As is the case with most things in life, the Devils' dispiriting performance against the Flyers was much easier to predict in retrospect. Afternoon games have long been the bane of the franchise's existence, and heading into the most unforgiving of environment for their first road game of the season while shorthanded (without Zajac, Lovejoy) only made that trend all the more likely to continue. Add in the fact that the Flyers, despite all their failures, have proven capable of offsetting the offensive excellence of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri when they have the benefit of the last change, and a second straight loss wasn't a totally shocking outcome.
I say none of that to let them off the hook, for my eyes are still recovering from what was their most unsightly showing of the season, but to bring some perspective to a game they played the vast majority of with five defensemen after Steve Santini's stint in the lineup lasted mere minutes before he left with a broken jaw.
The truth is, the Devils' execution was about as god awful as their face-off percentage, but the same can't exactly be said about their effort. The Flyers had about as many shots on goal as they did powerplays halfway through the game, so at the very least New Jersey was dominant in damage control...
When you're sacrificing your body at such an alarming rate it typically means you're trying, and the Devils - led by the black and blues of Andy Greene - did just that in attempting to make up for their inability to create any offense whatsoever or stay the hell out of the penalty box (the latter being an extremely discouraging recurring theme just six games into the season).
That effort, however, was just a step slow in almost every other facet of yesterday's game. I hate to do it to Nico Hischier, because he almost always makes up for his slight stature in working his balls off in his own end. Unfortunately, his half-second of air-headedness that allowed Nolan Patrick to make a weak case that he's anywhere near as good as the player selected ahead of him in the draft is the perfect example of the lack of focus and was much fewer and further between during the Devils' 4-game win streak...
As Brian Boyle was quick to note, there's no room for complacency as the Devils' talent level doesn't allow them much margin for error...
That's especially true when that error is as inexcusable as getting caught flatfooted in allowing a 2-on-1 while mere minutes away from picking up a (largely undeserved) point...
The most noteworthy positives of yesterday's game were that Pavel Zacha, the first round pick who is still looking for his first point, was incredibly active defensively, and that the second powerplay unit finally got on the board with Damon Severson's first man-advantage tally in 546 minutes of trying...
I say that to that to say this. Even a desperate search for the good in their game returned bad reminders, which is perfectly fitting of a performance that made Philadelphia look a lot better than they've been prior to yesterday.
There's no reason to overreact as they are still 4-2 and circumstances certainly didn't help their cause yesterday, but it would be nice if they end the series of hot and cold streaks that made last season a bi-polar test of my blood pressure. It's encouraging that their coach knows exactly how important it is nip it in the bud, so hopefully heed is taken to his words during what is sure to be a couple loud practices prior to their game against Nashville.
I know the Adam Silver and the rest of the Association’s associates don’t want to hear this (or will never admit as much out loud), but this fight - from it’s instigation, to its circumstances, to its participants, to its bystanders - is what makes professional basketball the best. In a fashion that was almost stereotypically soap opera-esque, the NBA announced its arrival no more than 5 days into the season with a moment of high drama that featured some of the sports’ biggest names, and - despite it having absolutely nothing to do with putting a ball in a hoop - its most loyal fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Partially due to the impending suspensions, those fisticuffs have way more staying power as a storyline (more accurately, storylines) than any ankle-breaking buzzer-beater. So with that said, let’s start hashing out some of the most intriguing narratives…
The fuse lighter: This being sparked by Brandon Ingram, of all people, when you could have went through the active rosters and picked a dozen candidates more likely to set off some fireworks is emblematic of the frustration a defensive player must feel when going against the Rockets. The impetus behind what was an otherwise a completely unprovoked shove simply had to be the same type of pissed off that a fan might feel when rooting against either James Harden or Chris Paul as they flounder and flop their way to the foul line. Not sure that the general annoyance caused by trying to guard the unguardable calls for a Superman sucker punch, but the push in the back felt like a flagrant attempt at earning the fouls he had already received.
The peacemaker: If you were writing an NBA fan fiction with the premise being that the Lakers and Rockets forgot what decade they were playing in and started hurling haymakers than you’d probably have Lance Stephenson dropping from the rafters with a flying clothesline, as opposed to coming within 50 yards of breaking it up. In what was a pretty surreal scene, the league’s most enticing enigma turning into a problem solver in a time of need would somehow be the aspect of this altercation you’d most have to see to believe.
The fighters: That fight was basically the hate equivalent of every love story that takes far too many seasons to come to fruition in long-running television shows. Like, think Ross and Rachel, but as Enemies that loathed each others’ existence while ignoring that their only differences were skin-deep. It being Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo who came to blows was only shocking in the sense that anyone that’s watched them for any extended period of time had grown tired of expecting it. In essence, that mush and the principled reaction it drew was a decade in the making...
ESPN was very diplomatic about it in calling them both “highly competitive” players, but - while they very much are - what had them breaking the “let me at ‘em” mold of most NBA mix-ups was them both being super petty, shit-stirring pricks (and I say in the most complimentary way possible). Chris Paul making nothing out of something as it pertains to this unseen “spit” he swears he wore and Rajon Rondo punching when prodded regardless of circumstance are everything we’ve ever known about their on-court personalities all encapsulated in a perfect storm of an episode that might come to define them as divisive dickheads.
