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Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Was A Special Year For The Bruins, So Let's All Forget About New Year's Eve

I hope you had a fun New Year's Eve and unlike me, you didn't plan the most overrated night of the year around watching the Boston Bruins visit the Dallas Stars.

For reasons unknown, the B's (24-10-1) were flat from the start and fell 4-2 to the Stars (21-15-1) at American Airlines Center. The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for Boston and left a sour taste in what otherwise was an unforgettable year for Bruins fans-the best of my Black and Gold rooting life.

Dallas put up three goals in the first period, including two on the power-play, meaning that it was never really interesting.

Former Bruins whipping boy/playoff hero Michael Ryder made his presence felt by scoring a goal against his old team.

If ever there was a team and player that earned a mulligan in 2011, it was the Bruins and goaltender Tim Thomas (23 saves; 16-6-0). So like a bad New Year's Eve party or night, I'll pretend like this contest never happened. Although two great things occurred: Rich Peverley returned after missing two games with an undisclosed injury and most importantly, NESN's Jack Edwards is finally on Twitter (@RealJackEdwards).

A little more than two minutes into the game, Dallas received a 2-man advantage. They took care of that at 3:21 as Loui Eriksson (13th of the season) scored on a one-timer from Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley.

Tyler Seguin (15th of the season) tied it at one when his shot squirted past Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen (18 saves) at 11:39. David Krejci had the assist.

Daley benefited immensely on a crazy bounce when his harmless shot bounced off Thomas' back and over the goal line at 16:59. Tom Wandell had the assist.

Apparently nobody on the B's ever noticed that Ryder makes one move-a toe drag-despite all the practices and games with him. It worked as he scored his 15th of the season, a power-play goal at 19:20 that really gave Dallas control at the end of the first.

Once again, the last minute of a period proved to be fatal for Boston as Wandell (2nd of the season) scored at 19:00 from Adam Burish and Jamie Benn. With a 4-1 lead at the end of two, the Bruins were in the unfamiliar position of playing from way behind.

No excuses for Boston managing only 11 shots in the first two periods. They woke up much more in the third but by then, it was far too late.

Milan Lucic (13th of the season) scored on a one-timer at 1:08 from Krejci and Dennis Seidenberg. It was a powerful shot from the middle of the slot; it would be wonderful to see Looch get more points from that area. He does most of his work from in closer to the net.

Dallas and Boston had games in the past few seasons that were filled with brawls but all we got tonight was a minor bout between Jake Dowell and Gregory Campbell late in the third that was over almost as soon as it started.

This bizarre three-game road trip which strangely enough took a week (plus travel time) ends on Wednesday in Dirty Jersey as the Bruins visit the Devils. It's the second of four meetings between the teams, Boston won 4-3 at TD Garden on November 15.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Paul Pierce Makes His 2011-12 Debut & Magically The Celtics Are A Different Team

I can't sit here and pretend that beating the Detroit Pistons means anything since they're one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Still, tonight's home opener for the Celtics couldn't have gone much better as Boston (1-3) rolled 96-85 at TD Garden over the Pistons (0-3), for their first win after a miserable three-game road trip to start the season.

Celts captain Paul Pierce made his inaugural appearance of the 2011-12 season and it was an effective one as he put up 12 points, five assists and four rebounds in just 23 minutes of action.

Facing Detroit for its home opener wasn't a sexy matchup by any means; I don't think the NBA could have conjured a much worse one in that regard but in terms of teams that the Celts could beat on most nights, it's hard to top the Pistons who are going nowhere fast.

To illustrate how much of a pushover Lawrence Frank's (it was nice to see that pipsqueak again) squad is, Jermaine O'Neal had a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds for the C's. Ray Allen added 17 points and Brandon Bass had 17 points off the bench.

As a team, Boston shot a perfect 19 of 19 from the free throw line which offset quiet performances from Rajon Rondo (9 points, 5 assists) and Kevin Garnett (8 points).

Greg Monroe led Detroit with a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds. Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko were the other Pistons starters to score in double figures, both had 10 points. Austin Daye scored 11 points off the bench and rookie Brandon Knight put up 10 points.

Boston was in control from the start although they didn't really open it up until the second half. The Celts outscored the Pistons 24-22 in the first quarter and led 50-43 at halftime. A big third quarter (36-21) allowed Doc Rivers to not play the starters more than 29 minutes (which is big for such an old group). Detroit took the fourth (21-10) but who cares?

Boston shot much better than Detroit (52.2% to 43.0), made four more 3-pointers (7-3), had seven more assists (25-18), six more blocks (6-0) and six more points in the paint (11-5).

Up next for the C's, a home-and-home with the Washington Wizards on Sunday in DC and Monday in Boston. The Wizards (0-3) are still awful but they're young and athletic so I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they give the Celtics trouble in at least one of those games.

Patriots-Bills Injury Report

The 2011 NFL regular season concludes on Sunday, New Year's Day, and locally, the Patriots (12-3) host the Buffalo Bills (6-9) at Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m.

Everybody knows the stakes for the Pats, win and they clinch home-field throughout the AFC playoffs. They've already won the AFC East title and clinched a first-round bye.

The injury reports for both teams came out this afternoon and Buffalo has already declared five players out for their season-finale. Tackle Demetrius Bell (knee), tight end Mike Caussin (knee), kicker Dave Rayner (groin), quarterback/kick returner Brad Smith (hamstring) and guard Kraig Urbik (knee) are all free to get loaded on New Year's Eve since all they'll be doing on Sunday is standing on the sideline in street clothes.

New England's banged up offensive line will be missing guard Logan Mankins (knee) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back), who were ruled out. Bill Belichick had fun with this injury report as 16 Patriots are questionable.

Kyle Arrington (foot), Deion Branch (groin), Patrick Chung (foot), Dan Connolly (groin), Julian Edelman (back), Dane Fletcher (thumb), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Matt Light (ankle), Devin McCourty (shoulder), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Matthew Slater (shoulder), Brandon Spikes (knee), Shane Vereen (hamstring), Brian Waters (ankle), Wes Welker (knee) and Tracy White (abdomen) are all 50-50 against their AFC East rivals.

I say it every week but since the Pats are off next week when the playoffs begin, it would be very nice to see Chung and/or Spikes get back on the field. It'll also be interesting to see if Light can play since he was a last-minute scratch last weekend against Miami.

Welker was fined $10,000 by the NFL for wearing an unauthorized hat. It was for an energy bar company he promotes, not some Jesus freak stuff like Jon Kitna used to sport so that makes me rest easier. As he pointed out on Twitter, Welker had worn this hat all season but for whatever reason, the NFL decided to fine him now. Weird.

Stay tuned to see who else is out on Sunday.

UPDATE 1/1: Defensive back Malcolm Williams was added to the 53-man roster and defensive end Alex Silvestro was signed to the practice squad, taking Williams' spot. Ross Ventrone wasn't activated since it would have exhausted his practice squad eligibility for his career (really). Also, Williams playing means that special teams all-star White is probably out tomorrow.

The inactives for the Pats are Mankins, Vollmer, White, Faulk, Vereen, Ron Brace and Ryan Mallett. The inactives for the Bills are Smith, Nesbitt, Urbik, defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, Bell, wide receiver Kamar Aiken and tight end Fendi Onobun.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bruins Win Seventh In A Row, First Overtime Victory Of The Season

People ask me all the time which Boston team is my favorite and my stock answer is that I like them all equally. The deeper truth is that like any fan, I go through peaks and valleys with each during their respective seasons.

After watching the Celtics mail it in tonight live, there was no better treat than a DVR recording of the Bruins-Coyotes game (which I didn't know the final outcome of).

