating up the right wing and snapping a wrist shot top shelf over Brian Finley's glove. He also got the game-tying goal with :30 remaining in regulation, chipping in a backhander during a 6-on-4 power-play.

So why wasn't he one of the Pens' three shooters in the shootout?

Michel Therrien has made some odd choices in the shootout, and this night was one of them, as his three choices were Michel Ouellet, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar. Ouellet's been cold lately, but he's a finisher, so maybe a shootout goal would get him off the schneid. Malkin had a breakaway goal in the game, so he's a natural choice. But why, if given a choice between a hot Mark Recchi and a defenseman, would Therrien choose the defenseman? I just don't get it. Marco Sturm got the only shootout goal Boston needed.

Final Score: Bruins 4, Penguins 3 (SO), Number of people who said "Huh?" when they called Gonchar's name: 16,958.

Three Stars:

  1. Patrice Bergeron (2A)
  2. Mark Recchi (2G)
  3. Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1A)

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Motor Trend’s last shred of dignity…

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Motor Trend Car of the Year: The Toyota frickin' Camry.

I think MT and Car and Driver could get into a decent argument over who first coined the phrase "transportation appliance" to describe Toyota's stalwart mid-sizer. Both, however, would agree that it was a backhanded compliment at best. The Camry has always been a good value, reliable as the sunrise, family-friendly, and as exciting as dry, white toast. Power was merely sufficient, the suspension wallowed in turns was tuned for a smooth ride, and the styling was so relentlessly inoffensive that car buffs were offended by it.

I'll give Toyota credit for recognizing the car's boredom factor. The V6 models feel like they have genuine power now, instead of pretending to be slightly faster 4-cylinder cars. And the style has certainly improved. The previous generation at least tried to look a bit sporty. However, it was obvious that they started with a bland design, then tried to "jazz" it up as an afterthought. The result was a sheet metal manifestation of the phrase "lipstick on a pig". The '07 model looks like it was more thoroughly designed. It's still on the conservative side, but it no longer looks like it's trying too hard to look cool.

In other words, it's become the Honda Accord.

This makes it worthy of Car of the Year status? Evolving out the glaring deficiencies, leaving nothing but overwhelming competence?

Maybe it's because Motor Trend and Automobile are now under the same publisher. Automobile embraces its inner hooligan, gladly handing out hardware to cars like the BMW M3 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. They're still getting angry letters about their one major slip-up, the Toyota RAV-4, more than ten years after it won Automobile of the Year. Ever since then, they've been reluctant to reward any car that isn't a willing accomplice to license-threatening behavior. They'd be TopGear, if they could afford the insurance.

So Motor Trend got practical. Wouldn't be the first time. How else could you explain the COTY awards given to the Chevy Malibu and Chrysler Cirrus? But maybe, in those years, the exciting new cars had some unforgivable flaws? As I look at this year's list of qualifiers, I see some damn good cars: Jaguar XK, Infiniti G35, Nissan Altima, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, VW Rabbit. (Of course, there are also some dogs that were probably dismissed from the start: Chevy Aveo, Jeep Compass, Kia Rondo.)

I have a feeling that the Altima lost out because the hybrid model won't be available until next year. Otherwise, it would be a Honda Accord, just like the Camry, and thus equally worthy. The Rabbit is a down-market GTI, which is more award-worthy than the Hatchback Formerly Known As Golf. Mercedes is gaining a reputation for charging headlong into new technology before working out all the kinks, giving their quality reputation a few black marks, which probably hurt the S-class' chances. And Jaguar's Jaguar. An entire generation of writers who hated the Leyland-era cars will have to retire before Coventry's finest get a fair shake.

So how about the G35? Until Nissan started slapping alphabet-soup-compliant badges on Skylines, BMW hadn't had a consistently credible threat to the dominance of the 3-series. Now, you don't know whether the G35 or the 3-series will win a given comparison test, but you know damn sure that everybody else is fighting for 3rd place.