Carmelo Anthony, the innocent accomplice: In a way that only Carmelo Anthony could, he may have unintentionally made things approximately 1,000x times worse just by standing there and doing absolutely nothing. There’s reason to believe his saliva accidentally greased the wheels of this grievance in having it roll full-speed ahead into an aggressive and overdue grudge match. Him being certain that there was definitely spit without realizing that it was actually run-off from his mouth would be the most elaborate metaphor for the career of a stubborn star player whose self-awareness has always left a lot to be desired.
LeBron James, friend or foe?: LeBron James, The King…of having his intentions questioned. I totally understand him honoring a friendship that’s aged more than the wine it consumes, but LeBron James sure does have a way of doing the right thing in a fashion that makes you say “oh, he’s wrong for that…”. You don't go to Los Angeles to make new friends, you go to make new profitable business associates. Therefore, it makes a hell of a lot of sense that even LABron would grab his Banana Boat brother as opposed to his tumultuous teammate of less than a week. Still, walking away with his arm draped over CP3’s shoulders as if were comforting him after the death of his puppy is just enough non-Laker loyalty to remind some fans that he's not Kobe.
Family Feud: Hear me out, it's just like the gameshow....but in an octagon.
All in all, I think the NBA is obligated to consider this a bad look for itself and come down hard as a result, but if they were disclosing in full then they'd have to acknowledge that the fact that you can look at a five second fight half-a-dozen hilarious ways is symbolic of how much more they've become than just the predominant basketball league in the world. The Association very much profits off being a personality-driven reality show, and some of the strongest ones took center stage in a way that will be continue to be fascinating long after it's forgotten that it wasn't exactly family friendly.
Josh Jackson Celebrated A Devin Booker Made Three Pointer By Casually Slapping Mavs' Dorian Finney-Smith Right On The Ass
Preposterous. Just absolutely, positively preposterous in almost every sense of the word. Josh Jackson slapping a grown ass man, who had just had the best gotten of him defensively, on the backside is such wildly inconceivable behavior that it didn't even appear to register with the victim of the emasculation that he had just been emasculated. I don't know what was going Dorian Finney-Smith's mind as he felt a swift palm firmly cup his butt-cheek, but something tells me he didn't react because he had immediately removed all Suns' players from his list of suspects due to the unabashedly outrageousness of forcefully touching an opponent's ass unannounced. Realistically, that hand could have belonged to no one other than Josh Jackson, but - if only because I wouldn't have believed that to be the case if I didn't see it with my own two eyes - I totally understand Dorian Finney-Smith going on with the game as if he must have imagined the spanking he received in front of of his own team and tens of thousands of fans.
Luckily for him, it wasn't even the most noticeable swat that Josh Jackson aggressively and unexpectedly delivered from behind on the evening...
Sixers Fans Offered Markelle Fultz A Massive Round Of Applause On A Banner Night In Which He Finally Made His First 3-Pointer
Shockingly, I say this without a semblance of sarcasm, but I'm actually proud of the Philadelphia faithful. That ovation didn't, in any way, seem to be a self-loathing show of mockery aimed at Markelle Fultz. Sixers fans appeared to be genuinely happy for a first overall pick who is still pretty fearful of the most fundamental aspect of basketball a year and change after their anonymous and overactive internet troll of a disgraced former GM objectively overpaid for his services. Granted, they sort of have to support him after how much trust they've invested in 'The Process' over the years. Still, being more famous for destroying their own city in celebration than they are for showing anything that might be mistaken as understanding, Philadelphia has acted impressively out of character in regards to a kid whose struggles with confidence are, with all due respect, basically that of a sixth grader.
That said, I'm not so sure that the best way to aide in Markelle Fultz' fluidity from the floor, and specifically from behind the arc, is to audibly live and die with each jumper. Like, it kinda seems like putting far too much pressure on himself is a big part of the problem, so maybe now that the first one is out of the way they can bring their applause down from raucous to run-of-the-mill. I too hope the best for him as a promising young player, but treating him like he's one of the guys instead of a part of the 'Make A Wish' program is probably a better way to preserve whatever delicate balance exists in his brain during the rare instances in which he lines up to shoot a basketball from distance.
Ted Ginn Has Placed On The IR, Which Is Bad News That's A Couple Weeks Removed From Being Worse News
Ah, further proof that timing is everything. Not that there is ever a great time for a veteran playmaker at a position that lacks defined depth to hit the IR unexpectedly, but there can be better times. For instance, this news would have been much worse if it came a couple weeks ago when Tre'Quan Smith's potential was very much untapped and Cameron Meredith was still a question mark as a guy whose serious knee injuries and unfamiliarity with the offense kept him inactive throughout the first few weeks of the season. Not that one encouraging performance against a Washington secondary who looked to have hit Bourbon Street a little too hard during Happy Hour makes them proven commodities, but at least there's a comfort level between them and their quarterback after discouraging starts to the season.
The truth is, Ted Ginn was very much a "given" opposite Michael Thomas in theory only, as the times in which he wasn't proving why he's the league-wide punchline to every joke about dropped passes are the times in which he displayed a clear lack of chemistry with Drew Brees. If he wasn't in Sean Payton's doghouse then he was damn near beating down the door after bobbling a kick at the one yard line in the final minutes of a game against the Giants that was still in doubt, so it's not like he was figuring as vital to the offense as he was last season.