Unlike the Celtics, who can't get out of their own way at the moment, the B's (24-9-1) are a juggernaut with no signs of slowing down. They battled through a holiday hangover and terrible ice conditions (yeah I said it) to win 2-1 in overtime at Arena against the Coyotes (18-15-4).

Dennis Seidenberg (2nd of the season) scored 58 seconds into the extra session, delivering Boston its first overtime victory of 2011-12 and also pushing the team's winning streak to seven games (2nd streak this season of 7+ wins). And oh by the way, the Bruins are back in first place overall in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Rangers.

David Krejci (7th of the season) gave the large contingent (haha biggest crowd in Phoenix history, what a joke) of Bruins fans something to cheer about early as he scored 47 seconds into the game. A loose puck popped out to him and he wristed it past Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera (27 saves). Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand had the assists although I can't say they did much to earn them.

The ageless Ray Whitney (13th of the season) continued his great first half by tying it up at 15:16 of the first period. It was all him as he made something out of nothing by stickhandling through two Bruins defenders and flipping a shot past Tuukka Rask (21 saves; 8-4-1).

Ex-Canucks goon Raffi Torres blatantly elbowed Andrew Ference later in the first but Adam McQuaid responded immediately by beating the shit out of Torres. I felt like I was back in high school watching ECW as Quaider opened up a huge gash on Torres' face.

Nothing really happened of note in the second or third periods beside a couple nice saves. Rask stuffed Whitney on a breakaway attempt and LaBarbera caught Marchand's shot on a partial breakaway.

Seidenberg's goal was like Krejci's in that it came out of nowhere. The defenseman was pinching in and he shot the puck on net. It appeared to deflect off Chris Kelly but Seidenberg was credited with the goal while Kelly and Benoit Pouliot had the assists.

The Bruins close out 2011-and what a year it was-by meeting the Stars in Dallas on Saturday night. Expect Tim Thomas (11 days of rest between appearances) to get the start as the B's look to beat former teammate Michael Ryder in his first game against Boston since helping them win the Stanley Cup in June.

Cue The Excuses: Celtics Off To 0-3 Start After Embarrassing Loss In New Orleans

I'm sick of the excuses for the Boston Celtics. I love this team but they started in the preseason and they're only going to get worse since they are off to a pathetic 0-3 start after losing 97-78 tonight to the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena.

If you're a green teamer, you'll say it was the first back-to-back of the season for the Celts (0-3). They were playing their third game in four days and Paul Pierce sat out for the third straight time. Whichever bogus loser's lament you want to chose, Boston just began 2011-12 with three depressing losses on the road.

Sidenote, I love Tommy Heinsohn but his constant theme of harping on the refs (deserved or not) gets mighty old when your team sucks. Just saying.

By far, this one was the worst since at least in the other two (at New York and Miami), they showed some fight and competitive spirit before losing games they had no business winning. Nope, tonight they simply laid down to a team that not only was missing its best player-Eric Gordon-but likely won't even make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

After a 9-2 run to start the game by the C's, it was never really close as the Hornets (2-0) rolled in their home opener. One last excuse, it was the third home opener the Celts had to be the visiting team for.

Former Worcester Academy star Jarrett Jack had a game-high 21 points with nine assists while Carl Landry had 20 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans. Others in double-figures for the winners included former UConn star Emeka Okafor (13 points, 5 blocks), Marco Belinelli (13 points) and Chris Kaman added 12 off the bench.

Ray Allen led Boston with 15 points, Rajon Rondo was the only other Celtics starter to reach double-digits with 13 points. Brandon Bass (11 points) and Keyon Dooling (10 points) continue to score well off the bench.

The only real thing I learned from this contest was that Doc Rivers might as well start rookie Greg Stiemsma. In his first action of the season, the former D-League player and Wisconsin center had six blocks in 20 minutes. That's enough to convince me that he should start over the ghost of Jermaine O'Neal (2 points, 6 rebounds in 21 minutes). Well at least until Danny Ainge signs or trades for a better option.

New Orleans led 24-19 after the first quarter and 48-39 at halftime. Boston never really fought back as they draw even with the Hornets in the third (24-24) and eventually waved the white flag in the fourth (25-15 Hornets).

Boston's tired legs caused a bunch of ugly numbers for them. New Orleans shot 45.6% from the field which is average but looks great against Boston's 37.2%. The Celts hit three more 3-pointers (7-4) but the Hornets made eight more free throws (21-13), grabbed 11 more rebounds (48-37) and had three more steals (7-4). With no big-time inside presence, the Hornets still owned the paint (46-24).

It can only get better from here, right? Boston limps home and then faces the Detroit Pistons (0-2) at TD Garden on Friday night. It's hard to call a game before New Year's a must-win in the NBA but if the Celts lose to the Pistons and fall to 0-4, it might be time to start figuring out how to blow this all up.

Also, can Pierce suit up on Friday? Or is that too much to ask for a guy with a bruised heel? I hate to compare sports but could you imagine a Bruin or Patriot missing this much time for such a fraudulent and not very serious injury.

Red Sox Finally Acquire The Closer They Need: Andrew Bailey From The Oakland A's

It might have taken longer than I wanted but I have no complaints now that the Boston Red Sox have traded for Oakland A's closer Andrew Bailey.

The long-awaited deal finally went down this afternoon as Boston traded outfielder Josh Reddick along with minor leaguers Miles Head (1B) and Raul Alcantara (RHP) to Oakland for Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.

First things first, the Red Sox no question got the best player in this trade: Bailey, a two-time All-Star. He's only been in MLB for three seasons but he made the midsummer's classic in both 2009 and 2010.

"Andrew's a proven top-quality closer in the American League. He's done it for three years and has had a lot of success," said general manager Ben Cherington. "He's converted a very high percentage of his opportunities. He's got the stuff and we really like his makeup for Boston."

In 2009-2011, he notched 26, 25 and 24 saves. In 2009, he was 6-3 (1.84 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) with 91 strikeouts, 24 walks, 17 earned runs (5 homers) and 49 hits in 83.1 innings pitched. In 2010 (1.47 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) he was 1-3 with 42 strikeouts, 13 walks, eight earned runs (3 homers), 34 hits in 49 innings pitched. Last season, he was 0-4 (3.24 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) with 41 strikeouts, 12 walks, 15 earned runs (3 homers), 34 hits in 41.2 innings pitched.

Bailey is 27, he'll turn 28 on May 31, 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. So how is such a young, promising closer available? Well besides the fact that Oakland won't pay anybody, he was on the market most likely because of health concerns.

"We had a chance to look into Bailey's medical history and we got to know a lot more about what he's been through," Cherington said. "He had Tommy John surgery five years ago and has fully recovered from that. He had some elbow symptoms in 2010 and had a minor procedure after the 2010 season. Then he came into spring training in 2011, perhaps ramped up too quickly and had a setback and (there) appeared to be some scar tissue breakup.

"It was a minor scar tissue injury and he was able to recover from that and get back to pitching and perform well. His stuff and performance was solid down the stretch. We're very confident he'll come into camp ready to go and ready to help our team in 2012."

If you're not someone that plays fantasy baseball or doesn't follow all of MLB (hello MLB Network), not just the Red Sox or the American League East, you're forgiven for not knowing much about Bailey. He played for nothing but garbage A's teams and he also came from a small school (Wagner) not known for producing MLB talent.

With Bailey as the closer and Mark Melancon as the setup man, Boston has finally addressed its bullpen and done so in a smart and cheap way. Two young, hard-throwing guys that came up in the American League (Melancon made his name in Houston) project to do well in Boston. Along those lines, this means that Daniel Bard going to the starting rotation looks like more of a certainty. I'm not a huge fan of it but at least now, the Red Sox have suitable options for if he makes it out of spring training as a starter.

