The Stanley Cup playoffs are two weeks old and the biggest surprise to me is the lack of scoring from both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the two best players in the game.
Neither Pittsburgh Penguins centre has a goal in the opening round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which is tied 2-2 with Game 5 tonight in Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets are outworking and outhustling the heavily favoured Penguins and that was evident in the last game in Ohio.
Let’s not kid ourselves, this is not a Columbus team stacked with all-stars but a group of hard-working, solid players who believe the Blue Jackets can win this series, and they can. Columbus is getting great goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and timely scoring from all lines forcing tonight’s showdown.
I keep hearing from national TV analysts how well Crosby and our guys played in the Olympics. Crosby scored a single goal in the competition, which featured questionable A pool teams like Norway and Austria, who are not now, nor ever will be, Olympic medal hockey threats.
It was not a gold standard Crosby-like performance in the Olympics no matter how you looked at the outcome. Most of us will agree he is the most talented player in the world, but there’s a price to pay. Genius in athletics was once described as 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent inspiration and the old axiom is as true today as it was 50 years ago.
Wednesday, the Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins 39-16 and while we like to point the blame at goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime defeat, the truth is he had been solid in this series up to the final minute when he mishandled the puck behind his net.
The Blue Jackets are getting maximum effort from every player, no passengers, and the Penguins are not.
There are lots of reasons why this series is tied, and Crosby and Malkin are right at the top of the list. It’s time for Crosby and Malkin to live up to advance billing.
The Toronto Blue Jays are about 20 games into the regular season and like all the teams in the American League East, they hover around the .500 mark. Every team in the division looks like a legit divisional contender and the pennant chase could go down to the final week of the regular season.
The Jays have the best offensive attack in the East, much better team defence than last season, and if the starting pitching holds up, they could get the job done even with mutton-headed manager John Gibbons in the dugout.
The other night, he had one of his hitters sacrifice bunt in the first inning, which only an idiot would do. In another situation in the fourth inning, he had a hitter sacrifice bunt to move a runner from second to third base with nobody out.
In the first case, a manager should never, never sacrifice bunt in the first inning. The reasoning is the pitcher may not have his best stuff that day, so why give up outs? A bunt may be advisable if you had pitchers like Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan against one another, and no runs were likely to be scored, but I haven’t seen those type of pitchers around lately.
With a man on second and nobody out, a smart manager will ask his hitter to pull the ball to the right side. If the hitter grounds out to second base the runner moves to third base, which is fine but the ball to the right side could go through for a hit, that’s even better.
As for the Red Sox, Boston was shelled 14-5 by the Yankees Thursday and that puts a smile on Yankee faces. The Bosox have five good starting pitchers and a solid bullpen, so they’ll be in the pennant chase to the end. Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy was rather surprised earlier this week when manager John Farrell yanked a right-handed hitter, who hit a home run in his previous at bat against a left-handed pitcher with another lefty on the mound.
Farrell was up to his old tricks. He attempted a stolen base and the runner was thrown out while trailing at Fenway Park with the meat of the order coming up. I’m convinced divine intervention played a role in the Red Sox win last year with Farrell as manager. As for Gibbons, he needs a witch doctor.
The Avondale Golf Course opens Thursday and the course is in good early season condition, especially the greens. I walked the course this past Wednesday with owner Wendell MacEachern and could hardly believe how well the course wintered.
In golf news from Florida, the annual return back to Prince Edward Island tournament at one of the south Florida courses featured a big Island cast, including former P.E.I. amateur champions Danny MacIsaac and George Rogers, as well as Al Stewart, who would like to be Island champion, and harness racing Hall of Fame inductee Wally Hennessey among others. The trophy presentation went to Neil MacFadyen and Rabs MacDonald, who won by open lengths as they say in the race game. That’s what I call a champs-to-chumps story.
Souris native Joe O’Keefe is back from a week’s vacation in Florida and he played four rounds down south getting ready for the opener at Countryview. It takes most golfers three hours to play 18 holes, but if you’re playing with Joe, I’d advise packing a lunch. Slow Joe takes five-plus hours, if he’s not in the woods.
The opening card of the Island harness racing season gets underway tonight at 6 p.m. at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
The feature attraction on the 10-dash card is the $2,000 open class in Race 9 with horses like General Simba, Every Day, Blue Meadow Willie, Tempo Seelster, Blu Star Outlaw, Miracle Matts and Cambest Kisser.
There’s plenty of simulcast action available at the city track as racing from Yonkers, N.Y., The Meadowlands, Pocono and Woodbine is available. The $567,000 levy final goes at Yonkers where Foiled Again and Burke-entry Betters Edge are less than even money in the feature. Others include P H Supercam, Dancin Yankee, Apprentice Hanover (Jody Jamieson) and three others.
At The Meadowlands, the $30,000 preferred class has aged standout Golden Receiver, All Star Legend, Dovuto Hanover (Scott Zeron) and three others.
At Pocono, former Gold Cup and Saucer winners Eighteen and Hillbilly Hanover are in action. Mark MacDonald handles Eighteen in the $25,000 feature while Hillbilly Hanover (Brett Miller), Sparky Mark (Simon Allard) and Feel Like a Fool (Mark MacDonald) look like the best in the $21,000 co-feature.
At Woodbine tonight, the $34,000 open pace has Modern Legend (James MacDonald) against Thinking Out Loud, Cougar Hall and four others.
At Pocono Tuesday night, Untouchable One stepped to a new lifetime best of 1:50:4 in winning an overnight event. Untouchable One (by Carlspur) campaigned here last year for the Dooley Stable.
The local harness racing scene lost a longtime owner, trainer and breeder with the passing earlier this week of Gerry Evans, who co-owned numerous horses with longtime friends like Ian Smith and Doug Roloson. He was a great gentleman with a dry sense of humour and always positive. To all connected, my condolences.
In addition, sad news from Ontario with the passing of Glydon Willis, originally from Kingston, P.E.I. In the late 1980s Glydon trained and owned horses with his brothers Mel, Orville and H.B. right here at the city track. He was a very knowledgeable horseman and a gentleman. Fifty-five years ago this month, Glydon won the open at Sportsman Park, Chicago with a horse called Bosco Rosco for the Clearview Stables. Losing two gents like Gerry and Glydon is not the way one wants to start a new harness racing season. I have fond memories of both of them.
Fred MacDonald's column appears
in The Guardian each Saturday. He can
be reached at email@example.com.