It's obviously better to have his field-stretching services available than to not, but - if the first five games were any indication - then his presence shouldn't be felt too profoundly from a production standpoint. As far as go-to weapons are concerned, the Saints are especially all set with the somewhat seamless return of Mark Ingram. It's those few plays a game they'll need to keep defenses somewhat honest in trying helplessly to guard Mike or cover Kamara, and - in retrospect - Tre'Quan Smith and Cameron Meredith picked a damn good time to show they are least capable of providing them.
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I suppose it was a matter of time before it caught up to them. If only because the start to their season was nothing short of stellar, the Devils play has been trending in the wrong direction as of late. That might seem like a weird thing to say about what was the last remaining undefeated team in the league prior to last night, but Keith Kinkaid and quality puck luck were quite helpful in covering up any holes in their game. Of course, neither the former (Kinks played well) or the latter (Boyle's ankle put them ahead in the 3rd) worked against them last night, which really speaks to how undisciplined - in play and penalties - they were throughout a contest that, score aside, predominantly felt like an uphill battle.
The beauty of starting 4-0, as opposed to 2-2 or the like, is that coming away from a game you led halfway through the 3rd period can be viewed as a reality check instead of an abject disaster. Not to overreact, but the Devils probably needed to leave the ice looking at a scoreboard that reflected a relatively ugly effort as they head outside the friendly confines of the Prudential Center for the first time all season.
I suppose shutting down superstar after superstar wasn't a habit that had all that much staying power for a defense that doesn't have much firepower, but the Landeskog-McKinnon-Rantanen line gave them an undeniable reminder of the consistency and structure they need to play with to control the damage done by the more dominant offensive players in the league. Sometimes you have to tip your cap (or in Gabriel Landeskog's case, throw your hat) to the talent, but - contrary to what the game-winning goal might have you believe - you don't have to trip all over yourself in awe of it.
As far as specific players are concerned, it's the one that wasn't on the ice when it was at its most tilted that is easily the biggest story. It's probably not much of a coincidence that the (potentially prolonged) absence of Travis Zajac coincided with a sloppy second and a disappointing third, as him being at the top of his game at both ends of the ice has been a huge boost in having the Devils a step ahead coming out of the gates. His injury certainly looked like the type whose recovery would require a hell of a lot more than an ice pack, but fingers crossed it's not as long term as it appeared, as he's about as irreplaceable in the lineup as his dumbass detractors think he is replaceable in the lineup.
To end on a positive note, the Devils' first two goals, that not-so-coincidentally came off the sticks of those who were far overdue for them, were gorgeous displays of the type of puck movement that this franchise wouldn't even dare dream of just a few short years ago. Both Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall capped off passing plays that just make you sit back, smile, and appreciate the trajectory of the team's talent, even having come on a night when it didn't put forth its peak performance.
To be honest, this is a little weird. Not weird enough for me to instinctually respond to it with a raised eyebrow instead of a couple moisture wicking blinks, but still kind of weird. I appreciate both the superstition of it, as well as the brotherhood that two star players were able to form during their time together on the Raptors. Still, it gave me The Sixth Man vibes, before I quickly reminded myself that DeMar DeRozan is, in fact, very much alive. He's not dead, or even physically ill for that matter. He's just happens to be playing basketball in San Antonio for the time being.
I don't want to speak for Kyle Lowry's teammates here, especially since the teammate who caused this heartbreaking split doesn't even speak, but I bet a couple of them were giving the side-eye to their point guard as he was dapping up the oxygen formerly occupied by DeMar DeRozan. Keeping an imaginary friend within reach probably provides him a more fulfilling off-court relationship than anything Kawhi Leonard is able to offer, but it's still as weird as it is woeful for Kyle Lowry to miss his running mate that much with the existence of things like technology and an offseason...that was far too familiar in length.
The NBA Plans To Offer Spots In The G League, Complete With $125K Salaries, To Players Who Would Otherwise Be One-And-Done's
In theory? This changes almost everything. Extremely talented kids, who would otherwise have their athletic abilities financially exploited in exchange for the ruse of a payment that is free tuition, having the opportunity to get paid far more than a livable wage to play while also developing into more well-rounded professional prospects appears to provide a solution to most, if not all, of the problematic issues wth the NCAA.
In execution, however, it probably changes closer to nothing...
As much as people hate the NCAA, they love themselves some college basketball. For the players that are hopeful, if not certain, of making a hell of a lot more than slightly above six figures on an NBA rookie contract in a year's time, there is a value in being seen by as many eyeballs as possible and that value more than likely far exceeds $125,000. Those are really the only players worth talking about here, because they are the only players whose absence would get the NCAA's attention.
Theoretically, it should be easier to fix a system so flawed, but the truth is that the NCAA has remained so stubborn in making any type of concessions as an objectively awful governing body because, in a lot of ways, they are a necessary evil. Until the high school stars that shine the brightest are allowed to jump straight into the NBA, there's just very little that can be done to give the prospects that move the needle a more alluring alternative to the exposure of high level college ball, and all that it's able to influence (e.g. draft stock).
In essence, there is still a huge draw to being the big man on campus, even if said campus is making money off your presence on it. It speaks to how laughable it is to consider college basketball "amateur athletics", but the G League doesn't even come remotely close to matching the prestige of the NCAA and, be it legally, illegally, immediately, or eventually, that prestige often equals profit for all parties involved. Even if the parties that matter the most unquestionably profit the least.