Sweeney is more of a throw in and he replaces Reddick in right field. If he's healthy, it's Ryan Kalish's job to lose but Sweeney is a more than capable backup. He plays great defense and looking at his batting numbers, he's better than I thought. Last season with the A's, in 108 games (264 at bats) he hit .265 with .346 OBP and .341 SLG. He scored 34 runs, had 70 hits, 11 doubles, three triples, one homer, 25 RBIs, 33 walks, 48 strikeouts and one stolen base.

He's been in MLB for parts of six seasons after getting drafted by the Chicago White Sox and playing in September for them in 2006 and 2007. He was traded to Oakland in January 2008 in the Gio Gonzalez for Nick Swisher deal. His best season was 2009 when he hit .293 with a .348 OBP and .407 SLG; in 134 games (484 at bats), he had 142 hits, 31 doubles, six homers, 53 RBIS, 40 walks and six stolen bases. In his career, Sweeney has a .283 average with a .342 OBP and .378 SLG.

I like Reddick but if we're being honest, I don't think he'll ever be more than a fourth outfielder on a good team. In Oakland, he'll probably have a starting job from day one and he won't have to worry about Kalish (who's better than him). Last season was Reddick's third in MLB but it marked the first time he really made an impact with the Red Sox. In 87 games (254 at bats), he hit .280 with a .327 OBP and .457 SLG. He put up 41 runs, 71 hits, 18 doubles, three triples, seven homers, 28 RBIs and 19 walks.

Reddick's plate discipline really improved last season and for a time in the middle of the summer, he carried the offense when he was on fire. For most of the second half, he was ice cold and could never really recover. Only time will tell if that was a blip on his career or a sign of things to come. He seemed like a good guy so I wish him luck in Oakland.

As for Head and Alcantara, who both came from Single A, I had never heard of either of them so that should tell you something. I follow a couple Red Sox prospects writers on Twitter and am much more well-informed about their guys in the minor leagues than most casual fans so I don't expect either of these players to do anything with the A's or anywhere else solely for the reason that I've never read one word about them (or at least don't remember doing so).

Tom Brady Wins AFC Offensive Player Of The Week For The 3rd Time This Season

For the third time this season and 20th time in his legendary career, Patriots quarterback and icon Tom Brady was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

He tied Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for most times winning the award. I know stats are for losers, blah blah blah but it would be cool to see Brady overtake Manning on that one.

In last Saturday's 27-24 comeback win over the Dolphins, Brady was 27-for-46 for 304 yards and one touchdown. He also had two rushing touchdowns (a career-high). By his insane standards, it wasn't his best performance by any means but I guess nobody around the AFC could top it.

Brady has a good chance to break Drew Brees' (formerly Dan Marino's) NFL record for passing yards which the Saints QB set on Monday. Brady sits 190 yards behind Brees and you'd have to think that New Orleans is more likely to sit Brees at some point vs. Carolina on Sunday.

The Pats (12-3) host the Bills (6-9) and like the Saints, the Patriots are trying to lock up home field throughout the NFL playoffs. We all know how much Bill Belichick hates sitting guys and they'll never say it but they care deeply about important records like this.

In scrub Patriots news, and who's scrubbier than Ross Ventrone, came word today that the safety has been signed to New England's practice squad. Would you believe it was his 21st transaction with the team since mid-August? It's a good thing he has no friends or family, otherwise this would be a rough period in his fake life.

New England also signed undrafted rookie defensive end Aaron Lavarias (Idaho) to the practice squad. He was here for the preseason and spent Week 1 on the practice squad before being released on September 14. He later spent time on Detroit's practice squad. He gives some defensive line depth to the practice squad after Alex Silvestro (haha No. 69 on your roster) was promoted last week to the 53-man roster.

UPDATE 12/29: The Silvestro era is over in Foxborough. He was released by the Pats today after playing against the Dolphins last Saturday. If he clears waivers, he's likely to return to the practice squad.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Celts Fall To 0-2 With Strange Loss In Miami

I wanted to believe that the Boston Celtics had a chance to steal a win tonight in Miami against the Heat but I'm a realist. Without Paul Pierce, whatever slim chance they possessed was basically nullified.

The Heat (2-0) got up by as many as 20 but they had to sweat a comeback by the Celtics (0-2) who cut it to three before falling 115-107 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

If I told you that rookie point guard Norris Cole was the Heat's best player in the fourth quarter, with 14 of their 24 total points, you wouldn't believe me right? Welcome to the NBA, where scrubs can shine when they are on a team with superstars.

As expected, LeBron James (team-high 26 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Dwyane Wade (24 points, 8 assists, 4 blocks) went crazy when Miami's minds were into the game. However, once the Celtics threw a junk zone defense at them in the third quarter, that changed everything. I'm shocked a noted Xs and O's guy like Coach Spo wasn't able to solve that riddle.

Ray Allen (game-high 28 points including 6 of 8 on 3-pointers), Rajon Rondo (22 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds) and Keyon Dooling (18 points off the bench) made it interesting until Cole (20 points) sealed it with a jumper, steal and some free throws.

It's nice to see that Boston didn't pack it in when they certainly could have but there are much bigger issues than that for this squad that seems to be aging twice as fast as normal. Namely the fact that Kevin Garnett (12 points, 5 rebounds) looks terrible, Jermaine O'Neal (0 points, 1 rebound) is still the starting center-with no real backup-and Sasha Pavlovic (5 points) got another start in Pierce's absence.

On the bright side, Brandon Bass (13 points, 5 rebounds) had another solid game off the bench for the Celtics.

Things have gotten so bad for KG that Chris Bosh (18 points, 11 rebounds) is clearly outplaying him. Not that it takes much when you play with LeBron and Wade.

Miami led 30-27 after the first quarter and 69-54 at halftime. That was the most points Boston had allowed in a first half in over 6.5 years. Pathetic.

The Heat pushed it to 20 points (85-65) midway through the third after a jumper by LeBron but they started to lose focus and go for highlight reel plays rather than smart basketball moves.

The Celtics outscored the Heat 29-22 in the third (down 91-83 headed into the fourth) and cut it to three with a few minutes left but Rondo threw a stupid lead pass to Dooling that was easily stolen. Cole made a shot, Bass hit a shot to trim it to three again but another Cole jumper closed the door and prompted ironic MVP chants by the cartoonish Miami crowd-featuring Rick Ross and DJ Khaled!

For the game, Miami shot 56.0% to 51.4% for Boston. The Celts made twice as many 3s (12-6) which is what kept them in it. The Heat hit four more free throws (25-21) and grabbed 10 more rebounds (38-28). Miami's athleticism showed up in the other numbers: seven more steals (16-9), five more blocks (8-3), 24 more points in the paint (52-28) and 14 more points off turnovers (33-19).

Chris Wilcox didn't play in the second half because of a shoulder injury so Doc Rivers already declared him and Pierce out for tomorrow night's game in New Orleans. Rivers might as well give rookies JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore the first run of their NBA careers; at least they won't have tired legs like everyone else.

It's the last contest of this three-game road trip to start the season and if we're being truthful, the C's could really use a win. 0-3 is not how they want to start this shortened schedule.

The Hornets (1-0) are not particularly good without Chris Paul but they're young and they have nothing to lose, not a good combo for Boston facing its first back-to-back of the young season.

PS. Why does Dick Bavetta still have a job?

Patrice Bergeron To Be Featured On NHL 36

Every day, I'm reminded why Twitter is so valuable if you consider yourself a true sports fan. With the constant flow of information, it's almost impossible to keep up with it but depending on who you follow, Twitter always comes through with the goods.

This morning, the excellent Matt Kalman (@TheBruinsBlog) tweeted that Bruins center Patrice Bergeron will be featured on NHL 36 next Wednesday. I haven't seen any episodes of the show yet but I've seen a couple commercials for it on the NHL Network. Cameras follow around different NHL players for 36 hours, hence the show title. It seems like a great idea and I can't wait to see Bergeron.