Value? Test-drive a Camry SE V-6 and a base G35, compare stickers, then get back to me. (Hint: Toyota loves option packages.)

I'll take the G35x, in Lakeshore Slate, thank you very much. And if you know somebody who can import a complete set of Nissan Skyline 350 GT-Four badges, I'd appreciate it.

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Pens vs. Rangers: 18 Nov 2006

What does it say when the most remarkable things about a tilt with the Rangers are:

  • Mark Recchi had 2 goals
  • The Pens' division record is now 7-1-0
  • It took something like 10 minutes to correct the game clock with less than one minute remaining in the third.

Of course, for much of the first period, the scoreboard alternated between reading "PENGUINS" vs. "RANGERS" and "penguins" vs. "devils". Chalk it up to Crappy Old Mellon Arena. At least the lights stayed on.

As is tradition in Pittsburgh, Jaromir Jagr was booed every time he touched the puck. Other former Penguins get much less hostile greetings: A small cheer for Marty Straka, an indifferent isn't-he-due-for-his-annual-shoulder-injury? reaction to Michal Rozsival, and a loud groan when Darius Kasparaitis was scratched. Yeah, we really miss Kaspar that much.

Final Score: Penguins 3, Rangers 1, number of times a referee skated between the ref's crease and the benches during that damn clock delay: Um, I lost count.

Three Stars:

  1. Mark Recchi (2G)
  2. Sidney Crosby (2A)
  3. Sergei Gonchar (2A)

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QotD: Top 5 Video Games

What's on your Top 5 video games list?
Submitted by mileena.

In no particular order…

  • System Shock 2: Plenty of games have monster closets that startle you. (Doom 3, I'm looking at you.) System Shock 2 set such an eerie and disquieting tone that it put a sense of genuine fear in you. Looking Glass remembered the "wandering" in the old D&D concept of "wandering monsters", which meant potential attackers came from other parts of the ship, not some nonsensical utility closet or, worse, the teleportation cop-out. So, even though it still startled you, it didn't feel cheap when you heard "Your harmony is not Ours!" just before the clank of a pipe wrench to the skull and a flash of red on the screen.
  • Half-Life 2: HL2 and Episode One have great characters and fun set pieces, but for me, it's the art direction that sets the game apart. From the almost-but-not-quite-familiar Eastern European setting that must have looked gritty before the occupation, to the Combine's slab-sided industrial design and strangely-iridescent blue steel construction, to the Junkyard Wars-inspired vehicles, everything about the environment rings true. Oh, and the gravity gun kicks serious ass. It's everything force push and pull should have been in the Jedi Knight games. I want to include the original Half-Life, but I just can't get over the reliance on jumping puzzles, especially in Xen.
  • Tempest: Yeah, I'm that old. I love how unabashedly abstract Tempest was. There was no attempt to explain what all those geometric things on the screen were. You're the crescent at the edge of the tube. Anything that is not the crescent at the edge of the tube should be shot. Simple. Oh, and Avoid Spikes.
  • Age of Empires series: I guess the historical underpinnings appeal to me more than Blizzard's Warcraft and Starcraft worlds.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Yeah, it's a bit new for an all-time top 5. But I just started my first pure magic-user in an Elder Scrolls game in a loooong time, instead of my usual rangers and paladins. I'm discovering so many new areas that I haven't seen before. (And I don't just mean the Arcane University.) I am continually amazed by the depth of the Elder Scrolls games. And Bethesda says that the Knights of The Nine expansion will be over 150MB!

Honourable Mentions: Halo (Best. Plot twist. Ever.), Jedi Knight (Community theatre acting, bad. Dismembering stormtroopers, good.), Deus Ex (Moral ambiguity can be fun!), Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri ("String theory: A perfect system for a universe of 17 dimensions. If only we lived in one.")

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Pens vs. Flyers: 13 Nov 2006

The Philadelphia Flyers: Good For What Ails Ya!