Sigh, I suppose it was only a matter of time. That thanklessly faithful biological clock ticks for us all, and that's especially true for someone who's had about a dozen surgeries on a body that was once capable of things that no human bone structure could possibly be expected to hold up to. Yesterday was a day that many basketball fans, myself included, blissfully ignored the inevitability of, but it's one in which Father Time took the freakish form of Jarrett Allen in authoritatively thwarting us back to reality that the Blake Griffin that jumped over cars (albeit the hood of compact ones) is no more. The biracial beast whose dunks were difficult to fit on a uniformly-sized poster due to both the distance from which he leapt and the height with which he soared over those he was posterizing is but a fond, fond memory.
Fortunately, he's a still a versatile, All-Star caliber athlete that can play the game of basketball at a high level and in a fashion that many his stature can't...
...but that fact doesn't quite matter all that much when talking about the humbling of the once unstoppable attacker of any and all baskets. The timestamp on that block might as well be midnight, because -after ticking in that direction for a few seasons now - that's what the clock struck on Blake Griffin's days as an irreproachable rim-rocker when the hammer got brought down on a familiar attempt at emasculation. It happens to the best of us, and - when it comes to devastating dunks - Blake Griffin was certainly that...
A little sore? A LITTLE SORE?!? After approximately 36 hours of the type of painstaking silence that'll lead you to believe the result of your precautionary STD test is HIV positive, I was half expecting him to have already undergone a Frankensteinien (shoutout Doc Emrick) upper body replacement surgery.
Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that the player who has been poised beyond his years in quarterbacking the Devils' powerplay from his first day on the job and is blossoming into a quality top-4 defenseman is good to go. I just think a little reassurance that our eyes were lying to us would have been nice. I didn't need a full diagnosis, but maybe a heads up that Will Butcher's rotator cuff is still rotating as opposed to keeping me emotionally cuffed by the worst case scenario? Perhaps a postgame wave to the crowd, or literally anything other than leaving a very fragile fanbase in the lurch?
After the way he skated off the ice with one arm dragging ass and the other pinned tightly to his body, you could have convinced me that Will Butcher wouldn't be able to raise his hands in celebration of a perfectly placed assist on a Kyle Palmieri one-timer for the foreseeable future, never mind play two nights later. I didn't need an MD to tell me that stunned skate to the locker room looked bad, but I could have benefited from one prescribing me something stiff to take the edge off since Tuesday night.
I'm glad the Devils' first loss of the season wasn't of their most promising puck mover. While being an absolute revelation thus far, their defense is much like their fanbase was after watching Butchy take a spill in being 6-deep. It might as well come with a Kardashian disclaimer in that it's visually appealing now, but it's what you don't currently have to see that's loathsome. So, Willie baby, don't go scaring us like that again, okay?!?
To Have A Problem With The Mike Matheson Suspension Is To Have A Complete Misunderstanding Of How Punishments Work
In knowing that who I'm scolding is the vocal minority, I must say that I'm not surprised. I'm just...disappointed. To think that there are actually people primarily concerned with maintaining some antiquated definition of "toughness" as hockey has gotten more and more entertaining with the influx of young kids with superior skill playing at a much more fluid pace that allows for the type of awe-inspiring moves that...well...put Mike Matheson's ankles in a blender is a real let down.
To be clear, I don't think the follow through on the hit in question was as bad as it looked. It certainly wasn't necessary, or a hockey play, or really anything other than a overreaction to being put in the spin cycle by a teenager, but not all that bad nonetheless. Unfortunately the result, being the type of head injury that leaves a player susceptible to more head injuries that over time have proven to have a deteriorating effect on their quality of life, absolutely was.
Hockey is a violent sport, and as such concussions can be an occupational hazard of signing up to play it professionally, but - seeing as we're not talking about some beer league - they definitely shouldn't be an occupational hazard of making someone look stupid with a slippery move in the corner. Mike Matheson wasn't finishing his check when he flung Elias Pettersson to the ice. The check was already completed. What he was doing was finishing his tantrum. Retaliation, especially that which comes as a response to nothing more than hurt feelings, is not a sign of physical toughness. If anything, it's a sign of mental weakness. Acting on behalf of one's bruised ego might be a time honored tradition in highly competitive sports, but so was actively ignoring the tragic toll taken by repetitive blows to the head and I think we've (finally) come to the conclusion that's one we can do without.
You run a red light, you get a ticket. You run a red light and get into an accident, you get a more substantial ticket and higher insurance rate. You run a red light and get into an accident that kills another driver, you better hope you have a suspiciously strong grip on soap. In almost every walk of life, results determine discipline. To believe the NHL should be different solely because it used to be different is just as stupid as continuing to use a Walkman because that's the way you used to listen to music.
Look, if Elias Pettersson had the body of a man then we probably aren't taking about this play as anything more than a missed minor penalty, but to think the solution is to ban boys from the NHL is to be comically ignorant of the state of the league. A significant chunk of the players that people will pay to watch are better off using their trading card to get into a bar, because the date on their ID's ain't making the cut. To put it bluntly, the Mike Matheson's of the world aren't putting one single ass in one single seat. Two games might seem like a lot for the act in and of itself, but - as a reminder that you accept the risk of the result when you play on the edge of the rules - it's a small price to pay for unintentionally diminishing the viewing experience of fans that have been swoon by the skill-set of Elias Pettersson.