The assistant captain is a fan favorite and for good reason. You won't find players who are more dependable or even keeled than him on Boston or on other NHL teams. He excels at basically every facet of the game and he also seems like an even better guy and teammate. As you can tell, my man love for Bergeron is off the charts.

He has seven goals, 21 assists and he's plus +21. NESN announcer Jack Edwards has been touting Bergeron's Seilke award (defensive forward) candidacy since the 2011-12 season started so it would be nice to see the NHL similarly give him a chance when the award nominees are named in the spring.

Apparently the cameras from NHL 36 began recording Bergeron today as the Bruins left for Phoenix. They play the Coyotes tomorrow night in the desert before heading to Dallas for a New Year's Eve meeting with the Stars.

Pats Dodge A Serious Bullet: Logan Mankins Only Has Sprained MCL In His Left Knee

When Patriots guard Logan Mankins went down on Sunday with a knee injury, it didn't look good since he never returned to the 27-24 win over the Dolphins.

We can breath a sigh of relief as the Boston Globe reported today that Mankins only sprained the MCL in his left knee and he won't need surgery. If you are a Patriots fan, there is no doubt that you are familiar with this injury. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have both dealt with it this season; Mayo returned quickly while Spikes still hasn't come back after getting hurt on November 6 against the Giants.

New England (12-3) closes out the regular season vs. Buffalo on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. They've already clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs and they'll get the No. 1 seed if they can beat the Bills. This all means that Mankins will have basically three weeks off before another meaningful game. I'm not sure if he's a fast healer or not, since he's basically never hurt, but at least this gives us all hope that we haven't seen the last of him this season.

It hasn't been Mankins' best season, he has been a Pro Bowler in the past, but anybody outside of Donald Thomas' extended family would pick Mankins over his replacement.

In other Patriots roster news, the Globe also said that New England plans to sign fullback Lousaka Polite to take Ross Ventrone's vacated place. Thomas had been used as a fullback at times but he'll be starting in Mankins' spot.

To me, this smells like a one-week move since as I said, Mankins will likely be back for the playoffs. Polite played in four preseason games for the Dolphins but has not appeared in a regular season game since last season. In seven NFL seasons (Miami, Chicago, Dallas) he's played in 75 games for three teams.

UPDATE 12/27: Cornerback Malcolm Williams was resigned to the practice squad where Ventrone is expected back as soon as tomorrow.

Tonight, eight Patriots were announced to the 2012 Pro Bowl. Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Mankins, Brian Waters, Andre Carter, Vince Wilfork and Matthew Slater (special teams).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Brad Marchand Wins The NHL's 1st Star Of The Week

Since the beginning of November, there has been no better team in the NHL than the Boston Bruins. One of the key reasons for the Bruins' success has been the brilliant play of the second line. Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand have combined the perfect amount of skill, will and speed to be more effective than the underachieving first line (Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci).

Marchand has played a big role in his team's two victories last week, scoring the game-winner versus Montreal and then registering a hat trick in the Bruins' 8-0 laugher Friday night against the Florida Panthers.

The former fourth line "grinder", Marchand has worked his way up the Bruins depth chart, landing on the second line midway through last season. His gritty play in the playoffs, namely in Games Six and Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals helped endear himself to Bruins fans for life. Marchand is one of the most popular players on the team and he brings the same level of intensity to each and every shift.

Marchand has been aided by playing with Bergeron, one of the smartest players in the league as well as Seguin, who has been outstanding for the better part of this season. Given the energy and speed of the second line, it is clear that Marchand is benefiting from playing with like-minded players.

Marchand has 29 points so far this year (15 goals, 14 assists) and is a plus 25, helping the Bruins extend their NHL best scoring differential to +56.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Knicks Snap 8-Game Losing Streak To The Celtics With 106-104 Win In 2011-12 Opener

The truncated 2011-12 NBA regular season began this afternoon, on Christmas, with a sloppy but very entertaining game between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks (1-0) held on for a 106-104 win after the Celtics (0-1) missed not only a chance to win it but also a jumper that would have tied it at the end of regulation.

Last season, between the regular season and playoffs, Boston went 8-0 against New York. The Knicks hadn't beaten the Celtics since April 6, 2010. In total, Boston had won 20 of the last 22 meetings between the Atlantic Division rivals.

I'm not enough of a prisoner of the moment to declare that New York is the favorite to win the division or that they're a better team than Boston. That probably has to do with the fact that I never have faith in a team coached by Mike D'Antoni or led by Carmelo Anthony. Two guys that don't give a shit about defense, all that matters to them is scoring points and there's no doubt that they get it done in that regard.

I will give credit to Carmelo though, I think he's the best pure scorer in the NBA these days and his game-high 37 points (8 rebounds) were the difference in the win for the home team. He had 17 points in the fourth quarter, as many as the Celtics entire squad.

It's not me being a homer when I say that Rajon Rondo (team-high 31 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals) was easily the best player on the floor. Ray Allen (20 points) and Kevin Garnett (15 points, 8 rebounds) had quiet games despite numbers that look alright.

The other lasting impression on the Celts was Brandon Bass. In his debut for the Green, he put up his first career 20-point, 10-rebound game. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.

I think it's safe to say that Celtics fans will forget about Glen "Big Baby" Davis in about a week now that we have Bass. He's a pro; he knows his strengths, he's consistent and he doesn't try to be something he's not. In other words, he's everything that the up and down Davis was not and likely never will be.

This being the NBA, it only took about two quarters to remember everything I hate about the league: officials having way too much power, no ball movement, tons of commercials and too many fouls.

Paul Pierce was out with a heel injury so his most lasting contribution was sitting on the bench in a suit and sporting a pair of red earrings that I'm pretty sure my mother owns.

Boston was lifeless without its captain in the first half. They trailed by 10 at halftime and that seemed like a gift since they seemingly couldn't play much worse. At one point, the Knicks were up 17 (49-32) less than midway through the second quarter.

Predictably against a team that still doesn't have a clue how to play defense-despite now having Tyson Chandler (7 points, 6 blocks)-the Celtics hit the Knicks with a 25-7 run to take their largest lead of the contest at 77-69 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.

Credit to New York as they stepped up in the fourth quarter; they made shots while Boston's offense sadly dried up without a true go-to scorer.

Amare Stoudemire put up 21 points for New York while Toney Douglas added 19 points. Rookie Iman Shumpert had 11 points off the bench before leaving with a strained MCL.

Sasha Pavlovic started in Pierce's place and I'm not kidding when I say I hope that he's released when Mickael Pietrus is ready to play. In 15 minutes, Pavlovic didn't take a shot with one assist, one rebound and four fouls plus a technical foul (that was completely bogus). To call him completely worthless is being generous. Doc Rivers talked him up in the preseason which is a classic coach's tactic of building up a player that he knows sucks.

New York jumped out to a 34-23 lead after the first quarter thanks to typical run and gun D'Antoni ball. As fast as you could say "what's Spike Lee wearing?" Boston started to find itself in the second quarter (29-28) to close to within 10 (62-52) at halftime.

Rondo abused Douglas, he must have had six or seven layups. The Celtics played outstanding in the third quarter (35-17) to take a commanding 87-79 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately that's when Joey Crawford (the worst NBA ref, which is saying something) and his crew started to take over in crunch time. I'm not going to say that the Celtics lost because of them but it certainly didn't help that they were hit with two shady technicals in the fourth.

The Knicks found more offense in the fourth (27-17). Marquis Daniels had a wide open 3-pointer that rimmed out before the final buzzer, Rondo got the rebound and Boston took its final timeout. Once again, Rivers drew up a nice play as KG had a jumper that he can usually hit. The problem was that it didn't go in.

