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Monday, February 22, 2010

Do you believe in unlikelihoods?

Nominations are open today for the 3 Quarks Daily Prize in Arts and Literature.  Here’s how this works:

After the nominating period is over, there will be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this period, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, who, we are extremely pleased, has agreed to be the final judge.

The nominating process will end on 11:59 pm this Sunday, February 28, so if you want to nominate a post, you have to do it this week, folks.  You don’t have to nominate one of mine (each person is allowed only one nomination), though of course I’d be honored if you do.  The post must have been written after February 21, 2009, which eliminates all my fine posts from the summer of 2005, and they must be under 4000 words, which eliminates all my other posts.  Personally, I’d recommend this one.

No, wait, that’s not right.  Maybe this one.  I don’t know.  The truth is that when I went through the archives for the past year I found the whole thing kind of depressing.  There’s a little verve here and a little snark there, and of course a series of profound and deeply unsettling debates on His Dark Materials, cultural studies, and teabagging.  (Yes, that was all in one post—and what a post it was!) And, of course, the thing that makes this blog worth the trouble: lots of fun banter with readers in the comments.  But the writing itself, meh.  I’ve seen better. 

Still, the 3 Quarks Daily Prize in Arts and Literature looks like a fun thing, regardless of whether this humble blog is weighed in its scales and found wanting.  So head on over and nominate a blog post you really like.

And now to last night’s game.  Let’s turn things over to the Associated Press:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Americans didn’t believe in miracles. They just believed.

And they pulled off the biggest Olympic hockey upset since the Miracle on Ice, stunning Canada 5-3 on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals of an already mixed-up tournament.

Brian Rafalski scored two goals, Ryan Miller held off a flurry of shots and the Americans quieted a raucous, pro-Canada crowd that came to cheer its dream team, only to see it upstaged by a bunch of unproven kids.

One day short of the 30th anniversary of the country’s greatest hockey victory – the unfathomable win over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid – these underrated Americans were faster, more disciplined and more determined than Canada’s collection of all-stars.

Better, too.

Um, no.  Also, no, and furthermore, and in conclusion, nuh-uh.  First, Richard and MCA in this LGM thread have it right: comparing a prelim round game in which a bunch of talented NHL players beat a bunch of somewhat-more-talented NHL players to a climactic medal-round game in which a bunch of talented college kids beat the wizened superstars of the Soviet Union is just silliness distilled.  That’s understandable, given the level of hockey illiteracy in the media; no one expects the AP guy (Alan Robinson) to do a detailed comparison of this game to the Czech run of ‘98 or Belarus-Sweden in ‘02.  But the second “no” is worse:  these “underrated” Americans were not faster than Team Canada.  On the contrary, the Canadians blew their doors off for five, ten minutes at a time, flying through the neutral zone and/or playing keepaway in the attacking zone.  You don’t need to know any hockey history to understand this; you simply have to have watched the game.  The shots-on-goal stat does not lie, and I mean this not only about last night’s game (45-22) but as a comment on the stat in general: I have never seen a lopsided SOG total that did not correspond to a lopsided game.  And it wasn’t just Miller outplaying Brodeur, although that certainly did happen: it was also the Crosby line (I love the fact that Crosby plays with Nash—if only we had a great player named Stills) and Heatley and Toews and Getzlaf and Thornton doing very much what they wanted whenever they wanted to.  Except, you know, scoring.

So let’s be clear: the US was outskated and outplayed.  But that doesn’t mean Canada deserved to win.

As I mentioned in comments last night, whenever you take three consecutive stupid penalties, you deserve to pay for it.  You might even deserve to lose!  The first two were especially awful, coming in the offensive zone and committed by high-skill players: Eric Staal somehow thinking no one would notice if he tried to climb over a defender, and Crosby failing to control his stick around the net.  The third was a stick-breaking slash from Corey Perry, and the US took that 4-2 lead on the ensuing power play.  At that point, I suggested to my viewing companions that we were looking at a 5-3 game, in which Canada makes it close in the final minutes but gives up an empty-net goal.  (Before that point, I firmly believed the Canadians were coming back to win the thing.) So much for the suspense in that house!  But I didn’t predict the part where, after closing to 4-3, Canada owns the puck for ninety seconds in the USA zone while five exhausted Americans are chased around on defense.  That shift was just utterly intense, and well worth the price of admission—but I have a question.  Well, it’s more of a comment.  If I’m Mike Babcock, I pull Brodeur right there.  I don’t wait for the final minute.  I’m running the Americans ragged and they can’t get off the ice; they’re not going to take a long shot at the empty net because they won’t be able to change lines if they miss and the puck goes for icing; and I want to extend this shift forever, because it is a well-known Hockey Fact that no one ever gets tired when the puck is in the other team’s end and you’re peppering their goaltender with shots from everywhere, whereas players get extra extra tired when they’re stuck in their own zone racing from the boards to the faceoff dots and back and then diving to block shots every so often.  Instead, the Canadians had themselves one great shift from the 2:30 mark to the 1:00 mark, and after the US cleared the zone and got the faceoff, the Canadians never really came close again.

And then there is the great Brodeur Question.  It’s interesting to see that someone in the LGM thread brought up this controversial blog, about which I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time.  Suffice it to say, for now, that I don’t think Brodeur is a fraud.  Yes, he has played his entire career with a team that features a stellar defensive system, and he is not the Best Goaltender Ever.  He is not quite in the league of Roy, Hasek, Esposito, or Plante.  But shutouts are not flukes: playing on a solid team (and the Devils have been solid for a very long time now) will help you get that wins record, but the shutout is largely up to you.  I remember being in the Garden in 1970 when the ancient Terry Sawchuk beat the Penguins 6-0: not an impressive win by any measure, but even at the age of eight, I knew enough to think, “dang, I just saw a record that will never be broken—103 career shutouts.” So I give Brodeur his due.  But the second goal was entirely his fault, and anytime you’re stopping 18 of 22 in a big game, you’re just not playing well enough.  (I hesitate to blame goalies for shots that go in off deflections, like Rafalski’s opening stunner off Crosby.  But on that goal and Langenbrunner’s, Brodeur could plausibly have squared up better; his position as Langenbrunner’s went in was downright awkward.) The man is 37, after all, and as Scott says, “the game won’t comfort any Canada rooter who (like me) was concerned about the team dipping into its nostalgia file.” Niedermayer must have turned over the puck half a dozen times alone; in fact, it was when Zach Parise outhustled and outdug him in the corner that the USA gained control of the puck and got it to Rafalski for that first goal.

So my verdict is that Canada is in moderate-to-severe trouble, and that Babcock should start Luongo tomorrow against Germany.  And I don’t like their chances against those crazy Russians.

Update:  According to spyder in comment 36, Luongo it is.

Posted by Michael on 02/22 at 06:14 PM
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