Connor McDavid Broke The Type Of Record That Must Make Him Feel Like Beating His Head Against A Wall, As He Had A Point On The Oilers First 9 Goals Of The Season
In its entirety, last night was a great one for both Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Another record, achieved in familiarly freakish fashion, for the former in helping the latter come from three back in the third to take a Western Conference powerhouse to an overtime period during which they ultimately prevailed. Nothing not to like about that, until you consider that the only way to factor in on 9 straight goals, spanning four full games, is to play on a team that is basically allergic to scoring without your services...
It's obviously fun to joke about the rest of the Oilers being passengers on the jets that their captain wears on his feet, but through four games three of their lines haven't exactly done anything to help navigate the turbulence of another mediocre start. Hell, if anything, they've just been pressing the panic button in hopes that their savior could successfully put it in auto-pilot while repairing whatever damage they'd done.
Consider the typical ebbs and flows of an NHL game, and it's almost unfathomable that someone other than Connor McDavid hadn't accidentally banked in a puck off the ass of a teammate not named Connor McDavid until Darnell Nurse, while appearing to search desperately for Connor McDavid, hesitantly went end-to-end in bringing an end to the most bittersweet of record-breaking streaks...
We're only four games not the season, so it's entirely inconceivable that the Oilers find their footing and prove to be a bit deeper than the face of their franchise. However, for a team whose depth was in question in September, early October hasn't quite quelled any concerns. In fact, all it's really done is make sense of why Connor McDavid chose to do the previously unthinkable in ditching the cliches and publicly lending his support to the use of cannabis for pain management. You'd look for a little reefer-related relief too if you were tasked with carrying an entire organization on your back during each implausibly electric rush down the ice...
"I say this more talking about the CBD side of it, obviously: You'd be stupid not to at least look into it," Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "When your body's sore like it is sometimes, you don't want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time. There's obviously better ways to do it. ... You're seeing a lot of smart guys look into it. You're seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it. If all the boxes are checked there and it's safe and everything like that, then I think you would maybe hear them out." (h/t TSN)
The Astros Were Potentially Caught Cheating, By Way Of A Sign-Snapping Weasel, During Game 1 Of The ALCS
Metro- Whatever the Houston Astros were trying to do at Fenway Park during Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night, they got caught.
In the third inning of the first game of the series, security removed a man claiming to be an Astros employee from the media-credentialed area next to the Boston Red Sox dugout, according to multiple security sources who were on the scene at the time of the incident. The man had a small camera and was texting frequently, but did not have a media credential.
After the man was removed another Astros staffer intervened - according to sources who were on the scene - and tried to convince security that he was authorized to be in the area next to the dugout. The man was not allowed back into the credentialed area, but was allowed to remain in the ballpark.
Security sources say they had been warned about the man, because of some suspicious activity in Houston’s ALDS series against the Cleveland Indians. It’s unclear as to whether or not that warning came from Major League Baseball or the Red Sox.
MLB Chief Communications Officer Pat Courtney acknowledged Saturday night’s incident in an email on Tuesday afternoon, saying, “We are aware of the matter and it will be handled internally.”
Some say if you aren't cheating than you aren't trying, but even those people would have to admit that if you're going to try cheating then you should at least give it (excuse the oxymoronic terminology) an honest effort.
From what I understand about sign stealing, it's something just about every team does to varying degrees, and about a dozen times a season (particularly around the postseason) someone gets caught and it's a story for approximately one afternoon. Still, there is an honor among thieves, and by sticking some obnoxiously conspicuous asshole in the press area to take more pics than a teenage girl at a Taylor Swift concert in between texting as frivolously as she might in making her group chat totally jelly breaks that unspoken code. Professional baseball leaves far too many loopholes to expect everyone to always play it the right way, but if you're going to rob the game of its integrity then at least pull on a proverbial ski-mask first.
Hell if I care that Astros authorized an employee/"consultant" to gain a slight competitive advantage, although it does seem extravagantly amateur. I am more offended that they didn't even have the decency to fill the role with someone other than a guy who is only a fur skin-suit away from being able to audition as Splinter in the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles retread. If Kyle McLaughlin wasn't first outed as a rat with a hairline that's receding faster than his reputation then he would have been outed as the worst type of fan, which is not what you want out of someone who's trying to go undetected.
Honestly, as the reigning World Series champs, I just expected better of Houston, and by that I don't mean I expected them to fully follow the rules but rather to be at least remotely subtle in breaking them.
SOS: The Stars Were In Over Their Heads As Kyle Palmieri And Keith Kinkaid Stayed Hot To Keep The Devils Undefeated
Maintaining a blemish-free record this far into the season for the first time in 23 years is a nice little footnote, but historical feats - as obscure as they may be - take precedence and Kyle Palmieri has blasted his way into a (somewhat random) league of his own...
I'm not ready to start pacing out season-long stats in mid-October, as the seven goals we've seen come off his stick (or skate) in the last four games is the most torrid example of what Kyle Palmieri tends to do, which is go streaking like his ass is on fire. However, health pending, you can safely pencil him in for 30+ and gnaw off the eraser, because he was looking this good last September before injuries almost immediately derailed his season. Eventually his linemates will start cashing in on their absurd amount of chances and spread around the scoring wealth, but it's definitely nice to see Kyle Palmieri get the opportunity to hit the ground running in record-setting fashion on a top line with which the chemistry is undeniable.