Almost all the final stats favored the Celtics. They shot 4% better (51.3%-47.3%), grabbed 10 more rebounds (41-31), handed out 11 more assists (28-17), had 18 more points in the paint (48-30) and eight more fast break points (16-8).

More than anything I can point to, the Knicks won simply because they made seven more 3-pointers (9-2). Without Pierce, Allen was the only Celtic looking to take threes. That'll change soon enough. Amare actually hit as many threes by himself as Boston did as a team.

This loss doesn't bother me at all; if the C's had won despite sleeping through the first half and the Knicks making tons of shots, I would have been surprised. Their rally was impressive but ultimately, they paid for their poor start and all the energy they put into the rally. The other three games against the Knicks this season should be like this, very close and fun to watch.

Boston travels to Miami on Tuesday for the Heat's home opener (and a rematch of the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring). I hardly watched any of it, gotta build up my NBA tolerance, but I saw that Miami rolled 105-94 in Dallas today.

The Celts go to New Orleans the next night before finally coming back to TD Garden on Friday for their home opener against Detroit. I won't complain about the schedule-since the Lakers played today then tomorrow and Tuesday-but three games in four days to start it off is tough for this older group (3rd oldest in the NBA).

The key for Boston will be to not get off to a poor start. I expect them to lose to the Heat on Tuesday but then bounce back against the Hornets and Pistons. With any luck, Pierce and Pietrus will be active on Tuesday. That would make for a closer and more interesting contest as far as I'm concerned.

UPDATE 12/26: No official word yet but apparently Pietrus won't play tomorrow in Miami or Wednesday in New Orleans. Expect him to be active on Friday for the home opener against the Pistons.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Boston Celtics Sign Mickael Pietrus The Day Before The 2011-12 Regular Season Begins

Great news for the Boston Celtics on Christmas Eve, the day before they kick off the 2011-12 NBA regular season with a visit to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks.

After he was released by the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and cleared waivers, the C's signed veteran swingman Mickael Pietrus today to a 1-year, $1.3 million (league minimum deal). He fills out Boston's roster at 15 players.

With Christmas tomorrow, he won't be able to get a physical until Monday in Boston. This means that he won't be available for tomorrow's game; he could possibly be ready for the second game, at Miami or more likely on Wednesday in New Orleans.

"We are very excited to be able to add Mickael to our team," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a statement released by the team. "His skills as a perimeter defender and an outside shooter provide great versatility to the roster."

Pietrus also announced his decision to join the Celtics via Twitter. Celtics coach Doc Rivers and former teammate Brandon Bass raved about Pietrus on Friday while talking about his potential addition.

"He would be a good addition for any team," said Rivers. "He would be athletic, he would bring some toughness. He can guard 2's and 3's. He can stretch the floor. Whoever gets him, will be getting a heck of a player, if he's healthy."

Said Bass: "He's a good defender. I think that's the strength of his game. He can guard the best two guards in the league, at least that's what he showed when I was with him in Orlando."

The reason I'm excited about this move, besides its very low risk, is because I've always been a big fan of Pietrus' game. He is the rare European player that is not only tough but he can also defend at a high level.

He was a first-round pick by Golden State (11th overall) in 2003. He played five seasons with the Warriors before spending two seasons in Orlando. He started last season with the Magic but was traded to the Suns.

For his career, he's started 150 of 496 games. He's averaged 8.5 points in 21.5 minutes, .431 field goal percentage, .359 percent on 3-pointers, 67% on free throws and 3.1 rebounds.

Pietrus' best season was 2006-07 in Golden State, the only time when he averaged double-figures in points (11.1). He also started a career-high 38 games out of 72.

At 6-6 and 215 pounds, he gives Doc Rivers a versatile option that can play shooting guard or small forward. There is no doubt in my mind that he's better than Sasha Pavlovic, which means that this move should rightly bury Sasha on the bench where he belongs. Mickael is 29-years-old, he turns 30 in February, so he should have something left in the tank. As far as I know, this isn't Troy Murphy or Carlos Arroyo on their last legs.

With Jeff Green out for the season and Paul Pierce's health shaky to start the season (heel injury), you can never have enough athletic wing players in the NBA. Well done Danny Ainge.

Merry Christmas, don't forget to watch Celtics-Knicks tomorrow afternoon. It tips off at 12 p.m. on TNT.

UPDATE 12/25: Celtics radio announcer Sean Grande just tweeted that Pierce is out today and Pavlovic will start, gulp.

The Dolphins Prove A 17-Point Halftime Lead Means Nothing At Gillette Stadium

If you claim to have ever seen something like this version of the New England Patriots, I'm going to call bullshit. From series to quarter to half to game, there is no way to mentally prepare for what the Pats give us each week.

Regardless of how ugly it gets, New England (12-3) clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs this season with a come-from-behind 27-24 win against the Miami Dolphins (5-10) this afternoon at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve. It was the seventh straight win for the Patriots.

To say that the Patriots played terrible in the first half would be way too generous. They trailed 17-0 at halftime as Tom Brady (27 of 46, 304 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) was either getting sacked or throwing passes at his receiver's feet. Bizarre doesn't begin to describe it.

Still, New England managed to wake up in time to score its first 17-point rally and victory in nine years.

Just when it looked like Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (17 of 33, 294 yards, 3 TDs, INT), running back Reggie Bush (22 carries, 113 yards rushing; 26 yards receiving) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (7 catches, 156 yards, TD) would combine for one of the biggest upsets in the NFL this season, Miami reverted back to its usual loser ways.

The Dolphins built up their beefy lead thanks to a 47-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter in the first quarter then a 19-yard touchdown catch by Marshall and a 1-yard touchdown grab by something called Charles Clay.

New England couldn't do anything offensively in the first half as their first six drives ended prematurely with Zoltan Mesko punts then Stephen Gostkowski badly yanked a 51-yard field goal attempt on the second to last play of the half.

Things started to go the Patriots' way to begin the second half as they finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Three plays later, Moore inexplicably fumbled the ball right to Vince Wilfork.

New England went to work as Brady found Deion Branch for a 1-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to cut it to 17-10. After the Pats defense forced a punt (thanks to two sacks by Brandon Deaderick and Rob Ninkovich), they managed to tie it before the third quarter ended. Brady scored on his first of two 1-yard quarterback sneaks to knot it at 17.

With all the momentum swung over to their side, Moore gave the Pats another absolute gift early in the fourth quarter. His pass intended for Brian Hartline turned into a duck that Devin McCourty (9 tackles, 4 solos, 4 passes defensed, 1 tackle for loss) picked off-his first of the season!

Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal following that second turnover gave New England a lead they would never relinquish. The Pats defense forced a punt and Brady scored his second quarterback sneak for a 10-point lead (27-17) with 2:56 left.

It wouldn't be a Patriots game in 2011 without them failing to close the door on an inferior team so it was entirely predictable that Moore would drive the Dolphins right down the field for a touchdown. He threw a 15-yard strike to Davone Bess with 1:48 remaining on the clock.

Miami elected to kick it deep but they couldn't get a stop. Brady iced it with a six-yard throw to Wes Welker (12 catches, 138 yards) who had a monster performance. He was targeted an absurd 19 times.

Rob Gronkowski was kept out of the end zone for the second straight game but he had seven catches for 78 yards while rookie Stevan Ridley ran hard (season-high and career-high 13 carries, 64 yards).

Jerod Mayo (13 tackles, 4 solo, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss) had a solid game while Shaun Ellis notched his first sack of the season (haha he beat a fullback to get to Moore).