How good? We out-shot them, 39-25. I don't know the final numbers, but the last time I checked, the Pens' power play shot advantage was 15-1. I doubt any of them were by Ryan Whitney. He was effective on defense tonight, but he missed at least two open nets. As Mike Prisuta once put it, "he couldn't hit a bull's ass with a shovel."

With Peter Forsberg on the shelf with foot problems, the Flyers' offense has been reduced to "Simon Gagne and hope for a bounce." Nils Ekman was a scratch tonight, too, with "the flu". That's apparently Therrien-speak for "not nearly as tough as Andre Roy." Roy proved his worth by fighting Triston Grant just after Philadelphia got the first goal of the game, which helped swing momentum back to the Pens.

Overall, it wasn't a pretty game, as you would expect from two teams on 5-game losing streaks. But after sleepwalking through that Ottawa game, and an undisciplined performance in Carolina on Saturday night, we'll take what we can get, and hope to build on it.

Final Score: Penguins 3, Flyers 2, Number of times Freddy Meyer whined to the refs in the third: 2.

Three Stars:

  1. Sidney Crosby (1G, 1A)
  2. Evgeni Malkin (GWG)
  3. Antero Niittymaki (36 of 39)

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Pens vs. Senators: 10 Nov 2006

Shots on goal: Ottawa 44, Pittsburgh 17

 

Final Score: Senators 6, Penguins 3.

 

Three Stars:

  1. Dany Heatley
  2. Jason Spezza
  3. Chris Neil

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Pens vs. Lightning: 8 Nov 2006

Can you say "backsliding", boys and girls?

During the 2nd intermission, my storyline was going to be "jet lag", as it took the Penguins the better part of two periods to wake up. Dmitri Afanasenkov in the first, Brad Richards in the second, and the Pens look like they're still at the airport, mesmerized by the baggage carousel. Mark Recchi must have drunk everybody else's coffee, because he was flying around the ice.

Finally, late in the second, the Pens get a break. On a delayed penalty, with the extra skater, Noah Welch kept the play alive on a fanned pass from Sergei Gonchar. It looked like the Tampa man would touch up to stop the play, but Welch was able to tap it back to Gonchar. Gonchar hit Sidney Crosby on the right half-boards, he skated a little deeper, then turned and threw it in front. Nils Ekman was in the slot, and Recchi was on the opposite post. Ekman got the tip-in at 15:37. Then, on a power play, Ekman got another tip-in on a slapshot from Ryan Whitney to tie the game at 2-2 at 18:19. A little over a minute later, Crosby, Ekman, and Colby Armstrong got a 3-on-2 break. Army gained the blue line a little right of center, dished it to Crosby on the boards, and Crosby made a perfect pass to Ekman streaking down the slot. Just like that, the Pens have a 3-2 lead.

For Ekman, it was not just his first NHL hat trick, it was the fastest natural hat trick in Penguin history: 4:10, besting Lowell MacDonald's 1973 record by seven seconds.

Unfortunately, that was the last pretty pass the Pens would complete on the evening. Not that they weren't trying in the third. In fact, they were trying to complete fancy passes entirely too often in the third. You want to get that careless with the puck against Tampa Bay? Prepare to get burned. Eric Perrin tied it at 3-3 early in the third, while the Pens spent their time spinning their wheels and not testing Johan Holmqvist.

Finally, in overtime, karma snapped back. Vincent LeCavalier sneaked behind the defense by the red line, and Martin St. Louis connected on the home-run pass. LeCavalier had a clean break, faked Marc-Andre Fleury down, and chipped home the backhand.

Final score, Lightning 4, Penguins 3, number of times I caught myself yelling "Shoot!" in the third: 4. (Yeah, that's how bad it's getting. I hate it when people yell "Shoot!")

Three Stars:

  1. Nils Ekman (3G)
  2. Vincent LeCavalier (OT GWG)
  3. Brad Richards (1 PPG)

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