As for the game in which that record was set, a three goal differential probably doesn't tell the whole story. That's due, in large part, to the fact that Keith Kinkaid took it upon himself to pen the final chapter with point-blank save after point-blank save, but it's also because the Devils are currently getting the bounces needed to win with consistency in a league as fickle and unpredictable as the NHL. Not to kill everyone's buzz, but Jason Spezza missed a wide open net on a breakaway, a loose puck appeared to have a mind of its own as it danced through the crease and over the awaiting sticks of both Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin almost broke the damn post, and Nico Hischier literally fell ass-backwards into stopping a sure goal. The line between cause and effect is blurred, but the hockey gods have a way of working in your favor when you're playing well as a team so it's to the Devils credit that they've full taken advantage of their mercy.
Now, the main reason why that advantage has, more often than not, been a comfortable one is Keith Kinkaid. He's been far better than anyone could have hoped for. I figured him to be a highly capable stand-in for Schneider, but he's been much, much more than that in proving that the second half of last season was no fluke. I'd imagine it being due to an improvement in positioning, but he's started making difficult saves look casual in a way that's reminiscent of the guy whose crease he's co-opted. He hasn't stood on his head as much as the numbers make it seem, but that's as much due to him looking as though he's relying less on his athleticism as much as it's due to a defense that's playing within well themselves.
If only because of the Devils' decisively dumbass puck management in the final minutes, Keith Kinkaid earned every second of last night's shutout and he's earned every ounce of trust among his teammates. To put it in his language, to start a contract year he's been...
Amazingly enough, so has a defense that, despite not being all that talented, is performing well above the standard set by the rest of a league that appears to have forgotten the meaning. Great goaltending certainly helps, but the Devils have gone against some of the most intimidating talents the NHL has to offer throughout their first four games, and it's been rare that they've looked overwhelmed in doing so. Without much flash or finesse, their blue line has quietly put up far more points than they've allowed, which is certainly something to hang their hat on considering both the level of competition and the amount of times they've been put at odds by stupid penalties.
Of course, Ray Shero's latest pluck from his Pittsburgh pipeline deserves a tip of the cap after notching his third goal in as many games. In the later years of Lou Lamoniello's tenure in New Jersey, familiarity typically bred contempt, as a blind loyalty to players he knew turned the Devils into the NHL equivalent of a nursing home. With Ray Shero, familiarity has bred bottom six beauties, as Jean Sebastien Dea has basically gone about his business as a right handed Brian Gibbons in immediately adding depth scoring. I don't know that we should expect him to visit the back bar like he knows the tender all that often, but - much like almost everyone Ray Shero has brought along with him - he certainly fits the system.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn't the most ridiculous moment of last night's game, which somehow wasn't Anton Khudobin waving hopelessly for his teammates to get a stoppage so he could replace his broken stick, bur rather Taylor Hall intentionally flipping an opportunity for a lengthy 5-on-3 powerplay over the boards to earn himself a 'Delay Of Game' call. The reigning MVP has about 500 miles of leeway after last season, so I don't think I'm allowed to single out anything he's done less spectacularly until at least the All Star break, but playing dumb after making a...umm...less than smart play was absolutely hilarious in retrospect. Mostly because it barely served as a tap of the brake pedal as the Devils have continued rolling...
Now everyone put in some QT with your rabbit's foot as the status of Will Butcher and his shoulder(?) doesn't look like it'll be made available until tomorrow.
Justin Hardee Gave The Ball From His 1st Career Interception To Marshon Lattimore For Helping Mentor Him In His Transition From College Receiver To Capable NFL Corner
Other than being a heartwarming moment between two guys that, despite being on polar opposite ends of the job security spectrum, spent all summer competing to make each other better, that exchange was a sign of just how cohesive the Saints' culture has become in recent years.
If only due to his low-key demeanor in front of the the camera, Marshon Lattimore would be a guy I'd assume to be somewhat standoffish in quietly and confidently going about his own business. That assumption would obviously be wrong, as it was him that apparently spent enough time mentoring and molding a college wide receiver into a competent NFL corner to be deemed worthy of the ball that, due to his guidance, was picked off in his absence. As far as God-given gifts are concerned, you might not find two players on the team, never mind in the secondary, with a bigger talent disparity than the reigning DROY in Marshon Lattimore and a fringe special teamer in Justin Hardee. Therefore, if even the smallest seed of doubt existed in regards to the perceived kinship that exists up and down a young roster then it just got buried in the trash by that bro hug.
In theory, the great teams are the ones in which the best players make everyone better. As any Saints' fan that started holding their breath when they saw Justin Hardee in man coverage against the Redskins can attest, that's evidently been put into practice in New Orleans...
Will Butcher Says He's Never Known Keith Kinkaid As Anything Other Than The Devils' Starting Goalie, A Comment That Will Surely Be Overreacted To
Will, no. Will, why? Will...you please choose your words more carefully?!?
I got to say, the soft spoken twenty-three year old defenseman really Butcher'd that response, as I didn't expect him to be the first person to publicly make mention of what's proving, in all the best ways, to be an inevitable goaltending controversy. I was quite enjoying watching Keith Kinkaid pick up where he left off at the end last season in not-so-quietly taking command of the crease while Cory Schneider was still physically exempt from competing for it.