Matt Light was a surprise inactive today and things got even worse for New England's makeshift offensive line when Logan Mankins went down with a knee injury and never returned. Marcus Cannon replaced him with Nate Solder shifting over to left tackle. Keep in mind that Sebastian Vollmer was still out.

Also, Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes missed yet another game. You can't count on everybody to be healthy when the playoffs roll around but the Patriots need at least a few of these guys back by then.

New England closes out the regular season next Sunday at Gillette against the Buffalo Bills (6-9). Before today, I thought the Bills had completely given up but they snapped a seven-game losing streak by blowing out the Denver Tebows 40-14. So I guess they will show up next week.

With a win or losses by the Steelers and Ravens, the Patriots clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. Not that the Pats need additional motivation but Buffalo beat New England 34-31 in Week 3 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Merry Christmas everybody, thanks for reading!

UPDATE 12/26: Ross Ventrone was released from the 53-man roster today along with Cedric McKinley from the practice squad.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Marchand And Bruins Ensure It Won't Be A Merry Christmas For The Florida Panthers

There is a reason that Las Vegas made the Bruins (-200) heavy favorites tonight against the Panthers, the last team that had beaten them (2-0 back on Dec. 8).

Florida (18-11-7) limped (three injured forwards) into TD Garden for their third game in four nights while Boston (23-9-1) had taken it easy since beating Montreal 3-2 on Monday. The final result tonight was 8-0 as the B's gave their fans an early Christmas present (their sixth consecutive win) while simultaneously ruining the holiday for the Panthers.

Brad Marchand picked up his first career hat trick (with two assists) while Tuukka Rask (30 saves; 7-4-1) picked up his 10th career shutout and second in as many starts.

In total, 14 of the 18 skaters (not including Rask) that suited up this evening had points. The other players with multiple points included Patrice Bergeron (1 goal, 2 assists), Zdeno Chara (2 assists), Tyler Seguin (2 assists) and Dennis Seidenberg (1 goal, 1 assist).

It didn't take long to see that neither Florida's heart nor its legs were into this one as Boston pumped in four first-period goals. Marchand scored a short-handed goal at 5:56 thanks to some loose defensive coverage. Milan Lucic (12th of the season) made it 2-0 at 13:40 thanks to a fortuitous bounce off the back boards that went right to him in front.

Shawn Thornton and Krys Barch had a wrestling match which only led to further Bruins highlights. At 18:31, Benoit Pouliot (7th goal of the season, 3rd straight game with a goal) scored the best goal of the season thus far by using speed then an unbelievable through the legs of a defenseman move capped off by a diving backhander to increase the lead to 3-0.

Seidenberg (1st of the season) got in on the action 31 seconds later as Boston was up 4-0 in the first period.

Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore (10 saves) didn't bother coming out for the second period and who could blame him? Former BC goaltender Scott Clemmensen (17 saves) didn't fare much better as he also gave up four goals over the final two periods.

Boston added two tallies in the second period. Against his former team, Gregory Campbell (3rd of the season) got a nice wrist shot past Clemmensen at 3:50. Bergeron (7th of the season) added another power-play goal at 15:50. By then, Florida basically didn't want to be there.

Marchand capped off this memorable beating with a deflected shot that went in at 1:53 and a pretty feed from Seguin led to the hat trick at 10:53. Marchand's 15th of the season led to numerous hats being thrown onto the ice and a lengthy delay.

There isn't any debate at the moment that the B's are the top team in the Eastern Conference and most likely the NHL as well. It is only December so it doesn't really matter so much now but damn, they really have no flaws.

After a break the next few days-the NHL gives everyone Christmas Eve and Christmas off)-the Bruins return for a three-game road trip (Phoenix, Dallas, New Jersey) that extends into 2012.

It sounds cheesy but this Christmas, more than anything currently in the Boston sports landscape, I am most thankful for getting to watch this superb team every night. It really is a joy to behold.

Patriots-Dolphins Injury Report

Sure tomorrow is Christmas Eve but more importantly, it is also when the New England Patriots (11-3) host the Miami Dolphins (5-9) at Gillette Stadium.

Let's get right to it with the injury report as 14 Patriots are listed as questionable. Brandon Spikes (knee), Kyle Arrington (foot), Deion Branch (groin), Patrick Chung (foot), Dan Connolly (groin), Julian Edelman (back), Dane Fletcher (thumb), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (illness), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Devin McCourty (shoulder), Matthew Slater (shoulder), Shane Vereen (hamstring), Brian Waters (ankle) and Wes Welker (knee) are all 50/50 for tomorrow afternoon's game.

For Miami, tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) has already been ruled out. That's the only guy on the Dolphins that is anything less than probable.

This is the start of a two-game homestand for the Pats that closes out the regular season. Both games are against AFC East foes as well since Buffalo comes to town on New Year's Day.

The stakes are simple: with a win, New England wraps up a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. If they beat the Dolphins and Bills, the Pats will also clinch the top seed in the AFC and the easiest road to the Super Bowl but first things first, time to take care of business the next two weekends.

The Pats won 38-24 back on September 12 in Miami. Expect another competitive game since the Dolphins have won five out of their last seven games. Quarterback Matt Moore has been playing well and running back Reggie Bush (973 yards rushing, 6 TDs) is about to break the 1000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

Bruins-Panthers Preview

Since it falls on a Friday, which almost never happens, and it's the day before Christmas Eve, I feel like tonight's Boston Bruins game against the Florida Panthers isn't getting the proper attention that it deserves.

Both teams come into TD Garden in first place in their respective divisions; the Bruins (22-9-1) have won five straight and lead the Northeast Division by a fair margin. The Panthers (18-10-7) were actually the last team to beat Boston, 2-0 on December 8 at the Garden. Florida leads the Southeast Division and they continue to make believers around the NHL.

Tuukka Rask gets the start for the B's, against former Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore. This is Boston's first game since Monday a 3-2 win over the Canadiens at the Garden while the Panthers have played and lost two games in that span: losing 2-1 on Tuesday in Phoenix and 4-3 in a shootout last night in Ottawa. Common sense says that the Bruins should have fresher legs.

This is the second of four meetings between these two quality teams with the second two in the Sunshine State. I know it's early but dare I say this could be a playoff preview? The Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are both a mess so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Panthers win the Southeast this season.

Rich Peverley is out of the lineup tonight with an undisclosed injury but that is tempered a bit since Milan Lucic returns after serving his one-game suspension on Monday vs. Montreal.

Florida's top line center Stephen Weiss is out after sustaining an upper-body injury last night.

This is Boston's last home game in 2011, crazy right? It's also their last game before Christmas. After this, they go to Phoenix on Wednesday for the start of a three-game trip which carries over into 2012. The B's are back in the Garden on January 5 vs. Calgary.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are You Ready For The 66-Game 2011-12 NBA Regular Season (Crickets)?

If it feels like I've neglected to talk much about the NBA and more specifically, the Boston Celtics, then you are correct. I'm sure once the regular season starts I'll get into it a bit more but honestly at the moment, the Bruins and Patriots (in that order) take priority.

I love college basketball but I've never been a huge NBA fan so the lockout that just ended was the perfect reason to start caring even less about the NBA. There are so many things wrong with the league and the product that we're all well aware of. Still, I admit I do enjoy watching the Celts and the NBA playoffs are usually pretty awesome too.

The abbreviated 66-game NBA 2011-12 regular season officially starts on Sunday (Christmas) with the C's visiting the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It's a tasty rematch from last season's playoffs (Boston swept New York) that is the beginning of a nice slate of games.

Boston's 14-man roster for the opener appears set since they waived three players today: forward Michael Sweetney (remember when he was a lottery pick out of Georgetown?), center Jamal Sampson and undrafted rookie guard Gilbert Brown (Pitt). No surprises there. Sweetney is washed up, Sampson is a bum and Brown probably needs some playing time in the D-League before he makes the leap to the NBA.

The Celtics brought four invites to training camp but D-League center Greg Stiemsma is the only one that stuck.

Here's the expected roster for Sunday
Guards: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, E'Twaun Moore
Forwards: Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, JaJuan Johnson, Sasha Pavlovic, Paul Pierce, Chris Wilcox
Centers: Jermaine O'Neal, Stiemsma

The starting five has to be Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and O'Neal. Pierce has a heel injury which reportedly could keep him out of Sunday's game; if he can't play, expect Daniels to start in his place.

The first few guys off the bench (when everyone is healthy) should be Daniels, Bass, Wilcox and Dooling.

I'm most intrigued by Moore (who has been tearing it up in camp and preseason games), Johnson, Bass and Wilcox. Moore and Johnson are rookies so they'll be up and down but after great four-year careers at Purdue, I expect them to have less of a learning curve than most guys that enter the NBA at an earlier age. We know what Bass can do, it'll be interesting to see how he fits in Boston's gameplans. Wilcox is somewhat of a wild card: he's not young but he's been on mostly terrible teams so being on one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference should rejuvenate his career.

UPDATE 12/23: Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said today that Pierce is doubtful for Sunday's game so it looks like Pavlovic will get the nod if the captain can't suit up for the opener. Apparently, the thinking with Sasha starting is that Daniels is one of the leaders of the bench so they don't want to break that up. Um OK?

The Phoenix Suns released swingman Mickael Pietrus yesterday and rumors swirling around Boston are that the Celtics could sign him, to fill their empty 15th spot on their roster. I'm a huge Pietrus fan so I hope they do it, he's a good player that would see some decent minutes on this team. Stay tuned I guess.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Patriots Sign Safety Vincent Fuller

I meant to write this yesterday when I heard it on Twitter but I figured I'd wait until it became official: the New England Patriots signed free agent safety Vincent Fuller today.

It's a good move first of all because it means that Matthew Slater and to a lesser degree Sergio Brown should get less playing time. Moreover, Patrick Chung was back at practice today (he's missed the last six games) so hopefully one of New England's biggest weaknesses is finally being fixed.

Fuller is 29-years-old and he was selected by Tennessee in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech. He played for the Titans from 2005-2010 and spent one game with the Lions this season before being placed on IR (elbow).

Detroit released him from the injured reserve list Dec. 6 which it opened the opportunity for Fuller (6-1, 192) to sign with another team.

He has has played in 76 NFL games (5 career starts), he's made 163 tackles and six interceptions (4 returned for touchdowns). Prior to signing with the Lions, Fuller worked out for the Patriots in early September before the regular season started (showing that safety depth was an issue even way back then).

In other Patriots news, the Pro Bowl final fan results were released today (can you feel the excitement?). I only mention it since a bunch of Pats won this glorified popularity contest for a game that absolutely nobody cares about. Is there any argument that it's not the worst All-Star game of the four major sports?

Tom Brady was the leading vote-getter in the AFC (second in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers) while Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins and Andre Carter also came in first in the AFC at their respective positions.

Aaron Hernandez, Matt Light and Kyle Arrington finished second while Vince Wilfork, Stephen Gostkowski and Matthew Slater were third.

Pro Bowl rosters are determined by fan votes, player votes and coach votes. Each one counts 1/3 towards setting the 43-man roster. NFL players and coaches will cast their ballots today and tomorrow. The 2012 Pro Bowl is Sunday, January 29 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Regardless of if the Patriots are still alive in the playoffs or not, don't expect any of the big name players to appear in the game. Who could blame them? However, their idiots if they skip out on a free trip to Hawaii; they just have to make up a fake injury.

UPDATE 12/23: In a classic Belichick move, Fuller was released today (he must have been awful) while defensive end Alex Silvestro and defensive back Sterling Moore were added to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That Wacky Quebec Government Is At It Again: Demands French Speaking Coach For The Montreal Canadiens

QUEBEC CITY (AP)—The Quebec government isn’t pleased about the hiring of a Montreal Canadiens coach who can’t speak French.

The province’s culture minister says she expects the Habs to correct the situation.

Christine St-Pierre isn’t quite calling for the firing of new coach Randy Cunneyworth, who was just hired over the weekend. But she says the Habs have given the impression his hiring is temporary, and she takes them at their word. The former NHL forward’s title is interim coach.

The hiring has created a frenzy of media reaction, including calls for a boycott of products associated with the Canadiens. But judging from the reaction on social-networking sites, the response of regular Montreal fans may be slightly less critical.

Identity debates like the current one occasionally place Quebec’s Liberal government in a quandary. The pro-Canada Charest government often faces pressure from its more nationalist opponents to take an aggressive stand in defending Quebec’s identity.

Critics of the hiring say the Canadiens are more than just a hockey team and, for more than a century, have been an institution that represents French-Canadian pride.

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson sent a letter to fans Monday to explain the hiring of Cunneyworth, who was elevated from his assistant coach job after Jacques Martin was fired Saturday with a 13-12-7 record.

“The action was taken to remedy the situation without further delay,” Molson wrote. “Randy Cunneyworth is a qualified and experienced coach who has earned the respect of the players and everyone within the organisation.”

Molson said language would be a factor when, at the end of the season, the team hires a permanent coach. He said finding a coach who can win is the main priority, but language ability will also count.

“It is obvious that the ability for the head coach to express himself in both French and English will be a very important factor in the selection of the permanent head coach,” he said.

One columnist Monday compared the Canadiens to Spanish soccer team Barcelona, which expects its players to learn the Catalan language and whose slogan is “More than a team.”

Francophone hockey writers are also wondering where else Quebecers can get a start in the NHL if the Canadiens won’t give them one.

They point out that most other Quebecers coaching in the NHL, including both of last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, got their start coaching the Habs.

Another common refrain heard in Montreal is that fans would be willing to support the hiring of a coach who can’t speak French if it were someone like the accomplished Mike Babcock, or local hero Kirk Muller.

The Habs have not had an only English-speaking coach since the 1970-71 season, when Al MacNeil coached them. They won a Stanley Cup that year but MacNeil had a poor relationship with some players and was demoted to the minors after the season.

A Toronto native, the 50-year-old Cunneyworth played 16 seasons in the NHL with the Sabres, Penguins, Jets, Whalers, Blackhawks and Senators, scoring 414 points in the regular season.

“I have the utmost respect for the language here and I am very aware of how important it is to try and learn the language,” he said after running his first practice. “Obviously I know a few words, and not all the good ones.”

During intermission of last night's Bruins-Canadiens game, I came across this hilarious article from the Onion, a popular satirical newspaper that pokes fun at politics, sports, and entertai...wait what? This wasn't from The Onion? It's from an actual news source. Really? Wow.

I guess nothing the Quebec government does with regards to their precious hockey team surprises me anymore. Last year, it was an all-out police investigation on Zdeno Chara for having the audacity to injure one of their deities, I mean players, in a regular season game.

Fast forward to present day.

Montreal has stumbled out of the gate to start this season, much to the dismay of every Habs fan in the province of Quebec. Naturally, when a team struggles, you have to make changes, and in the Canadiens' case, change came when they fired their head coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with Randy Cunneyworth, who could possibly turn the season around.

Wait a minute, he doesn't speak French, so fuck him.

First of all, the "culture minister" (a ridiculous title if I have ever heard one) is acting as the mouthpiece of the province when saying that she wants a French speaking coach. I mean just look at the arrogance. Montreal is "more than a hockey team." No they're not. It is this type of mentality that makes rabid fans call 911 and tie up emergency lines over a hockey play.