A fanbase that, like most, loves bickering on behalf of the back-up was eventually going to have its panties bunched by the return of a player who is, at least theoretically, superior in skill and inferior in availability. Amongst fans that have absolutely been made spoiled by two decades of the type of dominant goaltending that gets immortalized in bronze in the middle of their route to the arena, nothing has proven more polarizing than who is between the pipes as of late. That's totally fair, as Cory Schneider's brilliant relief performance in the postseason was largely a standalone success during a season that was as discouraging as his team's was encouraging. Going under the knife at the end of it certainly hasn't comforted anyone's concerns about a foreseeable future in which he's still bound by contact, but I was really, really hoping to put off the circular debate revolving around what they should do with someone who could range almost anywhere between a top 5 goalie and a bottom 5 goalie in the league when healthy as long as humanly possible.
To be fair, Will Butcher is absolutely right in his assessment that Keith Kinkaid has primarily served as a consistently improving last line of defense during a majority of his most memorable moments throughout the past year and change, but he's oh-so-wrong in his timing of a statement that might as well serve as a quick fix to a fanbase that's currently going through worry withdrawals after a 3-0 start. The optimism surrounding this team, as currently constructed, is palpable and the only thing that could ruin it is rehashing a redundant argument about a question that will, sooner or later, get answered on the ice anyway.
Given his early season excellence, it's definitely Keith Kinkaid's net until his play proves otherwise. I'm certain that everyone in that locker room understands that, which is really all that matters. Still, just about the last thing Devils' fans need offered to them is an avenue to discredit someone like Cory Schneider, who is probably not going anywhere anytime soon after gracefully spending far too much time as the lone bright spot on the bleakest of rosters.
Six Games Into The First Season Of His Ten Year Deal, Jon Gruden Has Already Inspired 'IsGrudenGoneYet.com', A Website Dedicated To The Dumbest Contract In Sports
I suppose there is an alternative universe in which, over the course of the next 9 years, 13 weeks, 1 day, 23 hours, 45 minutes, and 45 seconds, Jon Gruden manages to right a renegade ship that slowly but surely started sinking as soon as he got on board. Much like the straight-forward web designer of IsGrudenGoneYet.com, I'm the furthest thing from confident that he will. In fact, the only reason I even mention it as a slight possibility is to give just a little bit of hope to Raiders' fans that are already prepping to resign themselves to the purgatory of football fandom.
What we're witnessing in Oakland (and eventually Las Vegas) is basically the sports' equivalent of a marriage pact come to fruition, except it's not between two lifelong friends, but rather between long-lost exes with unresolved issues and drastic differences in opinion that have drifted even further apart over time. Much like almost every relationship retread, Jon Gruden's return to the Raiders was never, ever going to work, but it's still pretty damn shocking how quickly the honeymoon period went to hell in a hand basket.
Of course, it makes quite a bit of sense when you consider that his first act was foolishly trading away the most disruptive defensive force in the league for future considerations when the only future that his aging roster was considering is retirement. Nonetheless, to have your tenure grow so tiresome in six weeks time that a fan of your team has already taken the steps necessary to help his peers count down every single tick of 9+ years is incompetence at it's most impressive. $92 million and change left to be paid out, and the brutes of The Black Hole are already ready to throw the man who is due it down it.
You could undergo three separate rebuilds in 9 years time, as it's an eternity by NFL standards, so it's not entirely fair to consider Jon Gruden's contract a lost cause. Unfortunately, if literally anything he has said and/or done since taking the job is any indication, it's a cause that's holding the damn map upside down.
Fresh Off A Suspension, Vontaze Burfict Allegedly Threatened JuJu Smith-Schuster After Delivering An Objectively Dirty Hit To The Head Of Antonio Brown
You know, if this allegation were being made of almost anyone else, I might find reason to question its legitimacy. Intimidation can be a big part of succeeding in a game as physical as professional football, so not only is an empty and unfulfilled threat typically not that a big of a deal, but Ben Roethlisberger serving as its source also makes it relatively unreliable.
That being said, this is Vontaze Burfict we are talking about, so it takes a lot less than the visual evidence of a pre-snap point at one particular person across the entirety of the formation that followed an objectively dirty hit to the head of a defenseless receiver, both with which he has a past, to remove whatever battered and beaten benefit of the doubt might exist in regard to his intentions.
The truth is, Vontaze Burfict makes a parody of the NFL's supposed sincerity in maintaining player safety every time he steps on a football field. The league can act like each suspension he's been handed serves as a lesson, but it doesn't matter all that much if the "student" spent the entirety of it doodling his next violent act of vengeance.
It's been made pretty damn clear, time and time again, that Vontaze Burfict continues to view himself as the type of weapon whose mass destruction stopped being celebrated years ago. Other than a lifetime ban, which admittedly seems excessive (although only slightly at this point), I don't know what the answer is. I do, however, know what the answer is not, and that is coming to the conclusion that Vontaze Burfict simply makes too many suspension-worthy plays to suspend him for every single one of them...
It was already foolish to assume there was an end in sight for the potentially paralyzing antics of the NFL's resident evil, but letting him slide on targeted shots to the head of those with which he damn near maintains a blood feud certainly isn't doing anything to rein him in. I'm of the belief that he's not challenging the NFL as much as he's acting on assassin-like instincts, but that's a difference in perspective, not a difference in threat-level of a clear and present danger to player safety.
Bowling Green's Head Coach, Who Was Hired By Way Of A Google Search Of The Nation's Best Offenses, Was Fired This Past Weekend
ToledoBlade- With Bowling Green fresh off a Mid-American Conference title powered by one of the country’s highest-flying offenses, then-AD Chris Kingston wanted to keep a good thing going. So he Googled which team had the best offense that year, noted it was Texas Tech, and essentially targeted the top Red Raiders assistant he could afford.
Conservatively speaking, it was the dumbest coaching search in college football history.
Never mind that Jinks — then the 43-year-old running backs aide at Tech — was a career Texas high school coach with three years of college experience, none as a coordinator. Or that Texas Tech didn’t even run the same scheme as Bowling Green — no small thing if continuity was the main selling point. Or that Jinks had never so much as set foot in Ohio. Or that one BG insider told me Jinks had given so little thought to becoming a head coach that he did not have the standard, ready-to-go list of assistants he planned to hire.
As the resident smartest man in the world, Kingston decided none of that mattered. He saw a sharp, well-respected assistant and charismatic recruiter, and, fit be damned, brought him to Ohio.
The easy thing to do would be to echo the sentiments of the Toledo Blade in calling Bowling Green's search-engineered hire of then Texas Tech positional coach Mike Jinks to be far and away the most lazy and stupid we've ever come across at any level of sports. Retrospect helps, but you probably don't even need it to claim that it more than likely is, as things have gone even worse than predictably poorly since the Falcons followed up their 2015 MAC Championship by plummeting into the type of aimless rabbit hole that only the internet could provide.
You can't pluck the most expendable and affordable employee from a Fortune 500 company and assume his/her inside information will eventually have you on the Forbes List, and it would be extremely generous to say that's what Bowling Green's recently departed AD did by clicking his way into an otherwise unknown candidate. Texas Tech wasn't even particularly good during another stat-happy season in which their passing game rested on the NFL-caliber arm of Patrick Mahomes, so - other than the type of blind faith that a hungry stoner puts into the first Google search result for nearby Chinese restaurants - it's really tough to find even the most remote of reason why someone would promote their running backs coach as a result of it.
However, in fairness to both Bowling Green and Mike Jinks, I think it's worth noting that the short-lived marriage that was originally sparked online isn't as much of asinine outlier as it is the most egregious example of how a lot coaching trees come to sprout. Programs and organizations of much higher prestige have placed their fate in hands that are only proven in helping, as evidenced by the constant drip of Head Coaching failures leaking from the well-oiled machine that is the Bill Belichick regime. Granted, those failures had a hell of a lot more high-level success partially attributed to them than a short-time running backs coach for an air-raid offense, but the point is that misplaced praise is the number one killer of head coaching tenures for first timers.
That's more than likely why most programs try to minimize the risk of promoting those of lesser responsibilities by engaging in a comprehensive interview process with a host of quality candidates whose resumes are rock-solid. But, I guess someone had to serve as the most comedic of cautionary tale in what can go wrong when you go the success-by-association route in hyperlinking your way into a head-scratching head coaching hire that was only thoroughly investigated in how many tabs it left open.
When Asked By His Rookie Quarterback If He Wanted To Run Some Pre-Game Routes, Kelvin Benjamin Responded With A Flat "No"
First and foremost, there is absolutely no way that this interaction was as funny in person as it is in the comedic dramatization I'm envisioning. When I read that tweet I see a youthful and exuberant Josh Allen running up to his elder in Kelvin Benjamin and patting him on the knee as he sits on the bench in stained sweatpants and asking him if he wants to have a catch, only to be shot down with the type of ruthless vigor that damages a kid's psyche well past adolescence. That, of course, is quite a bit of hyperbole, but if you can't see shades of Charlie Brown dejectedly sulking away when you read that Josh Allen couldn't coax a couple pregame 7 routes out of a former first round pick who, at that point, had all of 8 catches in 5 games then I don't want to know you.
Regardless of how common (or uncommon) it might be for a player to turn down a chance to create a little more chemistry with a rookie quarterback prior to a game, this is objectively another bad look for someone whose potential is going to die looking at its watch while being stood up waiting for him at the doorstep of receiving relevance. Having turned down Josh Allen for some much needed reps, it's now official that the most initiative Kelvin Benjamin has ever taken in changing his reputation to something other than that of an overweight wideout with suspect hands and a lousy work ethic was when he blamed a former MVP, in Cam Newton, for all of those shortcomings.
Kelvin Benjamin is literally nothing if not a cautionary tale that has way too many snooze-worthy chapters to get through. That's not to say he's the first or last player to have opted out of running routes for a rookie quarterback due to differing pregame routines, but he's probably pretty close to the first player who has done so with one heavy foot rested firmly on the fringe of the league in which he makes a living. I appreciate the use of the "say it with confidence and you won't be questioned" method, but something tells me that abject apathy can only bide you so much time when you're not getting your work done on the field.
The media, as it tends to do, most certainly made this a bigger deal than it was, but considering the amount of fingers he manages to point, Kelvin Benjamin should really be a lot better at catching a football. If only there were a time in which he could sneak in some more practice doing so...