It is the same mentality that is taking away from Coach Cunneyworth's effort to salvage the season. Rather than discuss what he is going to do on the ice, it seems like culture minister Catherine St. Pierre and her minions are more concerned with next season, because if you don't speak French, you are clearly only an interim coach. Let's not mention the many English speaking players and fans the Habs have.

It is also the reason why the rest of the hockey community hates you. Worry more about hockey and less about the noise and maybe you can win a game or two and climb out of the Northeast Division basement.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bruins Turn Up The Heat Late, Beat Canadiens 3-2

If it's possible, tonight's Bruins-Canadiens game didn't have the requisite hype, even though Milan Lucic was suspended for the contest and Montreal had fired head coach Jacques Martin over the weekend. I blame Tim Tebow fatigue.

Whatever the case, Boston (22-9-1) got the job done at TD Garden with a 3-2 win over Montreal (13-4-7). It was the fifth straight win for the B's who took a two-point lead over idle Philadelphia for first-place in the Eastern Conference (not that we're scoreboard watching quite yet).

The victory also evened up the season series at 2-2 with a game remaining in both January and February. After losing the first two, the Bruins have captured the last two against their biggest rival.

After a few sluggish minutes to start the action, the Bruins drew first blood thanks to a fantastic play by Rich Peverley.

After the Habs iced the puck, Pevs won the faceoff forward through former Bruin Petteri Nokelainen's legs before finding Benoit Pouliot (6th of the season) in the crease. The former Hab beat Carey Price (28 saves) stick side on a shot that the Garth Brooks mask wearing goalie had no chance on at 12:13.

After a furious Bruins shift, the Habs evened the game at one as Bruin killer Michael Cammalleri found thomas Tomas Plekanic (7th of the season) down low, who buried the beautiful feed at 13:26. Travis Moen clearly hooked Patrice Bergeron in the Bruins zone to set up the odd man rush but it was to no avail.

The second period was a pretty tame one but the Bruins were able to retake the lead when David Krejci took (kicked) a pass from Andrew Ference past Price, his sixth of the year at 2:42. It was reviewed by the officials and upheld but it seemed like he kicked it in. Oh well, too close to call I guess.

One of the prettiest plays of the year was a product of the Bergeron line with 5:46 left in the third. Bergeron forced a turnover and expertly kept the puck in the Bruins' zone before finding Tyler Seguin. Seguin held the puck just long enough, pulling the defense out of position just enough to find Brad Marchand (12th of the season), who lifted a backhand past Price to extend the lead to 3-1.

Eric Cole (13th of the season) trimmed the lead to one with 1:14 left when his backhander beat Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (33 saves; 16-5-0). Montreal kept the pressure up with some tying bids but Thomas was able to stop all of them and Boston hung on for two points.

The Bruins host the Panthers on Friday, the rare Friday night game, in their last game before Christmas. Florida is still playing very well and they proved they were legit on December 8 when they blanked the B's 2-0 at the Garden.

***Game Notes***

* If I had a nickel for every time Jack Edwards said that Bergeron is the best defensive forward in hockey, I would be able to afford one of the Fenway Park 100-Year commemorative books. That is IF I wanted one.

* In somewhat of a shocker, Claude Julien inserted Daniel Paille onto the first line alongside Krejci and Nathan Horton. He has used Peverley in that same spot in the past, so it was nice to see Paille get a reward for his hard work and solid play in the past few weeks since returning from his pair of injuries.

* Joe Corvo played in his 600th career game tonight. He had four shots on goal and was a plus one. And yes, the only reason I say that is because he is on one of my fantasy teams. So what?

* Gregory Campbell returned to the lineup today after missing a few games with a foot injury and played pretty well in his first game with Zach Hamill, who has been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins.

* Before the game, I was wondering whether or not Tomas Kaberle was going to elicit any sort of reaction from the Garden faithful. I didn't hear a peep on TV when he touched the puck, telling me that the Garden crowd is going to be indifferent towards him, much like that WWE wrestler who is neither a good or a bad guy, he's just there.

* Rob Gronkowski was interviewed by Dale Arnold during the second intermission, which was every bit as awkward as you would expect. NESN had the brilliant idea of replacing Gronk's name with Christmas movie titles. Genius stuff: The Polar Express became Gronk Express, Home Alone became Gronk Alone and Elf became simply Gronk. I wish I was kidding.

* I don't necessarily agree that the Lucic hit was dirty, but you have to admit that Brandon Shanahan has been very clear in the criteria for what it means to be a suspendable hit, something that Colin Campbell (Gregory's dad) always sucked at.

Milan Lucic Suspended For One Game (Tonight), Bruins Recall Kampfer, Caron

Well Bruins haters who claim that the Black and Gold are "above the law" for their various borderline hits should be pleased today, as the NHL announced that they are suspending Milan Lucic one game (tonight vs. Montreal) for his hit on Flyers winger Zac Rinaldo.

Lucic, who has only been suspended once before, for his crosscheck to the face of Maxim Lapierre boarded Rinaldo during Saturday's 6-0 rout of the Broad St. Bullies, sparking a brawl that saw Nathan Horton dropping the gloves. Lucic was later served a five-minute major and a ten-minute major which ended his day prematurely.

It is unclear if Lucic will appeal the suspension.

Lucic, who has 24 points in 31 games this season, recently came under fire for railroading Sabres goalie Ryan Miller back on November 12. He was not suspended for the hit, which drew sharp criticism from Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff as well as the usual suspects of Bruins haters (shout out to Pat Hickey at the Montreal Gazette).

On first glance and subsequent replays, I didn't see a major problem with the hit, but I guess sending a message to a now repeat offender like Lucic is what discipline czar Shanahan is going for. At least it's only one game.

In other Bruins news, the team has announced that they have recalled Steven Kampfer and Jordan Caron once again, after sending them down to Providence on Saturday. It was a measure taken to give the healthy scratches some game action.

Gregory Campbell (foot) looks like he could be a go versus Montreal tonight, as he was one of nine bruins who participated in the Bruins morning skate. He will likely be a game-time decision.

From The Department Of Depressing News: Andre Carter Is Done For The Season

Ryan and I both alluded to it in our game recaps from yesterday's Patriots-Broncos game but now, we will write something which I'm sure New England won't confirm until after it has happened (if at all): defensive end Andre Carter is done for the season with a quad injury.

Carter's agent (as good a source as any) was quoted as saying that the left quad injury will require surgery. Then Carter tweeted "Thank you for showing me and my family support this season. It's been a blast. Wouldn't change it for anything."

As I said last night, this is a very serious injury for the Patriots defense which we all know is the worst in the NFL in terms of yardage given up per game. Carter was New England's best free agent pickup this offseason (light years ahead of Albert Haynesworth or Chad Johnson); he had 52 tackles, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass defensed through the first 13 games and looked poised to make the Pro Bowl and more importantly be a vital member of a playoff team (something he rarely experienced in his stellar career).

With 22 tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed, Mark Anderson is the player that will be used most to replace Carter's pass rush pressure. In a bigger role yesterday, Anderson delivered with his best game of the season (2 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery). The Patriots will need him to provide consistent pressure to keep quarterbacks honest. Otherwise, as usual, quarterbacks will have plenty of time to pick apart the Patriots piss poor secondary.

Rookie Markell Carter has languished all season on the practice squad so it's time to activate him and see if the raw but talented guy from a small school can do anything to help this team in the 2011 NFL playoffs when they will play better quarterbacks and better squads.

UPDATE 12/19: A source says Carter could be moved to IR as soon as Tuesday.

UPDATE 12/20: Carter went on IR today with "a leg injury" and the Pats signed defensive lineman Cedric McKinley to the practice squad. They still have a spot open on the 53-man roster with only five days before their game against Miami on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

In a somewhat surprising move, defensive end Eric Moore was released today. Another sign that Markell Carter will be added to the roster.